Thursday, January 14, 2021

A good week

Last week was a bad week. This week, following on from a helpful Zoom Quaker Meeting on Sunday, has been good.

1/    I've been making progress with my painting;

2/    Cece (8) FaceTimed me when I was painting on Monday and asked if I'd like her to read me a story while I was painting and I said Yes! and she read me two and it was simply heavenly. I can't express how heavenly.

3/    My sister sent me some old photos she'd found while clearing out, including this one of me (right) painting her nails in the bath when we were teenagers:



4/    I had a lovely sunny walk with Liz on Tuesday;


Close to Caudwell Mill

Photo by Liz: an entrance to Stanton Moor







View towards Haddon Hall


5/    I watched the version of Jane Eyre that was shot at Haddon Hall (near Bakewell) on BBCiPlayer. It's one of my favourite versions, despite the fact that it skimps on the development of the relationship between Jane and Rochester and misses out some of my favourite scenes. The two principals - Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender - are so right for the parts; and the scene where Jane says 

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”

is so moving.

6/    On Tuesday evening Chrissie and I had a hilarious margarita FaceTime, in which we played Subjective Guess Who, as described in my last novel Even When They Know You. (BTW, is there anyone out there who has read it and liked it and not reviewed it yet?)

7/    Dave washed the kitchen and bathroom floors, thereby elevating his status to demi-god.

8/    I had a lovely and such a welcome FaceTime with my friend Het.

9/    Zoë sent me this, which really made me laugh:


Last week I was 9.

This week I am somewhere between 4 and 6, and I don't mean 5.

Which one are you?



Monday, January 11, 2021

Fresh nuancing - a long read

 As I sat in bed this morning, quietly enjoying my quilt, which I like so much I am painting a picture of it:



and munching my two oatcakes (home made by Dave) spread with lemon curd (home made by me) the breakfast which has to last me till lunchtime (and which I'd like to relish in peace - aren't you supposed to think about the food when you're eating it so your body knows it's been fed?) Dave came in to deliver yet another harangue, this time not about Trump, but about our own crappy counterpart.

("It wasn't a harangue. I was simply airing my views."

"The same as you do every morning."

"They're fresh everyday."

"No they're not."

"Freshly nuanced, then.")

...it made me think of that passage in Plotting for Grown-ups... 

"I get out of bed and stumble to the kitchen to get myself tea, and to my study to collect my laptop, with the intention of coming straight back to bed without engaging in any kind of conversation. I am  semi-comatose, thick-headed, unable to bear noise or animation of any kind, and in the perfect state for writing fiction, being still in some demimonde of consciousness.

Unfortunately, Richard is in the kitchen in his boiler suit munching muesli, while looking at furniture-making videos on YouTube on his laptop, while listening to John Humphries grilling an unfortunate MP on the Today programme. I try to sneak in and out of the kitchen with only a minimal good-morning, but he leaps upon me and subjects me to a barrage of talk that I am too weak to withstand. As I wait for the teabag to impart some decent colour to the boiling water in my mug, I lean against the worktop and stare at Richard, saying nothing. I do not respond. I am rubbing my eyes and yawning, and giving (without faking) every non-verbal signal known to man that says I am deeply dozy and unavailable for social intercourse.

He is oblivious. He goes on about some geek in Canada who posts on YouTube, who makes amazing wooden jigs for every kind of purpose (what is a jig?) and who has decided that milk bottle crates are the perfect storage device for a workshop and yet it is illegal to take them as they are the property of the dairy and so he has designed and made his own replicas in wood, using a special jig that he designed for the purpose. I, meanwhile, am glassy-eyed and silent, and thinking SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.

As soon as he pauses for breath, I retreat to bed and open my laptop and resume my writing. I have just got into a tasty bit of dialogue, when Richard knocks and comes in and says “Are you writing?” and I say “Yes,” and he carries on anyway: “Because I want tell you something REALLY EXCITING I heard on the news. There is a woman in the North of Scotland with the exact same DNA as the Queen of Sheba.” OH MY GOD."


I had also been thinking about the journalist Katharine Whitehorn, who died last week. My father, who was an agricultural adviser and freelance journalist, introduced me to her writing back in the 60s when I was a teenager and she was writing a column in The Observer. I have a published collection of her writing here which I brought home from my parents' house, after my father died. KW's dedication in the front of the book reads 

With love and thanks to my parents who provide so much copy

Like the great, late Nora Ephron, she mined her family for copy. As do I - see above.

When I went through my fathers' papers in 2008 I found a poem he had written in praise of Katharine Whitehorn. The poem was fun, and I thought she would enjoy it,so I sent it to her and she wrote back:



She was probably one of my influences, though I have only just thought about it now, as I didn't start writing first person pieces that appeared in The  Times until I was in my 50s.

And here I am now, posting a badly constructed piece which ends in the middle of nowhere, except that...yesterday in a break out room after Zoom Quaker Meeting, a Friend told me she was reading DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE, and how much she was enjoying it. You have no idea - unless you're a writer - how cheering it is to hear such things. As KW says above:

I am humbled and touched by people who not only like what I write but have the generosity to write and say so - such as you.

This goes for you, dear blog readers who comment on the blog, or who write reviews online. Thank you. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

Unsafe

It's been a difficult few days. 

Yesterday - all day - felt like the morning after the night before, except that the night before was spent not having fun, but watching CNN Live to see what was unfolding in Washington. I am not surprised at the mob storming the Capitol after being incited to do just that; what amazes me is that the police were not more in evidence, and that that there were so few arrests. And yes, I am contrasting it, like so many others, with what happened with the Black Lives Matter demo. Yesterday we a professor from Yale said on Channel 4 News that Trumpism is ALL about race. It made me think.

Dave is constantly surprised by what Trump does, even though he has read all these books:



I have not read them, but know their contents, thanks to Dave. I refer you to a previous post - here.

But what I really want to write about is not about America making itself great again. 

I have been trying to watch a film on Netflix called Wild Rose. It's a fine film. It's about a young Glaswegian woman just released from prison who wants to go to Nashville and be a country singer. She is very talented. But she has two young children, no partner, and not much money. She has not been a good mother but is now trying to rectify that. 

I empathise with her because I know how hard it is to succeed creatively and get people to notice you, even without encumbrances. But I cannot get through the film: every time a new challenge or obstacle occurs and life is getting sticky for her, I have to stop watching, because I'm too upset. It's pretty pathetic. 

I turned to Casablanca, an old favourite of mine, but then I found myself crying when all the French in Rick's cafe got up to sing the Marseillaise. I have never cried at Casablanca before.

This made me think. I've decided that the reason that I am so emotional is because I don't feel safe. And I don't feel safe because I have zero faith in the way the government is 'handling' the pandemic. There's all the stuff you already know and I'm not going to rehearse it here, but now there's the vaccination programme to worry about. I should get mine in February and was initially very happy, but now I am worrying about whether it will it be worth anything if the manufacturer's recommendations are ignored.  (And why are not all health workers being vaccinated before me? And teachers and other key workers?)

I don't feel safe, deep down, because this government - which is supposed to run the country as if ordinary people matter - actually behave like neglectful, feckless, incompetent parents. If they were parents they would have their children taken away.

I'm lucky because it's the first time in my life that I don't feel safe. Millions of black people in America, and over here, have always lived with that feeling.


Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Dave and the Padlock

 You might need something to cheer you up today, so here is a children's book I wrote a few years ago.

  

Dave and the Padlock

By

Sue Hepworth

 

 


Once upon a time there was a grandpa called Dave.



He had curly grey hair and round gold glasses, and he was very friendly. But he didn’t look friendly on photographs, because he found it really hard to smile when people asked him to, unless he had a friendly dog sitting next to him, like this...




Or this...

 

 

If Dave was stroking a dog he would always smile.


Several things made Dave happy.


He liked making things in his shed.



He liked playing table tennis.



He liked basking in the sun.



 


He liked riding his bike on sunny days.



He liked yoghurt. 

He liked yoghurt VERY MUCH.


 


He liked playing his guitar.

 



But the thing that Dave liked best was being on a narrowboat.




A narrowboat is a special kind of boat that sails on canals and rivers.  You can live on a narrowboat, or you can have a holiday on one, because a narrowboat  has a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room.

When Dave was on a narrowboat he was always happy.


Here he is, first thing in the morning, leaning out of the side hatch of the narrowboat, breathing in the cool quiet air, and watching the ducks on the water.



 Here he is, sitting on the back of a narrowboat, steering it along the canal.

 


Here he is, sailing the narrowboat with a friend.



Here he is, looking for the rope to tie up the narrowboat so he can go inside and have some yoghurt.


One day, when Dave and Sue were on holiday with some friends on a narrowboat, Sue found Dave lying on the back deck, poking around in the water with a long stick.


“What on earth are you doing?” she said.

“I’m looking for the padlock,” said Dave.


“The padlock?”

“When I got back to the boat and unlocked the door,” Dave said, “the padlock slipped out of my hand and fell in the canal. Now that you’re here, I’m going to put on my shorts and jump in the water and look on the bottom of the canal for it.”

“You’re crazy!” said Sue. “There’s no way you’ll find it in there! The water is muddy and dark and you can’t reach the bottom without going under the water.”

“I know,” Dave said. “I’m going to wear just one sandal and stand on one leg, and feel around for the padlock with my other foot – my bare foot.”

“But it’s dirty in there,” said Sue. “And it’s cold. I don’t want you going in the water. You might cut your foot on broken glass on the bottom of the canal. There are lots of germs in dirty water like that. You might catch an infection. It could make you ill!”

“Oh, rubbish,” said Dave. “Don’t be a spoilsport. I’m going in.”

“Please don’t go in the water, Dave. We can buy a new padlock.”

Unfortunately, once Dave got an idea that he thought was a good idea, no-one – not even Sue  -  could make him forget it. He was determined and he was stubborn. And there are two other things you should know. Dave hated spending money, so he didn’t want to buy a new padlock. And the other thing you should know is that he was embarrassed about dropping the padlock in the water. He felt foolish, and if he knew that if he found the padlock again, he would no longer feel foolish.

So he put on his shorts and T shirt and just one sandal, and he jumped in the water.


And he laughed. “Now I’m going to find it!”

First he searched with his bare foot. He moved his foot across the bottom of the canal very carefully, to see if he could FEEL the padlock with his toes.

That didn’t work. He couldn’t find the padlock.

So then he got a colander from the narrowboat kitchen and scooped up stuff from the bottom of the canal, hoping the padlock would be one of the things he scooped up.

That didn’t work either.

He couldn’t find the padlock.

Sue was worried that he would hurt himself and worried that he was getting too cold – because it was evening, and the sun was going down. She begged  him to come out of the water and to try again in the morning. He was getting tired, so he did.

 When Sue woke up in the morning, Dave had made a giant contraption to search for the padlock.


 


The contraption was made of a long pole with lots of bits and pieces attached to it, that you can’t see here, because it’s under the water.

Dave poked about with the contraption while everyone else on the narrowboat was still in bed, drinking tea.







He poked about while everyone else got out of bed and had their showers.

He poked about while everyone else got dressed.

He poked about while everyone else was trying to find the frying pan to cook their breakfast. 

Where on earth was the frying pan?


Sue went outside to ask Dave if HE had seen the frying pan, Dave said “Look! I’ve found the padlock!”

 


“Amazing!” said Sue. “Well done! Good for you! Now. Have you seen the frying pan?”


Friday, January 01, 2021

Thanks for 2020

This New Year post is later than I'd have liked, but Dave and I went out for an early morning walk first thing 



and since then I've been doing an editing job, still not finished.

After I had complained on the last post about being fed up, I read the news about the enormous pressure NHS doctors and nurses are under, coping with the increasing numbers of Covid patients, and I felt ashamed.

So I decided I'd make a list of things I liked in 2020, that bad old year, things I enjoyed, things I appreciated anew, successes I'm pleased with. 

Here goes, in no particular order:


Margaritas with Chrissie, either in the garden:


or via Facetime.


Sunshine walks with Liz:



Dave's even-temper (when I have been all over the place);

 

Dave's home-made bread;

 

My beautiful new patchwork quilt, which I designed in May and finished in December and gives me joy every single morning:




Spending time painting and drawing, which led to...


My hugs card:




which I sold in aid of Help Refugees, and managed to raise over £1000 (with grateful thanks to those of you who helped, by buying it.)

 

Spending time by the river Wye in Miller's Dale in lockdown:






The publication of my latest book:

Days are where we live




And last but certainly not least - you!

Thank you for checking in and joining in. Thank you for commenting and thank you for buying my books and reviewing then online. That's the best present you could give me.

I wish you a year of joy and freedom. I'm sure we'll get it in time.



 

 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ma Bailey

I was rootling in my desk drawer for something yesterday and came across a photo Isaac took of me C 1998.



And I had no wrinkles! 

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Later, I was cutting my fringe in front of the mirror, and the strong low sun shining in through the window lit up two hearty and horrendous* whiskers - one each side of my mouth. 

*mid 17th century: from Latin horrendus (gerundive of horrere ‘(of hair) stand on end’) 

This is what comes of never seeing female relatives close to. One of them would have told me about the whiskers. When I lambasted Dave for letting me walk around like that, he said insouciantly 'I never like to comment on your appearance.' He will however, tell me about the Latin roots of words.

The one comfort is that whenever I've seen strangers I've been wearing a mask. But still, it make me wonder what I will look like to the world when all of this lurking at home is over. 

You know George Bailey's mother in It's a Wonderful Life?



Remember how she looked in George's nightmare experience of seeing the world as if he had never lived?



That'll be me by the end of this horrible winter.

Yes, I'm fed up. Aren't you?

Come, come, Sue, let's be positive.

These were the clothes I adopted for painting back in April, channeling aging-hippie Frankie from Grace and Frankie:



I'm still wearing them, except that now I have some snazzy silk-and-merino long johns underneath:




The trouble is that it's what I feel like wearing ALL the time, even when I'm not painting. Why bother dressing up when Dave doesn't care if I am the bearded lady and I never see anyone else?

I did, however, dress up for the Christmas zoom with the family, and for a Facetime with Het yesterday. And she noticed, bless her.

It's snowing here this morning, and settling. 



I'm not complaining, After all, it changes the view, and as I said to I
saac on the phone last night - 'It's the samey-sameness that is getting me down.' He groaned in recognition.

Right....now I'm going to get out a large canvas and a palette knife and splash some paint around. That might cheer me up.

Also, I came across a piece on the BBC News website yesterday and I'm going to try to follow it's advice. It's called 

Covid-19: Five ways to stay positive through the winter


I hope you're making a better job of staying cheerful than I am, friends. (Although I have to say that now I've had a hearty moan I am feeling a whole lot perkier.)

Wishing you a day that contains some fun.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

Pick of the year

In these quiet days between Christmas and New Year I often read through my blog to remind myself of the year I've had. 

In doing so this morning I've decided that this is my favourite post of the year, written early on, in lockdown:

The Saga of the Carrot Cake

I am no longer enamoured of cooking, but I still like to bake, and on Sunday I decided I wanted to make a carrot cake for a friend who is recovering from a nasty bout of Covid19. 

So I looked in my ancient recipe box for my carrot cake recipe. My big sister gave me this recipe box when I was first married, 50 years ago, 


and it survived the fire because I didn't send it into storage. 


Inside the lid it says this:




Many of the index cards in the box are recycled ones from the time in my life when I was a researcher, working on this book:




(OMG) which means they have things like this written on the back:






What a hoot.

However, I could not find the recipe. I had all the cards out and threw away some rubbish, but kept various dubious items, in this case below because my mother wrote it:




And this, below, because Zoë wrote it as a child before she became a vegetarian, and it reminds me of the era when she and Isaac were young:




I do not recall actually making the bacon roll.

I've kept this one below because Mary was going to give me the recipe. You can see it is ludicrously incomplete - I don't know why. At the time, I liked cooking and she didn't, and I remember she and John making this one evening for guests who were coming and I called round to see her and insisted she witness my will, NOW! because I couldn't wait, because that's the kind of person I am, and she was really annoyed with me. And now - more than 25 years later, it's morphed into a happy memory.




Who me? Sentimental? 

The point is, though, that I could not find the recipe I was looking for - a terrific carrot cake recipe unlike any I have seen anywhere else. I didn't look for it in my hand written recipe book which I got a few years ago, because I could see the recipe in my mind's eye on a card (though obvs not in useful detail). 

So I texted Zoë, and she emailed me her friend's recipe that she said is the most amazing carrot cake she's ever tasted. I doubted this, because mine is the best. 

Anyway, I made the cake and tasted the raw mixture from the bowl, which tasted disgusting, because of the baking soda, I hoped. All mixtures with baking soda in taste horrid, don't they?

The cake looked fine when it came out of the oven, but as I only ever intended to give half the massive cake to my friend (because of her tiny post-virus appetite) I cut a sliver and tasted it. It was still warm. I was dubious. There was still that baking soda taint.

So I thought I might make another one, and I asked Dave to go through the recipe box for me and to see if he could find it. This was a vain hope, because he is lousy at finding things, but the fact that I asked him is a measure of my desperation. He couldn't find it, but he said 'Have you looked in that book that you write recipes in?' 

'No,' I said. 'It's not there, because I haven't made it since I got that book.'

'Look anyway,' he said.

So I did. And it was the first recipe in the book. I must have written it out and then thrown the card away.

This morning I woke up and cut a tiny bit of the cake and it tasted fine. Not as nice as my recipe, but good enough. 

The recipe said 'ice with cream cheese, icing sugar and almond essence,' but I had no cream cheese and no hope of getting any. There was a tub of mascarpone in the depths of the freezer with a best before date of 2012.  I opened it. Hmm.




It smelled fine.

I rang my little sister - a talented cook - and she said 'Sure! If it smells OK, it is OK. Use icing sugar and grated orange rind but not orange juice.'

I asked on Twitter. One person said - 'Yes, use it.'

I texted my friend, Het:



Dave agreed with Het but I thought they were being namby-pamby.

So I sieved in icing sugar and added finely grated orange rind and as it tasted of nothing, I added orange juice.





It was far too sloppy, so I rang my sister. She said 'I told you not to add juice!'

'Well, I have no memory these days,' I said. 'If I don't write it down, I forget.'

'You'll have to give it separately, as a sauce.'

'I can't do that. I want to put it on the cake and package it up and leave it on her doorstep.'

'Well, use butter and icing sugar and the grated rind of an orange.'

I did that. It looks fine. It tastes good, too.

I just updated Dave on the state of play, and he was relieved: he had been horrified at the idea of my using the ancient mascarpone.

'But it was fine. It didn't smell of anything!' I said. 

'Neither does death, but it's quite important.'




The next day, I posted this on the blog:

I have three further things to say about the carrot cake.

Firstly, the person for whom I made it (who is recovering very slowly from Covid19) thinks it's yummy.

Secondly, I agree that on the third day it's delicious and it might even supplant my own recipe. I just need to ditch the baking soda.

Thirdly, although my sisters had no problem with the idea of my using mascarpone that was 8 years past it's sell by date when I hawked it out of the freezer, a younger member of the family read my blog post and responded thus:







Such a person did not have outside earth closets at their village primary school, and did not have no bathroom, no hot water and a loo at the bottom of the garden when they first got married. More importantly, they weren't brought up by my mother.

Anyway....I did not use the fossilised mascarpone, so we can all rest easy, and you can be assured that this was the oldest foodstuff in the house by 7 years, so if you ever come here, you won't need to worry about food poisoning.