Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Working hard, and my hat

I woke up to a silent house at 5.45. Bliss. Dave will be back at teatime which is also good.

I need silence and preferably a completely empty house in order to concentrate, and to slip into another world. 

I have been working on my novel rewrite since then, and now I've got up and showered and put the washing on and am taking a break to talk to you.

I decided I needed to get to know my characters better and found a nine page questionnaire online to help me. It's on the site epiguide.com. Here's a sample section taken from the middle:

I need to fill in a questionnaire for several of my characters. You can see it will take some time. This is before I start the rewrite itself. I have a month before anything else happens to interrupt me (D.V.) - apart from Dave, of course - and I'm going to be busy thinking and writing, so forgive me if I don't blog so much.

Just to go back to the wedding... Isaac took a lovely shot of me in my hat. I love the way the brim falls.

I bought this hat for my own wedding 48 years ago. It was from C & A and cost less than £1. For some reason before the wedding (probably a comment from my mother) I changed my mind and put my hair up in a bun and the hat wouldn't fit. I've been puzzling about why I still have it, because we lost 98% of our things in 1996 when the warehouse storing our stuff burned down. I cannot think how I came to bring the hat with me to Derbyshire in 1994, which meant it escaped the fire. Was it because I was very attached to it? Or because I couldn't think how to pack it without crushing it? I mean...I do like it a lot, but it's still a mystery. We also brought Dave's boater.

Did we think we were beginning a new era of our lives in which there'd be permanent sunshine forever and ever amen? Two innocents.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Letter from home

Usually I have a topic in mind when I open my laptop in bed to blog. Today I don't. That's because in the last two days I've been consumed by two things - the novel a literary agent gave me as a present, and how to rewrite my own work in progress.

I went to stay with my good friend in London this week. As well as the catch-up and fun, I met a literary agent, I saw two compelling photograph exhibitions and the BP Portrait awards at the National Portrait Gallery. Stonking. I love the BP Portrait Awards. The exhibition is on till September 23rd and it's free. Go and see it and tell me which is your favourite. This is mine:

Bruce Robinson by Alastair Adams 
It says on the NPG website that this is copyright and I feel guilty for having it here, so I'm going to take it down after a week.

The photograph exhibitions were also powerful. One was Tish Murtha's documentary photography at the Photographers Gallery. It's gritty. One part of it features photographs of children and young people in a depressed area of west Newcastle in 1981. There's also a typed copy of a submission that Murtha sent to parliament about the tragedy of unemployment and the appalling "opportunities" offered to young people on leaving school to make up for the fact that there was no work. At exactly the same time as the letter was written, I was working for the Manpower Services Commission doing evaluation research on their programmes, though I was looking at services for disabled people, not the euphemistically titled  'Youth Opportunities Programme.'

The second exhibition was also documentary photography but in a different country at a different time: Dorothea Lange's work in America in the 1930s. She documented the plight of migrant workers, particularly those escaping the dust bowl. She was the photographer's answer to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. You'll have seen at least one of the photographs, as it's iconic. Migrant mother (also coming down in a week):

Florence Owens Thompson

I didn't have enough time to spend on this exhibition. I had forgotten it was on until my friend mentioned it, and we slipped it in at the last minute.* There was so much to see I have even thought of going back on a day trip. Dorothea Lange also photographed the internment of Japanese Americans in the second world war and these pictures were on display. At the time, many of them were seized by the army because they were so obviously critical of what was happening.

So that leaves the meeting with the literary agent to tell you about. It was a friendly chat. She offered advice. I knew she didn't want to take me on. I'm going to act on her advice, and when I'm ready I'll tell you what it was. Oooh, I'm getting so cagey  - first I withhold details of the Croatian wedding, and now I won't tell you about my writing life. This blog is disappearing.

*The Dorothea Lange exhibition is on at The Barbican until September 2nd. I urge you to see it. It's huge, and covers far more than I have mentioned.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Choose love

It's been such a hectic two months with so many responsibilities and now it's over and life is returning to normal, and I'm wondering what to tell you about. 

One thing that's happened is that I received some hefty criticism of the latest draft of the novel from a friend of a friend. At first when I read what she said in her email I mentally reared back and felt pretty pissed off. But then I thought about it some more and we had a meaty correspondence in which we explored her reservations and I did a lot of thinking. It's been very helpful, and now I'm considering a radical rewrite. So watch this space. This book is going to be good. I'm going to make it irresistible to literary agents who so far as a bunch have been resisting it. I'm determined with this one. It's going to happen. You're just going to have to wait a little bit longer.

Amongst other busy-ness, there have been two refugee hospitality days which have required a lot of planning and heaps more energy.  A couple of years ago Bakewell churches had a joint meeting to decide how we could help refugees and asylum seekers, when we don't actually have any in Bakewell, and we decided that as well as going into the nearby city of Sheffield to volunteer, we could offer Bakewell itself. It's such an attractive place with the river running through it, a lovely park, and beautiful Peak District surroundings. These pictures below were taken in winter, but you can get my drift.

Photo by Isaac Hepworth

Photo by Isaac Hepworth

So we pay for transport for refugees and asylum seekers in Sheffield to come out for the day. They never get out of the city because on £37 a week (which is what asylum seekers get as benefit) they can't afford it. It's a one day treat, which of course does nothing for their long term plight, but we figure it's valid as a kind of respite. It's also a demonstration of warmth and care and friendship in a world that's becoming increasingly hostile to people in need. We provide craft activities where our visitors make lovely things they can take home, 

games for the children, and a delicious home cooked lunch - and I'm not talking soup and rolls, I'm talking about the kind of food you'd provide for honoured guests. This year our guests have been survivors of human trafficking.

They are happy days, and for the volunteers they're also exhausting: only two of them are under 60, and many are over 70. Playing with toddlers who require constant hands-on attention, or playing football and cricket in the park with a bunch of primary age kids takes a lot of energy. We will carry on for as long as we can. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bits and bobs

I have just read again the comments on my post 'Dithering' in which I asked you whether or not I should get a smart phone. Thank you Marmee, Phoebe, Jenetta and Anonymous (but I know who you are). Your comments are especially welcome because I know you're all in a similar age bracket as me. Watch this space.

The other thing to say is that if it's your youngest son's wedding and you're in a foreign country and you're hot and sweaty day and night and you're so nervous you can't face breakfast, Wendy has the answer. There we were sitting in the hotel lobby lapping up the aircon, waiting to check into our rooms so we could change, and she ordered champagne and tea. Two flutesful and a cuppa later and I was a new woman.

Of course, one way to keep cool is to get your grandson to push you around the pool on a giant flamingo. But that was the morning after.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Out of the heat

In my future, the memory of this summer will not be of my country falling yet further into an abyss of maladministration, racism, insularity and poverty, or of the world on fire, it will be of the wedding of Jaine and the family member who declines to be named.

In the EU. Hoorah! Specifically, in Croatia.

photo by Chris Oxley

photo by Chris Oxley

photo by Chris Oxley

It was a small family wedding - 17 people including the bride and groom - and it was perfect. Beautiful and perfect. Forgive me for not giving you all the details...it feels too personal.

The only thing that made the end of a week spent with all my kids and grandkids bearable is the cool of England. It was too hot for me in Croatia. Jaine kept coming up to me and saying "Are you feeling a bit cooler now, Sue?" and I kept saying "No." Thank God for Wendy and her fans, which she passed around most generously.  

But I would have gone to Timbuktu and survived the heat of the Sahara to see them get married. It was so special in so many ways.

With the showing of the F-M-W-D-T-B-N if not his name, comes an injunction from my two grandsons that not only are there to be no photographs of them on the blog, I am to go back through the last twelve years and delete all posts which mention them. Hey ho. That means I can't post a photo from the wedding which features them. But here is one of me and my kids, plus Jaine. Yes, we really were this happy.

photo by Chris Oxley

Saturday, July 28, 2018


I woke up excited today. First - it's only 24 hours till I fly to Croatia and spend a week with all my kids and grandkids and attend the wedding of the family member who declines to be named; second - because it's raining. 

But on with business...

Do you own a smart phone? Of course you do. 

I don't, and I've  been dithering for months about whether to get one. This is my (tiny) phone

except that for a couple of years the screen has been cracked and mended with sellotape. I hate the thing because the buttons are tiny and I have chunky fingers. I am a normal size, and not fat, despite my chubby feet (as seen on the last post), and I have lost weight since that pic of me on a previous one where I am on my slackline. But my fingers are twice the width of my friends' and this makes accurate texting a torturous exercise. So I email people or ring them, when everyone else is Whatsapping or messaging or whatever.

One reason I don't lash out on a smartphone is because I am not convinced that the texting will be any easier. The other reason is expense. The third reason is that I don't want to be one of those people who is always checking their phone, one of those people who walk down the street looking at their phone and not at the trees.  

So far, everyone I know has encouraged me to get up to date and buy one. But recently a smart-phone-owning friend said there were downsides. 'Do you want to be contactable 24/7 by anyone at all?' she said. 'Even by people who send annoying emails that need attending to, but which you don't want to have on your mind until you sort them out?'

There have been only three occasions when I regretted not having a smartphone. One was when an important person I was going to meet (who did not have my phone number) emailed me a date and time and I was away from my iPad and laptop, which meant I missed meeting her. The second time was when I was waiting outside Denver airport for Wendy to pick me up and there was a huge delay and I needed to contact her. I tried my iPad but the wifi didn't work outside the building. I asked a woman nearby if I could use her phone to message Wendy. The English accent must have swung it because she was very sweet and said yes. The third time was when I was visiting Isaac at the Google office and Google emailed me a digital invitation with one of those square barcode thingies (what are they called?) that I had to use to check in at reception. Was I going to have to take my iPad in so I could check in and enter the Google portals? Of course it would not occur to the Google office that a visitor might not have the wherewithal.

Tomorrow I will check in at Manchester airport with my passport and my printed boarding pass. Soon, they won't be doing printed boarding passes. In ten years EVERYONE will have to have a smartphone or be locked out of the world. But right now, Brits have more basic worries, worries at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy.  After Brexit will we be surviving on tins of chick peas we keep in the shed? 

That sounds like another blog post, and I have more important things to do - these glittery turquoise toenails have got to go. Pedicure or no pedicure, I'm going back to classic red.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Phew. I am now O K. I cancelled everything that was non-essential, allowed myself to sit in the garden with my feet up doing a crossword IN THE AFTERNOON - OMG! - and some days I even had an afternoon nap. I've managed to nibble away at the lengthy to-do list in my new book of lists and all that's left is to fill in a form that arrives on Friday, and to sew up a long promised jumper I've knitted for Lux's doll. I crossed off the last items yesterday teatime - a travel towel and a pedicure.

Note to self - take the nail polish to the door of the salon and view it in natural light before you say yes to it. It's a little lurid, but Lux and Cece will love it. And anyway, what the hell? It's a small family wedding and everyone who's going is lovely. 

The family member who declines to be named is getting married next week in Croatia to the lovely Jaine - hooray!

and immediate family (minus Dave) are flying out for it. I can't wait!

p.s. I know there are three exclamation marks in this very short post, but if a mother can't sprinkle a few around when her youngest offspring is getting married, it's a poor do.

Friday, July 20, 2018


It's been a bad week, which is why I haven't posted. I've felt too vulnerable to spill it all out here.

But the sweet peas are going strong. Here's a bunch in a vase Zoe made and gave to me. I love this photo. I hope you do too.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The end of the line

When I was six, I wanted to be a trapeze artist, and when I was 60 I wanted to walk a tightrope. The nearest thing available was a slackline, so Zoe and family gave me one for my 60th birthday and Dave fixed it up on our front lawn with sturdy wooden posts and supports. I have been searching through my photos for a good picture of me walking on it, and this is the best I can find. Goodness knows why Dave likes to take pictures on the slant. It's really annoying. The slackline is in fact horizontal.

This was some years ago, since when I've been spending more of my time outdoors on my bike than on anything else. The slackline has been neglected, and this spring Dave pointed out that after 8 years, the polypropylene band would be weakened by exposure to ultraviolet light and would be unsafe. We took it down, and I felt sad. I had only ever managed to walk half the length of it in one go - 13 steps - though I could balance on it on one leg for 20 seconds or more.

Dave kept asking me when we were going to pull up the wooden posts that had supported it, and I kept saying - 'Not yet. I might buy another slackline.' But last week I accepted that just as the back garden has needed remodelling to take account of decreasing energy and increasing bike rides, buying another slackline would be a waste of money. 

When he pulled up the posts, two of them snapped, so saying goodbye on safety grounds was a good call. Even so, letting go is hard. 

But my genes go on. Seven year old Lux had trapeze lessons on her holiday in the spring. Here she is - my beautiful granddaughter -

Bridges not walls, and me and Trump

Do you recall my telling you about Bakewell Quakers organising a Bridges not Walls event last year to coincide with Trump's inauguration as president?

Because I was interviewed on the radio at the time (as one of the organisers) BBC Radio Derby rang me up yesterday and asked me to be interviewed live on Martyn Williams' teatime show.

Go into the programme for 1 hour 17 minutes and there I am. Here's the link:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fresh air

I've just had one of my 24 hours trips to see my friend in London. What a blast of fresh air.  She met me at St Pancras and we didn't stop talking for nine hours.  

As well as catching up on each others' news, we covered books, films, clothes, style, photography, My Name is Lucy Barton, writing, the colour orange, family, the boys in the cave, Moon Tiger, her work, this shambles of a government (but only briefly when we heard the news about Boris Johnson resigning - which we used as an excuse to share her half bottle of champagne she keeps in the fridge)  my slackline, how we are both drawn to sewing and yet the process bugs us, how to let things go, architecture, her future plans, my future plans, and lastly the view from her window, which changes with the light and time of day, so I can sit in bed in her spare room and gaze at it endlessly - the moving boats, the clouds, the changing light on Canary Wharf. 

This last was a teatime shot from her couch that she emailed me when I got home. I keep trying to persuade her to set up a tripod and a camera and tweet the changes, like Mick Oxley with his wonderful views of the sea and sky from his window in Craster @SeaSkyCraster  If you haven't already, you should check him out. I wrote a post on him once - here

We also went to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which was really fun this year. 

Have you ever been? Anyone can submit a picture and have a chance of being included, and I'm considering it myself for next year, though my chances might not be as good as they would have been this year, as Grayson Perry curated it and included the strangest - in terms of expertise -  pieces of work I've ever seen in a world class gallery. e.g. this model/sculpture

I can't show you pics of my favourites because they're protected by copyright, but they were by Diana Armfield (RA) Nasturtiums with the last of the phlox, and Dawn over snow, Llwynhir. 

All the items were priced, with the tags stretching from £250 to £350 million for a Banksy (another one I liked.)

If you haven't been - go. It's a blast. We got tickets for 10.30 in the morning and it was lovely and quiet. When we emerged, the queues were manic.

So now I am back home with my views of the fields. Here is a favourite shot I took over the garden wall of the evening sunshine one evening last week:


Friday, July 06, 2018

Freedom. And something to read.

Today was going to be a day off but then I went out to pick some raspberries and strawberries for breakfast and noticed the blackcurrants were ripe. Ah me. I need to pick them and make jam and freeze the rest, before they shrivel in the heat.

Dave just set off early for a long bike ride and on leaving, he asked me what I was doing today.

On 'days off' I don't like to specify. I like to hang free and be unaccountable. That's part of the chill. But there is a list in my head apart from fruit picking - submit to a new literary agent, renew the house insurance, check the price of heating oil, ring the Home Office for a friend. I refuse to list anything else. That's already too much for a day off.

Life has been so hectic, and I've been wanting something to read to relax. I had four books on my to be read pile:

I picked them all up in turn and read the first two pages and not one of them was right for my mood. Do you ever feel like that? You have good books to read and you don't fancy any of them? And this was after I'd started and given up on Reservoir 13

Then a friend lent me this:

which turned out to be hugely important. I recommend it, and this comes form a person who generally can't read non-fiction. Even so, on one really bad day I stalled, desperate for something escapist but intelligent. So I bought this:

It's been a page turner, a good thing to read on a hot afternoon in the shade when I've needed a rest.

What have you been reading and enjoying lately?

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Letter from home

I've been both busy and beleaguered which is why I haven't blogged. 
(Oooh - the alliteration!) 

That was what I wrote on Monday and then got no further, because the busy-ness took over again. My sax has been neglected too, so I'm making zero progress with a bitch of a piece called 'Another Night in the Naked City.' It's actually a fantastic piece but there are a lot of accidentals, and worse, the timing keeps changing from triplets to what I call - much to my teacher Mel's amusement - "two stripe notes" (semi-quavers) then to "three stripe notes" (semi-demi quavers) and then back to crotchets. And when there do happen to be simple straightforward quavers, they're swing. I'm struggling.

So what have I been busy with? One thing was preparations for another refugee hospitality day put on by Bakewell churches. That took a lot of work and was both wonderful and exhausting. It was last Saturday and it took me Sunday to recover. I've written about these days on the blog before, e.g. here and here.

I seem to have spent a lot of time watering the garden, and this year my sweet peas are doing well, so sowing them myself is obviously the way to go. So far here we don't have a hose pipe ban, thank goodness.

I've been doing stuff I can't write about on here because other people are involved, and I've also been fielding rejections from literary agents for my latest novel. That takes up a lot of emotional energy, even though when I sent off the emails I'd persuaded myself that it wouldn't. There are still some I haven't heard back from, so watch this space. 

Sometimes when people find out I'm a writer they say things like "Ooh, my friend has written a book. Can you tell me how she gets it published? Can you tell me who your publisher is?" as if all her friend has to do is ring up a publisher and in a couple of months the book will be on the tables in Waterstones. 

At such moments I sigh inwardly. Firstly there are very few publishers who will look at a book if it hasn't come via a literary agent, and secondly, the decision as to whether a literary agent will take you onto their books is about more than the quality of your writing. Does the book have mass market appeal? Are you yourself marketable in terms of publicity articles in the press? Do you have a long career ahead of you so the agent will have a steady future income assured?

If you want to get a good picture of what it's like to be an aging, struggling writer, listen to the sitcom Ed Reardon's Week on BBC Radio 4, currently available on BBC iPlayer. It's my favourite radio comedy. It's hilarious and has so much in it that I recognise. But at least Ed has an agent. I do not. I'm not giving up:  I believe in my book and I'll get it out there one way or another.

Oh - almost forgot - Dave is still enjoying his new wheelbarrow.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Blind spots

It was the Quaker meeting picnic in our garden yesterday, after a cycle up from Bakewell on the Monsal Trail. Dave and I had set out games - table tennis, horseshoe throwing, boules and crokinole. It was so hot, though, that most of the adults lounged in the shade, eating and talking. 

I noticed one Friend checking his phone a lot - very unusual for him, most unusual for him - and then heard his wife saying: 'Don't tell me! Don't spoil it for me!' and I wondered what was going on.

Then this morning, the front page of my online daily Guardian (that I get on subscription) looked like this:

and I wondered what the picture of the boys in the street with all the flags was about. Was it to do with the World Cup? Had England been playing yesterday and won? I didn't even glance at the big picture, bottom left, of the footballers. I never look at the bottom left of the front page because that's where the sports news is and I automatically blank it out. But isn't it big? How could I blank it out everyday? 

Anyway, talking of impaired vision, I had my left eye lasered on Saturday. A few years ago I had cataracts fixed in both my eyes. They took out the cloudy natural lenses from my eyes, and inserted new artificial ones. But there'd been protein build-up on the left lens which had meant my left eye vision has been cloudy for several months, and it needed dealing with. So I was referred to a Saturday NHS clinic where an eye doctor zapped it. I was only in the consulting room for five minutes, and that included signing the consent form. The result was amazing! It was as if someone had cleaned the window on the world and someone else was holding up a spotlight on it. The geraniums were a sharper pink, the leaves of the sedum a bluer green. Wow. Now I realise that my right eye, which I've been depending on, is in the early stages of cloudiness. I trust that will be dealt with too in time. I LOVE the NHS.

p.s. The best thing about the World Cup is that the Trail is unusually quiet. Long may it continue.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Has the World Cup finished yet?

"Has the World Cup finished yet?" I asked Dave the other day.
"I don't know. I don't think so," came the response.

I don't watch TV news (although we are buying a TV tomorrow - wild excitement!) and I try not to listen to the radio news. I read the news every morning, and I also get a lot of news on Twitter. I find it easier to cope with news in written form. That way I don't have to listen to politicians prevaricating or lying. That way the radio stays safe from having things hurled at it.

But the other day I was listening to The Archers (the world's longest running radio soap - for you guys outside the UK) and there was a scene in the village pub where some men were talking about the World Cup, and I couldn't avoid it.

It made me think. It made me think about people who say casually - "Oh, I'm not interested in politics" in the same way that I say "Oh, I'm not interested in football." They say it as if politics has no bearing on their lives, or the lives of anyone else, as if politics is a minority interest, or a hobby, and not about things like immigration policies that reduce people to poverty and homelessness  - think the Windrush generation; or widespread welfare benefit maladministration and pennypinching that mean 4 million people in the UK use foodbanks; or a policy that snatches tiny children from their parents.

I spent most of Wednesday thinking about the children in cages. I knew about the obscene policy of separating children from parents at the Mexican border before it hit the main headlines in the UK. I first found out about it on Twitter. And when Isaac rang from Colorado on Sunday he told me about a Democrat politician building a coalition to challenge the policy, and about other groups who were fighting it. Since then even some of Trump's fanbase have protested about the policy and Trump has reversed it. 

It is not clear, however, how the children already separated are going to be reunited with their parents. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a regime that thought it was OK a/ to take children from their parents and b/ not to document everything so carefully that in the future these families could be reunited?

And yet normal life has been going on. This week I have felt like I did when my mother died: "How is it that life is continuing as per usual as if nothing has happened?" 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

It breaks my heart

Last week my 13 year old grandson was playing a computer game and I asked him what you had to do. The game is called Fortnite. Players are parachuted onto an island and they have to scavenge supplies, build structures and find weapons to eliminate each other until only one person is left. The winner is the 'last man standing.'

I cannot think of a more hideous game. Actually, I can, but I'm not going to pursue that line of thought.  Apparently the game is so exciting and so gripping that some kids wet themselves rather than leave it to go to the loo.

Why do so many computer games revolve around fighting and killing?

Why can't someone design a game that involves saving people? It could be just as exciting. They could save refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean sea, for example. If there has to be violence, they could fight people-traffickers and vicious border guards and people who foster hostile environments for refugees and asylum seekers. 

And why not a mission to rescue children from cages? Or a mission to depose a racist, narcissistic, bullying, inhumane and dangerous president?  

Monday, June 18, 2018

The history of a habit

If a medical researcher ever discovers that yoghurt is carcinogenic then my husband is doomed.
His passion for yoghurt began in 1971, when he began to dabble in hazelnut yoghurt, made by Ski. He was just becoming hooked on the stuff, and therefore thinking that he ought to stop eating it, when Ski ran a special offer. If you sent them six yoghurt carton lids they would send you a teaspoon with a long handle, a design which enabled the yoghurt fancier to scrape the last trace of yoghurt from the distinctive cartons, which were shaped like miniature cooling towers. Dave cannot resist a bargain, nor can he resist interesting tools, and what is a long handled spoon, after all, but a tool?
Unfortunately he had never heard the saying "He needs a long spoon who sups with the Devil." All too soon we had twelve long handled teaspoons; and Dave was a yogaholic.
When we moved to Sheffield two years later, he switched to natural yoghurt. He says he abandoned the hazelnut variety because it was too fattening, but I know it's because it only comes in 150gram cartons. Longley Farm Natural Yoghurt is available in larger cartons and is powerful stuff - a Class A yoghurt that gives him a high like no other.
At one point he decided he was spending too much money on yoghurt and started to make his own, first in the warming section of our Rayburn and then in a yoghurt maker. But soon he could not make it in sufficient quantities, and we had to supplement it with Longley Farm Natural Yoghurt from the deli down the road. Reintroduced to LFNY, Dave remembered its superiority and he gave up making his own.
By 1979, he was slurping a 450gram carton of LFNY daily. I had to go to the deli every day, because if I bought more than one carton, then more got eaten.
When we went on our annual holiday to Northumberland, the week was taken up in
the pursuit of LFNY. Visits to the beach, tours round castles and boat trips to the Farne Islands were interleaved with yoghurt hunts.
We found a source in a Bamburgh greengrocers, and another - though only in small cartons - at a caravan site near Dunstanburgh Castle. But they didn't have enough. There must be dealers in Northumberland with supplies big enough to feed Dave's habit but we never managed to map out a definitive, reliable network. In the end, we resorted to buying a week's supply from the deli and taking it with us.
By 1984 Dave had persuaded the deli to supply him with catering cartons of LFNY. Each of these cartons, made of tough white plastic, with a bright orange screw top lid, has an integral handle. A good job, as these caterers cartons contain 5 kilograms of the stuff.
In 1994, when we moved to the Peak District it was my job to ask the man in the village shop if he could get us two 5 kg cartons every week. He made no comment. He was a discreet man. He got it from the driver every Tuesday afternoon and stashed it safely in the bottom shelf of his fridge behind the counter, away from prying eyes.
Dave moved onto consuming three catering cartons of LFNY a week. Every Monday morning the last carton was cut in half and licked clean (and not by the cat) and he had more than 24 hours to wait for the next delivery on Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes I would make an emergency dash down to Bakewell's Monday market on my bike, where it was possible to buy LFNY, though the price was high.
Sometimes the Tuesday delivery failed to arrive and I scoured the Derbyshire Dales for shops that stayed open late and stocked LFNY, an odd 150 gm carton, the normal size for normal people.
 If on a Tuesday we were not home until after the village shop had closed, the shop man swathed a carton in carrier bags and hid it behind the old milk churn outside his shop, for us to collect.
At Christmas when the shop was closed and Dave had to pre-buy his LFNY in bulk, and yet I also needed extra fridge space for family entertaining, he kept his extra cartons cool by floating them in the water barrel behind the shed. One year he put them in the pond, tethering the carton handles to the garden seat.

A grandson wheeling the Christmas yoghurt

When he was working away from home and staying in hotels, the LFNY went with him. The 5 kg carton is too big to fit in the minibar, so he filled the bath with cold water and stood the carton in there to keep it cool.
You might think that I am an indulgent woman. Not true. If you could have seen Dave on Monday nights vainly searching the fridge for a hidden cache of liquid snow, your heart would have melted too.
And if you could have seen his pleasure on a Tuesday afternoon when he unscrewed the orange cap and discovered that this week the LFNY was prime vintage, so thick that it was difficult to shake it through the spout, so thick that it came out with a glug and swirled in the dish, and kept its shape, just like egg whites whisked for meringue… you would understand.
In the days of the LFNY 5 kg cartons, I planted my sweet pea seeds in adapted ones, filled with compost and Dave would say: "Good job I eat yoghurt when you need so many sweet pea pots."
"Yes Dave, only £19.80 a week. What a bargain."
(Actually, I still use them for my sweet peas so maybe it was a bargain.)

But times have changed. Dave is more careful of his health and has switched from the delectable full fat LFNY to low fat Sainsbury’s yoghurt, and he eats 5 or 6 450gm cartons a day.
Here's the evidence.

Lux and yoghurt cartons

Cecilia and yoghurt cartons

Published here with kind permission of News International.
©             Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday bliss

Don't you just love waking up in a morning and luxuriating in the thought that nothing is happening that day - it's a rare free day! -  and then remembering that something is happening, but it's enjoyable and requires zero effort from you? That's me this Saturday.

I can pad around in my pyjamas till I need to get ready to go out to lunch at a friend's house. I just went outside in them to pick a bunch of roses - Arthur Bells - to have next to me while I'm having my breakfast in bed, because they're so fragrant.

And this is the first bowl of strawberries I picked from the garden this year:

The garden. I've complained to you before that it's getting too much for me to cope with because I don't have the energy it requires any more if I want to save some for cycling. Well, Dave has been remodelling part of it - digging up stuff and levelling it into lawn. He's been at it all week, as well as driving over to the house of the family member who declines to be named to work on landscaping his garden. Today we buy the seed and sow it. Dave's energy levels are incredible: it must be because his diet is 70% yoghurt. I am not exaggerating - I once wrote a piece in The Times about his yoghurt addiction, and guess what, I just found it here on the net!

Anyway, you know how I sometimes post pics on here of my garden? Well, they are carefully crafted so you don't see the scuzzy bits, the shocking bits, the parts where convolvulus is rampant and the bits where gravel paths have all but disappeared under overhanging unpruned shrubs. I am hoping that after the changes I will be able to take a photo of any section and not feel ashamed. Here is what Dave's been busy with this week:

Allow me to point out two things. Firstly, the self-layered golden privet bushes (courtesy of those aforementioned overhanging unpruned shrubs) that have made themselves at home in my strawberry patch centre left. I shall be digging those out this week. They were unreachable before the changes. Secondly, the new orange wheelbarrow which Dave loves so much that on the day it arrived brand new, he wanted to bring it upstairs to the bedroom at bedtime. That's my man.

p.s. I need to point out on Dave's behalf that the horizontal brick edges are there as a guideline and are not yet properly laid.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Balancing act

One day I'm visiting my sister and her beautiful garden, and the next day I'm helping an asylum seeker make headway with the incompetent, uncaring Home Office. 

One morning I'm reading about the results of the government's chosen and unnecessary austerity policy on the sick and disadvantaged, and that afternoon I'm out on my bike, revelling in the summer countryside.

One day I'm editing my manuscript, and the next I'm helping to organise a hospitality day for survivors of human trafficking.

You wouldn't believe how many petitions I sign - mostly at the moment they're about immigration. The most memorable was one to stop the Home Office deporting a 10 year old boy back to Georgia because his mother had died. She had  been trying to claim asylum for 7 years. The boy, who only speaks English, was being looked after by his grandmother in Scotland.

Yesterday I came across this tweet and it spoke to my condition:

It's sometimes hard to believe that spending time on my writing is the right thing to do when there is so much outside my home and my personal world that I could be contributing to. My writing sometimes feels like an indulgence.

Last week, though, I was stressed and finding it difficult to relax, and then I realised that I'd not been writing. Sitting quietly in my room, reflecting and writing, keeps me sane. And unless I am sane, I can't help put out the fire.

View over my garden wall