Friday, September 24, 2021

Reasons to be cheerful

 I have to admit that I was feeling fairly gloomy this morning.

1/ the state of the country. Nuff said.

2/ worrying about whether I will have enough petrol to get up to Wensleydale next week when my two sisters and I are having a holiday together that was cancelled last year because of you-know-what.  (Dave kindly went down to Bakewell at 7 a.m. and filled up the car but reported that several pumps were empty already.)

3/ whittling about when the USA administration will make a definite announcement as to the date we can travel there and whether they will accept those vaccinated with Astrazeneca. It's so tantalising when they say 'early November.' Why don't they give a date?  I want to get my ticket booked this minute to go and see Isaac and Wendy and the girls.

But after my early doctor's appointment in Bakewell I cycled past the Co-op and spotted our lovely Big Issue seller Sofia - whom I haven't seen for 18 months. It was so wonderful to see her that it really cheered me up.




Then I cycled home up the Trail, littered with drying leaves, and bounded by firey rosebay willow herb 




and was thankful for the changing season. It's deeply reassuring that the world continues in its seasonal cycles. 'The sun rises in spite of everything.'

When I got home our boxes of cox apples arrived. There is no apple that compares with a new season cox. I once embarrassed a greengrocer by saying that biting into my first cox of the autumn was almost orgasmic.




And now I am considering the irony of my whittling about leisure travel, when Sofia will be worrying about paying for heating this coming winter, and the swingeing cut to the benefit she's probably claiming.

This poem never fails to comfortme:


Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.


Derek Mahon

  


Monday, September 20, 2021

Thinking

I was having a chat with my GP the other day about why I get so tired. We went through all the possibilities and came up with nothing, which was reassuring. Then I found myself telling him about my daily life, and heard myself say '...cycling, creative activities, thinking...' 

What? 

Thinking? He probably checked my occupation to see if I was down as a philosopher.

But I do think a lot; and thinking is tiring. I've just checked the science, and brain activity accounts for 20% of calorie expenditure, so there you go.

And there is so much to think about. Even before you start reading the paper, look at the bumph that comes with it:





How can I even think of buying a new jumper that I don't actually need, when there is so much real need in the world?

But there are so many other things to worry about. What's troubling me at the moment is the fact that every single thing the current government does is anathema to me. Just one example is the upcoming cut in Universal Credit, which does not affect me personally but which will affect nearly 3.5 million children.

Here are some other things  -  privatisation by stealth of the NHS, the collapse of the care sector, the demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers and the criminalisation of those who arrive by "illegal means."

The second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill was backed by a majority of MPs in July. It included provisions for people who have fled war, terror and oppression to seek asylum here to be arrested and prosecuted under a new offence - that of arriving in the UK without a valid entry clearance. Such vulnerable people could face up to 4 years in prison.

What can I do about any of this? It feels as though there is nothing apart from writing to my (Tory) MP to say: 

NOT IN MY NAME

And it's not as if there is a decent opposition. I'm 72, and it feels that for the rest of my life the UK will continue to go downhill.

A friend who shares my feelings said it was very tempting when feeling powerless to effect change to simply disengage and turn one's back, but that that felt wrong. 

When I asked the family-member-who-declines-to-be-named about it, he said: 'Violent revolution, but it's probably not a good fit for you.' Very true. Apart from being a pacifist I wouldn't have the energy.

Hey ho.

The good news is that I finished a painting I am pleased with:


Acrylic on canvas board 59 x  42 cms


And the other good news is that it's a sunny day.

I will leave you with this:


by William Stafford from the anthology ASK ME, pub. Graywolf Press 2014


Go gently, friends.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Whatever!

I LOVE my phone. I love the fact that I can have quick interchanges with three of my friends from the comfort of my bed, sharing laughs and love and beauty.

I love the sunshine coming in the window.



I have had a wonderfully sociable week seeing friends and family but another strand of it has been ridiculously stressful - trying to get established with BT as our new internet service provider. 

We have the connection - such as it is - but their customer ID security system is ridiculously rococo and they have so many glitches that have to be referred to the back room people that I'm seriously wondering if we have made a mistake in switching to them. But we have so few choices, living as we do up this lane in the sticks. 

If it hadn't been for my wonderful BT helper Amanda, I would have already pulled out and told them to stuff it. After a week of trying to get an online ID with them I am still not sorted, and Amanda is ringing me tomorrow to try again. I told her that if we are successful we should each have a piece of cake to celebrate.

I have other admin crap to sort out and I realised yesterday that if I find all this stressful now, in ten years time Dave and I will have to get our daughter to sort things out for us. He said it'll be fine in ten years because we'll both be dead. You can always depend on Dave to see the bright side.

So anyway...back to the morning sunshine streaming in through the window and texting friends. It's better than reading the hellish news and fretting about what's to be done about any of it. 

One of the problems of being a Quaker is having all these other ancient Quakers dead and alive doing such heroic things - those 80 year olds protesting with Extinction Rebellion and being arrested, for example. 

I need to cut myself some slack. An old friend who is twenty years younger than me has just had a hot tub installed in her miniscule back yard. She says you can have a dreadful day and then get in the tub and lean back and you instantly think - Whatever!

I think I need to do more whatevering.

Today I am going to paint outside. I have a sky to paint and more grasses to add to this




and a brand new painting waiting to be continued.

Tonight it's fish and chips in Chrissie's garden.

I'm making hay: we have a long winter ahead.



Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Peace witness

I've just come back from a silent peace vigil in Buxton's main shopping street.

We were there to draw attention to Europe's largest arms fair (Defence and Security International) which is beginning in London today. We were there, too,  in solidarity with all those protesting outside DSEI. Here's another link.

DSEI is promoting the sale of arms that cause death and destruction for thousands of innocent civilians all over the world. 

The British government sends out formal invitations to countries, including those with a known record of human rights abuse, internal repression, and external aggression: they invite countries that the government itself considers to be a human rights concern, namely Bahrain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt and Iraq. 

These were some of our placards:

 









It was easy to stand silently for an hour holding these signs. I've done it often in Bakewell with other placards - for Remembrance weekend and Hiroshima Day.

But I've been thinking lately about my Quaker grandfather, who was a Conscientious Objector in WW1. He went to a Military Tribunal and was fortunate to be granted absolute exemption, presumably because he was a pacifist on religious grounds.

But his life and that of my grandmother throughout the war must have been so difficult. They lived in West Hartlepool which was bombarded by German warships in December 1914. 130 people were killed and hundreds more were injured. Dozens of buildings were destroyed or damaged and many of those hit are still scarred by pieces of shrapnel embedded in the walls. More than 1,100 shells rained down on the shipbuilding town.

The attack galvanised the local people, with 22,000 men joining up, a huge proportion of the population, and many more men and women working in the shipyards and munitions factories.

The other result was that Hartlepool, on three occasions, won awards for raising the most money per head of population of any place in the British Empire for the war effort. The equivalent today would be £545million.

I'm thinking it would be hard enough being a CO in WW1, but to be one working in Hartlepool as a bank clerk, a public position, must have required huge stoicism. I have imagined him being ostracised, denied promotion for years and years, and much much worse.

This is his exemption certificate:

Matthew's cert 1

matthew's cert 2 

I honour him.



by William Stafford


Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Crossing off STUFF

I've told you how every morning Dave asks me what are my plans for the day, haven't I?

Yesterday when he asked me I said: 'I have some stuff to do and then I'm going out on my bike.'

Dave: 'What stuff?'

Me: 'I don't want to say.' and only when I explained it to him, did I realise why. 'It's boring domestic stuff and I'm trying to keep it under the radar, not think about it, try and slip it into my schedule without my noticing it and feeling fed up.'

It's possible this only works for me, and that it's because it takes me so long to wake up in the morning. Yesterday we were waiting for the satnav to boot up



and it twigged that the blank screen, where even the menu doesn't work, is just like me first thing in the morning.

There is, of course, another way of dealing with tedious but necessary tasks: you can make a list and have the satisfaction of crossing the items off when done. 

My new method of slipping things in under the radar is good for things like changing the sheets and cleaning out the fridge, but not so good when trying to activate my new BT account which I'd put off for too long and then getting snarled up in BT's overtight security measures and having to talk to a charming BT person who cannot fix the problem even after 50 minutes of trying, with me on the other end of the line. Aaarghhh! 

I don't want to be dealing with the glut of plums, either:




That's just the first batch of our harvest (from our only tree.)  Last year we had no plums at all. This year the branches are so laden they are breaking off.

I am getting so possessive of my time and energy. All I want to do is paint, 




or be outside in this current spell of sunshine, cycling, walking, reading or playing table tennis... 

...or looking at this beautiful book that my dear, thoughtful and generous friend Het sent me in the post





because she knew I was sad to miss the London exhibition.


'Living tomorrow is too late: live today'

Martial



Video link address: https://youtu.be/g9hh7OMCob0 





Friday, September 03, 2021

Friday round up

It's been a week of ups and downs, beginning with a down on Sunday when after keeping the news at arm's length for a fortnight, I decided it was time to brave it. I was so overwhelmed by the suffering and darkness I couldn't write my own words on the blog, I could only supply quotes and give you links. 

Since then I've come across a really helpful piece on how to deal with this feeling. If you sometimes feel the same, it's worth a read.

On Monday I cancelled a treat trip away with a friend because Dave pointed out it 'wasn't safe.' The friend I'd been going away with reacted better than me, saying we have to respect others' fears in this chronic pandemic scenario. 

I bounced back with fish and chips for tea in our garden with my dear friend Chrissie the next day. Our garden is on the edge of the village and exposed, and it's rare for us to be without a chill wind, but on Tuesday it was warm enough to stay outside talking till 8. 

On Wednesday I spent four hours editing our Quaker newsletter. This time the question we had to answer was "What brings you joy?" and I had more contributions than ever before. It's a very uplifting edition.

I answered this question on the blog some weeks ago, but here is my up-to-the minute answer:

Reading there was a 3000% raise in donations to the RNLI after Nigel Farage criticised them for rescuing asylum seekers and refugees in distress while crossing the Channel.

Picking sweet peas in my pyjamas before breakfast




Spending time with my grandchildren – the ultimate bringers of joy

Cycling down the Monsal Trail on a sunny summer teatime after the tourists have gone home




When I got off the bike and sat under the trees by the river


Playing table tennis in the back garden with Dave

The first glimpse of the sea between the sand dunes at Embleton Bay





Going out to lunch with my adult children - just me and them - so rare and so special

Dancing to music from the sixties

Vivid blues and greens and oranges

Drinking margaritas with Wendy (my daughter-in-law) in Boulder



Someone telling me that one of my books made them laugh or cry, or both

Licking out the bowl after making chocolate brownies

Hearing our blackbird sing while I’m watering my pots outside in the evening

Laughing with Dave

Getting a text after a Bakewell refugee hospitality day to tell us what a wonderful time our visitors had


That's it. Tonight I'm going to an open air art show and I'm very excited!

I hope you're all finding sparks of joy in your days to get you through.


Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

William Stafford

 


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The coming chill

We lit the fire last evening: autumn is here.

It will soon be too chilly to entertain outside, and with Covid infections rising there'll be friction at Hepworth Towers as to what is safe and what is not. 

I'm not looking forward to the winter, and am about to launch into list mode...a list of what I can do at home over the next six months besides paint.


And the days are not full enough

And the nights are not full enough

And life slips by like a field mouse

                      Not shaking the grass.

Ezra Pound


Card by Elizabeth Forrest RBSA - Lettering Artist
www.elizabethkforrest.co.uk






Here is a small section of my current work in progress: 



Love to all my readers - those whose names I know, and also the silent lurkers.

 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

A serious thing







I'm sorry but I have no words of my own today. Long time readers know that the plight of refugees tears at my heart - Afghan refugees are just the latest group. Perhaps it's because I love my home and family so much that if I were to pick a cause over all the other worthy causes (and there are so many) it would be to support refugees and asylum seekers. 

If you want to do something to help refugees arriving from Afghanistan, there is a helpful article with suggestions here.

Care4Calais is a charity supporting all refugees, including those from Afghanistan.

You can donate money here.

If you have suitable items of clothing you wish to donate to support refugees, there are drop off points all over the country. You can find the drop off map here.

The Red Cross is helping refugees from Afghanistan and people in desperate need who will not be leaving the country. You can donate here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

What a difference a day makes

I got up early today because I wanted to go on my bike on the Trail before the tourists arrived.  I thought it would be quiet and balmy at 8 a.m. and I could soak up the loveliness and look for grasses I had not already spotted and bring a couple home, because I am still drawing grasses, and working on a Trailside painting.

But although the forecast had been fine, it was chilly out there, and spitting with rain and horrid. And I dithered at the end of the lane, and then turned round and came home. I will go out later when it's warmed up a bit but it will have to be up the hill because the Trail will be packed by mid-morning. Weather, eh?

We took a friend on one of my favourite walks on Monday - along the Derwent from Curbar to Froggatt, and back on the other side. 





There were plenty of walkers out and about but it wasn't crowded. Usually when we're out walking, some people give us a hearty hello and some just walk on by. But on Monday everyone we met said 'Hello.' And I mean everyone. And they didn't just say hello, they smiled and said what a lovely day it was, or they made a joke. It was most odd.

You know that scene in The Railway Children near the end? Where Bobbie goes down to the station and everyone on the way is greeting her and congratulating her and pointing to their newspapers and saying what great news it is, and Perks gives her a kiss, and she is completely bemused as to why? It was just like that.

And I was puzzling about it. All I came up with was that it must be because the weekend had been so full of rain, whereas Monday was such a lovely sunny day with the countryside fresh after the rain and the air so balmy. 

Why are we so affected by the weather? 

I went into Sheffield last evening to see Zoë and we walked down Ecclesall Road, which was very exciting for this country mouse - all those people! All those people out and about at a time when usually Dave and I slumped on the sofa, thinking the day is done!

I spotted these lovely weeds on a side street:


and took a photo because I love the combo of the yellow dots, the green leaves and the white seedheads.

I'll leave you with this quote from Northern Farm by Henry Beston, which i came across on the wonderful Brainpickings website.

When this twentieth century of ours became obsessed with a passion for mere size, what was lost sight of was the ancient wisdom that the emotions have their own standards of judgment and their own sense of scale. In the emotional world a small thing can touch the heart and the imagination every bit as much as something impressively gigantic; a fine phrase is as good as an epic, and a small brook in the quiet of a wood can have its say with a voice more profound than the thunder of any cataract. Who would live happily in the country must be wisely prepared to take great pleasure in little things.


Friday, August 20, 2021

Another difficult subject

Bukowski wrote a poem I like that's entitled 'so you want to be a writer' (lower case intended) and it begins like this:

so you want to be a writer


if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it....

I need to tell you this: what I am thinking about is grasses, and how to paint them. 

I can draw them just fine:


but painting them is another matter, because of their delicacy and the kind of painting I do. 
This is my first attempt 
'Green'
Acrylic on canvas 35.5 x 25.5 cms


and I am fond of it, despite the fact that the canvas had been used before and lines from the painting underneath show through. For some reason, that's fine with me, because I'm thinking that grasses you see out there in the wild grow any which way, stuffed beside other plants, growing out of walls and between cracks in the pavement, so if there are imperfections in the background of my painting it feels OK. No-one else might like it but in this particular case I don't care.  And you're looking at a perfectionist here.
I am such a perfectionist that I am frequently dissatisfied when I have finished a painting which other people say they really like. Dave is shocked by how critical I am of my paintings and said the other day that in future, as soon as I have finished a painting he is going to make it a ward of court to protect it, so I can't paint over it. 
I talked to a professional artist about this and she said she often felt dissatisfied and that that is why painting is addictive: you will try again and next time you will get it right.
My painter brother Pete, asks me why I have to choose such difficult subjects every time, and the reason is this - I want to paint something that has struck me by its beauty: that's the reason I choose it. And right now I am entranced by the beauty of wild grasses.
It's possible that ferns might be next.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Letter from home

Right. I am going to say two more things about reading and then I promise to shut up about books for two weeks.

The first is this: I know I am a difficult reading customer so I thought I'd show you a heap of novels from my shelves that I have liked unequivocally and all but two of which I have read twice. In some cases I've read them three times.



Here's a list, in case you can't read the titles - Plainsong, Olive Kitteridge, Happenstance, 84 Charing Cross Road, Our Souls at Night, The Enchanted April, Heartburn, A Patchwork Planet, The Secret Garden, The Unstrung Harp (a minority taste, probably), Leaving Home, A Tree grows in Brooklyn, In a Father's Place, The Brontes went to Woolworths, All the light we cannot see, Homestead, The Lie, The Essex Serpent, Unless.

The second thing to say is that I am now reading a book which blog reader Sally recommended - The Heart's Invisible Furies -  which I was enjoying even though the title would have deterred me from even taking it off the shelf. Then at page 152 I stopped enjoying it because an insufferable teenage boy was going on and on about sex and it was ineffably tedious. I turned to much later in the book to see if that character was there throughout the whole book and found that he wasn't, but that someone else was going on and on about sex. Now...you know how I said I liked nature but I am not fond of nature writing? Well, the same goes for sex - I like sex, but not writing about it. And this boy was not even DOING it, he was TALKING about it. Yawn!

But I am still reading the book because it is so well written, it's pacey, and it's very entertaining. 


So what is the news from Hepworth Towers?

1/   The big news is that yesterday Isaac 




became an American citizen. He went to live in the States in 2003 but now he has become a citizen (at 48) it feels as though he has really left home. So while I am genuinely happy for him and for Wendy and the girls, there is a certain wistfulness about the event from my side of the Atlantic.

2/   I decided to stop belly-aching about the state of the garden and spend an hour every day sorting it out. Then Dave mowed all the lawns and strimmed the edges and it looks so much better that I have fresh courage and I'm going to keep at it.

3/   I wrote three separate emails to my MP and have had one response - about funding care. The two emails about the Home Office's dire treatment of refugees and the shocking deportation of people to Jamaica remain unanswered. This is not surprising, as she is a new and loyal Tory. Next up, an email asking her to support the move to keep the £20 rise in Universal Benefit. I urge you to write to your MP about this too. There is some Tory support for this measure, so it might not be ignored. Here is a link to get you started.

4/   I finished another painting:

'The colours of love and hope' 
Acrylic on canvas 35 x 29 cms

5/   Reading the news every morning is so depressing but now I have two ways of cheering myself up afterwards. The first is to take a peek inside DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE. This week I opened it at something that made me chuckle:

'I lead a sheltered life. I hardly see a packet of pork scratchings from one year’s end to the next. And now I have finished the last of the packets I bought in Wrenbury, my life is drab.'

The other way is to remind myself how lucky I am that I did not escape the Irish famine and emigrate to America to find myself living in a room with no sanitation with a husband and four children, to work in a cotton factory for 12 hours a day, to have three children die in infancy and to die myself at the age of 35. This is what happened to someone's ancestor in Who do you think you are? but there are still people now whose lives are desperate.


6/   I've been thinking about my father a lot this week 



and it made me take out a clutch of letters he wrote to my mother in 1968 when he was 50 and travelling in America on a Churchill fellowship looking at specific aspects of dairy farming over there. I have so enjoyed reading them.

Here's a taster:

'I'm in a palatial guestroom in an annexe adjoining the house. I only wish you were here, my darling. Two king sized beds, electric sheets [sic], sumptuous panelling, arm chairs, private bathroom with glass walled shower - everything I could want, in fact, except you and a mug for my teeth.'

and another:

'In general I find it impossible to discuss the national and racist issues with most people - I can usually tell pretty quickly how they stand and it is almost invariably at the opposite pole of opinion so I keep my big mouth shut (believe it or not!) Last night was an exception when I spent the evening with X who claims to be regarded by most people as a 'screaming liberal.' I found I had so much in common with him and his wife that we talked till nearly midnight although I had been up at 5 a.m.'

And here is one of his touching sign-offs:

'All my love darling to you and those pestilential ankle-biters I miss so much. Fred.'  

7/   The last thing to say is that I am becoming so interested in (wild) grasses that I'm going to buy a book about them so I can name them when I see them, and learn to spot rare ones.

Look at these beauties I found on the Trail:





These last are my favourites so far. They're called quaking grass, and look like this before they dry up:


Photo from The Wildlife Trust website


The beads are so delicate that they quiver in the breeze. 

That's it, friends. I hope you're having a good weekend. I'll leave you with two corners of our garden.