Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'a right strawy epistle'

I'm having two days off from writing. I'm going to London to see the ballet and the Howard Hodgkin exhibition (woo-hoo!) so before I go I have time to tell you what's been happening at Hepworth Towers.

What's been happening? 

Life. Life has been happening. At the beginning of last week I had a to-do list with 17 items on it, many of which were the worst kind - about money (the other worst kind, of course, being houseworky.) I've ticked them all off except two. 

And writing.  I've been writing at least 1,000 words a day. I've now written 27,361 words of the first draft, and I'm feeling pretty pleased.

I did take a day off last Friday to spend with a friend who is German. We went to see two films and we coloured eggs for Easter. It's a German tradition that she and her husband do every Easter, and I loved it.

This is the one I chose to bring home:

The trouble is that I can't bear to break it open and eat it.

It's a possibility that my friend, who has made her home in Derbyshire for the last 12 years and who wanted to live here till she died, will have to go back to Germany because of Brexit. Meanwhile, a member of my family who lives on the continent is applying for Irish citizenship so he can carry on living where he has for more than 30 years. One of the items on my list was to find my Irish grandmother's birth and marriage certificates. Brexit! Aaarrghhh.

I'm finding this post hard to write. My writing fiction head is so different from my blog-writing head. And that reminds me of a quote which is not pertinent to that last idea but which I do think is true:

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

I'm sorry for this right strawy epistle. I'm out of the habit, friends. 

Lastly, I came across another quote thanks to Jenetta, and I liked it so much I'm planning to make a colourful collage of it, when I've finished the novel.

"I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions."

Dave doesn't like the quote. He says the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

Comments, please.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A choice of reading

I was awake and ready to write a jolly post this morning about what is on MY bedside table, in response to a comment from Sally on a recent post, but I glanced at the news first and something upset me so much I am going to do the bedside table and then the other thing, and you can choose which you care about.

My bedside table will shock you if you're a minimalist.
This is what I currently have on the top shelf alone:

The Siege by Helen Dunmore, Part of the Furniture by Mary Wesley, and Homestead by Rosina Lippi - all of which are there because I wanted to look at the way the authors wrote specific scenes. Where'd you go Bernadette by Maria Semple, which I am supposed to be reading (for a second time), Word Painting - a guide to writing more descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan, which I am dipping into, Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor - because it lives there. Garrison is always there for good cheer, and for comfort reading in the bleak hours of sleepless nights.

Other items:
My journal, two copies of Country Living, the latest edition of the journal of the Society of Authors, a Guardian supplement about the 1930s and whether current times are comparable, a ripped-out magazine feature on the best new mascara and false eyelashes, Mary's funeral programme, an old birthday card from Mary's younger daughter, a thank you card from Isaac and Wendy, three emery boards, three pens, a pad of post-its, aconite pills, a bedside light, and a Google guest identification tag from when Isaac took me to Boulder Google last September. This is not it: this is the souvenir

Part 2:

I walked along the lane and back last evening at dusk because I needed fresh air. The pheasant that makes that awful croaking noise in our garden every morning, and is doing it as I write, was roosting in one of our beech trees. His black silhouette against the sky made him look like a skinny peacock. It was cold. I had thrown on a fleece and a long wool scarf and I had to wrap the scarf around my head against the wind.

What I first read when I woke up this morning was a Guardian piece about the refugee families in Dunkirk, whose meagre belongings were destroyed in the Dunkirk fire that also destroyed their shelters, and who last night slept on the roadside because they said the emergency facilities provided for them were unsuitable for children. 

I thought about the refugees - all the refugees - sleeping out on cold spring nights. I thought about the refugees who were sleeping out last night. How can it be that just the other side of the Channel there are hundreds of destitute, embattled and traumatised people who are homeless, whom our government refuses to give shelter to? Surely it is the normal human response to offer help to people in desperate need.

I am deeply ashamed of this government. I have given up writing to my MP. He is chairman of the Conservative party and only ever tows the party line of Theresa May. I now write to the boss and copy him in. Perhaps if enough of us write to her she will listen. Public pressure is the way to go with people who appear to have no inner moral compass. Or you might like to write about the UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia used in bombing civilians in Yemen, or about the cuts to benefits of the disabled or...or.... Take your pick, but write. Please.

Monday, April 10, 2017

suggestions, please?

I'm feeling bleary after a bad night, and going to Bakewell market later than my usual 8 a.m. because Boots doesn't open till 9 and Dave needs some Sudafed, so.... I thought I'd do a quick post and ask you a question.

Can you recommend a contemporary novel by a good writer that is a love story? I hesitate to say 'literary fiction' but I don't want something that is cheesy or commercial: I want beautiful, spare writing. Yes, I'm demanding. You already know this. But can you make some suggestions? Please?

A propos of nothing, the sky changed very rapidly this morning for the first hour that I was awake - here it is through my window at 6.20, 6.25 and 6.40 
(It rises further round now so I can no longer lean out of the south facing window and squirm round sideways to take it. I have to take it through my east window and through glass.)

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Research for the novel - via Twitter

I was writing a scene in the new novel this week in which a woman goes into the bedroom of a man she doesn't know, to change her clothes. I wrote a description of the contents of the room, but when her eyes fell on the bedside table my mind went blank. 

Usually before I begin to write a novel, I plot the whole thing out from start to finish, and I also develop my characters. This time I haven't done that. I'm writing the novel more organically, and I'm developing the characters as I go along. This man (with the bedroom) is still a work in progress, which is why I had no idea what was on his bedside table. (U.S. equiv. = nightstand)

On Wednesday night I turned to Twitter, and asked men over 40 to tell me what was on their bedside tables. I got two replies. The next morning at 6 a.m. I tweeted again and got a couple more. I have 500+ followers, but Isaac has 25,000, so I tweeted him and he retweeted my question. The tweeted replies were coming in so fast I couldn't keep up with reading them and tweeting my thank yous (I hope I didn't miss anyone out.)

The tweets were fascinating. Beautiful little character studies. Being a person whose various careers have centred around my interest in people, the responses were a delight, but Isaac (a techie product manager) also enjoyed them. More to the point, they gave me some terrific ideas for my character. 

I thought you might like to see a few of the tweets. One tweet I've not shown is from a guy who said he had a digital thermometer, so I asked him why and he uses it to record the temperature of the room, because he lives in an old house and wondered how cold it got in the night. My character is definitely having this! After the tweets below - just a sample - I've listed what else I chose for Joe's bedside table.

This is hopeless! I haven't included the man with the rosary beads and a cardboard model of a robot. Or the man who has a glass of water with a CD on top so he knows the cat hasn't been drinking from the water. I investigated some of them and found out, for example, that Chris Thorpe (above) who has the old book about Swedish politics, also had a toy tinplate model of one of the boats that goes around the Stockholm archipelago.  

It's not just about the list of items per se, it's also where they lead my imagination. It was so productive.

On Joe's bedside table is a torch, a loo roll, a chapstick (which would never have occurred to me - ever), a digital thermometer, two empty lozenge wrappers, an almost finished packet of Ritz crackers, a glass of water with a CD resting on top and Patrick Kavanagh’s Selected Poems. This may well change as I get to know my character better.

If you responded on Twitter and you're reading this - thank you again. You made my day, and helped to make my character.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

where my head is

I'm not blogging so often these days and I want to explain.

I'm writing a new novel and my brain is full of that. It's not just about having less time for writing the blog, it's about where my head is between posts. When I'm not engaged in a new writing project, my brain freewheels and notices things and ponders things, and these things come out in the blog. But when I am writing fiction, and especially in the beginning phase of it (as now) my head is full of my new characters, of where the story is going, and where I want it to go. I'm planning the structure and wondering if it will work. 

I am in another place much of the time so that I wander round the garden and Dave says things like "Are you OK? What are you worrying about?" or "Is everything all right? You look distracted."

And I say -"I'm just thinking about my writing."

My emails are different, too. They are skimpier and straight to the point and don't contain observations and speculations and all the flim-flam they often do. All the energy is going into the book.

The other thing to say is that there is only so much quiet, undisturbed writing time in my world and at present I am pouring all of it into the book.

As far as the garden goes - my tulips have never flowered this early before. It's the beginning of April, for goodness sake! They're a whole month early. How crazy is that? 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

A ragbag of cheerfulness

I am weirdly cheerful this morning for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, I have discovered the cause of the nasty headaches I've been getting in the last two weeks. I always get sinus troubles at this time of year, and I was saying to Dave when I woke up with yet another headache that it must be a hay fever reaction, and he said 'Don't be ridiculous, there's no pollen at this time of year.' So I looked it up on the Met office site and guess what? There is such a thing as tree pollen and it's worst between mid March and May. Case closed. Not only did I beat Dave in an argument (such a rare occurrence) but I know the cause of the symptoms, and I know they will pass, and I have a new way of attacking the problem - anti-histamines. 

Secondly, you know those annoying items you have on your to-do list that never get done because they are boring and complex and you think they are going to take forever, so they never get tackled and crossed off the list? Changing electricity suppliers has been on my list for two months, and yesterday, in less than an hour, I sorted it out. I possibly feel happier about not having it on the list than I do about the money we're going to save, but I probably shouldn't admit that. 

The third thing is serious.  We've stopped talking about politics in this house. We used to do it a lot. Things are so dire out there, it's currently beyond discussion. But the one bit of positive news that I did tell Dave about was that Sam Walton, a Quaker peace activist, this week attempted a citizen's arrest on Saudi General Al-Asserie, for war crimes. Al-Asserie has been the public face of the Saudi brutal bombardment of the Yemen. In November 2016 he told ITV that Saudi forces had not been using cluster bombs in Yemen, only for Saudi forces to later admit that they had. These cluster bombs had been manufactured in Britain.

Sam Walton

On Tuesday, Al-Asserie met with MPs to brief them ahead of a debate on the humanitarian situation in Yemen (which is pretty odd in itself.) The General was on his way to speak to the European Council on Foreign Relations when Sam attempted his arrest. The general's body-guards protected him (while the General gave Sam the middle finger)  so the arrest was not successful. You may think this achieved nothing. I disagree: anything that keeps continuing war atrocities in the public eye is a good thing. If they are hidden, nothing will ever change.  

Did you know the following?
That since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £3.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:

  • £2.2 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £1.1 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
  • £430,000 worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)
The legality of UK arms sales is currently the subject of a Judicial Review, following an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade. The claim calls on the government to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen while it holds a full review into whether the exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation. The verdict is pending.

I live in hope.

Friday, March 31, 2017


This describes exactly how I feel, and what I'm wrestling with:

And for regular readers, here's my favourite recent photo of Lux:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring Break

I'm busy working on my new book this week and not in a blogging frame of mind, but I thought I'd just tell you that Wendy is having a break from her life of treatment this week - on holiday with the rest of the family in Palm Springs. And they are having a super time.

Monday, March 27, 2017

My friend Mary

I've been thinking a lot about Mary just lately, and have struggled to explain to people what was so special about her and why I miss her so much. But this morning on Twitter I came across this quote from a Seamus Heaney poem, At the Wellhead, which seems to sum things up:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

In defence of Neighbours - threatened with the axe

I started watching Neighbours in 1986 when Isaac rushed home from school everyday to see what had happened in the lunchtime episode he'd recorded. That was 1986. Isaac is now a high-flyer working for Google, and I am a writer.

The heroine of two of my novels - Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups - is addicted to Neighbours. She is also a writer, and this is just one of the things she says about the Aussie soap that is more popular in the UK than it is down under:

You have to realise, Kit, that a writer can learn from any fiction, good or bad. It shows you what mistakes to avoid in your own writing – caricatures, poor plotting, unconvincing dialogue. Watching Neighbours is educative. You don’t think I watch it for entertainment do you?

I really haven’t known him long enough to tell him the truth: that Neighbours is fab, that I love all the stupid plotlines – the amnesia, disputed paternity, blackmail, on-off love affairs, business wars, mistaken identities, manipulative ex-girlfriends, violent ex-boyfriends, people stuck down mine shafts, plane crashes that kill off half the street. And the characters – Paul Robinson, Karl Kennedy, Lucas, Jade – they’re like family. One day I’ll confess to him, but not just yet.

Our feelings for Neighbours overlap. She also finds it the perfect mind-numbing way to relax at the end of the day. She also watches the same episode twice when she's under stress.  She also likes it because it is a 25 minute escape from the real world. It is pure fiction - as Miss Prism says in The Importance of being Earnest - the good end happily and the bad unhappily. Yes, sometimes good people die, but you can be sure that when they do the culprit is eventually found and punished (assuming it's not just the sceenwriter who is to blame.)

Currently a key marriage between two favourite characters is under huge threat. It has been like this for a couple of months and the last two episodes were deeply upsetting. The thing that keeps me watching is the firm belief that eventually everything will be sorted and solved and their faces will match the smiling credits at the start of the show.

As I said a couple of years ago  (please forgive the recap, regular readers) -

It doesn’t matter how dastardly are the plots of the villains, you know they are always, always going to get their come-uppance, so you can enjoy the ride with a happy heart.

At that time in May 2015, an internationally renowned cancer specialist was telling the resident villain (Paul Robinson, my favourite character) that he had leukaemia, and was personally treating him with chemotherapy. And it was all a lie. Paul Robinson was not ill. It was just a plot so that the visiting villain could get what he wanted – a new cancer research centre. It was hilarious! It was totally ludicrous and wonderful and we knew full well that the doughty nurse Georgia (who had been framed by the visiting villain) would somehow uncover this scam and be reinstated at the hospital. And Paul would recover and carry on being the cosy resident villain.

Neighbours is an escape from the real world and I love it. And if Channel 5 axes it - as currently looks likely - and it disappears from British telly, it will be a sad day. It is an innocuous, calorie-free, alcohol-free and drugs-free temporary escape from this nasty, nasty world where we live right now.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Toasting my big sister

You know how you plan a day walking with someone and when you wake up it's raining, and the rain is set to continue till three o clock, and the someone says "I'm not going out in that! It's horrendous! We'll get soaked!" 

My big sister isn't like that. She's game. She's laid back. She's up for it.

So we donned our boots and our macs and we set off through the woods in search of Mill Gill Force. We walked along muddy tracks, along puddled stone paths through fields, up steep slippy hillsides, 

across squelchy bogs, over tree root after tree root, alongside green velvet walls - oh you should have seen that moss! 

 - till we got to the falls. They were worth the trek, though the camera lens was damp and the picture not so sharp:

And here is the video. It's the first video I have managed to put on the blog, and I haven't worked out how to turn it round, so I apologise (also it might not show up on mobile devices):


By that time, Kath was wet right through to her pants (underpants to you Yanks) and the track only promised a slide into full frontal mud, so we turned back. At which point I fell over. Thwack. The strangest thing was that I didn't swear, I didn't even yelp. Is my big sister's stoicism rubbing off on me? At last! It's only taken 60 years. And here's a tip - fresh moss is a very efficient cleanser - of hands and coats.

All I really want to say is that if I had been with a lot of other family members - no names, no pack drill - they would have moaned at the rain, at the wind, at the wet. They would have turned back. Some would not have set out. Kath set out and never complained, and the trip was exhilarating and fun. Thanks, Kath. 

Friday, March 17, 2017


Another day they dropped in on an old friend of Kay's mother who told them she had had an exhausting morning - she had rinsed out her shoe laces and brushed her teeth. They couldn't stop laughing at this, repeating it time and again and inventing variations. 'I'm so tired, I just washed my feet and ironed a hanky.' 'I'm just done in, I've blown my nose and changed my underpants.'

from the short story Times of Sickness and Health by Carol Shields

I woke up this morning after a good night's sleep and have felt like the woman above all day. I've not even been able to face my laptop until now - 4.35 p.m. 

Tomorrow I'll feel better. I have to: I'm driving to Wensleydale and meeting my big sister there for a weekend of walking. I'm SO looking forward to it.

photo by Rosemary Mann

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wendy's progress

When I meet a friend these days, as soon as they've asked how I am, they want to know about Wendy.  And I'm guessing that you'd also like an update. 

Wendy is doing OK. She has to have six chemotherapy treatments three weeks apart, and she'll be having her fourth tomorrow. For the first week after she's had her treatment she feels terrible, and spends a lot of time in bed. After the last treatment, she went to sleep on a Friday and woke up on Sunday. During the second and third weeks after the chemo she feels pretty awful, needs to rest, but is fit enough to be up and about and to teach her yoga classes. 

Her matter-of-fact approach to the awfulness that is cancer and its treatment is an inspiration; and she's willing to answer questions from anyone honestly. She lost her hair, couldn't find a wig she liked and is happier to be bald than to wear a headscarf. This is her on her birthday last month:

In May she will have three solid weeks of radiotherapy and I am going to stay and act as family backstop. It's a long haul for all of them, but they are getting through, and Wendy says that it gives her strength to know that people all over the world are rooting for her. So, thank you my lovely, warm-hearted regular readers.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Making things up

I'm cock-a-hoop this week because my sax teacher says my improvisation has moved to a new level. This is not to say it's audience-worthy - just that I am getting the hang of making stuff up that sounds like music, not just random notes.

And in another realm, I had some success in making stuff up. I wanted three matching bowls to sit my tete-a-tetes in on the kitchen windowsill, and as I was driving into Sheffield on Thursday, I thought - Mmm...I'll pop into the Oxfam shop and see what I can find. Wouldn't it be great if they had two blue glass dishes that match the one I have in the cupboard? 

Guess what? They did!

As far as writing goes, I'm currently trying to conjure up a voice for my main male character. It's hard. This will be the first novel in which Dave does not appear disguised as a character. He was the inspiration for Gus, Richard, Sol and Rob, so writing dialogue for any of those characters was easy-peasy. If you live with someone for 46 years, and you have an ear for dialogue, their voice is going to be strong in your head.  Yesterday, I found this sweet little bookmark the publisher gave me when Plotting for Beginners was published:

I didn't actually make up the bit of dialogue on there. It's something Dave said - word for word. But when I wrote new dialogue for any of these guys, their voices were clear to me. I had no trouble.

Do you remember that way Pippa (in both of the Plotting books) talked? She used short sentences and repeated herself and she often had a short sentence right at the end of something she was saying, like "Yes. I do." e.g.

"They have such sensitive hearing. I’ve tried positioning it in different rooms, and it makes no matter. It upsets them. Yes, it does.”

“Are you sure?”

“Please take it. I’m sure. Yes I am.”

I got this idea from a character I once saw in an Ally McBeal episode. It was so distinctive that it stuck in my head.

My head is empty, and I am doing a lot of sitting quietly, staring out of the window, trying to hear the voice of a man I have not met.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Go on - defy the zeitgeist

Dave is out for the day and I am working on the new novel. I could spend time writing a personal blog post, but what's in my mind apart from the new novel is the dire direction of politics, at home and abroad. 

Every day the UK government does things I profoundly disagree with and yesterday they voted down the plan to rescue more child refugees. The current stated position of Mrs May is that if we bring more unaccompanied child refugees to live here, it will encourage people traffickers. This position not only flies in face of the evidence and the opinions of people working on the ground, it flies in the face of reason.

I despair at the inhumanity of this government, displayed in so many areas - cuts to benefits for vulnerable people, the oppression of benefit claimants in general (watch I, Daniel Blake for the truth on this), the cruel deportations of people who have their homes and their families here, the support for and the sales of arms to brutal regimes - and now their lack of compassion for traumatised, vulnerable, homeless, family-less children.

Compassion in modern politics is rare. Let's do what we can to bring it back. Let's do what we can in our own lives to compensate. 

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Other people's lives

Twenty years ago, when I was still calling myself a research psychologist, I used to read about writers' lives in the papers. There was one regular column where writers described their typical day. I was fascinated. If I became a writer, perhaps I could have a life like theirs...

Now I do call myself a writer, and know what my own life is like - messy - I don't pay much attention to that kind of article, unless I like the writer's work. Today, for example, Elizabeth Strout is in the Guardian Review writing about her working day. I just read her piece about how she writes a novel, and was intrigued.

These days I am more fascinated by the lives of artists and illustrators. I'm trying to work out why that is. I need an illustrator for my children's books and am not sure how to find one. That's one thing, but is probably irrelevant. Another thing is that I love children's picture books and enjoy the illustrations as well as the stories - e.g. those by Shirley Hughes, Alex Scheffler, Quentin Blake, Janet Ahlberg, Judith Kerr, Oliver Jeffers, Leo Lionni and more. I like to see photographs of them at their drawing boards with all those lovely art materials at their sides. 

I am in awe of their work. I would love to have a life full of art and colour.

I have been very bad-tempered for the last two weeks, snarling and swearing under my breath, difficult to live with.  I don't think this is rare for writers whose work is not progressing as they would like.  Yesterday I had the house to myself for nine precious hours. This is rare these days. I had a long to-do list and crossed off all but one item on it, as well as making lemon curd. But the reason I'm happy today is that I got some writing done. Meaningful writing.

Maybe the Guardian Review should have a column called "Living with a writer." Poor Dave.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

on beginning to write a novel

I'm struggling. 

I always struggle when I start to write a novel. The first few chapters are killing.

Once I get to Chapter 6, I'm away: I'm in the world of the novel, I think about it all the time, wake up excited about the next scene I'm going to write, and find it easy to ignore the sun shining on the daffodils. I don't even see the daffodils.

This beginning-a-novel time is worse than all the others because it's even more difficult to write a novel when you have zero hope that anyone will want to publish it. But that's another story...and it is of course not something that an author should ever admit. It's so dire for one's public image, and these days public image is almost more important than talent. But you guys ought to know who I am by now, which is why I'm coming clean.

My favourite book about writing a novel is this one:

Note the weird semi-colon after the title. What's that about?

The book is hilarious but also true to life. My writer friend Chrissie Poulson and I love the dark truths within this book. I showed the following page plus its illustration to Dave and it left him cold, so you might feel the same way. (TUH stands for The Unstrung Harp, by the way.)

That list of questions at the end has just creased me up. Again.

Happy World Book Day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

This passing moment

This morning, the last day of February, we have snow on the limestone edge behind the house, and the sun has been playing hide and seek since I woke up. This was the sky at 6.55 a.m.

This was the sky at 7.14:

And this was it just half an hour later:

I woke up feeling blank. But after paying close attention to the changing sky I am bright and bouncy and ready for the day, and now I've blogged, I'm going to pick up my sax and attempt to improvise on God Bless the Child.

"Let’s love today, the what we have now, this day, not
          today or tomorrow or
yesterday, but this passing moment, that will
          not come again."

James Schuyler, from A Few days

Thursday, February 23, 2017

mostly for parents

When I was staying with Isaac and Wendy in Boulder over Christmas I got very attached to their Alexa, and as soon as I got home I tried to persuade Dave we should get one. No dice. 

Have you come across Alexa? It's a voice controlled computer that Lux, Cece and I used to tell us the weather, listen to the radio (e.g. Carols from Cambridge on BBCRadio4) tell us a joke, time the baking we had in the oven, play songs we asked for - e.g. "Alexa! Play I want a hippopotamus for Christmas!" "Alexa! Play Big Yellow taxi by Joni Mitchell." There are far more sophisticated uses than these, but the girls and I were happy with our very modest requests.

Lux and Cece use Alexa with fluency, as you can see from this tweet of Isaac's:

Monday, February 20, 2017

It's time to make a pact

You could say that February has been a minor bete noire in my writing - both in the blog and in the books.

For example....

'February that year was muddier and greyer and more miserable than usual'
But I Told you Last Year That I Loved You

'February's always grey and cold. You look out of the window feeling desperate for fresh air, and then you look up at the leaden sky and change your mind.'
Zuzu's Petals

'The price is February. The grey days, the looming mists, the dripping rain, the faded grass, the inescapable mud and the long dark nights: I hate them all.'
Plotting for Beginners

'Talking in bed circa 3 a.m…
Me (surfacing from sleep, quasi-drugged): “Kit, Kit, Wendy wants me to go on a Senior Citizen day trip to Iceland with her, all inclusive for £10, with a good lunch. Do you think I should go?”
Kit (as if I am not talking gibberish): “What date is it?”
Me:  “9th of Feb.”               
Kit:  “Definitely go.”
Me:  “Why definitely?”
Kit:  “It’s a vile month, so you should do something to take your mind off it.”

This man is perfect for me: 
a/ he takes my dreams seriously
b/ he appreciates the horror that is February.'
Plotting for Grown-ups

And then last year on the blog it changed (February 8th 2016):

'This year, despite the execrable weather, I feel differently. I keep thinking back to this time last year, when Mary was dying. This year the thought constantly running through my head like one of those banner headlines under a newscaster is: "No February could ever be as bad as last year's February." And the next thing I think is: "I am still here, still alive. Mary isn't. I am lucky. I get to see another spring, I get to talk to my kids and laugh with my grandkids, and hear that 3 year old Cecilia said on the day of the Superbowl "I would like to be a Broncos player when I grow up but I more want to do fossils," I get to talk and laugh with Mary's kids, I get to sit in the sun and play my sax and share things with my friends and cycle up the Monsal Trail, and laugh at the hilarious things Dave says, and so on and so on.'

I have felt differently this year too, except last week, missing Mary, I sank back into the old ways and I tweeted:
"February is a very trying month."
Several people agreed, but Roopa Banerjee tweeted: 
"I like the hidden hope in February. The gradually lengthening day, the daffodils, the slight lifting of gloom."

And I decided that the lengthening days are what I am going to concentrate on in future. Because it is pretty wonderful when it gets past 5 o' clock and it's still light enough to see the snowdrops.

The other thing is what I say in the para above from my blog last year..."I am still here, still alive."

...which ties in with what I said last week -
"60 and 70 year olds don't care what they look like when they're dancing: they want to enjoy themselves. Next week they might be seriously ill, they might be dead." 

...which ties in with a quote from the Quakers' Advices and Queries no 30. which used to puzzle me until last year -
"Accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully."

The years of active life I have left are numbered, and I am feeling that, rather than just knowing it intellectually. And to dismiss every February as a month to be tolerated, is dismissing a twelfth of what I have left. 

So today I am making a pact with February, as Ezra Pound did with Walt Whitman:

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman - 
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.