Saturday, July 02, 2022

This and that

What can I tell you? That I woke up from a lovely dream this week in which Alec Baldwin was feeding me the most delicious warm chocolate pudding? I know why I dreamed about him. It was because the night before I’d been dithering over whether to watch It’s Complicated for the third time. It’s not a top notch film but he and Meryl Streep are so entertaining in it. 

Telly is wonderful. It amuses you when you have the most boring job in the world to complete, such as topping and tailing gooseberries.

And again when you’re waiting for the jam to reach setting point.

Dave wasn’t there to amuse me as he normally is during jam making as he’s in the middle of a big carpentry project. The wood is cluttering up our bay window because his shed is so full of things he can’t bear to throw away. Hey ho.

It’s been an up and down week due to a/ family stuff, and b/ how my current painting has been progressing. And the week's up-and-downness does not even take into account our "government" and the further disastrous lurch to the right of the USA Supreme Court. You know the story.

But let's focus on Hepworth Towers for now.

On Monday night I was so excited about my painting I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning to continue work on it. 

On Wednesday night I thought it was so dreadful and so difficult that I was considering stopping work and starting all over again.

Here’s one of those Spot the Difference puzzles for you…it's in order of progression through the week...

It’s almost done now - at least to my satisfaction. I’ve the title to write on the white book’s spine and one or two other details to add, and then I’m calling it a day. It’s not perfect, but I am quite pleased with it. And Dave says it’s one of his favourites, which is nice.

This is me last Saturday at the exhibition preview in the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery also feeling pretty pleased with myself, because my March Wind painting was on the wall amongst work by so many talented professional artists. 

Photo by Cath Dunn

Friday, June 24, 2022

A terrific week

What a great week!

It started with my giving a talk in a local church service at the start of Refugee Week. The minister leading the service had asked me to talk about our Refugee Hospitality Days. At the end of the service something happened that I was not expecting - several people came up and offered to volunteer (whoop whoop)  and there was also a generous retiring collection which has gone towards our expenses for the Days. 

Then on Monday Mick Lynch began to hit the airwaves and stood up to stupid and dishonest politicians, calling out lies, and held his own honourably with hard questioning from hostile journalists. How refreshing to see someone intelligent and straightforward speaking truth to power. Let’s have him for next Labour leader.

Then on Tuesday I tripped and fell over - according to Dave “like a felled tree” - on the patio and amazingly broke no bones. I had grazes and bruises and felt as if I was 100 for a couple of days, but no other damage. The next day I tripped and fell forwards onto the grass. No damage at all except to my dignity and Dave’s worry circuits. My fears were allayed, though, when I read in the paper that whether or not you can stand on one leg determines whether you’ll still be alive in 10 years: I can stand on one leg for as long as you like. However, the falls do make me think that these days I need to stop walking around in a dream, and not be like ex US president Gerald Ford who allegedly could not walk and chew gum at the same time.

I’ve had several fabulous bike rides up the Trail this week, which is strangely quiet for this time of year. I’m wondering if the cost of petrol is the reason. Visitors from local towns and cities don’t just casually ‘pop out’ to the Peak District any more, just as Dave and I don’t casually pop into Sheffield. We’re also ringing up the oil company twice a week to see if the domestic heating oil price has come down. We’ll be needing it in the winter.

Back to the Trail…there are orchids blooming there right now 

But my favourite wild flowers now the cow parsley is finished are the moonpennies

and the keck:

I finally finished my hedgerow painting, which is huge:

And I started a new painting I’m excited about. It’s of my bedside table.

And now this morning, the end to a perfect week - the by-election wins by opposition parties in Wakefield and Tiverton, and the resignation of Oliver Dowden, the chairman of the Conservative Party. Oh frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

I took a screen shot of his Wikipedia entry this morning:

The second sentence said: "Everyone thought Oli was a wetwipe but this morning everyone thinks he's an absolute lad."

This has now been deleted, but well done Dave for spotting it early.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!  

Tuesday, June 21, 2022


I have never lived with a dog and I have never wanted a dog.  Dave, however, is different. He has done both. And since our cat Chione died he has been angling to get a dog. I have resisted, but since getting to know one or two dogs and liking them, I reneged and said that if he wiped it’s feet when it came in from a muddy walk, he could have a dog.

Dave’s response was that he does not wipe his own feet so why would he wipe the dog’s? He frequently gets mud on the carpet. I hate housework, so anything that makes more when it’s unnecessary, is very annoying. He never even thinks about wiping his feet, and it’s always puzzled me. Having lived with him for more than 50 years, I finally solved the puzzle one recent Sunday when I was sitting in Quaker Meeting and my mind was wandering. I was brought up on a farm and when you came in the house you either wiped your feet or took off your wellies. Dave was brought up in a shop. To get into his house he had to walk through the shop. Who wipes their feet when they’re walking from a city street into a shop?

[I need to interrupt the story here to tell you that this seemingly unspiritual thought in Meeting did lead on to spoken ministry. Having felt bewildered and enraged by his barbarous threshold behaviour for all of our married life I could now see an explanation. The ministry was that everyone has their story, and we should find out what it is in order to understand their behaviour, rather than making damning judgments because they do things that baffle or annoy us.]

Back to the dog. A friend with an adorable dog recently came to see us and asked Dave if he would like to have the dog to stay while she went on holiday. She knew my objection, winked at me and nudged Dave and said ‘You could prove to Sue that you can wipe his feet.’

Photo by Michelle

He asked if I’d mind Snoopy coming to stay and I knew how much he’d enjoy it, so I said OK.

And I have to tell you that Snoopy is the best advert for dog-kind that I have ever come across. He is quiet, obedient and affectionate. And Dave has also been impeccably behaved, washing the dog’s feet after the only muddy walk they had. But the weather has been dry, and it’s summer. What would it be like in the winter?

Is Dave going to go to this trouble then?

Snoopy has now gone, and he’s not there to make a fuss of me when I go downstairs for my first mug of tea in the morning, or when I come home from a bike ride. I can certainly see why people like dogs, but I think my objection boils down to this: having had family living with us for so much of our married life and now it’s just Dave and me (which I like), I don’t want to go back to being responsible for a dependent’s welfare. 

But Snoopy is a sweetheart, and I wouldn't be surprised if he came to stay again.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The big news

The big news is that my washing line painting was accepted into the Derbyshire Open Exhibition. Yippee! 

Thank you for all your support, friends. If you’re in Buxton over the summer you can see it at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery along with some really stunning works. The exhibiion opens in a couple of weeks.

I started painting just before Covid arrived here, in February 2020, and this is the first time I’ve submitted a painting to anything, and I'm really chuffed. I know I’m a bit ancient to be saying this, but I wish my parents were here to tell.

This is the painting chosen - which I know you’ve seen before - framed by Dave. It’s called ‘March wind.’  Every piece of art submitted had to have a Derbyshire connection, so I just said it was the washing in our Derbyshire garden, which is true.

What else has been happening? I finished my hedgerow painting but I’m finding it hard to get a photo which accurately portrays the colours. When I manage it, I’ll show you. It’s called ‘Feast’ because that’s what Het said when I showed her it.

Dave got his scooter out of the shed for a trip down to Bakewell this week. 

I planted out the first 40 of my cosmos seedlings.

The cow parsley along our lane went to seed and the grasses took over most beautifully. I can feel another grasses painting coming on.

Snoopy came to stay for a few days:

And Cece had her tenth birthday 5,000 miles away, but I got to Facetime her when she woke up. What a blessing the internet is.

That’s it. Another quiet week at Hepworth Towers.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Life at Hepworth Towers

It has been a quiet but pleasant week at Hepworth Towers.

Dave has now planted out his sheltered sunflower seedlings and on rainy mornings he checks that the slugs haven’t got them - from the landing window, with his binoculars.

I went to see my big sister Kath on Tuesday. This meant a 60 mile drive across country to Lincolnshire. Considering it’s only 60 miles it takes an awfully long time because the route is on mostly country roads, but at this time of year it’s a lovely drive. The hedgerows are stunning. The cow parsley is at the end of flowering and the heartier, chunked keck (hogweed) is taking over. The moon pennies (ox-eye daisies) which are my favourite June wild flower and featured in the current header, are everywhere, and every now and then there’s a tiny sprinkling of red poppies. 

We walked round Kath's village, which was so different from a walk at home. Her skies are huge and the land is flat and it's mainly arable not pasture:

It's so different from the Derbyshire Peak District. Here’s a view from the top of the hill above the village, where I cycled on Wednesday.

The only other news is that I am entering two of my paintings into the Derbyshire Open Art Exhibition at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. 

Today! Eek! This is the first time I have entered for anything like this. At least I'll only have to wait a week until I know if they’ve been picked. If I were sending a manuscript to a literary agent, I'd have to wait months. Wish me luck - I’ll let you know how I get on. 

Oh dear, two exclamation marks in one paragraph: my standards are slipping since I stopped calling myself a writer.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Mixed Media

I’m feeling rather embarrassed.

I was checking the blog from this time last year to see how the sweet peas were progressing, to compare them with this year's weedy batch

and I found out that on May 17th 2021 I had written a post saying I needed a break from the blog. I bade you goodbye and said I didn’t know when I’d be back…in a month or a year. Then two weeks later there I was blogging again, and my family were teasing me about it. I had completely forgotten about this blog-tiredness that happened almost exactly a year ago. Maybe it has now become a seasonal thing. Maybe when the spring arrives for real in Derbyshire something happens to my blogging brain.

Anyway, enough of this. Reading posts from last year I also discovered I had given up watching Neighbours, having watched it for 35 years. It’s confession time: I don’t know how long after, but I started watching it again, and I shall do so until it ends here in August. It will be a sad day. Neighbours provides me with 25 minutes of mindless and enjoyable relaxation (detailed here on the blog.) I know it’s tosh, but it is a wonderful way of switching off my brain. 

This may sound odd, but when I’ve been painting for three hours non stop I get tired. I expect it’s to do with the intense concentration, even if it is lightened by old radio sitcoms playing in the background - stuff like Dad's Army and After Henry and Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? and Second Thoughts. I do so like James Bolam. And I haven't mentioned Ed Reardon's Week which I love so much I have bought almost every series on Audible.

I do listen to books on Audible too, but I'm very picky about the reader's voice. I commend to you The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, the latter read beautifully by Eleanor Bron.

But back to the telly. I am not the only writer (blimey, I just called myself a writer again) who likes watching rubbish on TV. In this very nice book I am reading, which is like a blog in print form written by a nonagenarian

The widely esteemed writer Jan Morris (you know who I mean - the famous travel writer who changed sex - Sorry! Transitioned! - in 1972) and who died two years ago at the age of 94 writes that her two favourite TV programmes were Two and a Half Men and Mrs Brown's Boys (oh horror). If someone published by Faber and Faber can admit to watching the latter then I feel perfectly comfortable with telling you that I am still watching Neighbours

Something odd happened this week, something Dave calls the Library Angel. Someone from my Quaker meeting gave us a talk about Julian of Norwich. I was pleased to hear the talk because all I knew about the woman is that she was an Anchorite who was immured in a cell for 30 years, and she said 'All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.' 

I have never found the saying much comfort because there are so many things that are obviously 'not well' and never will be. Later the same evening I was watching an episode of Call the Midwife in which one of the nuns was having a depressive breakdown. A sister tried to comfort her with this very same quote and poor Mary Cynthia rebuffed her saying that it wasn't true. 

It's odd though, because I do like the quote from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'It'll be all right in the end, and if it isn't all right, it's not the end.'  I find this very comforting, and yet it is not dissimilar to what Julian of Norwich said. Perhaps it's a little more modest and so it's easier to believe.

    A local footpath I walked on yesterday with my daughter-in-law, the lovely Jaine,
who introduced me to the Best Exotic quote.

Friday, June 03, 2022

A long letter from home

I was sitting here in bed yesterday morning trying to decide exactly what to say to you. Should I say I was giving up the blog? Or should I say I was taking a break?

I don’t want the blog to deteriorate into a sad, dull description of some of my days and experiences, but for the last month or so I have not felt ideas bubbling into my head that I’ve had an urge to share with you. And when I’ve been troubled by some of life’s private dramas and sadnesses I’ve wanted to keep them to myself. I don’t know if this is a new phase of my life. Is it different being 72 in terms of sharing stuff with the world? 

Or is it to do with no longer thinking of myself as a writer? Now when old friends visit and ask about my writing I say ‘Oh, I’m not writing any more, I’m painting.’ This is the current painting I'm working on: a celebration of Derbyshire May verges. It's huge. I am thinking about how to develop it.

My father stopped writing in his seventies too. And no matter how we urged him, he wouldn’t or couldn’t. Does he feel like me? That he has said everything already and that more writing would be rehashing it all?

The blog has been meaningful for me over the years, not only in working out how I feel about both big and small things but in a more basic way too - as a handy record of our life at Hepworth Towers. Dave will ask 'When did I insulate the attic?' and I'll find out by checking the blog. But the other more important meaning for the blog has been connecting with you. 

As I said, I was sitting here yesterday wondering what to do and an email arrived COMPLETELY out of the blue from my dear friend Jan in New Zealand. We email each other just a few times a year. She had just been reading the blog and wanted to write to tell me:

You know, dear Sue, your blog (nearly) always makes me smile. It's like enjoying your favourite chocolate bar after a few weeks without, only much better.

When I had closed the blog today and found myself still smiling I thought I should Tweet. (But I refuse to sign up, sorry.)

Thank you for being a gleam of sunshine and integrity in print and for being such an excellent writer in a world where hideous books both in content and style often seem to float to the top of the pile. Call me old fashioned?...xxxxx

So I emailed straight back and told her I was that moment thinking of ending the blog and this is what she replied:

Don't do it! You are a writer and you need to write; you are an artist and you need a gallery (love your paintings); you are a wife, mother and grandmother-we need to hear of 'normal' families and experience vicariously your love and joy and sorrow and travel plans. Who did not have moist eyes when you posted the picture of greeting your Boulder family after covid? And learnt about margaritas and bears? We learn about Quakers and silent demos of integrity and the plight of the refugees...How about the sequel to Days are where we Live, ten years on? How better to record the historical events, the despair of lock down and the gross unrighteousness and duplicity of the Trumps and the BJ's? And the utter delight of a trip to London after those difficult years? And the lovely poems and book and film reviews...And you are right about recording your personal ups and downs is what makes the blog. It must be hard.

The upshot of all this is that I am not giving up...yet.

I love Jan's phrase 'the gross unrighteousness and duplicity of the Trumps and the BJs' don't you?  I am checking in on the news more often these days, so I can delight in the drip drip drip of Tory MPs denouncing the gross unrighteousness and duplicity of their leader.

Footpath on my favourite local walk

So what has been happening at Hepworth Towers? Here are some disparate happenings and thoughts:

1/  I can tell you one thing: my sweet peas are a flop this year. I planted 80 seeds in pots on the windowsill and 14 came up. This may be because of the compost I used, or the seeds may have been duds. Whatever the reason I've had to buy some seedlings to plant, but even they are sad. They need sunshine and rain and its been dry and cold here forever.

2/  Hepworth Towers is a Jubilee-free zone. We are republicans. Nuff said.

3/  When the school shooting happened in Texas I was numb to it. I do not expect America to ever see sense about their guns. Because of this, I don't read news about the latest obscenity because if I did I would have to imagine my darling Colorado girls being in that situation and that would be unbearable. There is nothing I can do about any of it, so I put it out of my mind. If I lived in America I'd be protesting along with everyone else with brains. But I'm here. Our gun laws constitute one way at least in which the UK is superior to the USA in these dark, dark times.

4/  Dave has been working hard on the garden to make it look tidier in places that have been disreputable for years, and I am so, so grateful. He is not a natural gardener. He has always done landscaping, mown the lawns and done heavy jobs I've asked him to, but every few years he has a yen to grow something. This year it's sunflowers. He currently has 48 two inch high sunflower seedlings sitting on the table tennis table in the back garden, out of the way of the slugs. Every time we want to play he has to lift them off. He checks on them throughout the day and comes in and says sadly 'They don't seem to be growing.'  He thinks that because he can make a table in a couple of days, the sunflowers should be ready to plant out tomorrow and ten foot high by next week. 

5/  The living for pleasure mantra which now guides my days is working very well, except when it comes to cake. I don't know how to tackle this, as putting on weight would not bring me pleasure.

6/  I am reading two books at present: Thinking Again by Jan Morris, which is like a blog in print form, and Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales. They are both dipping-in books. I have taken a break from The Bee Keeper of Aleppo. It was too sad. 

7/  It occurred to me recently that if an Alien landed in Derbyshire in February and then came back in May they'd think it was a different place. This is what our lane looks like this week:

I love living here.

Wishing you all a happy weekend, whatever you're doing. 

Friday, May 27, 2022

Remembering that May, twenty years ago

Do certain types of weather bring particular memories to mind for you?

They do for me.

Sitting outside on warm summer afternoons with the sun shining on the copper beeches and the wood pigeons calling reminds me of my childhood on the farm.

Whatever the weather, I always think of my father in the last week of May because that is when he died, 20 years ago. But this week, with the cold winds and the rain echoing that very particular week, the memories have been stronger than ever.

In my journal at that time I described the day that we buried him:

'All week there has been a succession of sunshine and showers, and a gusty wind. It was the same this morning. We kept looking at the sky to see if there was enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers and there never was....

...The dale was looking lovely, and the river running a full pot. The rain on the new May leaves made their freshness glisten. There was cow parsley and sweet cicely billowing on the verges all of the way, and the may blossom coated the hawthorns with cream. Lady Hill looked its best, in his honour, with the trees silhouetted against the misty, rainy distance. On the green at Bainbridge the leaves on the big copper beech were fully out, but still new enough to be at their richest intensity. Pa would have commented on the tree.' 

Today, in his honour, I'm sharing with you again this piece I had in The Times about losing him:

Voyage around my father

My 85 year old father died this year. The private family burial was a beautiful occasion, the day so special that the first thing I wanted to do when I got home was to write to my father and describe it, tell him what had happened, how we had been and behaved, what everyone had said. So I wrote him a letter and sent a copy to my brothers and sisters and my mother. It makes us cry but captures the day on paper. I don’t know why that is a comfort but it is.

But then my mother asked me to write my father’s obituary for the local paper. This task hung over me like a dreaded piece of homework. I did not want to be writing my father’s obituary, because I did not want my father to be dead.

Once begun it was soon completed, but not to my satisfaction. The paragraphs about his schooling, his work, his successes and his triumphs described the public man. He sounded like a thoroughly accomplished chap (as he was) but I hated that obituary. The required formal style, and the sensitivity to my mother’s feelings, constrained me. I could say that he was brought up a Quaker, but not that for the last ten years of his life he would lie on the sofa every afternoon watching the racing on telly. I could say that he was a keen hockey player but not that he had a passion for Stilton cheese and Craster kippers and home grown raspberries. I could say that he was a successful freelance writer, but make no mention of his sometimes less than happy use of words - that his criticism could be scorching, his rudeness outrageous, or that his acerbic tongue could reduce a sensitive grandchild to a pulp.

Neither could I say how fervently he loved his family, how sure they were of this, how much they valued his wit, intelligence, knowledge and affection, and how much they will miss him sitting smoking in the corner being crabby, and then at the end of the evening asking for a goodbye cuddle. The last time I visited him at home I knew he was ill because it was the first time he did not say “I had a shave especially, so I could give you a kiss.” This could not go in the obituary either: so much for obituaries.

I don’t think I ever described him as “a wonderful father” but so what? He was my father and I loved him. All my life I have felt as though I sailed in a sturdy ship, my family, looking down on other mortals whose ships were not so handsome and fine as mine. When he died it was as though someone had blown a hole in the side of our craft.

I am surprised that at 52 I am so shaken by his death. I am not a child. I have a large and loving family. And dying at 85 he was not robbed – he had a good innings is the clichéBut I am sad for me, not for him.

As children we would roll our eyes when he told us, yet again, about his great-grandfather’s heifer which won first prize in the London Show, and then “was roasted whole for the poor of Chelsea.” Now he is gone I see all the dog-eared stories of his farming forebears as weighty anchors to our family history.

Searching for written records of them in his desk I found a photograph of his mother: it could have been me in Edwardian dress. I used to hate being likened to someone else, but this photograph has been a strange comfort. I now feel like a link in a long chain stretching back into the past, and forward through my children into the future. My father may be gone, but he is still a valid link. He may no longer sit at the head of the table repeating his catch-phrase “As good a Stilton as I’ve tasted in years,” but at future family gatherings one of us can say it for him. “Only if the cheese merits it,” says my brother. Ah, that critical gene again.

©        Sue Hepworth/Times newspapers  2022   published here with kind permission of Times newspapers

Someone mentioned his hat yesterday, that the grandchildren used to dress up in, but now they're adolescent, it's clear-out time. 

"it's a long time to have a hat hanging around," they said. 

It's a long time to be without a father.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A life of pleasure

What do you know? No one has commented on the change of blog title which has been there for some weeks. It used to say Fragments of a Writer's Life. (I was dictating this and the blog interpreted it as 'Fragments of a Righteous Life.' Some hope.)

When I was so miserable before I went to London and got my mojo back - thank you so much, dear Het - a fellow Quaker and friend said I should shed my puritan outlook and live for pleasure, and that is what I'm currently doing.

So what gives me pleasure as well as hosting refugee hospitality days (see last post)?

I'll tell you: trees.

This is our back garden. We planted all the trees in it except for the beech, top right. There's a rowan tree on the left, a silver birch taking centre stage, two silver birches, a blue spruce and two hollies behind, a pine tree at the back you can just make out to the right of the silver birch, and a a plum tree, centre right.  I am especially proud of the pine tree because I grew it from a seed from a cone I picked up in Center Parcs in 2001. That tree is now twenty five feet high.

In the front garden there are two copper beeches (we didn't plant) and across the road in the field a row of stately limes. 

I love to watch these blowing in the breeze with the sun on them, as I lie on the sofa in the evening, exhausted from my life of pleasure.

Last Saturday night

And on the other side of the front garden is our laburnum tree which my brother Jonty gave me as a 6 inch high seedling, 20 odd years ago.

And we have a new generation of baby trees. These are either ones I have grown from seed, or self seeded trees I have found in the garden:

There are two beeches, a sycamore, a hawthorn, a birch, and a field maple. Oh, and an oak that a friend gave me. The field maple is my favourite but don't tell the others. 

And in the interests of honesty, here is a tree I want to pull up and Dave refuses to give up on. It's a spruce we bought as a Christmas tree about fifteen years ago and it has been suffering ever since we planted it out. I think perhaps in those days I didn't cushion the blow of the winter weather by putting my Christmas trees in the shed for a week before planting them out. Dave gave me permission to get rid of it, but then before I did the deed, the tree put out some fresh buds and I hadn't the heart.

But I don't want to leave on a sad note, so here is a self seeded larch I found in the garden two years ago that we have just planted out:

I love my trees.

What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!

– Bertolt Brecht, ‘To Those Who Follow in Our Wake‘, 1939