Saturday, August 08, 2020

Solace

It's been a tricky week. I've been fed up. I've been wanting the old life back.  

A friend said 'Yes I'm OK, but I don't want to live like this.'

But we have no choice. Do we? We have to. 

I watched Out of Africa for the nth time a couple of weeks ago. When Karen's husband leaves home to fight in the war, she says: 'It's an odd feeling, farewell. There is such envy in it. Men go off to be tested, for courage. And if we're tested at all, it's for patience, for doing without, for how well we can endure loneliness.'

It made me think about the second world war, and how that generation coped with the hardships and privations and threat. It went on for years. They didn't know when it would end. Just as we don't know if the present world we find ourselves in will end, or whether this is how it's going to be from now on.

I've decided to read some eye witness accounts of life in the UK during the war and see if I can absorb some wisdom and stoicism and learn how to get on with it and stop moaning.

I've chucked in Anna Karenina anyway, 40 pages from the end. It feels like a failure, having waded through 700+ pages of it. But I need to be engrossed in a book, and there are so many other things to read, and things which might be helpful. Also, I could be dead next week. Why waste my last few days on a book I am not enjoying? And a kind friend who has read it twice offered to check those last 40 pages and tell me if I have missed anything important. Yes, yes, I'm a lightweight, but I have never pretended to be otherwise.

Yesterday afternoon Chrissie asked me on Facetime how I was, and without thinking, I said 'Blissed out.' After an up and down week, I'd had breakfast in the garden


and then set off early for a walk with Liz. We parked at Alport and walked along Lathkildale.





The video shows a place we stopped for twenty minutes to think, and to absorb the peace. I first came across this place when I was 15 and it was so special it stuck in my mind, until I saw it again 30 years later.

This is higher up the river, above Conksbury bridge.


And this is the view after we climbed up the hill and turned round to come back downstream.

 
You can probably appreciate why I was 'blissed out.'

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Hiroshima

75 years ago today, at quarter past eight in the morning, a US plane dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima city centre, a busy residential and business district, crowded with people going about their daily business. The fireball created by that single bomb destroyed 13 square kilometres of the city.

The heart of the explosion reached a temperature of several million degrees centigrade, resulting in a heat flash over a wide area, vaporising all human tissue. Within a radius of half a mile of the centre of the blast, every person was killed. All that was left of people caught out in the open were their shadows burnt into stone. Beyond this central area, people were killed by the heat and blast waves, either out in the open or inside buildings collapsing and bursting into flame.

Many of those who survived the immediate blast died shortly afterwards from fatal burns. Others with possibly less fatal injuries died because of the breakdown of rescue and medical services, much of which had been destroyed, with personnel themselves killed. Within two or three days, radiation victims who were near the hypocentre developed symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea and hair loss. Most died within a week.

Radiation victims further away from the explosion developed symptoms one to four weeks after the explosion. Many survivors – known in Japanese as hibakusha – still suffer to this day from the impact of radiation. Pregnant women who survived the bomb faced additional horrors, for many babies were stillborn, and those born alive were often deformed, and faced higher infant mortality rates than normal.

On 9 August, the US dropped an atom bomb on Nagasaki. This bomb was more powerful than that dropped at Hiroshima and had the same tragic consequences.

What is morally wrong cannot be politically right. 

Nuclear weapons are obscene and should be banned. 

What's more, they serve no legitimate purpose. The UK's own National Security Strategy identifies the real threats we face today as terrorism, cyber-attacks and climate change. Nuclear weapons would be useless in dealing with these. The money spent on them could be better spent on health, education and housing. 

This year, because of the pandemic, Bakewell Quakers will not be holding their annual Hiroshima Peace Vigil. This is us on two previous years:





Monday, August 03, 2020

Days are where we live


A friend who is reading my latest book, DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE, said she liked the title, and I said 'Oh, do you know where it comes from?'

She didn't. So maybe you don't either.

It's from my favourite Larkin poem:




Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.   
They come, they wake us   
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:   
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor   
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin








Saturday, August 01, 2020

My pandemic Friday

It’s not getting any easier is it?

Do you think it is?

Yesterday I was looking under the sofa for my sketchpad so that I could sit in the shade in the garden and draw my feet



and I came across the paintings I did for the lockdown competition for people over 70. The one that popped out was the Seven days in Lockdown, which illustrated my mood swings through a week in May and often depended on the sleep I’d had the night before.





I don’t have nightmares or sleepless nights anymore – in fact this week I dreamt I was newly married to Greg Wise. Beat that! And I generally sleep well. But I still have days when I feel depressed and hopeless and times when I feel very very happy, nearly always because I’ve been on a new walk with a friend and it’s been a sunny day.

Yesterday I woke up feeling gloomy. I tried to cheer myself up by picking sweet peas in my pyjamas before breakfast. I have never worked out why this cocktail of warm air, loose clothing and sweet damp nature is so cheering, but it is. Here’s a photo from happier times when my hair was not 5 months past the need for a haircut:





After breakfast I set off on a bike ride in order to beat the crowds and the heat, but my legs ached and I didn’t go far. I ended up at Monsal Head after only 15 minutes:




And then swooped down to the river. 

Here’s a video of the view from the bridge:


I sat down and wrote some questions in my notebook about the coming months. And I remembered my decision a month or so ago that my aim for a day should be to accomplish three simple things, and then not to worry. That thought guided the rest of my day. It was very helpful. 

Zoë has just got back from her holiday in Craster. Craster is on the Northumbrian coast and is where the wonderful Mick Oxley lives - the artist who takes a photo of the sea and sky every morning from his window and posts it on Twitter. His daily photos are the very best thing on Twitter. (@SeaSkyCraster)

Zoë texted me from her hols and asked if I'd like her to bring me back a kipper. Craster kippers are like no other kippers. If you’ve never had one, and even if you think you don’t like kippers, you should try one. Dave can’t stand the smell of kippers, as he can’t stand the smell of lots of things I want to eat - stilton, parmesan, bacon, fish pie...hey ho. Having Aspergers makes him very sensitive to sensory stimulation. It’s a pain in the neck, but there it is. Because he knows I’ve got pandemic blues, he said he didn't mind Zoë bringing me back a kipper.






So I cooked one with all the windows and doors open and ate it outside while Dave was on his bike ride and it was delicious. 

But the best thing by far about yesterday was that it was Lux's 10th birthday. 







Tenth!  And the family Facetimed me so I could see her opening her presents. 

That girl! She is sensitive and thoughtful and funny and charming and talented and reflective and sweet and brave. And I love her to bits.

Here she is, arriving in my life, as documented in DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE



July 30th 2010
Waiting
It’s a still quiet morning here, at 5.42 a.m. The dawn was red and yellow and deep dark grey – beautiful. I am up and awake because I am waiting for news of the baby. The Little Red Hen went into labour 13 hours ago and all through last evening we got updates and now there is no response to my texts, and Isaac’s last tweet said “update: no update.” San Francisco is an awfully long way away, and 13 hours is a long time to be in labour, although I know it’s not been heavy going all that time, because on Isaac’s first call he said Wendy was having contractions every four minutes and eating cereal in between. Several hours later, his text read “Wendy is eating a burrito.” But that was a whole English night ago. What is she eating, now?
10 a.m. I am still waiting. Poor Wendy. I don’t think she’ll be eating anything.


AUGUST

August 1st 2010
My darling new and first American grand-daughter arrived in the world on Saturday after a long long labour, and then a Caesarean. She’s called Lux.

I can’t wait to meet her in September.


Bless you, Lux.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Reasons to be cheerful


I may have decided that vegetable gardening is not for me, but I might grow French beans next year,  just for the flowers. Aren't they a fabulous colour?




Another part of the garden I'm loving is this bit with the cosmos, phlox and feverfew -





I'm making good progress with Anna Karenina, the longest book I have ever attempted and not given up on. (You need to know that I attempted The Corrections twice and jacked it in, and I will no longer even consider a novel by Barbara Kingsolver because she is s-o-o-o-h wordy.) I am now at page 640 in AK and have only 160 pages to go. After that I'm giving myself a treat and reading Nina Stibbe's Reasons to be Cheerful. Also, that is it as far as Tolstoy goes.



Lovely bookmark painted by my brother Pete


I am rather puzzled at my sticking with the Tolstoy. Is it because of the oceans of time there are when my social life and outside entertainment schedule is so severely reduced?

Lastly, I've sewn up all the patches and reclaimed my study floor.



Next, I have to line it, back it and bind it. But it's going away for a week because now I want to paint.

I'll leave you with this poem by A.S.J. Tessimond, first published in the middle of the last century.


Daydream

One day people will touch and talk perhaps easily,
And loving be natural as breathing and warm as sunlight
And people will untie themselves, as string is unknotted
Unfold and yawn and stretch and spread their fingers
Unfurl and curl like seaweed returned to the sea
And work will be simple and swift as a seagull flying
And play will be casual and quiet as a seagull settling
And the clocks will stop, and no one will wonder
or care or notice,
And people will smile without reason, even in the winter,
even in the rain.


A.S.J.Tessimond





Friday, July 24, 2020

The plan


The Autumn/Winter clothes catalogues have started to arrive in the post with all the items being in the usual muted tones. Why don't they just come out and say it - "dull, dark colours" ? I probably moan about this every year but I can't understand why they think that in shorter darker days we want dark coloured clothes. Wouldn't bright and vivid make more sense?

Several friends have told me they are OK-ish now but dreading the autumn and winter, and I feel pretty much the same.

We're still being strict at Hepworth Towers as far as socialising and social distancing goes. We're not going away. No-one's coming in the house. Friends stay in the garden for coffee and chat or the occasional lunch, and when I go for walks with them I keep six feet away from them. Dave continues in his usual hermit persona. We stay away from shops and anywhere that might be busy. Three miles away, Bakewell is swarming with tourists as in any normal summer. And having had my first fish and chips in four months ten days ago I might just have to wait for the holiday season to be over before I venture down again.

You might think all this is pretty extreme but if you had a friend as ill from Covid as my young friend is, three months after having it, you might be the same.  

I've done a lot in lockdown: published an ebook and a paperback, made a cot quilt and got halfway through a full-sized one, begun to paint and draw, read several books and got past the halfway mark in the 800 pages of Anna Karenina. I've kept on blogging. 

I need to find a long term project to tide me through the six months of dark muddy days that are coming up. I can paint and draw but I need a thing to get my teeth into. Any suggestions? I told Chrissie I was thinking of finally sorting out my parents' papers and letters but she pointed out that such a task can be emotionally draining, and perhaps it wasn't a good idea. She's right. These days my emotions are always near the surface. 

I don't think I'm odd in this. I think many people have lost their emotional resilience. Dave keeps asking me if I'm OK and I say "Yes, yes. I'm just trying to concentrate on the task in hand" - cooking, weeding, sewing, picking blackcurrants, whatever - "and to persuade myself I'm feeling OK." 

As for having something to look forward to, I've decided it will probably be safe to fly to Colorado to see the chundies in September 2021, so that's my guiding light. OMG, this takes me back to hearing Two Way Forces Favourites on the radio on Sundays in the early 1950s. "And it's not long until February 1956." 
Do any of you know what I'm talking about??

I harvested one of my potato pots this week because the leaves were looking manky. Here's what I got: enough for two hearty servings. 





Lovely healthy spuds, but was it really worth three months of watering and worrying about the frost? Nah.

And I had my first tomato this week:



Slightly more worthwhile.

Flowers and fruit are definitely worth the bother. I had 9 lbs of gooseberries off my one small bush, and now the blackcurrants are ripening.

I've been trying to find a poem that encapsulates my state of mind, but I've failed. The nearest I've come is way off beam but I'm going to post it anyway  because it's a great poem and reminds me of my friend Chrissie (another one) who died in 2006 and to whom I dedicated my book Plotting for Beginners

Ridge Walking is by Char March and she has given me permission to publish it on the blog.


Ridge Walking
this
is my life
out here on the edge
windy here
-a narrow ridge
often I am scared
have to squeeze my eyes shut
hug myself to the rock
crawl along on all fours
mumbling mantras
but sometimes I dance the thin line
whirling in the sun
shouting in an arms-up
head-back laugh
this is my life out here
a slim chance
with steep drops on either side
but Christ the views
are bloody marvellous.

© Char March    Ridge walking is published by Indigo Dreams in Char March’s latest poetry collection The Thousand Natural Shocks  and is available direct from her, or through Amazon.


I'm off on my bike now at 8.05 a.m. for an early bike ride on the Trail before the hordes arrive.

I hope you have a good weekend. 

p.s. I've just got back from a ride, and a climb down to the river below the Trail and have got the perfect image for where we are. 

These stepping stones are usable now but when the rains come in the autumn they will be submerged.





Saturday, July 18, 2020

My week


It's been an emotionally trying week, with big worries about the health of people I care about. One of these is suffering the terrible after-effects of Covid. Friends, do not be blasé about this virus.

There have been good times, such as when my Colorado girls Face-timed me on Wednesday



Lux 



Cece sending me 13 emails, all consisting of photos of kittens


my first fish and chips since March, bought click and collect from the best chippie in Bakewell - Catch32 - 






and a fabulous walk with Liz yesterday morning - again above Chatsworth, 






The walk began here:




And I am gradually reclaiming my study floor from the patchwork:




You would think I had nothing to be sad about. But yesterday afternoon I was so desperate and gloomy about the health of my friend I went to bed after lunch. I felt like my cabbages look:





I expect that the keen vegetable gardeners seeing this will be horrified at my lack of weeding, but what's the point in weeding when I cannot be bothered to deal with the slugs? Even watering the tomato plants and potato pots everyday is becoming a chore. I am not cut out for growing veg. I know that now. At least I tried it. 

Lockdown has also taught me how much I like going to Quaker Meeting every week. And how much I miss having five minute chats with people I know and like but don't know well. I am a social animal. And a huggy person. Also, I need something to look forward to, and next year seems a long way away.

This week I came across this letter from E.B.White to and found it helpful.



Hang onto your hat, friends. Hang onto your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.



Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Home life


Dave found this chart on the net and has pinned it up in the kitchen so tonight I am having fish and chips (heh-heh.)




I hope you can read it. If not, here is a link. 

I had a revelation a few days ago. I was telling Dave how much I like doing the quick crossword on a Saturday, which is the only day we get the newspaper  printed on paper. It takes me ten minutes and it’s a little bit of trivial fun I look forward to. In the evenings we often do cryptic crosswords together and they’re also fun, but the quick one doesn’t make my brain ache.

Dave said: 'Well why don’t you buy yourself a whole book of them?'

And I blurted out: 'Because I would feel I was wasting my time if I was sitting doing crosswords during the day.'

Dave: 'You don’t have to be engaged in meaningful activity every single minute of every day, you know. No wonder you’re always exhausted.'

And I realised that there is something inside me telling me precisely that I do.

I know where this feeling comes from: it comes from my mother. She was exactly the same, and even into our adulthoods the second question she would ask on the phone after How are you? would be What are you working on? i.e. what craft or creative activity?

This attitude has served me well in the past, but I think under lockdown when we spend so much time at home, it's punishing. 

Sometimes in the afternoon I do sneak off to bed and watch Neighbours despite my mother's strictures, and now I have ordered a crossword book. It looks as if we have a long confined winter ahead of us with a second wave coming: I need to be prepared.



The other news is that Dave designed and made me a table easel with scraps from the shed, and I love it. 









Lastly, there is  a new review of DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE. Whoop, whoop!



Have you bought your copy yet? 
And one for your friend's birthday? 
And one for your mother? Your father?
Just askin'. 



Friday, July 10, 2020

Sunshine!


The sun is out this morning and there are two lovely new reviews on Amazon of my latest book - DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE.







I’m going out for a bike ride. I hope you have something enjoyable on your agenda today.

I have eschewed fish and chips - with some longing - since March 13th and yesterday discovered that my favourite chip shop in Bakewell offers click and collect. Whoop-whoop! So I asked Dave how he felt about my getting some. 

Dave: "It's your call. If you want to risk your life for a haddock, I can only support your decision with some reluctance."

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Meditation


I went for a long early walk with Liz yesterday, above Chatsworth House. The track was open to begin with with far-reaching views, and then we went into the woods.  It was quiet and beautiful.






I had another refreshing interlude, late in the afternoon, sitting at my desk listening to sax ballads while sorting and packing away patchwork pieces I am never going to use. It was a little bit of heaven.

But then I thought about all the women I know who are finding life a struggle in the unrelenting pressure of these punishing times. 

The Sainsbury’s delivery man arrived. He was cheerful, friendly and helpful. But he seemed to have no concept of social distancing, and when he told me about his holiday plans I was envious. And I felt the chasm between people who behave as if the virus has disappeared, and those of us who are expecting a second spike. And meanwhile the Prime Minister continues his disgusting lies, and attempts to shift the blame for the thousands of unnecessary deaths onto those who deserve our thanks and support. 

These are strange times. 

I have permission  to share with you three poems: one by Alison Luterman, one by Helen Mort and one by Mandy Coe.


Invisible Work
Because no one could ever praise me enough,
because I don't mean these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, "It's hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,
and there's no one
to say what a good job you're doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache."
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,
our loneliest labors under the moon.
There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world's heart.
There is no other art.
Alison Luterman
This poem can be found in Alison's book The Largest Possible Life (Cleveland State University Poetry Press). Alison's website is www.alisonluterman.net






Prayer

Give us good days.
Days unspectacular but adequate:
the weather neither calm nor wild,
your coat zipped nearly to the top,

a silver thermos cooling in your bag,
the sky at Bamford reddening, as if
embarrassed by its own strange reach
and day-old pipe-smoke clouds.

Above the Hope cement works,
crows wheel arcs of guarded flight
and when you touch the rock
your fingers hold.

©Helen Mort

The poem is from a collection of poems addressed to the mountaineer Alison Hargreaves and appears in Helen's book No Map Could Show Them (pub. Chatto and Windus 2016).








Let’s Celebrate
the moments
where nothing happens.
The moments
that fill our lives.
Not the field bright with poppies, but
the times you walked, seeing
no leaves, no sky, only one foot
after another.

We are sleeping
(it’s not midnight and
there is no dream).
We enter a room – no one is in it.
We run a tap,
queue to buy a stamp.

These are the straw moments
that give substance
to our astonishments;
moments the homesick dream of;
the bereaved, the diagnosed.


Mandy Coe, from Clay (Shoestring Press)




Monday, July 06, 2020

Current status


The patchwork quilt has now been taking up the whole of my study floor for a week.  When I sit down at my desk to use the laptop, the chair is resting on some of the pieces. The cat is not allowed in here and everyone who does enter has to have bare feet. Dave had to stand on my desk to take the photo below.

Every time I go in the room I see the design afresh and I tweak the arrangement. I'm thinking of it as an abstract painting, and that it will take some time.




That indent at the bottom is nothing to worry about - the pieces are not all properly aligned. What is worrying me is the lack of vibrancy in a section of it. I might have to cut some more yellow, or bright green. I am hoping to be happy with it by the end of this week, and then begin on the pinning and sewing.

But last week I had various other jobs taking up my time and the joy of the patchwork wore off a little, like the joy of lockdown has.

A friend told me the other day that she doesn't have ordinary days: she has either good days or bad days. 

Another friend told me she is fed up to the back teeth with the strictures and pressures resulting from the pandemic.  This friend knows she is lucky because she has no financial worries, but there are social and domestic pressures that exhaust her. They never let up, and there are probably months and months of this to come.

Yes, lockdown has eased, but this just makes the world feel more unsafe for her and lots of other people, and so they continue as if lockdown were still in place. Dave and I are pretty much like that. He has ventured out to the bike shop for a repair he couldn't manage, and I have been to get a couple of items that it was possible to collect outside. I have been in a shop once since March 13th but that was the petrol station to pay for fuel. 

I don't much care about shopping, but I am fed up with Zoom. I want to see real people in real time in the same place as me. I want hugs from people apart from Dave. I want to go away. I want variety and fish and chips and Quaker Meeting in the Meeting House. Enough, Sue!

One thing I've learned this year is that I don't like vegetable gardening. You have to think about the dratted plants everyday, and it's tedious.

I have three six foot tomato plants outside in pots because we have no greenhouse. I have been nurturing them with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and they have been doing well and then the winds arrived and did this:



It was rescuable. But still. I'd much rather be nurturing flowers. Actually, I am not a nurturing person. It's not one of my strengths.

Moan, moan, moan.

I am 357 pages into an 800 page edition of Anna Karenina and wondering - do I really want to continue to the end? Anna's husband has just gone to the solicitor to see about a divorce. How can Tolstoy spin this out for another 400 pages? The trouble is that the only character I am engaged with is Konstantin Levin and yet even he whittles on about different types of farming and economics all the time. Yawn.  Zoe has lent me Girl, Woman, Other, and that looks much more enticing. I also have the latest Nina Stibbe book on the kindle. 

Today if the rain disappears I am going to see a couple of friends 5 miles away . We're going to sit in their garden. Bliss. Someone else's garden. Bliss. People I haven't seen for months. Bliss. 

You can probably see why I haven't blogged for a week. What is there to say when nothing changes?

I wish you a happy and a safe week, whatever you're doing.