Saturday, August 24, 2019

Life at Hepworth Towers

I'm looking back on my week and trying to remember what went on. I know I picked a lot of sweet peas. They've been fantastic this year.

I know I've cleaned out a lot of cat poo. 

Last year Peanut - the cat belonging to the-family-member-who-declines-to-be-named and his lovely wife Jaine - lived here for a month (much to our cat's disgust) while T-F-M-W-D-T-B-N and J were on their honeymoon. 

On Monday, Dave and I were saying to each other smugly, 'Thank God we don't have to have Peanut again this year,' when the phone rang. It was T-F-M-W-D-T-B-N telling us that Peanut had broken his leg, and would we look after him  while T-F-M-W-D-T-B-N and Jaine went to Greece for their hols? He had been booked into the cattery but obviously that was now no-go. 

Peanut was supposed to be kept in a cage 

and to wear a cone to stop him picking at his stitches, but he hasn't needed the cone, and most of the daytime he's roaming around my study. 

This year Dave and I finally decided to give up our massive strawberry patch because the weeding is so tedious, and Dave is digging it up and extending our lawn.

He's using one of his favourite tools - a mattock. When I went out in my pyjamas to admire his progress, he said he loved the fact that an Iron Age man wandering into our garden this morning would immediately recognise the implement and would probably set to and help.

Because a blisteringly hot weekend has been forecast I decided to wash the loose covers from the sofa. We don't have a tumble dryer, so weather matters to me when I'm washing. I wish I could persuade Dave to only wash on good drying days, but after 49 years I know it's a lost cause.

When I took the covers off, I found these plastic things in a fold which are half the width and half the length of my little finger. I challenge you, dear reader, to tell me PRECISELY what they are.

Last week Moira Redmond, whom I have never met and who who writes an amusing and interesting blog called Clothes in Books, devoted a post to my new book EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU. How fab!

And last night after my evening dose of Call the Midwife, I checked the listing of my book on Amazon to see if there were any more reviews, and there was!

Dear Reader, if you've read any of my books and you enjoyed them please be a peach and review them on Amazon and/or Goodreads. It helps sales, it really does. Also, it encourages me to keep on trucking writing.

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Turbulent times

Did I really blog that I'd detected seeds of change and I was feeling rather more hopeful? Well that feeling bit the dust.  

Also, my last week was full of stress, and my brain was whirring round and round, impossible to channel into calm thought, while my emotions were impossible to discipline. This is why I haven't blogged. I didn't want to splatter my feelings all over the screen.

Now I feel calm: last night I slept for 9 hours and I haven't read the news yet and I feel more like myself.

Tell me...would you say you are more emotional the older you get?

This morning in the Guardian there is a long article about peoples' television habits, with a subtitle 
"We are in an era of 'prestige television' with unprecedented choice and quality. So why are so many of us streaming endless reruns of 90s sitcoms?"

Do they really need to ask? The Guardian itself needs a health warning before you even glance at the headlines.

Television can be a great escape. Recently two separate friends recommended Summer of Rockets. I began to watch it, and was enjoying it, but twenty minutes into the first episode a 7 year old was sent away to school (bad enough) but then was being cruelly grilled by the headmaster and I couldn't take it and switched it off. 

Since then I've been rewatching Grace and Frankie, and Call the Midwife. I never saw the latter when it originally aired on telly because we didn't have a telly then. I've since caught up with it on Netflix and now I am watching it again. Yes, there is darkness in many episodes, but it has everything a Sue needs - engaging stories, emotion, kindness, humour, hope, satisfactory conclusions. Above all, though, it's deeply moral, and this I find reassuring. Everywhere in the media there is aggression, vituperation and argument. Even people on Twitter whose politics I agree with come out with statements full of hate. What disturbs me more than anything about current politics, though, is the moral vacuum. 

Yes, I've become an old fart. 

There is other evidence supporting this. I have stopped sending presents to young people who do not ring or write to say thank you. 

You know I said I'd been brushing up my French? I am using a language app/course on my phone called Duolingo. It's excellent, but it's American so if i translate Je suis dans la pharmacie as I am in the chemist's shop  I am told it's the wrong answer. Pah! It's galling, and I rail about the American English. This never bothers me when I'm visiting the family in Boulder. I accept they use different terms. So why does the French course make me so mad? Because I'm an old fart.

And lovely gardens send me into ecstasies - more evidence.

Here is a photo of my front garden (which is irrelevant) except that it gives me pleasure every time I go out there, and now the cosmos are all out and so are the white Japanese anemones.  I should go out and take an up to date photo, but the light today would not do it justice.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


I was in the Pas de Calais region of France last week, having a wonderful relaxing holiday, flaunting my newly revived French after years of neglect, perhaps showing more confidence than competence. Whatever...I loved it.

Chrissie took me to two of her favourite gardens: Maizicourt and Jardins des Lianes. They were both beautiful, but I fell utterly in love with the latter, which was a smaller private garden.

Eliane and Guy Lebel have spent more than 30 years developing their garden which contains 500 varieties of hydrangeas and 450 varieties of rose. Imagine. It was breathtaking. I've always felt hydrangeas verged towards the dull, the municipal, but not any more. 

The colours and delicacy were stunning. I could have wandered round the woodland paths of the garden all day.

In amongst the shrubs and trees, there were several little playhouses, built for their children. 

The sign says:  
A simple gaze resting on a flower and you have a day filled with happiness. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The seeds of change

Nine days ago Quakers in Bakewell held a one hour silent peace vigil by the pedestrian bridge over the river Wye. 

We were remembering Hiroshima, and our placards were a mixture of pacifist slogans such as 'People need bread not bombs' and 'Arms are for hugging.' But we also had broader mottos, such as  'Build bridges not walls' and 'Love trumps hate.' 

We've been holding occasional vigils for some time in Bakewell, and passers-by, mostly tourists, show various reactions. Some avert their eyes and hurry past, some stand a distance away and stare, read the placards and wonder if we're going to chant, or burst into song. Some walk close to us and read every placard and smile. Children are interested and ask their parents what it's all about: some parents explain, some pull their kids away and say nothing. 

This last time, we all agreed it felt different, and this was quite apart from the fact that two children came to join us. We felt a warmth and interest we've never felt before, and I've been wondering why. Was it because everyone is sick to the back teeth of vicious arguments over Brexit? They've seen so many demonstrators on the news, chanting or shouting, some of them trying to intimidate their opponents, and they've heard politicians hurling insults and lying. Whatever the reason for the warm reception of our silent vigil, I came home feeling more positive about the future of this country than I have for  years despite the bitter turmoil we see everyday in the media.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

My week in pictures

I'm still thinking, and also wishing that Mary was here to talk things over with, but the upshot is that I don't feel up to writing a decent blog post, so I thought I'd share my week with you in photographs.

Sunday, Zoe and I worked out what was the best method to make bag charms. I need to be prepared for when we offer it as an activity on the next refugee hospitality day.

Also on Sunday we had a bat in the bedroom. I like bats, but I like them in their proper place - the garden. It was not a pleasant experience, but at least the bat got out alive. 

photo by Dave

On Monday I cut Dave's hair:

I always cut his hair, but this time it was not a success. He thinks he looks like a dinner lady. I am sorry I can't show you a picture so you can contribute to the debate. 

On Tuesday I spent the day with my 13 year old grandson (no names, no photographs, as requested by same) As well as playing Grand Turismo on his Playstation, and my coming second in a 20 car race  - whoop! whoop! - we went to a cat cafe:

Wednesday was Lux's 9th birthday. I hadn't been able to squeeze a birthday list out of Lux or her parents, so in the end I asked Isaac to buy her something from me and I would pay him back. Lux Facetimed me to demonstrate the present - a remote controlled fart machine. She loved it, and so did Cece. They were still playing with it at bedtime and are taking it on their camping trip this weekend. Great present!

Photo by Isaac

Also on Wednesday I got a text from a new friend who had been reading my book, BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, on holiday. 

I've clipped it for confidentiality purposes.

You have absolutely no idea how getting a text like this cheers me up. And I'm going to say it not only cheer up writers, they boost sales.

On Thursday the village newspaper arrived and I was in it:

On Friday I had a super bike ride. Here is Monsaldale:

For the uninitiated, the Monsal Trail runs over the viaduct.

Tomorrow at noon I shall be at a tiny silent peace vigil in the centre of Bakewell, remembering the horrors of Hiroshima.

Sunday, I am going to France with Chrissie for a few days. I am hoping that by the time I get back I will have worked out what small but meaningful rearguard action - something positive and helpful - I can engage in to make me feel I am contributing some kind of resistance to the horrors of this government. 
I also hope I'll be back in shape for blogging.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Quiet times

I'm doing a lot of thinking, and whereas I sometimes do my thinking on the blog, I don't think it would be helpful right now, either for you or for me. So here are some photos of my rain-lashed garden instead... 

And my ridiculous agapanthuses. One shooting tall and the others, dwarves. What's going on?

The sun is shining inside

and out.

There are flood warnings for the local river, and if we want a dry bike ride we'll have to be home by 10 a.m. but first, Dave needs to perfect this morning's letter to the Guardian and I need to make my porridge.

À bientôt. 

Ooh, ooh, what I can tell you is that I'm mugging up on my French conversation because next week I'm going to France with Chrissie. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Friday round-up

It's been an up-and-down week.

On Monday I went to Bakewell market and smiled and said hello to a woman who looked familiar, but I still don't know who she was. She looked like a plumper, blonder version of someone I rarely see these days. I'm wondering if she only smiled and said hello because I smiled first. Or do we actually know one another??

On Tuesday I cycled early, setting off at 7.20 to beat the crowds and the heat but it didn't suit my body clock. I struggled to get back home and then when I did, I felt dead.

Later, Chrissie came over to eat lunch outside in the shade and it was very pleasant because we never once touched on the current political fix we're in. I had zoned out of the news about our new PM, until the aging hippie woke up in Redwood City, read the news and messaged me with this. (Thanks, Karen):

In the evening, Dave and I could manage to watch only 3 minutes of the news before switching it off in disgust at the "election" of a man promising tax cuts to the rich when millions of people in Britain depend on foodbanks. (Please note my focus on policy and my abstention from indulging in a string of insults about the man himself.) 

Then there was the lightning storm which woke me at 2.30 a.m. and I couldn't sleep after that, overwhelmed with despair about the plight of our country and what the future holds for the most vulnerable in society now a right-wing coup has taken place - the people on inadequate welfare benefits, the people with multiple poorly paid jobs who still can't afford to pay the rent and buy enough food for their families, the asylum seekers in vile substandard rat-infested accommodation or banged up in indefinite detention, the special needs kids not getting the help they need in school, etc etc etc, I am sure you could add more to this list. I know I can.

So I chatted with Isaac in Colorado on Facetime. He was putting the kids to bed. After that, I managed to get back to sleep.

On Wednesday morning, I tried to play the glad game but all I could come up with was feeling pleased that people I love who have died are not here to witness what's going on.

Later, a friend came over and told me all about her work for ASSIST,  a Sheffield based charity that supports destitute asylum seekers. We agreed how lucky we are, how sheltered, how fortunate, how privileged.

Dave came home at teatime with a present for me from his sister, which made me feel even more fortunate:

I opened the foil packet inside and the truffles were liquid. I ate some with a spoon, and they were delicious.

Later, I found a review of my new book, EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU, hidden away on Goodreads as a response to someone else's:

That cheered me up for a while.

Thursday was sax lesson and then 'looking after' my teenage grandsons. They are fabulous. 

Today, Friday, I woke again and thought about who the PM had chosen for his new cabinet, and decided the way to cheer myself up was to pick sweet peas very early in my pyjamas... a favourite summer activity. But it didn't make me feel any better until I asked Dave to take a photo of me in action, so I could put it on the blog.

It's well known in our family that Dave is better than me at 80% of practical activities, but one thing he is totally crap at is taking photographs. I handed him my phone, nevertheless, and told him yet again -'You only have to touch the button. You don't need to press it.'  Was the instruction effective? Was it buffalo. I could hear click click click click as he took burst after burst of multiple photographs, so much so that I couldn't stop laughing.

Now I've had a bike ride, written this, had two mugs of great coffee, ate some more truffles which after being in the fridge have formed a solid lump of deliciousness, and I'm feeling pretty OK. I hope that you are more than OK, and that you have a really great weekend. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Letter from home

'It has been a quiet week in Lake Woebegon' and also at Hepworth Towers.

I've made gooseberry jam, and blackcurrant jam

photo by Liz McGregor

realised that if you top and tail gooseberries while watching Grace and Frankie it kills the boredom;

discussed with Dave the idea of updating the kitchen; 


sat in the garden and planned the next novel;

Relished the latest review of my new book EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU

Picked sweet peas:

I have two patches of sweet peas. Same amount of sunshine and rain, same batch of home-grown seedlings, different soil. These pictures could be sent as an illustration to the new Minister of Education about the development of children.

And lastly, I tried out a new 'craft' activity with Zoe for our next refugee hospitality day...decorating chrome barrettes (hair clips) with various kinds of bling, because that's what a lot of the punters like. (It amuses me hugely that Quakers and bling seem to be such a contradictory conjunction.)