It was easier than the time I carried a Christmas tree round St Andrews, eventually taking refuge in a bar while I waited for Daughter to come and take the tree off my hands. This time I merely carried her forgotten boots, but nevertheless I took refuge in the same bar as I waited for her to come and take the boots off my hands. One has to have traditions.
Those of you who are awake right now might recall that Daughter has left St Andrews. But there are conferences and things, and this was one such thing, for which the boots were required. And what are parents for, but to carry, deliver and generally help? Today, as you read this, we are in Edinburgh, collecting the same boots, because their usefulness is over. Until next time.
Uncharacteristically for the young, she invited me to come and hear her talk, which meant that after the boot-handover we trudged to the university department where she spent four years and that I occasionally visited. There were a lot of men! St Andrews is odd in that the ratio of female to male students at the Physics department is unusually equal. Hence my reaction to seeing so many men. But that’s conferences for you.
I had mock-threatened to ‘speak to her teacher’ but had no intention of being that embarrassing. In the end it was the teacher (one of them) who spoke to me because she recognised me. Did I visit too often?
I was also introduced to one of the conference organisers, who is a ‘fan of mine on facebook.’ Seems I’m funny. Well, we knew that. Besides, having a parent at a conference is cute… Apparently.
The talk was good. I almost understood it. But then, star spots are ‘easier’ than the white dwarfs which preceded them. We had the pleasure of hearing the professor exclaim ‘what was the question?’ and I discovered that the chap in front of me has a bank balance of just over £2000.
As well as returning ‘home’ Daughter was kind enough to bring gifts. We really didn’t need anything, but there you are.
She gave me a book, apologising for the fact that it’s not the sort of thing I’m in desperate need of. But it’s so reasonably sized I forgive her.
The Resident IT Consultant seemed surprisingly happy with his plastic carrier bag, with the names of the countries of Latin America adorning it.
She felt a little guilty over the lack of a proper present for her father, so before leaving again (she had a conference to attend) Daughter offered him a small stone as well.
So it’s all good.
Spending these weeks on the top of a mountain in a country where she doesn’t speak the language (the girl can’t even pronunce the name Jorge!) brought home to her that she has now picked up a bit of French in her daily life, after all.
Whereas with my past Spanish experience I can not only say Jorge properly, but helped with the odd other thing. We had to come up with a note for the cleaner to explain that she rather wanted them to remove the towel with the dead spider inside. And preferably replace it with a clean towel. (They did.)
Speaking of clean, they do the laundry for the visiting scientists, where you complete a list of what you hand over, with quaint descriptions like ‘under drawers’ and the like. However, it might have been International Day of Women and Girls in Science last month, but up on that mountain they haven’t allowed for a commonly worn female support garment on their laundry list. We had to Google it, as I must admit to not having any memory of learning about corpiños at school.
The last thing I expected back in 1973, after the first 11th of September, was that one day one of my children would travel to Chile, to be bussed up a mountain in order to sit every night for two weeks operating a telescope. Or that to get to her telescope – one of several – she’d have to drive a car in the dark (and I do mean in the dark, as otherwise the night sky would be lit up), avoiding hitting donkeys or falling off the side.
As someone on facebook remarked, it looked very sci-fi up there. It really did.
There were tremors and – possibly – deadly spiders. Donkeys, as I said, and some rabbity/squirrelly creatures. Humidity was a problem (if it’s too high you have to close the dome and put a little hat on the telescope, in the dark). And powercuts weren’t helpful either.
So, that was my last few weeks, that was. (I’d say the killing of the – possibly – deadly spider with a handtowel was the highlight, as experienced from my end.)
Whereas 43 years ago I went on marches and attended support concerts, all in the company of the Chilean refugees who came to Sweden, along with our ambassador who made himself persona non grata. Those were the days. But as I said, I could not see Daughter doing the driving in the dark, or the donkeys. Well, who could?
She’s back ‘home’ now, after a three hour bus journey, 16 hours on three planes and a night’s rest in Santiago, where it’s hot. That’s summer for you.
Unbranded sounds simple and wholesome, doesn’t it?
For a few years I actually boycotted Waterstones, but gave it up because I grew more sensible, and I also gained another bookshop to boycott in its place. A Bookwitch needs to have some kind of enemy at all times.
I mention this because I’m about to say I am in favour of the new, small, unbranded bookshops Waterstones have started up in smaller towns. Yes, it can be seen as sneaky not to use the Waterstones name, but if the shop is smaller, and thereby a little different from your usual High Street stores, then maybe a separate name is more suitable. And it’s not as if it’s a secret, since they have a small sign saying it’s really them.
As long as they don’t descend on a small town with an existing bookshop, this development can only be a good thing. Maybe the town lost its bookshop because someone retired? Or they didn’t have enough funds to keep going. Waterstones are obviously in a stronger position, having a big and successful organisation behind them, as they aim to become Small Town Books.
There can be drawbacks with large commercial bodies – although it seems as if Waterstones have become more sensible in recent years (rather like me…) – and I would much prefer that a small town has a bookshop than not. Hopefully there won’t be any of the daft stuff you occasionally get with small indies, however much I like them.
As as the Resident IT Consultant said, we can only hope Waterstones staff and their unbranded colleagues now have permission to recommend books (unlike when Son had to resort to advising customers in secret).