Imaginary Mansion

plural noun


a large, impressive house..
stately home






manor house


country house




In May we welcomed baby Finn into our home. With our nuclear family up to four, and our post baby support team swelling the bodies in our two bedroom flat to six, I have been imagining what life might be like if we lived in a slightly larger house.

In my imaginary mansion I would have a sewing room in a turret,
and a writing room in another turret.
I would have at least one sound proofed room.

I would have a library in the entryway so that everyone was greeted by books when they arrived.

I would have plenty of storage for prams and mice would never play in the linen.

There would be granny flats for all the grannies who wanted to come and visit the babies, and guest rooms for all our near and far visitors.

The wifi would work in all the rooms so that nobody had to use the toilet as a desk.

I would have a cleaner.

I would have a kitchen that can hold more than one person at a time.
Tenement kitchen and Rafa, Edinburgh


I would still have a communal backyard because it is lovely to share toys and bump into our friendly neighbours while we are in our yard. Wine time and playtime are especially sweet when you don’t have to catch the bus home afterwards.
Communal backyard. Edinburgh.



Bath Time

This pregnancy has seen me take many baths. Resting, with the weight taken off for a little while has been helping me get through my busy days. The bath was one of my pre-requisits when we were flat hunting: No bath = No deal.
I recall a conversation a month or two back, with someone who commented that baths were good ‘me’ time, letting you shut the door on the world for a little while. Personally although I remember the concept of ‘me’ time and shut doors my baths do not represent either. They take place amidst the busy flow of my day, not outside of it.
This afternoon’s was not a ‘me’ time bath, though it did start out promisingly. I worked the morning shift and got home with a sore back to an empty house. I emptied the bath toys out of the tub, turned on the hot tap, put some bubble bath in and fetched a glass of water, a small packet of potato chips* and a book. I got into the bath before it was full and kept the temperature on the lower side of too hot as per my midwife’s instructions.
I breathed out, and let the hydro magic begin. Then I opened my chip packet and began to eat. I am aware that eating in the bath is possibly not for everyone, but hey, I’m pregnant and it was what I was in the mood for. I started to relax, though I was aware that my husband and son could be arriving home at any moment.
I enjoyed my first few chips and then I heard a cry that could only be Rafa’s coming from the base of the stairwell. My son sounded like he was in considerable distress. I ate another chip – not enjoying it quite so much. The wailing got louder, but did not seem to be getting any closer. Should I go into mummy panic mode? Why wasn’t my husband a) soothing the beast? or b) getting his ass up the stairs more quickly? Should I leap out of the bath and rush my seven month pregnant self out into the communal stair well dripping bath water and bubbles? Was there time to pick up my towel?
I did have all these thoughts but because I am a slummy mummy I sat in my bath and ate chips while my son screamed. I ate them without particularly enjoying them and slightly more quickly than I would have otherwise. I didn’t want to have to share.
Rafa trampolining, March 2015. Edinburgh.
Eventually Jon and Rafa made it up the stairs and inside. The cause of distress was not a violent bump to the head or a dinosaur having bitten off his hand, it was Rafa’s response to not being allowed to go out and play on the trampoline. My son was snot stained but perfectly healthy. I wet the clean face washer I had been planning to rest my head on when I got around to lying back in my bath, and washed Rafa’s face with it. Once inside his anguish was forgotten (by him at least). Despite my knowledge that his screaming was a tantrum and not a ‘real’ trauma, the distress still clanged in my brain like a burglar alarm.
As did the knowledge that I had sat in the bath eating whilst he screamed. Earlier in the day there had been a saccharine facebook post asking mums to repost something or other if you were a mum who thought about their children with every breath ect ect; I kept scrolling. Now I had to wonder if all this made me a second (or third) rate mum.
Did I want to be that person?
While I was trying to stop Rafa from throwing good Sherrin AFL footballs into my bath Jon showed me the jeans he had picked up for me from the mummy store. Once buying jeans was a highly personal task that involved mirrors and visits to different shops and your best girlfriends. This week with my current maternity jeans falling off me every three steps and sick to death of the skinny jean shuffle I went online and found some bigger, baggier, higher waisted mum maternity jeans and sent my husband to collect them.
How did I get to be someone who does not even have time to go shopping for herself? For jeans: the modern woman’s wardrobe staple and personal statement about who she is?
Did I want to be her?
I lay down in my bath and Rafa repeatedly drove his matchbox ute across my head whilst going ‘ne naw ne naw’. All cars make this sound, especially when they are repeatedly smashed into mummys skull. I closed my eyes.
Did I want to be here?
My husband was in the doorway. Over the sound of Rafa’s burble he told me about the rest of his afternoon. After the shopping errands he had been to the hospital. His work college and Wednesday night football buddy had missed a few games with a sore back. A few days ago he had emailed to say that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive tumour and was about to start chemo. As far as he had known, this forty something year old man with a young family had been healthy a week ago, and now he was bed bound without the use of his legs or his bowels. I had read his email and been struck by his brutal honesty about where his body and head were at.
The word was that he wanted visitors, so Jon and Rafa spent the afternoon visiting a man whose life has been knocked out from beneath his feet.
I lay in the bath with my own young family crowded around me and wondered did I want to be here?
*or crisps if you are from the UK.

Learned Behavior

My 18 month old son was exhibiting somewhat disturbing behavior the other day. After my initial surprise at his actions had worn off I realised that his behavior was of course entirely the fault of his parents. He is not in daycare, does not spend large chunks of time with anyone besides us, nor does he watch a lot of television.

He has been demonstrating just how susceptible he is to following our lead for quite some time. His favorite thing to do is talk on the phone, or talk to anything his brain vaguely conceives could be a phone. He and I had quite a squabble during a skype conversation with his Australian Grandmother the other day. I was willing to share the phone: he was not.

Other behavior he has obviously taken on board is his love of sweeping the floor and wiping up spills. I do not love doing these things but I certainly spend a good chunk of time doing them. Unfortunately unlike his little friend Rose, Rafa does not have a mini broom and he quickly comes to grief when it comes to navigating around corners with an adult sized broom.

Rafa playing in the mud, February 2015, Edinburgh.

He also loves to help push his own pram, play on the beach, eat from my breakfast bowl, splash in mud puddles and give cuddles. It was with cuddles that the disturbing behavior started. This morning whilst I was sitting on the floor playing trucks with Rafa he came over and gave me a cuddle. That was very nice – one of the highlights of my life. But he quickly moved on from the cuddle and leaned in to give me a kiss. It was not a fairy kiss on the cheek. It was a full and insistent open mouthed pout. Whenever I tried to move away he gripped me tighter and shoved his mouth at me again. If this unwanted advance was taking place between adults at a party there would be a knee in the family jewels.

When I howled with laughter at his passionate embrace he howled back in distress. Eventually I managed a compromise and returned a couple of his open mouthed kisses with my own closed mouth kisses and he let me go and returned to his trucks.

Appartently a similar pattern had played out when his father was putting him to bed the night before. Jon’s question was – what has he been watching that he is doing that?  My answer was – us.

He is at an age where he absorbs everything around him and he lives in a house where his mum and dad exchange kisses. We give him plenty of kisses as well – but they are different from the kisses we give each other. I am not saying we spend the majority of our time together playing tonsil hockey, but obviously from the perspective of our little blond angel kisses happen.

This demonstration of how much of a sponge toddlers are is a good reminder of how aware we need to be of our own behavior around these precious bundles. Rafa does not live in a home where he is ever exposed to violence, but his slimy kissing attempts made me think of the ugly adult behavior that a child can learn at his parents side; making the saying that violence breeds violence take on a real and scary dimension.

Luckily I am so far seeing good evidence that love breeds love as well.

I just have to hope that  Rose or some other of his other girl or boy friends teach him what happens to slimy unwanted advances before he hits the teenage party circuit.

Any Day Adventure

A day can take you a lot of places, even when you don’t really go anywhere at all.

Today at the bus stop I was reading a library book my husband picked out for me. Love with a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche is a memoir about an adventursome couple who sailed from the USA to Australia via all sorts of Pacific Islands. I am still at the sea-sick stages of their journey (hers not his), but even with the graphic descriptions of ocean going illness, reading sun kissed tales of sailing off of Mexico whilst standing at a frosty Edinburgh bus stop with your feet freezing to the ground does make the other life tempting.

Cover for Love with a Chance of Drowning, Torre DeRoche
My reading was interrupted by the arrival of a little mittened girl with her grandmother. We chatted about the neighborhood – how great the park is, how annoying the overflowing bins are, how great the nearby library is and how little parking there is for locals. I told the little girl I was impressed at her wearing her hat. My son I told her throws his off immediately. She told me Jack Frost was here and pulled her mittens on securely.
The grandmother asked me my sons name and when I told her she said: ‘Raphael, we know Raphael don’t we Katie.’
Katie nodded enthusiastically and the penny dropped. This was the Katie and her grandmother my husband reported regular play times and chats with at the playground. Katie told me how Rafa likes the shute (slide) and often has dirty knees. Katies mother does not like dirty knees, but Rafa’s mum and dad don’t mind. I recalled being told that some days Rafa plays enthusiastically with Katie, other days he ignores her in favor of boys kicking balls. Boys will be boys. I was delighted to get this little glimpse of my boys out and about in the world and to meet some of their new friends.
The grandma and I smiled over the coincidence of meeting in this way and agreed that we do indeed live in a village.
My bus ride takes me out to the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary. I don’t have an appointment today, just an errand to run. In the week before Christmas I was struck by a big case of baby brain. I organised the baby, my husband and some friends to attend Christmas carols only to turn up a day late, I got my work schedule tangled up and got a call from my manager ‘checking in’ due to my no show and I caught the wrong bus home and had to walk a good distance with pre-Christmas groceries.
This was all topped on Christmas Eve when I attended my 20 week ultrasound out at the Royal. With my husband running a little behind, I left my phone out when the scan began. The baby measured up against whatever measures are important for a 20 week old bun in the oven and Jon and Rafa arrived in time to get a glimpse of the new family member.
After the scan we headed off to do some Christmas Eve grocery shopping and it was not until we loaded ourselves back in the car that my brain pinged that something was wrong. I searched through my backpack in the dark of the car for my phone, but came up empty handed, but I reasoned, I could easily have missed it in the miasma of my bag.
I told my husband about my suspicions when we parked at home. He called my phone from his and we listened to the ominous silence. Upstairs I upended the bag and found nothing. I recalled clearly setting my phone on top of the bag on the chair next to the scan bed in case Jon rang. Jon and Rafa had come into the semi dark room, moved the bag to sit without seeing the phone, which had no doubt toppled quietly to the floor. My focus was on saying hello to Rafa and on watching the new bub bob about on the black and white screen.
When we rang the hospital someone went on a search for us with the aid of a cleaners keys. The phone was not in the room. It might be in the office, but it was after five on Christmas Eve, (Wednesday) and nobody would be back until Monday. My stupidity clanged in my head. This was my first ever grown up phone, I had no insurance and while it was probably locked safe in a drawer, it could be anywhere! And I could do nothing about finding it or replacing it for four days.
Rover and Rafa on Christmas Day, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, 2014
This morning (Monday) I woke up with a mission, go out to the Royal and seek out my phone. When I laboriously checked my emails (on my computer rather than on my phone as I am used to doing) I made a happy discovery. Along with the fifteen junk emails from Amazon there was a note from my radiographer to say she thought I had left my phone! I blessed her from my bed, she needn’t have tracked down my email and sent me word of my phones safety, but she did.
My mission was successful. The world would soon be at my fingertips once more. All I needed was a power point to recharge the sad inanimate lump.
Returning from my late morning outing to the hospital the bus passed though some streets still cloaked in frost. I mused that no matter how nice the houses, living in the shadow of Blackford Hill would not be a pleasant thing in December. I could see the sun tinting other houses golden just over the way, but here Jack Frost was most certainly at work.
After a bowl of soup in Morningside I took myself to the library to catch up on my emailing and reading for the You Won’t Remember This project. I had the work of two poets (Australian and Scottish) to read and some correspondence with writers from India and Canada.
Spending time with the writing of adventuresome parents tugged at me just as the sailing memoir had at the bus stop. My life just now is exciting, but it is the suburban parent excitement of watching Raphael get his knees dirty at the park and of a new life growing in my belly. Life is about catching the right bus home so I can splash with Rafa in the bath and chat with my husband about their day, and find out if Rafa was nice to Katie.
It is good to have those adventures tugging at me, keeping me pondering where we will spend next Christmas.

Domestic Bliss

If you ever find yourself getting tiered of that daily grind of chores – washing the dishes, taking out the trash, doing the laundry, cooking meals ect. I have a great cure.

Just pack up your entire house, put most things into storage and put the things you cannot live without into suitcases. Fly around the world, stopping off to see friends, family and magnificent locations. Be sure to include a three week road trip in America – staying in motels with microwaves and kettles next to the toilet, on the outskirts of medium sized American towns.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco, March 2014


Out the back in Winston, Oregon, March 2014
Highway 101, Oregon, March 2014
Then go home – except if you are like us you wont have a home to speak of. You will need to
spend a week or so flat hunting. This seems to involve a lot of time online, and a lot of time climbing stairs to look at flats that are in need of renovation, or are not available for a month, or have kitchens the size of toilet cubicles. Check out other neighborhoods, daydream about the life you might live on the other side of town, then revisit where you used to live and get reminded why you chose to live there in the first place.
If you are lucky enough to find something suitable, in your neighbourhood, in your budget and with a backyard make sure you bribe the real estate guy or girl immediately. Otherwise your likely to call up about it the next morning to find that it is ‘under offer’ – from someone with cash in their pockets, and then you have to start the whole process all over again. Being ignored by real estate agents gets tiered very quickly.
Home Sweet Home, Edinburgh, April 2014
When you do get keys to a beautiful, unfurnished flat your worldly possessions are likely still to be in storage. You daydream about what your home will feel like when you don’t have to sit on the floor.
Unpack your suitcases, get loaned a saucepan or two and cook a meal for yourself for the first time in months. Wash that stinking mound of laundry and fill your sink with hot soapy water with which to wash your two mugs, two plates and two disposable forks.
And you will understand the term domestic bliss. I promise.

A Tale of Two Apple Cakes

Rafa has recently become happy to be in his pram – two weeks ago when we went out with him in it he just wailed ‘I’M ABANDONED, I’M ABANDONED,I’M ABANDONED!!!’  – not relaxing.
It is lovely to carry him in his sling, but my back appreciates the break – so on Saturday morning with the weather still lovely in Edinburgh it was a pleasure to linger at the Cramond estuary after the husband did the parkrun. However, hanging about in the sunshine by the water to show Rafa the birds, boats and little waves (ok he was asleep, but we enjoyed it) did leave us rather short of time for other Saturday tasks. 

Edinburgh Park Run – Cramond, September 2013
With friends dropping over in the afternoon, the baby to be fed again and me wanting to get out for a run of my own, the task of baking a cake for afternoon tea fell to the husband. Baking cakes is not something either of us does often – but we had a recipe left behind by my mother – and a pantry with ingredients – so it seemed to make sense to bake rather than buy. 
Getting back from my very pleasant run along the sunny canal bank I was impressed to find: One – the smell of a cake baking, and : Two – no baby wailing. 
As I got through the door however there was an overlay of burn to the pleasant baking aroma. Since we have a rule of no babies in the oven, and the husband was playing with the baby I checked on the cake – and it was rather black on top. 
On questioning it seemed that the husband had mixed up centigrade and fahrenheit.
It was a little crispy in places but otherwise quite tasty. It all got eaten in one sitting and one of our guests was even kind enough to ask about the recipe.

On Sunday with the weather still lovely we made up a picnic, put Rafa back in his pram – where he promptly fell asleep and went for a walk along the canal. As featured in the previous post the blackberries are out at the moment – and after lunch our forward momentum was interrupted when I found a good crop. I thought I was going to be berated by the husband for meandering, but instead he joined in the picking.  There were a few traumatic incidences with thorns, wasps and nettles but we managed to pick quite a good haul.
When we dragged ourselves back inside it seemed only logical that I attempt the cake this time – with blackberries as well as apples.
First issue I had was a lack of scales. When I asked the husband how he had dealt with this he just shrugged and said he had guessed – resulting in rather too much sugar but otherwise a cake – which though burnt was a very tasty confection.
I made my own estimations and spent a pleasant hour peeling apples and mixing my ingredients in the kitchen while the husband napped with the baby.
Somehow the results were tasty, not burnt – but rather solid. My cake entirely different from the one produced from the same recipe the day before. We ate some of it for pudding with custard that evening.
After bathing and feeding the baby that evening we complemented ourselves on a perfect cheap Sunday-and we acknowled that we both still needed to work on our baking skills – and perhaps invest in some scales.

If you have scales – or skill at baking, have a go at the recipe below and perhaps you can let me know what the cake is supposed to turn out like.

German Apple Cake

100grms melted butter
100grms castor sugar
200grms self raising flour
2 eggs
2 apples, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced
70grms raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp demaera sugar
lemon juice

Preheat oven 375 f / 150 c
Grease 18cm spring tin
Melt butter, place in a large bowl.
Stir in sugar, sift flour and stir in. Add one egg at a time. Stir till it forms a soft dough.
Press 2/3 dough into tin.
Cover with apples.
Add remaining dough.
Bake for one hour. Cook 15 mins before transferring to serving plate.   

(the blackberries were a very tasty addition, even if the actual cake I baked was a bit of a brick)

a poem for Rafa

I am thrilled to announce that our lovely son Raphael has arrived in the world. I have been busy getting to know the little fellow and occasionally snatching some sleep – so have not managed to write so much as a shopping list of late. Luckily as well as the safe arrival of our son we have also been blessed by having my mum come from Australia to meet Rafa and help his parents out. She has  written a poem for Rafa – which I am publishing here with her kind permission.  

A story of blackberries
I came to Edinburgh to meet you,
To be family in real time and space
To breathe you in to my heart and mind
Tiny new person of many countries  
A new child
There are so many questions
What will the world hold for you Rafa?
When you were just 10 days old your mum and I took you for a walk
Along the canal path in the baby carrier
I took a picture
Of Sandy picking early blackberries

Rafa and Rover picking Blackberries on Union Canal – Edinburgh

It reminded me of when your mum was just one week old
Her Dad and I took her
To collect apples and blackberries
from an abandoned orchard
there is a treasured picture of this time.

Rover and her Dad, apple and blackberry picking, Murrungowar – 1981.

Blackberries are a weed in Australia
A curse on some landscapes
Where they are out of control
Despite campaigns to eradicate them
With poison, burning and slashing.
They belong here in Scotland though,
A wild food great for foraging
Your other grandma arrived on her first visit
To meet you with a blackberry pie
Telling the story that once upon a time
Many people went to collect the fruit
But now a friend was the only one.
These events came to mind
When a man at the Book Festival – (Graeme Gibson)
Spoke of the way people were changing nature
Less birds, animals and plants
He told us that in the dictionary now
Apple and blackberry are no longer about fruit
But computer brands and gizmos
That tie people to their work 24 hours a day
Your Dad has one of these
I have a picture of you with him
Walking through the Edinburgh Fringe
On the way to register your birth.

Rafa and his dad on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

I am hopeful that the toughness of blackberries
Will ensure their survival
So that you too will take your billy
and collect the ripest, blackest and juiciest
of these sweet wild foods.
Then I can add that picture to this story.
Love Nanna Helen

September 2013

Rafa and his Nanna Helen in sunny St Andrew Square, Edinburgh.