Adventures in Home Education & Asperger's Syndrome

Eye Glass Novice

A couple of eye tests ago I was given a prescription for a pair of mild reading glasses, for mild reading obviously.

My long sight was, and indeed is, excellent. 20:10 in fact. Apparently that’s even better than 20:20. So that’s good.

Unfortunately though my near sight is struggling a wee bit these days.

Seemingly one’s eye muscles get less elastic as we get older and their ability to adjust to both long and short distances reduces throughout our middle years.

My most recent eye test, just a couple of weeks ago, gave me the all clear when it came to serious eye maladies, which with our family eye history, is a big plus.

My long sight continues to be excellent, yay! And my reading prescription remains mild, albeit slightly less mild than last time.

However, despite the good results, I’m actually finding the daily reality is somewhat different.

Instead of going to the supermarket and casually browsing the shelves, occasionally glancing down lists of ingredients for detailed contents, I now stand squinting at products held at arms length, trying to find the brightest light in the place to read by, or asking one of the boys to read it all for me.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of close work recently, mostly at the end of the day when meals are finished and other distractions have fizzled out and I’ve noticed as the evening wears on the need for glasses increases considerably.

Of course I don’t sit quietly and demurely doing needlepoint (or whatever), like someone from Pride and Prejudice. No, I like watching TV as I work, especially crime dramas. Poirot and I are like this (imagine crossed fingers).

The problem with this combination of police sirens across the room and petit point (or whatever) an inch from my face is the constant on off on off glasses thing when swapping from one to the other. Either that or attempting to balance them precariously on the end of my nose while looking over them to find out if the butler did it after all.

One hot flush and the specs will slip off and crash onto the table top in front of me.

For long term glasses wearers this must all seem like the norm and not a big deal at all, but for a novice it is a real pain.

So yesterday I wondered whether maybe bifocals might be the answer.

I needed to go to the post office with some parcels and so on the way back I did a bit of a spectacles reccy.

Turns out it’s quite hard to find over the counter reading bifocals. Not unless you fancy spending big bucks anyway.

And then in a charity shop I spotted a rack of reduced, new, ready to wear reading glasses with narrow lenses. Ideal for looking over the top of and possibly a viable alternative to actual bifocal lenses.

And so I came home with a rather elegant pair of black rimmed narrow lens glasses, perfect for my evening’s entertainment combination.

That was £2.99 well spent I thought.

I suppose I’ll gradually get used to relying on glasses and the on off thing will become second nature to me. But for now, if I forget to take my snazzy black rimmed high quality eye gear with me,  I should always make sure to take a highly trained small print reader along with me to the supermarket.

They also usefully double as a heavy bag carrier. You should get one. Or two even.

It’s been a funny sort of day today.

It started out like most Wednesdays do (well most days actually), with the usual battle of wills between teenagers in their cosy beds and their parents trying to separate the one from the other.

I had already decided today was definitely the day to get rid of all the bags of rejected clothes that were cluttering up the hall. A car load was heading out to the charity shop after lunch without fail.

And then my mother rang to break some very worrying news. Lapsang Souchong tea appears to be vanishing from the shops and when available it seems to have more than doubled in price.

Panic began to set in as I tried to imagine tea time without Lapsang. Nope, I found it completely impossible to contemplate.

I probably should mention here that our whole family has been brought up on this particular type of tea forever. We all drink it by the bucket load, well teapot load anyway. Sometimes it gets mixed with a dash of Indian tea but mostly we drink it in its pure form…every day… sometimes several times a day. It is in fact pretty much the only tea any of us drink, with the exception of the odd lemon and ginger or peppermint herbal, usually saved for days of heavy coughs or colds when everything tastes peculiar anyway.

Suddenly this Wednesday had become track down dwindling Lapsang supplies day.

With less than an hour to go before lunch, I dashed out to the local shops to suss out their tea stocks. I came home 45 minutes later empty handed. Well actually not quite true. I came home with £25 of other groceries that I remembered we needed while I was in Tesco, just no tea.

After lunch I rang round all the large supermarkets in the area to see if they stocked it, having to spell Lapsang Souchong several times to bemused customer services people.

It turns out Tesco no longer stocks it, or even remembers what it is seemingly. Maybe they’ve had their memories wiped to make the loss easier to bear? Or maybe most of them had never heard of it in the first place.

Morrisons did have some they said, and what’s more it was on special offer. Sainsbury’s also had some and so they both became the focus of my quest.

Dragging Robert out with me I drove across town to Morrisons where I stripped their shelves of all six boxes. Sorry other Lapsang lovers, but it had to be done. Somehow a whole load of other items ended up in my trolley too. Why does that always happen?

Sainsbury’s was equally successful. Some more teabags and a batch of rather nice looking bargain sausages too. And some short dated bread. And some cheese…

I came home triumphant and stashed our year’s supply of teabags carefully away in the pantry. Hopefully by the time these are all used up the tea crisis will be over and normal service will be resumed, Lapsang-wise at least.

Phew. Crisis averted. Think I’ll go and put the kettle on.

A couple of days ago I was trying for the umpteenth time to close the doors of my wardrobe which seemed to have a life of their own, frequently bursting open as I passed by. This was often followed by a cascade of coat hangers, jackets, skirts, boots and shoes spewing out onto the carpet at my feet.

After carefully checking the hinges and doors for signs of poor workmanship, I finally surmised that the problem lay not with the wardrobe itself but rather with the contents therein. It was in fact full to bursting.

Yes, it was time to have a clear out.

Saturday was the allotted day and, having cleared the area in preparation, I started pulling everything I own, clothing-wise at least, out and onto the bed. I was so intent on tackling the chaos that I forgot the number one rule of all bloggers… always take photos. You wouldn’t have liked it anyway. Horrible mess.

Gradually I emptied everything out, trying clothes on as I went and ending up with several piles.

Pile one… Still fits. Keep

Pile two… Might fit soon with less cake. Keep

Pile three… Not a snowball’s chance. Get rid

The get rid pile was then divided into charity shop donations and ebay selling items in a bid to boost the Christmas fund a tad as well as helping out the folk at the Shelter shop a wee bit.

It was at this point that I remembered to start taking photos. You must be so pleased.

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These are just a few of the charity bags I’ve filled so far. It’s a very good feeling once you get into it isn’t it?  Ignore the unrelated gerbil toys and bedding though.

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Just look how tidy the wardrobe is now. I don’t remember the last time I could open it without fear of attack by rampant outerwear.

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Even the shoes are now mostly captive.

Phase one complete.

Phase two involved the very time consuming task of sorting, cleaning, ironing and taking photos of each item to be sold on ebay and then listing them all on the site. All that took me most of Sunday afternoon and evening actually. I hope some of them sell after all that.

I didn’t get around to Phase three until this morning.

Having succeeded with the wardrobe it was time to tackle the drawers, for years stuffed beyond full with jumpers and t shirts and pairs of well worn jeans. Clearing them out was a job about ten years past its due by date.

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Before long however they looked like this…

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 … and the bed looked like this

More sorting and trying on was required. The trying on was a bit disappointing and strengthened my resolve to cut out the cake and possibly the biscuits, depending on what sort of day it’s been of course.

So after all this activity I now have a total of eight bags to take to the Shelter shop, fourteen items waiting for bids on ebay, an airer covered with wet clothes drying by the Aga, a mound waiting to be ironed and photographed, a wardrobe with doors that behave themselves and drawers that are only half full of well fitting neatly folded jumpers and jeans.

I can’t believe how much I was able to get rid of in the end. Mostly they were clothes I’d not worn for years but kept just in case I had a change of heart, or weight. Some I’d forgotten about all together. A few I looked at wistfully and put into the maybe next year pile.

It’s always good to be optimistic.

Blood Moon

Last night there was a lunar eclipse. Unfortunately it was only visible in parts of America, Asia and Australia.

The moon was called a Blood Moon because of its striking red colour. The photos that I’ve seen of it are amazingly beautiful.

Even though we didn’t get the whole eclipse thing here, the moon has been exceptionally large and beautiful these last few days, so last night I took my camera with me when I dropped James off at club.

Despite the very cloudy skies, there was a brief window of moon-sighting which happily coincided with our arrival at club, so I dropped James off and then parked diagonally across the car park to get the best view without having to step out of the car and risk being mugged in the dark.

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The moon looked huge sitting just above the roof tops. 

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I managed to capture it just as it started to become engulfed by think black clouds. It looks like someone’s taken a huge bite out of it doesn’t it?

Even though officially ours wasn’t a Blood Moon, one of last nights photos seemed to suggest otherwise. Actually it looks more like a giant floating pumpkin, which is quite appropriate for the time of year I suppose.

I’ve spent the last few weeks, on and off, making urgent eleventh hour first aid repairs to our weather beaten sash windows, in a last ditch attempt to prevent them from totally disintegrating over the cold, wet and windy winter months.

I think it’s safe to say this is not one of my strongest talents. I’ve done a fair amount of DIY over the years… wall papering, carpet tile laying, painting, building flat-pack bookcases… but repairing rotting window frames and replacing glazing putty is a bit out of my area of expertise.

Nevertheless I’ve been giving it my best shot, spurred on (or possibly shamed into action) by reports that my mother had recently and successfully done the same to her windows and the fact that it would cost several arms and legs to get a professional in to do the work.

So a while ago I went out and bought steel wool and primer and undercoat and weathershield gloss paint and window putty and a putty knife and then I sat and thought about it all for a while, feeling a bit daunted.

Anyway, the weather this month (actually I suppose it’s last month now isn’t it?) has been excellent and perfect for in/outdoor DIY projects so I finally stirred my stumps and got cracking on it all.

The window sills, all ten of them around the flat, (excluding the study one which is totally inaccessible behind piles of papers and books, an old pine cupboard and an impossibly heavy exercise machine) eventually got sanded down, primed, undercoated and painted and I started to feel a bit more in control of the situation.

And then life got in the way and a week or two slipped by unnoticed. The weather was so good that instead of staying inside and scraping down old paintwork, I dragged the boys out for school trips to the Botanic Gardens (such cruelty) suggesting to them that it was an excellent learning environment but actually so that I could take some photos for the annual RBG photographic competition (closing date yesterday)

However now the fine weather is threatening to disappear and be replaced by heavy rain on Friday and so suddenly the window repairs became more urgent.

Earlier this week, as I stood awkwardly half straddling the large immovable desk in front of the bay window, hands and arms (and the sleeve of the blouse I should have changed out of first) covered in paint and dust and putty finger marks, and chipped off the old damaged paint and battled largely unsuccessfully to get the new putty neatly and evenly finished across the window, I thought about the week’s news.

The papers (and the web) have been overflowing with photos showing the lavish Venitian wedding of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. There were fantastic images of a flotilla of speed boats parading down the Grand Canal bringing luxuriously dressed guests to the nuptials, passing the stunning buildings of that impressive city. Gorgeous Armani suits and Stella McCartney gowns were everywhere. It was a sight to behold.

And as I crouched in my ripped jeans (not ripped in a stylish fashion-conscious way like the girl on the bus yesterday, but simply because I’d worn them for too long and, like the windows, they are falling apart) and my now permanently paint-stained blouse, inelegantly balancing across the desk, paint brush in one hand and steel wool in the other,  I thought about that wedding and all its elegance and beauty.

And it occurred to me that there was very little chance that the new Mrs Clooney will find herself desperately re-puttying her own windows this winter, even though I suspect she’s the sort of woman who can probably turn her hand to most things.

Not that I’m feeling jealous at all. I mean she’s now married to arguably the handsomest man on the planet and they just got married in probably the most beautiful city in the world, wearing undoubtedly the most luxurious clothes imaginable….

No I’m not jealous at all… scrape scrape scrape.

We stayed up all night last night. Or at least most of us did. James succumbed sometime around 2.30 I think and Matthew crashed out at just after 6, but Robert and I hung on until the very last result had been counted. We both finally hit the hay at something like 8.30 this morning.

I found it impossible not to watch every moment of the process of vote counting and every result being announced. I was glued to the BBC coverage from the minute the polls closed at ten last night until Robert downed a bowl of cereal and then staggered off to bed some ten hours later.

Yesterday was a strange and surreal day. After we voted there was nothing further to do except bide our time and then watch the future unfold in front of us.

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For the first time since this campaign began I actually felt almost excited at what was happening. People have frequently described this whole process as historic, but last night it felt genuinely for the first time as if we were indeed watching a moment in history playing out before our eyes.

This is not to say I was hoping for a Yes vote. I most assuredly was not. In fact I became more and more conscious of how very very deeply my desire for a No vote ran. It seemed unthinkable that in just a few short hours we might no longer be residents of the UK.

Anyway, as you all know, in the end that didn’t happen. The No voters won the day, albeit by a relatively small margin. I went to bed last night…sorry, I mean this morning…feeling as if the heavy weight I’d been carrying around for weeks, months even, had finally lifted.

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And I slept very well indeed, for a full three and a half hours anyway, until I had to get up and make lunch. Or breakfast. Or whatever it was.

This afternoon James and I went up to the shops. No one we saw was saying much. Most were just getting on with their lives as usual, possibly a little bleary-eyed but otherwise seemingly hardly shaken after such an epic night.

And so we carry on here in Scotland and in the UK.

Yay!

Things have undoubtedly changed though. Perhaps not as dramatically as 45% of people living in Scotland were hoping they would, but they have changed nevertheless. No politician can possibly ignore the power of feeling expressed by 1.6 million people. Or if they do it will be at their peril. There needs to be discussion about the future, about the greater devolved powers promised last week and how to help people unite again and move on together.

Lots and lots of discussion.

The papers varied a bit in their stance this morning.

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The Scotsman declared its support for the No campaign recently, choosing to remain factual in its headline coverage.

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The Evening News expressed a more emotional view of the result.

It must have felt like the end of a dream for First Minister Alex Salmond who has just announced that he plans to step down.

So a new future for Scotland lies ahead. And for the first time for a long time, I’m feeling optimistic.

This morning Clan Newnham hiked en masse to our local polling station to cast our votes.

And now there’s nothing more to be done except wait.

Who knows what changes tomorrow may bring?

I took a few photos, just to say we were there.

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After all the warnings about massive turnouts and special queueing measures I was worried we might have a long wait at the polling station, but it turned out we didn’t.

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Instead we just ambled in, did the biz, and left again. In fact we were pretty much the only people there at that moment.

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Apparently at another church they had two signs pointing in different directions. One said VOTE and the other PRAY. Presumably you do one followed rapidly by the other.

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The owners of the house overlooking the polling station made it clear how they hoped everyone would vote.

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And here we are having done the deed.

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I didn’t intend to look quite as miserable as I do, but there you are!

So by this time tomorrow we’ll either be an independent country or we won’t. Either way I suspect it’s going to take a while for the dust to settle.

And then I suppose what will be will be.

The referendum to decide on Scottish Independence is less than ten days away. Next thursday, September 18th 2014, Scotland will decide its future.

Yes or No

I probably should come straight out here and say that I for one am a definite No.

I’m strongly in favour of maintaining a United Kingdom. I fear that division will make us all weaker and believe that there is strength in unity, particularly during such uncertain times. We’re better together, as the No campaign has been quietly and almost apologetically suggesting in its barely noticeable campaigning leaflets.

I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only No’er in our household. For this one event the Scottish Government has decided to drop the minimum age for voters to sixteen. This means that for the first time ever, Clan Newnham will be heading to the polling station en masse.

Despite my personal feelings about the importance of maintaining the Union, we’ve done our best to put across neutral and balanced arguments to the boys, to allow them to make up their own minds about how they wish to use their votes next week.

It’s probably fair to say that Matthew has managed considerably better than I have to remain neutral during our debates. The boys are in fact in no doubt at all about where I stand.

In my defence they have always been their own people and are both more than able to make their own decisions based on reason, logic and the information they see in front of them. I acknowledge that there is certainly an emotional element to my decision, although I really don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Some of us are swayed a little more by our hearts and others by their heads. But I feel we really need both.

So we’ve watched some of the debates on the telly and discussed them at length.

We’ve glanced at the blurb that’s come through the door and listened to what others have been saying on Facebook and twitter.

I suspect the boys both lean in favour of a No vote, but I haven’t asked them directly. Matthew has remained open to the debate and I think has yet to make a final decision. And that’s the point.

We each have to make up our own minds and vote according to our own beliefs and feelings. Someone recently put a message up saying neither Yes or No but simply, stop telling me what to vote, I’ll decide thank you.

This morning the news suggested that the polls had for the first time moved slightly in favour of a Yes vote. It seems the two campaigns may now be neck and neck.

On our way to collect our dog-sitting hound this morning, I took a camera with me and snapped every window notice I spotted around the area. It seems like we may on the verge of an historic moment. It may or may not be the one I would personally wish for, but either way I feel I ought to acknowledge the moment.

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Campaigning material for Yes

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And No

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Some of our neighbours feel pretty strongly about it all

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On both sides of the vote. These two happen to live in the same stair as each other, but as far as I know they’re still talking

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The Saltire pops up quite often 

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At least the Nos say thanks. Well some of them

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The Wee Blue Book appeared recently, or at least we only heard about it last week. It contains a detailed analysis of what a vote for independence might mean to Scotland. It’s been compiled by the Yes campaign but there doesn’t seem to have been any sort of defence by the Nos. If there has we haven’t heard about it anyway.

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I reckon there are about three Yes notices to every No one. Maybe many people are reluctant to say what they plan to vote for fear of a backlash

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It’s hard to say.

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So who knows? Next time I write a blog post here it might be from a foreign country. That is, for me at least, a strange and disquieting thought.

Gerbil Happiness

With all the excitement of the summer and the book festival and such, the gerbils have been rather low down on my list of priorities. Don’t get me wrong, they have been fed and watered and cleaned out regularly, but I haven’t otherwise spent much time chatting to them and providing them with cardboard entertainment.

They get a bit bored with nothing much to do and tend to curl up and sleep their days away. Yesterday I glanced into their tank as I wandered past and there wasn’t a gerbil in sight. Not a tail or a whisker to be seen. The tank looked clean and tidy in fact and that didn’t seem right.

I was a wee bit worried actually. The gang are heading into their middle years, in gerbil-world and if they don’t show themselves for a day or two I start wondering if something’s wrong.

So I lifted the lid and had a bit of a furniture reorganisation, changed their water and added more food, spread some bonus seeds about for foraging purposes and added a batch of loo rolls and some other cardboard I’ve been collecting up on their behalf.

Still no sign of life.

I closed the lid and went away to wash my hands and make myself a coffee.

When I came back the tank looked like a scene out of some weird rodent action movie. There were gerbils rushing about everywhere, jumping on and off nesting box roofs, running in and out of tubes, chewing manically on cardboard and racing each other up and down the bridge.

It was as if I’d somehow vented concentrated caffeine into their tank.

I couldn’t take any photos as all you’d see would be blurry furry images everywhere. Although, now I think about it, a burst of videoing might have been a good idea.

Anyway, the happiness in the tank was palpable. I pulled up a large bale of gerbil bedding, sat down and watched the fun as I drank my coffee. They really are entertaining little dudes sometimes.

Eventually the cardboard was all but destroyed, the best of the food had been foraged and the gerbils settled down into a sort of peaceful trance-like state.

This did finally allow me to take a few snaps. So here they are.

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Steve and Thor sitting next to the remains of a small house they once owned and have now eaten. 

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And now somehow Steve has been replaced by Bruce, although Thor doesn’t seem to have noticed.

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As you can see, Bruce is the most difficult gerbil to photograph successfully. He tends to look more like a gerbil shaped hole. This is probably the best photo I’ve ever managed to get of him, as usually my camera struggles to keep him in focus. He is in focus, if you look very closely.

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Steve on the other hand is very photogenic. I was told his colouring is rarer than the others, although this may be complete hoo haa. Either way his coat is like that of a Siamese cat, which is lovely and reminds me of Emma, the beautiful seal point Siamese we had years ago.

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Here’s Tony. He’s quite shy but braver than he used to be. He’s the one that prefers to sleep upside down, in the dead rodent position. It’s always a relief to see him revive. He has also got front paws, by the way. Perhaps on reflection this isn’t the best photo of him.

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And then of course we have Thor again. He’s secretly my favourite, but don’t tell the others. He’s the bravest of the gerbil clan and the one who likes being handled the most, or at least puts up with it the best. He does enjoy having a bit of a chew on my engagement ring, if given the chance. In fact he’ll hold on to it so hard sometimes that I can lift him off the ground by his teeth alone. I don’t encourage the chewing though, mainly because if he swallowed one of the tiny diamonds I don’t fancy having to search for it later.

And on that delightful note I’ll end my rodent ramble or gerbil… blurble.

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Until the next time.

More time has passed since I last wrote a blog post than I’d realised.

I’ve decided to put this down to how totally immersing the party was and not to how lazy I’ve been about writing ever since.

Well, I’m back now and ready to give you an exciting run-down of the wonder that is…

THE EDINBURGH BOOK FESTIVAL 2014

I love the book festival. I think I may have mentioned this before. Probably every August since I started this whole blogging thing. I could check but I haven’t. I’ll leave that to you. Or not. Whatever.

This year the weather was a strange mixture of wonderful sunshine and pouring rain, sometimes shifting between the two in a matter of moments. But there was enough good weather to enjoy plenty of relaxing afternoons in Charlotte Square gardens eating and drinking and watching the world go by.

My brother Tim came up for the second week of the festival, which was excellent. He and I left the boys and Matthew to fend for themselves for whole afternoons and evenings at a time while we meandered around the book shop tents, drank tea, coffee, hot chocolate and Pimms (depending on the weather) and people-watched.

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First day of the book festival. The lady selling The Scotsman was offering an amazing array of freebies with the paper. Over several days we picked up free recipe books, coffee, a dvd, children’s books and several I ♥ Edinburgh bags.

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Lots of events on offer over seventeen action-packed days

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One thing about Edinburgh during August…You never know who, or what, you might bump into on any street corner.

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The weather was lovely on the first day. Probably the best day of all in fact. And lots of people flocked to the gardens to enjoy the ambiance. It was busy but still relaxing. Quite different from the more frenetic activity of the rest of the city as it hosts the enormous event that is the Edinburgh International Festival. 

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Here people relax and read and chat and catch up on the latest news. 

Catherine at Book Festival 2014

This photo was taken by the book festival’s roving photographer and put on their website. I discovered it yesterday and spotted myself, captured (sitting on the chair to the left) mid ice cream and having a rifle through my free I ♥ Edinburgh bag!

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It was still sunny when I met up with cousin Ruth and daughter Molly. We ate more ice cream. Of course. Shortly after taking that photo we all had to run for cover as the heavens opened and drenched the place.

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And the people

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The sky transformed as we watched from this…to this. It doesn’t look as dramatic here as it felt at the time. Imagine thunder and rain and a 5 degree temperature drop.

Despite the varied weather there were plenty of interesting events to choose from. I didn’t buy many tickets but did manage to sneak into a book signing queue to speak to one of my favourite authors.

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I chatted to Alexander McCall Smith about greyhounds* and he signed a book for a friend of mine who’s also a big fan.

Tim, Matthew, the boys and I did actually attend an event with Michael Morpurgo and a French illustrator called Barroux.

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While we waited to go in we ate…yes, ice cream

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We had to wait quite a while

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But it was worth it. 

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Barroux brought original drawings with him to show us and the WW1 French soldier’s diary that he found and illustrated.

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He also signed our books with an artist’s enthusiasm.

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This is his book, in both English and French

Tim and I did quite a bit of chilling out in and around the book festival.

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Pimms was involved at times.

One interesting event we didn’t manage to get tickets for was with the famous Japanese author Haruki Murakami

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Apparently, in Japan, Murakami gets mobbed by the press wherever he goes, so he requested that here he carry out his signing behind a curtain, out of sight of the cameras and press. So we watched as the patient queue of people clutching their books disappeared one by one behind the curtain, emerging a moment later the other side. Apart from this there was no mob waiting however, just the two of us and a man waiting for a cup of tea. At the end the staff formed a protective wall of people behind which Murakami escaped from the watching crowd of three.

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And then all too quickly it was the last day. We all spent the evening mooching about, not wanting to say our final goodbyes for another year.

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But finally it was time to leave. 

We are lucky to have such an event almost on our doorstep.

* The reason we chatted about greyhounds was because Sandy used to say hello to Judy whenever we bumped into him in the street, which we did quite regularly as he lives on part of what was our main dog-walking route. Also, as I may have mentioned before, Sandy once included us (well, mostly Judy) in one of his books. It is a fleeting mention, but a mention never the less. If you want to find us/her you’ll need to search “The Lost Art of Gratitude” chapter 8, just after Jamie’s lovers song. Blink and you’ll miss us.

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