I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

Hebridean Hideaway

I am back in my happy place (i.e. away from my ironing pile). We are on our annual pilgrimage to the Isle of Tiree for a whole week of spending lots of time together in close quarters. So far so almost relaxing.

The journey to get here borders on the off-putting as it involves a 3.30am wake-up, a two hour twisty drive and a four hour ferry trip. Our hopes that the kids will sleep in the car on the way are always dashed and the little darlings manage to summon vast amounts of energy from hell-knows-where as soon as they are trapped on the ferry with limited entertainment.  I caught myself staring enviously at the parents of two pre-teen girls nearby whose sullen daughters totally ignored their mum and dad for the whole four hour sail.

Having not taken a long-haul flight since the Blair Administration, when we finally arrived I experienced the closest thing to jet lag in nearly ten years and crashed out halfway through a Good Housekeeping* article (How To Look Good in Selfies. Noted.).  The kids continued to bounce around like lunatics as they explored our (different from the previous three years) holiday house, culminating in a monstrous meltdown from the youngest who declared, “THIS HOUSE IS NOT TIREEEEEEEE”. Quite.

Appeased by giant Jenga, Nutella on white bread and 10pm bedtimes, they have settled in admirably. It also helps that my parents are also holidaying here in what must be their 33rd consecutive year (bar one**). We are on the other side of the island (5 miles away) this year but still see them everyday as mum needs her WiFi and Wimbledon fix (their cottage has remained largely untouched by modern technology in the 33 years)  while poor dad gets cajoled into playing My Little Ponies with the girls.

It’s very hard to put into words what I love about this place (because I am on holiday and cracking open the Strongbow™ at lunchtime) so here are some of the photos I have been posting on Facebook, just to piss off everyone on the mainland who are experiencing much shitter weather:

Tiree machair

Glorious machair

Ballevullin Beach, Isle of Tiree

Beachy mornings

Crochet blanket

Rainy afternoons

A swing park with a view

Play parking

Stunning Ballevullin beach, Tiree

Despite living very close to the sea, I can’t get enough of the sea.

I love that the Tiree 2015 album is almost identical  to the Tiree 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 albums but with slightly bigger and curlier-haired children in the photos. Old friends I’ve known from childhood are also holidaying here with their kids so it’s lovely to see the next generation relentlessly digging holes on the beach and frolicking in the waves.

We are nearly mid-way through the week, and already I am dreading leaving.  We have been blessed with better-than-predicted weather so have enjoyed happy mornings at the beach before retiring to the cottage for leisurely lunches followed by afternoons of blissful inactivity. Niall watches Wimbledon and deals with near-catastrophic bio-mass boiler issues back home, I crack on with my latest epic crochet project and the girls amuse themselves, twatting about pretending to be dogs or ponies or spies. It’s heavenly. Thoughts of epic laundry piles and monstrous baskets of ironing have been quelled by copious amounts of Strongbow™ and the obligatory Prossecco.  There is also still so much to do: the seals (we never make it), the north end (ditto), the pottery, the gallery, the weird shop that sells everything, run by a family that seemingly hasn’t aged for forty years (Niall thinks they are vampires), boogie boarding,  pony trekking and the annual lawn boule tournament which my mum takes Very Seriously Indeed.  I think we’ll need at least a month next year.

 

 

 

*For years I’ve been persevering with Glamour and occasionally Cosmopolitan, though they leave me feeling utterly inadequate in every way. Recently, however, I had an epiphany in the doctors waiting room whilst leafing through a Good Housekeeping. I loved reading about  Clare Balding’s style secrets,  how to detox my finances (should I ever accumulate any) and coping with empty nest syndrome (one can dream) and I have now fully accepted that I am well within their demographic. Also, I can steal my mum’s copies.

**dad took us to  Australia for six months, on sabbatical.  After much discussion, Tiree was declared too far for a holiday

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Road Rage

I have been lured back to civilisation twice in as many weeks recently, to celebrate  several decades worth of birthdays. It’s as good a reason as any to make the 4(ish, on a good day when the Gods are smiling and the children aren’t doing convincing impressions of Damien from the Omen) hour journey back to my parents’ house, which becomes base camp for my various shenanigans.

There was only ever going to be one winner

There was only ever going to be one winner

This time last year my lovely friend organised a fabulous girly weekend away which was largely spent in a hot tub, drunk on Prosecco. This year, by marked contrast, we were subjected to what I can only describe as My Worst Nightmare – a three hour badminton tournament. I shit you not.  I tried everything to get out of it, even a note from my mum, but somehow I found myself on court, lumbering around like a hippo with less coordination than a drunk toddler. I like to think I provided the entertainment value. At a generous estimate I hit the twatting shuttlething four times (in three games) and ended up on my arse twice. Never again.

The second celebration that weekend involved a whole day and a night away from the kids which was sheer BLISS. Unencumbered by bored, whinging and occasionally just downright rude children, I was able to enjoy a fabulous day in Edinburgh, catching up with old friends, new babies and the all-important solo shopping trip to real, actual shops. It’s not that our local Factory Shop or Nickel and Dime don’t offer a wide range of interesting goods to peruse, (where else can you buy a colander, a bra and years supply of Persil?) or that I’m not becoming an expert in online shopping (apart from the jeggings which I still can’t talk about…)  but I do miss the thrill of big wide aisles, rails and rails of choice and knowing that you’re never more than a few yards away from a latte, a toilet or a cashpoint.

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Her hair colour is frighteningly accurate

My goal was simple –  a go-with-anything, uber-flattering, smart/casual black top to wear to that evenings engagement. Naturally the novelty wore off after half an hour and I found myself wandering aimlessly, in a zombie-like stupor through the soulless concourses of the out-of-town retail park I’d chosen for it’s convenience. After three hours of fruitless searching, including a meltdown in M&S, I decided to cut my losses and flee the commercial hell-hole, empty handed save for a prawn sandwich and panic-purchased new jacket as I stupidly didn’t pack one. (Wait WHAT??? Clearly 40 years in Scotland has taught me nothing).

Fortunately my sister had a go-with-anything, uber-flattering smart/casual black top which she kindly lent me and we had a fabulous time at our friend’s 50th birthday party. The highlight of the night was an intimate living room performance by Yvonne Lyon and her husband who are a fantastic Scottish folk duo, well known in that scene but a wonderful new discovery for me. I bought their album for the journey home, thinking, what better accompaniment to a long drive through the scenic Scottish highlands.

Sadly no amount of stirring, soulful music could have ever have mollified what turned out to be the ultimate journey from hell. It all went wrong when I pulled up a forest track to have a wee which had become significantly non-negotiable about 5 miles previously. Suddenly there was a ghastly crunching sound and it was pretty clear I’d done something fairly catastrophic to my underside (of the car, just to clarify). I decided to soldier on for the remaining two hours as really there was no other option, it being a Sunday night in the arse-end of nowhere. Denial worked wonders and I managed to ignore the ghastly sounds coming from below (again, the car).  We were back on track when the youngest suddenly threw up a journey’s worth of healthy snacks (crisps and chocolate) all over the back seat and then decided to be fussy about emergency clothing because it wasn’t pink. I would like to report that I remained calm throughout but sadly we weren’t alone in that  remote lay-by and an elderly couple witnessed my tirade of expletives that culminated in two screaming children and a sobbing mother. Have a meltdown and carry on is my motto (get that on  a twatting tea towel NOW please) so off we set once again with a broken, stinking car and another hour to go.

The end was in sight when we turned off the main road onto the long and winding, single-track B842 which leads to our door but sadly fate was pissing itself once again. After two miles, cruising along merrily(ish), we got stuck behind a selfish twat of a 30-mile-an-hour driver who refused to let us past, despite my persistent horn-blasting, light-flashing and fruitless cursing of his soul. We had no choice but to sit tight (admittedly right up his arse) for the next twenty miles. I was an empty husk by the time we got home and vowed I would never, ever make that journey again.

Me after THAT journey

Me after THAT journey

Like childbirth (although I did get off lightly with two C-sections), one quickly forgets the hideous trauma of a nightmare journey and a mere two weeks later, I found myself heading back up the B842 for a 5th birthday party in our former home town. It nearly went to shit before we’d even left when I realised the DVD players weren’t working but there was nothing for it but to risk the trip without entertainment. I took a deep breath, swore heavily under my breath and blasted out Disney’s Greatest Hits from my iPod. Clearly I’d paid my dues and was blessed with text-book journeys, both ways. The children were angelic (or asleep), I remained calm throughout and the car stayed intact and vomit free. Hakuna Matata.

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No Thanks

I am a HUGE fan of autumn and have been loving the changing colours and light of the past few weeks. Who knew that taking a dog out for a poo at 5.30am could be such a treat. We might not get the spectacular sunsets that the smug west coasters get, but our sunrises can be pretty special if you have the misfortune of being up at that heinous hour.

This is what 6am looks like. You're welcome.

This is what 6am looks like. You’re welcome.

The sea is still inviting although the temperatures have dropped significantly. I thought I’d had my last swim weeks ago but seized the moment this week with a visiting southern friend who fancied a dip. His expletives could be heard for miles around as his testicles retreated faster than a Better Together campaigner in an egg factory when he submerged himself in the water and flailed around for all of a minute. Admittedly it was a little cooler than previous times but still utterly devine and the perfect remedy for a shattered insomniac.

Niall went for the subliminal approach to try and influence my decision.

Niall went for the subliminal approach to try and influence my decision.

I am still waking (or being woken) in the small hours and no amount of sheep counting or light referendum reading can lull me back to sleep. The Yes/No question continued to plague me until I finally cracked one morning after a pathetic four hour sleep. I tore the ballot paper from the envelope and defiantly etched my black cross in the ‘No’ box and sealed it all up before I had time to find the tippex. I don’t think I was impulsive. From the beginning I was firmly in the ‘No’ camp but was tempted by the passion and commitment of the ‘Yes’ folk and was very much buoyed along by promises of a fairer society, protection of our amazing NHS and improved child care options for working parents. News of Ukip gaining support and power also started to tip the scales to a ‘Yes’ from me but while my head was saying this could work, we can do this, my heart was screaming, please don’t go.

I am VERY proud to be Scottish but I can’t imagine not being part of the United Kingdom. A friend just summed it up perfectly for me on Facebook: “To me it comes down to being a fish and choosing whether you want your own pond or are happy to share the ocean.” I just think it’s better to share.

Who knows what will happen on the 18th, or indeed forever after, but it’s looking like there is only a baw hair* in it. I just hope the smugness will be kept to a minimum whatever the outcome and that the energy and debate will continue until the promises that were made by either side are kept.

* this is an official political term. Obvs.

3am Reading List

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Yes No Maybe

Fur baby

Fur baby

We are adjusting well to being a family of five. Crumble has settled in well and as predicted, has the run of the castle. No chesterfield remains unchewed and no antique rug has escaped piddle-free. Any flimsy rules we made about no dogs on the sofas or beds were broken by day two and there are nightly battles over who gets to cuddle the warm puppy whilst watching crap telly (or indeed twatting about with (anti) social media whilst eschewing actual conversation with significant other…). She is fabulous.

Carnage

Carnage

There have been numerous inevitable toy casualties. I was quite traumatised by the grim discovery of a severed hand on the playroom floor and the naked, mangled corpse of eagle-eyes action man close by. Fake Barbie (£3.50 – you get what you pay for) suffered a similar fate but I managed to reassemble her disembowelled body, although she may have lost the use of her left arm.

Shit just got real

Shit just got real

The puppy’s arrival has coincided with an unexpected and most unwelcome period of insomnia for me. I must stress it has nothing to do with our gorgeous baby fur-ball but I keep waking at silly hours (usually aided by the cries of a small child) and just can’t fall back to sleep. Aside from the obvious drawbacks (psychotic mood swings, looking like a bag of shite…), on the plus side it’s giving me ample extra time to mull over The Big Question that is being asked of Scotland. Not ‘Should Susan Boyle be banished for her opening ceremony performance?’* but the much more serious and potentially life/society/everything changing, ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’. We opted for a postal vote (just in case hell froze over and we weren’t in the country on the 18th of September) so my ballot paper is sitting in the kitchen, waiting for me to make my bloody mind up and tick a box.

This.

This.

I so envy my friends and family who are emphatic about their choice, which ever side they take. I have ricocheted between Yes and No like a hyperactive toddler and have no idea how I’ll feel either way on the 19th. I do know I have made some very bad decisions lately (jeggings. I don’t want to talk about it.) so will attempt to inform myself properly and not be swayed by Facebook propaganda or what Peter Capaldi thinks. (No idea.). I have dipped in and out of The White Paper which is all very jolly but doesn’t real answer the big questions (currency, economic growth, exiling John Barrowman) but then this patronising pile of guff from the Better Together campaign sent me fleeing to the Yes side.

I am sitting very uncomfortably on the fence but for the time being I’m clinging on tightly. I need a lot more sleep before I decide. Night, night.

(Oh balls. It’s 9am and I’ve promised them a trip to soft play. Aaaaaaarrrrrrrrggggghhhhhhhhh.)

*obvs. She forgot the words to Mull of Kintyre. Unforgivable.

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All Change

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Lots and lots of this

“It turns colder, that’s where it ends…”*

Summer, you did us proud again. We’ve loved every minute and have banked some fabulous memories to see us through the winter months. Thank you for the sun tans, the wild swims, for being too hot for the evil midges, for allowing us to be outside much more than inside and for showing all our (paying and non-paying) guests just how amazing our little edge of nowhere can be. Same again next year please.

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Plenty of this

I realise it might be little premature to close the door on summer but this is Scotland and there has been a distinct drop in temperature this last week and a definite yellow tinge to a few of the trees. I’m not packing away the ambre solaire just yet but I’m squeezing myself into ill-fitting jeans rather than too-tight shorts and have even required a raincoat a couple of times this week.

There is also a Big Milestone approaching which brings the holidays to a natural end – our oldest daughter is starting school this week. At four and half, she is six months younger than her two classmates so we had the choice of keeping her at nursery for another year. It was a tough decision but in such an intimate environment, where she already knows the names of the entire school (12 pupils!), it seemed to be the sensible option. Time will tell and any issues will no doubt be flung in my face when she’s a stroppy teenager – “I WASN’T READY!!!” *door slams*. I can just picture the scene…

It feels like a new era is beginning. We will no longer have the flexibility of popping “up the road” on a Friday morning, for a long weekend and as the school day starts half and hour earlier than nursery did, I’ll have to seriously adjust my morning ‘fannying about’ time and Get My Shit Together. School seems to be a whole different ball game from nursery. There is a compulsory uniform for instance. They were encouraged to wear it at nursery and the other five pupils willingly did, but not so our little rebellious madam who frequently pitched up sporting a ghastly Disney princess frock and one occasion, her leopard print onsie. I’m not looking forward to that daily battle but must admit to being secretly chuffed that she’s showing early signs of non-conformity. (I would be more chuffed if she chose to non-conform in something other than Disney though).

Totally eclipsing First Day At School excitement is of course, puppy excitement. Our third child substitute (it’s time to call a spade a spade) arrives TONIGHT! Ideally when both the children are asleep so they will wake up to the pitter patter of tiny paws. It’s not great timing in terms of trying to bundle Zoë off to school for her second day but it does mean that India will have a playmate in her absence.

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Home improvements

So it’s all change again at the castle but all for the better – notwithstanding the inevitable chewing of antique furniture and piddling on ancient rugs. Each generation has left a legacy of doggie damage somewhere in the house (a ripped portrait here, a gnawed table leg there) and I’m sure Crumble will also leave her mark. The children certainly have. Their chosen victim was the 150 year old rocking horse that graces our playroom. I stupidly left them unattended with poster paint for a few minutes and returned to find poor Dobbin had been given a makeover. I was fleetingly livid but calmed down quickly when I realised they were merely adding to Dobbin’s legend. These include stories of losing her mane and tail in mock battle and most famously of all, great grandpa’s brother posting marbles through the hole in her bottom, which still rattle to this day at a fast gallop.

 

*yep, Grease. Can’t remember my Shakespeare.

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Summer Loving

LIterally TENS of people on the beach

LIterally TENS of people on the beach

Hello summer! It’s been hot, hot, hot (Low twenties. It’s all relative.) for what feels like ages so we’ve been making good use of our beautiful local beaches. Playgroup has twice abandoned the village hall in favour of the beach which has been fabulous and so much more relaxing for us wrung-out mothers. The kids seem to get along so much better outside and although  there are odd moments of violence and aggression, generally they are all the best of friends which is so vital, being such a wee community.

We recently lost a lovely pal who moved back to civilisation and this had a huge impact on our little group. She was a brilliant person to know and inspired us all to be better parents and also, miraculously, take up exercise! I found the latter easier than the former but I’m really trying to do things differently, be more patient and generally not lose my shit so often. Like right now, for example.  I am trying to steal a few moments to write my blog but my despot two-and-half year old is going bat-shit crazy because giant Paddington Bear is quite clearly too big for Action Man’s tank and she is demanding I rectify this futile situation immediately. The old me (yesterday) might have matched her glass-shattering decibels with a few expletives and thrown said toys dramatically out of the room but I managed to rise above it, create a distraction and restore calm. No shrieking, no swearing. Go me. Hopefully I’ve changed in time to save me a fortune in therapy fees later on. (Theirs, not mine – I want ALL the therapy).

Swims in the sea are also helping my mental health and we have fallen into a lovely routine of popping down to our little beach at around 4pm for a dip and a paddle. It is blissful and wonderful to watch the children gaining confidence in the water. Being non-swimmers just isn’t an option for them, living where we do. They should get plenty practice this week as we are off on our annual holiday to Tiree for more of the same. I can’t wait to be there again, my remote home from (my remote) home. The gruelling journey began at 3.30am this morning but we are now safely aboard the Clansman, happily stuffed with the mandatory CalMac breakfast and succeeding at ignoring the children as they pester random strangers and torment unassuming doggies. I am also ignoring the fact that it is currently pissing down and visibility is pretty much zero. It will be fine once we get there – the sun ALWAYS shines on Tiree.

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Summer-ish

We have had a whole fortnight of fabulous weather, way down here on our phallic peninsula. The trees are looking wonderfully leafy and the disease-carrying, non-native, invasive rhododendrons* are bursting into bloom all over the place, along with the more politically correct cherry blossom. Winter coats have been tentatively stored away and welly boots have been discarded in favour of pumps and flip-flops and, this being Scotland, also still welly boots.

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Allie says it how it is

I seized upon the warmer temperatures to brave the sea for the first time this year. With a gang of sundry relatives, visiting pals and our Canadian WWOOFer, we trooped down to the beach, nicely glowing from an afternoon lounging in the sun and psyching (some of) ourselves up for a dip. It was much breezier by the sea, however, and I quietly hoped any ideas of stripping off and getting in would be swiftly abandoned. I hadn’t banked on our Canadian WWOOFer having a moment of crazy however, and suddenly she was knee deep, then properly submerged. The screams could be hear for miles around and I don’t mind admitting I was having second thoughts. However, with my sister for company (and life-saving skills), I waded in, took several deep breaths and dived under. It was wonderful. Chilly, bracing, so cold it was almost burning, but wonderful. They say it takes years off you, in which case I am turning 35 on Monday. So there.

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There has been lots of this sort of thing

The weather has made such a difference to our New Zealand visitors as it’s so much easier to keep five children entertained when the sun is out. Activities have largely included throwing themselves down a grassy embankment, making dens in the bamboo and larking around in our brand new wood-fuelled hot tub. This is the stuff memories are made of and I think even two and a half year old India will always remember this visit. I can’t bear to think about their departure in just over a week but before that is the whole reason for their visit! My brother-in-law’s wedding is now imminent and the excitement is immeasurable. All that’s left to be done is a swift eye-brow pluck and the application of some industrial foundation, preferably with a trowel, in an attempt to disguise four years of no sleep. I also have to work out how to cram nappies, wipes, jelly babies, calpol, tissues and an emergency sick bowl into my elegant purple clutch. Whose idea was it to invite the children?

*apologies for the Daily Mail description but they really are bad news

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Forty Years Young

20140403-075636.jpgI am recovering from yet another blissful, child-free weekend spent in the company of fabulous women. The first of my primary schools chums hit the big ‘four-oh-no’ and bravely decided to embrace the ghastly milestone with a weekend away with 12 of her closest and daftest pals in a beautiful wooden cabin complete with hot tub.

What followed was a glorious celebration of all things ‘Lynda’ which we managed to arrange behind her back after weeks of secret collaborations over Facebook. New friendships have been forged (much to the annoyance of the birthday girl – she was never good at sharing) and old friendships have been rekindled as we pulled together a wonderful melange of all of her favourite things. These included, in no particular order of total amazingness, a birthday cake depicting the metamorphosis of frogs in fondant icing, a Lynda themed game of Family Fortunes complete with creepy Les Dennis mask and whap-whap*, Lynda bunting, a photo album rammed with memories and a personalised Guess Who? game made with pals old and new, sporting various disguises and interesting facial hair. Our gorgeous girl was chuffed to bits.

When it wasn’t all about Lynda, it was all about the hot tub. Six of us sensibly eschewed a 25 mile cycle ride on the Saturday in favour of a four hour soak/therapy session accompanied by a ready supply of beer, wine and prosecco. 20140403-173530.jpgI vaguely remember someone stuffing crisps in my mouth too. I think that day ranks as one of my happiest ever, notwithstanding my wedding day and the births of my two children. Probably.

Predictably, the girls, who had been little treasures for my parents all weekend, ganged up together and decided to be totally foul to me by way of punishment for abandoning them. It was counter-productive though as I’m now even more desperate to book another weekend away. I fully intend to play the’ F**K ME I’M FORTY’ card and see if I can wing another child-free break, maybe even with my husband this time. A hot tub will be mandatory as well as at all the girls from the birthday weekend and a good few from the hen, for good measure. A reasonable request I think although I strongly suspect he would rather pan-fry his testicles.

*me neither. It’s the ‘wrong answer’ sound apparently.

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I Heart Scotland

With less than 640 hours to go, my Christmas preparations are gathering momentum. As well as some tinsel and a couple of woolly snowflakes, I now own enough baco foil to wrap the castle in, Christo-style. I must remember to acutally order the fuckingturkey though. I fear it may get forgotten about amidst the excitement of DIY decorations and crocheted gifts and it would be monumentally tragic if we were forced to split cousin Janey’s vegetarian haggis 13 ways.

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Stitching and bitching

I decided to take another wee trip ‘up the road’ at the weekend under the guise of doing some Christmas shopping somewhere other than the evil blue, red and white supermarket*. My real motive however, was to spend as little time with the children as possible and wallow in the lake of ME for a bit whilst my parents and sister rushed around after the wee terrorists, exhausting themselves trying to meet petty need after petty need. It was bliss.

I even managed a Girls Night In with two of my oldest and bestest pals. It was WILD. Over half a bottle of prosecco, I attempted to teach them how to crochet a stylish winter headband. I’m sure they won’t mind being described as beginners but by the time my parents came crashing in, drunk, at midnight, they had both cracked it and were well on the way to a finished item. I was so proud. In my review of 2013, that night comes top of my list of nights in or out. I haven’t laughed so much in ages but it really made me miss the girls when I got home. Luckily they’ve both been harassing me on Skype and Facebook for emergency crochet advice so I don’t feel so far away.

Back at the castle, winter is settling in nicely and is rewarding us with spectacular colours and views and crisp, sunny days. Even the mundane school run is a joy as I try to concentrate on the road whilst soaking in the astounding scenery. I am feeling very much in love with Scotland at the moment and VERY protective of my amazing country. My heart has always said ‘no’ to independence, but as the campaign gathers momentum, I find myself drawn to points from both sides. I am only beginning to realise the vastness of this decision and it terrifies me just a little bit but I am determined to arm myself with as much information as possible and remove my ‘politics filter’ that I usually apply to printed and digital media. I have even downloaded the referendum white paper on my kindle which I will peruse shortly. Just as soon as I finish Bridget Jones’ Diary. One must prioritise.

*because the evil green and orange supermarkets are so much better. :-/

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