Dad’s 80th Birthday

First published in Carlisle Living October 2017

In October 1970, on my dad’s 33rd birthday (imagine, my dad so young!) he caught 33 fishes. I remember him unwrapping a bundle on the shores of Loch Nell to reveal a silvery shoal of fat little trout. As usual in Scotland in early autumn, there was a faint revival of summer before the mist and rain set in. The light was golden. To me – aged five – it seemed miraculous, Biblical, even, that my dad – the same age as Jesus – had cast his line and caught a fish for every year of his life.

It’s possible you know my dad. He might have been the solicitor who handled your mum or your nan’s divorce back in the day. More recently, if you had kids at Belle Vue, he was the lollipop man at the crossing on Beaver Road. You remember him? I thought so.

Born in Beckenham, the heart of suburbia, my dad is no suburbanite. When he met my mum – a streetwise Glaswegian girl – at a party in Hammersmith in 1961, he recognised a soulmate. He gave her a lift home that night, but didn’t get her address. In a bid to see her again, he sent a letter with his phone number addressed to ‘the third house east of Gillette Corner’. I owe my existence to the orienteering skills of the Post Office, because the letter arrived and my mum and dad have been together ever since.

He’s one of a long line of what Jessie calls ‘charming Ledger Boys’. My dad, his dad before him, my uncle, cousins, brother and my own son Tom – who’s a Ledger in all but name – are handsome Alpha males with a decidedly non-Alpha self-deprecating twinkle: sporty, well-spoken but with an inexplicable tendency to the haphazard. In his youth, my dad was a deft, ferocious scrum-half who never dropped a pass; he’s a skilled carpenter, fashioning dovetail joints and inlays with precision, but still, he’s mysteriously accident prone.

For instance, there’s the time he set himself on fire in court by lighting his pipe for dramatic effect while cross examining a witness, replacing the not quite extinguished match to a matchbox and sliding it into his pocket – only for it to explode 30 seconds later. There’s the fracas he caused on a train when he thought he’d left his wallet in a recently vacated compartment. From the platform, he tapped on the window and pointed. Another man mistook his gesture and snatched a brand new pair of leather gloves from a fellow passenger’s lap shoving them through the window just as the train pulled away from the station. And oh my God … his cars … the most spectacular was one with faulty central locking. He could only get in and out either through the boot or the sunroof. He had to wind down the window and ask unsuspecting passers-by to open the boot so he could slither nimbly through the car and emerge like an escapee from Good Fellas. Either that, or he’d pop out the sunroof like a demented showgirl from a car-shaped cake. Of course, the joy of these tales – and I could tell you a hundred more – is that my dad’s real gift is not that he’s survived disaster, but that he tells a great story at his own shambolic expense.

He’ll be heading up to Loch Nell again this month to celebrate his 80th birthday (imagine, my dad so old!) and although I doubt he’ll even attempt to catch 80 fishes, I hope he’ll take my birthday wishes with him, up there in the golden sunlight on the lochside. From all us – to Dad, to Grandad, to Pete, to Rocky – happy birthday old lad!


Mix Tape

First Published in Carlisle Living January 2015

If, like me, you were a teenager in the early 80s, it’s likely that at the bottom of your wardrobe – under a stack of diaries from 78-80 documenting the comings and goings of the elusive, brooding ‘FM’ and the nightdress you were wearing when your waters broke – there’s a shoebox that rattles deliciously when shaken. Inside, will be a heap of hand-labelled cassette tapes, some unspooled and possibly, if you’re lucky, the tattered remnants of sleeve notes scrawled in spidery script.

While I need to point out that some tapes were made and exchanged between friends, the majority were made in the pursuit of love – the post-feminist equivalent of red roses or a box of Milk Tray. The 1980s was the era of stern gender politics and the traditional signifiers for masculine splendour – a powerful build, the ability to handle oneself in a fight and the possession of vast wealth – were no longer politically correct. A young man couldn’t impress a young woman by violently defeating a love rival or arriving – like Mr Darcy – with a £10 000 price tag attached. Instead, earning potential and physical prowess were replaced by moody indifference, an aversion to the mainstream and a taste for post-modern irony. These factors, along with the rise of the use of the personal stereo made the home-made tape the perfect love token.

I have many tapes from many men. From a couple, I have several tapes which chart the relationship: they go from hope and optimism to rueful regret with a final tape that’s a cheery acknowledgement that it’d all been a bit of a car crash but, hey, we can still be friends. Still, the chief function of a homemade tape was a weapon in the armoury of seduction. If an evening spent flaunting my cleavage and laughing extravagantly at his jokes ended with the promise of a tape I knew my efforts had not been wasted. Mind you, a suitor in 1983 couldn’t show his hand too easily. It was a time when being enthusiastic and liking stuff was not considered cool; when being cool was not cool; when anything fun or colourful or popular was shunned. The tape had to reflect all this and yet reveal the romantic heart beating below the cynical surface. As musculature and cash were out, all a lad had to offer was the expanse of his record collection. He had standards – so nothing from the current charts was acceptable, although including a Number One from 1957 was fine. It was ok to include something syrupy so long as it was SO sickly saccharine – let’s say Barry Manilow – that the smitten listener would chuckle in shared disapproval. However, irony imbues its subjects with many layers. The inclusion of an over the top love song meant he’d established himself as a lofty arbiter of taste, yet he’d managed to smuggle in – well – a love song. A similar ploy was to include a version of a well-loved standard covered by a punk band. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like I Heard it Through the Grapevine by The Slits.

It wasn’t all frivolity: something mournful by Elvis Costello was an essential ingredient and the potential beau would display his intellectual depth by including – usually halfway through the B side – Jack Kerouac freestyling against a background of clumpy jazz. Too many obscure tracks though, were a mistake. Shuffle had yet to be invented in 1983. If the Taiko drumming went on too long, the listener would have to fast forward by hand and the risk was she’d give up all together and recycle the tape to record the Top 40 (… ‘because I like Paul McCartney  … that’s why’ …) rather than play until it snapped. The prudent tape maker would throw in the theme tune from a popular 60s TV show, a sketch by Morecambe and Wise or some sultry dialogue from a 1940s film noir. He’d make a sleeve cover featuring an irrelevant image – the Hindenberg going up in flames, for example, or Greta Garbo in stark profile – and he’d be good to go.

Let’s not forget, tapes weren’t easy to make. These were the days of vinyl and turntables and the delicate balance of the needle on the groove. iTunes (other Tunes from a-h and j-z are available) did not exist and if our hero didn’t have the track that summed up his complex emotions, he couldn’t search online and download it. He had to get on his bike and go round to his mate’s house and – on condition that he didn’t scratch it or leave it lying around with the sleeve off – borrow the record for the afternoon. Even the modish sleeve cover had to be cut out of a page of someone’s big brother’s copy of The Face.

In the digital age – if it’s still called that – the mix tape is no longer the mainstay of courtship. Muscles are back and love is expressed by means of links to YouTube or memes of funny cats on Tumblr. Those kids don’t know what they’re missing.


Is Your Nest Empty?

First published in Carlisle Living October 2015

I waved my youngest child off to Uni last month. But is my nest empty? Is yours? Take this simple multiple choice quiz to determine your status as the parent of young adults.

  1. Take a typical Sunday; how does it start?
  1. You’re woken at 5am by the sound of clumsy drunken young men climbing in the kitchen window because the one that’s yours has lost his keys. He pops his head round your bedroom door to tell you he’s fine. There was a fight outside Outrageous, but he wasn’t in it. Jack is sleeping on the sofa with a bucket next to him. Is that OK?
  2. You’re woken at 7am as your daughter is on the early shift and needs a lift to work. You offer her breakfast. She says she doesn’t like that brand of muesli and have you bought it on purpose to upset her?
  3. You’re woken at 9am by church bells, the fragrance of coffee and the rustle of Sunday papers.
  1. It’s time for Sunday lunch. How does that go?
  1. You were intending to make a roast dinner but Jack is still on the sofa clutching the bucket and looking fragile. You turn your attention instead to removing the industrial strength kebab sauce that currently decorates the kitchen.
  2. Only time for soup, a cup of tea and a Mr Kipling’s French Fancy. The washing needs doing. And the ironing.
  3. As it’s the fourth Sunday in the month, it’s Doug and Elva’s turn to host lunch. You’re bringing dessert. Raspberry roulade. It’s a new recipe. Fingers crossed.
  1. You go to record the latest episode of that rather good thing with Suranne Jones in it. What happens?
  1. You can’t. The FreeView box is full. Someone has recorded all the games from the NFL 2014 series and Kerrang’s 100 Best Screamers. You have to catch up on iPlayer instead.
  2. You ask if you can delete 28 episodes of Friends. You are told OK – but not The One Where Everyone Finds Out. It takes you so long to locate it you miss the start of the episode you wanted to record including a critical plot development. The whole series no longer makes sense.
  3. You can’t decide whether to delete that marvellous ballet by Bartok or those documentaries on feminist art history. You use the other recorder instead: the one in the study.
  1. Have a look at the mat next to the front door. What’s there?
  1. A jumble of enormous shoes. There’s quite a selection, but they’re mainly faded Vans, Converse and hi-tops. There’s a mystery pair of patent leather ballet pumps in a size four. The wellies that Jack accidentally left after Download are now in the shed.
  2. A neat row of work shoes, some slippers and two pairs of flip flops.
  3. A letter from the National Trust outlining their schedule of garden tours.
  1. Now have a look in the fridge and/or freezer. Describe the contents.
  1. Three cans of sugar-free Monster, two kilos of skinless chicken breasts, ten eggs, kale, a ready mixed banana flavoured protein shake, two frozen pizzas, some chicken dippers, a bag of curly fries and a bottle of Nando’s extra-hot peri peri sauce.
  2. Last night’s shepherd’s pie; some bagged salad which looks a bit ropy and an empty jar of mayonnaise.
  3. The ingredients for Jamie’s superfood lasagne, a head of endive, an unopened packet of President unsalted butter and a bottle Puilly-Fuisse 2012.
  1. There’s music playing in your house. What is it?
  1. Hard to say. It’s coming from two separate rooms. One song is indistinguishable apart from a persistent bassline which is loosening the plaster around that crack in the ceiling. The other is a very sad song by a band with a name that suggests doom, misery and the ultimate hollowness of existence.
  2. That lovely song from Les Mis: the one where Eddie Redmayne cries.
  3. At the moment it’s Mozart. Frankly Chopin is not challenging enough and now the Bechstein’s been tuned you’re giving Mozart a whirl before you move on to Beethoven.
  1. Where are your children now?
  1. One is on the sofa eating noodles with Jack. The other one is upstairs not speaking to anyone.
  2. One is at work and needs picking up at five. The other’s at Uni, but he’ll be FaceTiming quite shortly because his student loan hasn’t come in.
  3. One is on his honeymoon and the other one’s in Dubai. She’s starting her new post on Wednesday.

Add up your score:

Mostly As

Your nest is full. And not just with your own chicks: there are a couple of cuckoos in there too.

Mostly Bs

You are in transition. The feathers have fledged, but their wings are not strong enough to fly.

Mostly Cs

I don’t know you, but you have the life I aspire to live. Can I come and stay at your house?

Something To Make You All Feel Better About Yourselves


Every summer for the last 32 years I’ve had a dream. The culmination of that dream is to turn heads at the first day back INSET. ‘Who …’ my colleagues will murmur ‘… is that tanned woman who looks like Sarah only more slender, fitter, toned, more interesting and cultured? She looks well-rested and relaxed. And organised.’ They’ll come a little closer – perhaps having to break through a small crowd that’s gathered to listen to my sparkling anecdotes about the summer – and realise … wait a minute … it IS Sarah … and hang, rapt, on my every word about what I said to the curator of the Gaudi Museum and how I made the most of my running sessions by listening to the works of Proust on audio book.

Every summer I start off with good intentions: a budget, a book list, an itinerary, an exercise regime, a healthy eating plan and a couple of hours every day to reflect upon and improve the delivery of learning to the young people I teach. In the course of my career, I’ve had a total of four years of downtime over the summer to improve myself, but every summer, I fail.

The reality is not Proust, but Jilly Cooper; my healthy eating plan starts well every day with granola and a carefully measured tablespoon of natural yoghurt, but ends badly with a tube of Pringles, a tub of olives and a half-hearted attempt at guacamole.

In July I had a shot at culture, but halfway round the Tate Modern (after we’d peered over the balcony to look into the new all-glass luxury flats next door and made disparaging remarks about the interior design choices of the excessively wealthy) my companion turned to me and asked ‘are we only here because we think we should be?’ The answer was an emphatic yes and a hurried exit to the café for another cup of tea.

It’s not been an easy summer. The cat suffered a grievous eye injury requiring frequent visits to the vet, so a significant portion of my time has been spent wrestling a ferocious neutered tomcat into a carrier and scooping out shit from the litter tray. An ongoing story with United Utilities has left me peering anxiously down a hole at the bottom of my drive to see whether or not the water meter keeps turning when all the appliances are turned off. To get a really good look, I have to lie flat on my stomach in full view of the cul-de-sac and while it’s certainly been invigorating to haul myself up and down on the tarmac (clinging to the rear bumper of the car to gain leverage), it’s no substitute for a Yoga class.

Meanwhile, my colleagues and eduTwitter chums are posting pictures of themselves in sunny climes, on lochs, in boats, on jet skis, waving bravely through the rain at the top of Hellvellyn or taking time-lapse photos of the Perseids under the clear skies of the Dordogne. What chance have I got on INSET day when my best story is about how I worked out whether it’s an internal or external leak that’s caused my unfeasibly large water bill? Or how I rewatched all of Line of Duty in time for the new Jed Mercurio series (Bodyguard – with Keeley Hawes as the Home Secretary – how good is THAT going to be?). Or how I sat in horrified fascination watching three series of the The Trip wondering where the fuck I was the day a programme about driving from restaurant to restaurant talking in silly voices with a person who mildly irritates me was pitched? Blimey, it’s a poor do when all I have to show for six weeks off work is credit from United Utilites, a clearer understanding of the role of Lindsey Denton and a sense that Rob Brydon is living the life I should have had.

If you’re wondering where your good intentions went, why you’ve ended the summer paler, lumpier, duller, nocturnal, with an ancient BMX and the cushions off the old sofa cluttering up the cupboard under the stairs and you’re still left with a tottering pile of improving reading on your bedside table, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

The Somme

First published in Carlisle Living July 2016

Carlisle Living July 2016

When my granny died in 1996, we inherited a box of family photographs. There are snaps of my mum, my aunt and uncles and endless pictures of Jock, my granny’s Cairn terrier. To be honest, here’s more pictures of Jock than all the children and grandchildren put together: Jock camping, Jock staring haughtily in the opposite direction on the passenger seat of my granda’s van, Jock sitting with his ears blowing inside out on a river bank, Jock with my granny and her wee tartan shopping trolley on the Great Western Road.

But among the photos of kids and dogs and anonymous weddings, there are postcards from the First World War. One has a picture of a little boy and girl standing in the shadow of a grandfather clock. The caption reads ‘only time will tell’. On the back there’s a message written in a scrawling unpractised hand. It’s from my great-grandfather, William Sweeney, my granny’s father. It begins ‘Dear Wife,’ and goes on to tell her that he’s arrived safely in London. The postmark is dated May 1915.

I’d always known that my great-granddad had died in the First World War, although nobody seemed to know the details. The few times I’d spoken to my granny about him, she’d been vague. Not surprising: she was four when he joined up. Still, she had memories of him at home on leave; his watch hanging on the iron bedstead and another occasion where he’d chased her round the kitchen with his bayonet in a moment of boisterous – if inappropriate – high spirits. In hospital just before she died, withered by long illness and dementia I found my gran in tears. When I asked why she was crying, she told me that she was waiting for her da, but she thought he’d gone. She may have been an old lady in a hospital ward, but in her head she was eighty years away, still missing the man who left and never came back.

After she died, I tried to put the pieces of my great-grandfather’s life together. I already knew that Will Sweeney had been born in Ireland and around the turn of the century he’d left home to work in Scotland. My mum has his marriage certificate which tells us he worked as a labourer at the Saracen foundry in Glasgow. He married my great grandmother – Elizabeth McLaughlin, a cotton reeler – in St Aloysius church on New Year’s Eve 1908. Between 1909 and 1914 they had five children, one of whom died in infancy. What puzzles me is this: if Will had joined up in 1915, it was as volunteer. Conscription wasn’t introduced until 1916 and even then, not, at first, for married men and certainly not for Irishmen. He had many valid reasons not to fight, but he chose to go all the same.

There’s a second postcard in the box of photos. It’s from Will’s sister, Margaret. On the front there’s a picture of Lismore Laundry in County Waterford. Some amateur philatelist has torn off the stamp – and with it the postmark – so it’s impossible to date. Addressed to ‘Lizzie’ – my-great grandmother – Margaret’s message is almost poetic in its poignancy; ‘(have) you heard from Will lately as I did not get a letter from him this good while and we are very uneasy about him’. She sends her love to the children and urges Lizzie to pass on any news by return of post.

Of course, you know what’s coming next. The Armed Forces are nothing if not organised. It took me about two minutes on the War Graves Commission website to learn Will’s fate. He was lost in action on 3rd September 1916 at The Somme. He was thirty. His name is on Face 10A at the Thiepval Memorial in France.

The Battle of the Somme began a hundred years ago on 1st July; it ended on 18th November 1916. William Sweeney was one of 420 000 British casualties. That’s almost the entire population of Cumbria wiped out in the space of four months.

For me, The Somme is as distant as the Armada, an iconic historical event that belongs to another world, and although the presence of my granny’s long-lost father brings it closer, there are details I still can’t comprehend. What would make a man leave all his children to fight such a war? Did he regret it once he got there? Was he frightened? Did he think he’d ever go home? What did he tell his wife and sister in his letters? What were they thinking letting all those young men die?

There’s another postcard in the box and it might be a picture of Will. He’s small and sinewy in a Black Watch kilt and he’s looking sideways out of familiar mischievous eyes; there’s a glimmer of a smile on his face. I can’t be sure it’s him – but I’d like to think it is. He looks like the kind of man who’d chase his small daughter round the kitchen with a bayonet – just for a laugh.

The suspense is killing me

This time last week, my twitter account was suspended. I was aghast and outraged. How – I wanted to know (and I expressed that thought quite forcefully in several emails to Twitter) could I have violated Twitter’s regulations? Had I been offensive? No. Had I used foul/racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic language?  No. Had I made a threat to harm another member of the Twitter community? Good lord no. Perish the thought. Then why oh why Twitter had my human right to blither on about not very much with a bunch of people I’ve never met been taken away? Answer THAT and stay fashionable.

The day before had been a peculiar one. I had asked EduTwitter what house names they had at their schools. As a funny little joke, I added

WARNING: Unless you are anyone who says Gryffindor/Hufflepuff/Slytherin/Ravenclaw will be BLOCKED.

As you can see, I tagged Ms Rowling into my reply. What a hoot.

There was, I reckoned, no way that JKR would reply. Anyone who’s glanced at my blog will know that I have been vainly attempting to get Russell Crowe to tweet me for the last four years. I’ve tried a number of amusing and intriguing ways to attract Russ’s attention, but with no joy. You can read the sorry story here. Russell Crowe has 2.77 million followers, JKR has 14.5 million – what are the fucking odds*?

A few minutes after I’d posted and received a number of earnest replies (Larkin, Heaney, McDairmaid, Duffy, Hughes … Aylward, Bronte, Curie, Fry, Keller & Nightingale), the improbable occurred. JKR (or ‘Jo’ as I like to call her now), quote tweeted and replied to me. Blimey! This was a turn up for the books.


JKR 2nd tweet

The next few hours were tricky. My phone started to buzz with notifications – not to my tweet, to Jo’s – but because I was tagged in I received her notifications too. There was the mortification that my most viewed tweet ever had a typo in it, but a certain exhilaration that Harry Potter’s author had paused a moment to chuckle over my tweet and post a non-sequiteur that showed she hadn’t really read it properly. Still, the thought was there and – as many of the subsequent replies mentioned – she’d outed herself as a Slytherin.

Then I got a bit fed up. I wasn’t quite ready to ‘mute conversation’ in case something exciting came up, but the phone was fizzing in my hand like an underfed Tamogotchi. However, I continued to field the notifications.

Once we’d got into the thousands I’d had enough. A couple of Twitter pals made mildly amusing jokes and I answered not entirely patiently. I’m not used to Twitter notifications sending my phone haywire. I’m usually quite pleased if three people comment on my tweet. For a moment I considered this is what life must be like for @oldandrewuk and I vaguely wondered how he stands it.

Before I finally muted the conversation I had a quick look at my Twitter impressions. This is an analysis of how many people have viewed my tweets in the last 24 hours. Usually, it’s between 15 – 25 000. By Saturday afternoon I had almost 500 000 impressions.

Later that evening, I discovered I couldn’t tweet. This was irritating. Then a notice came up on my screen telling me my account had been suspended for violating the Twitter terms and conditions. I could make an appeal and leave it in the hands of Twitter who’d get round to sorting it ‘within a few days’.

Oddly, I could read my notifications and I received a number of tweets @sezl asking what the blithers was going on. Fortunately, I have several Twitter accounts (oh come on, who doesn’t?) and I tweeted anxiously from one of those accounts as @sezl in exile. It turns out that was a very bad move as being suspended from Twitter is the same as being excluded from school; until the terms of the suspension have been lifted, you are not allowed on the premises. Even to hand in your maths homework. In hindsight, tweeting from another account could have made matters worse.

What was rather lovely, was fellow tweeters asking – even emailing – to ask if I was ok. There were a couple of hashtags #freetheCarlisle1 and #free@sezl which I found immensely touching.

There were lots of suggestions as to why I had been suspended: I could have been hacked; the spike in my notifications could have made it look like I was a bot; my brother suggested jealous Harry Potter fans had maliciously ganged up to thwart my blossoming friendship with Jo … it was QUITE the puzzle. Still, I was frustrated and upset. I hated not being able to tweet or see what was going on. I had a strong sense that I was being treated unjustly.

Fortunately, there was no need to print the #free@sezl T shirts  or organise the march on Downing Street. Twitter took pity on me and messaged to explain the reason I had been suspended and asked me to sort it out. All I had to do was delete a single offensive tweet. A number of people had seen it and reported it. Twitter reproduced it in order to enlighten me.

I had, on Saturday – as a JOKE – tweeted @JamesTheo and suggested that if he didn’t stop posting daft replies to my house names tweet I would actually hunt him down and kill him. Unfortunately, I left JK Rowling tagged into my tweet. To all intents and purposes, half a million or so Twitter users saw a tweet written by me that looked as if I was threatening to murder the Queen of Hogwarts. The worst bit was, I hadn’t even remembered that I’d written it until I saw the evidence in black and white.

There are several things that need saying. First, I have to apologise to JK Rowling and her fans as I never I never intended to upset anyone. Secondly, thank you to all the kind people who got in touch with Twitter on my behalf in the mistaken belief @sezl would ever post anything mean. Next, I apologise for my own self-righteousness – I did write something awful and being suspended was fair. And last, Twitter reporting seems to work. If it looked like someone had threatened  to harm someone I cared about on Twitter and I didn’t know the context, I’d report them and expect their account to be investigated. Meanwhile, I’m so relieved to be back. I promise I wont do it again.

* The odds of JK Rowling seeing and responding to my tweet are slightly higher that the odds of me winning the jackpot on the UK lottery. Yes, did buy a ticket. No, I didn’t win.


Wee Scots Grannies

First published in Carlisle Living November 2014

Until I was about six, I thought everybody had a Scottish granny; a wee Scots granny with a rain hat, a tartan trolley and a Cairn terrier: I honestly believed it was the law. As my English maternal grandparent was known as ‘Grandma’ I even assumed the name ‘Granny’ was exclusively Scottish. As I got older, of course, I realised that this was no more than a stereotype and that not everyone receives a copy of The Broons or Oor Wullie at Christmas or understands the lyrics of ‘Hi Jock My Cuddy’ and that some poor creatures have no granny at all – let alone the fabulous, legendary Scottish type.

My mother, a small fierce woman with an unexpectedly warm heart – imagine Lady Macbeth played by Julie Walters and you’ll have her – is a dedicated Scottish granny.

When Tom and Jessie were little they spent a lot of time at my mum’s. There was a point, when Jessie was about four and played a game called ‘going to the post office, then picking up my prescription’ when I wondered whether she might possibly be spending a bit too much time with Granny, but, really, it didn’t do her any harm. The highlight of the week was Tuesday Tea. Tuesday was the night I worked late and my parents picked the kids up and gave them their dinner. Tom and Jessie loved Tuesday Tea. Granny and Grandad served them spaghetti Bolognese or tuna pasta bake or scrambled egg on toast – or whatever they wouldn’t eat when I made it – and afterwards, there’d be Mulan or Calamity Jane in the living room with the gas fire turned up to five bars.

There can, however, be a dark side to the Scots granny. Like Sergeant Fraser in Dad’s Army, my mother has a propensity for hollow-eyed Caledonian gloom. Whenever I drop in to see her, she gives me a rundown of surgical procedures that her friends and casual acquaintances have most recently undergone and she regularly updates the schedule with current or speculated outcomes – rather like a medical shipping forecast: ‘Colonoscopy: moderate to fair … stent and pacemaker: variable, becoming cyclonic …’

And like any true Scots granny, she also has a thrifty streak. A word of warning here though – ‘thrifty’ is not the same as ‘mean’. She might warn you to go easy on the washing up liquid, but at a moment’s notice, she’ll lend you three hundred quid to get your clutch fixed. Last year, when the supermarkets were running one of those ‘spend £40 and get a fiver off’ deals, my mother handed me her unused vouchers with a quavering hand on the grounds that shelling out forty pounds in a single shopping expedition was an act of the most wanton decadence. When I suggested that she used them to stock up on a year’s supply of washing powder and dishwasher tablets, she gave me an ominous look implying she might not outlive the dishwasher powder and the last thing she’d want in the event of her untimely demise was a cupboardful of unused detergents. By the way, if you’re worried that she’s reading this and might take offence – don’t. A copy of Carlisle Living costs three pounds – that’s a day out in Poundland. She only reads my column if there happens to be a copy in the waiting room at the dentist, so it’s unlikely this will get back to her before next spring. Anyway, even if she did read it, she wouldn’t tell me she’d enjoyed it. It might make her laugh out loud, but what she calls ‘Scots Pride’ would forbid her from mentioning it, in case a word of praise might make me too big for my boots. Fierce love can burn within the Scots granny’s heart, but expressing it out loud is taboo. Even when Jessie – the apple of her Granny’s eye – left for Nepal last month, my mother thought that a hug goodbye was a step too far. ‘When did all this hugging start?’ she grumbled. And while I’m with her on false displays of affection between relative strangers (why does everyone sign their texts with kisses these days … really …?) I had to point out that it’s perfectly ok to hug your beloved granddaughter before she goes off to the other side of the world.

There may be some of you thinking ‘… hang on … this sounds like MY Granny, and SHE’S not Scottish … ‘ and I’m aware that some of my mother’s grandmotherly qualities may well be universal. Jessie has just contacted me to tell me that Nepali grannies are just like her granny. ‘They’re  tiny, with short black hair and they carry bags of shopping twice as big as they are.’ So perhaps these wise, fierce, indomitable women, who love us without words or vanity, exist everywhere – not just in Scotland.