Thursday, January 23, 2020

Scrabble progress report

Last night we played Scrabble and only scored for me, to see if I could reach my target of 600 for the double board. I got 582. Not bad. It certainly took the sting out of it not having to see what Dave's score would have been, especially as he had all the 10 letter tiles and managed a 7 letter word on his second go.

At the end of the game I slumped back against the sofa, exhausted. It was 8 o'clock.

Me: 'Can you believe I'm 70?'

Dave: 'Yes.'

Gales of laughter - from me.  

Dave: 'What was I supposed to say?'

Sue: 'No, of course!'

Dave: 'Oh.'

Sue: 'Oh god. There are 80 year-olds wandering around looking happy. How do they manage it?' 

Dave: 'They're probably doing drugs.'

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


I'm still reeling this morning from this dizzy virus, but I did manage to cycle up the Trail yesterday. I knew I was under par and going slowly, but even given the virus, to be overtaken by a runner was beyond demeaning  

Do you think it makes you more competitive if you come from a big family? And do you think that only children tend to be uncompetitive? I am the former case and Dave is the latter. Although it could be more complicated than family size, because he himself would say his family didn't know the meaning of the word ambition, and my mother had plans for us all.

As kids, the sibs and I played hard core Monopoly; and we'd time each other to see who could do a jigsaw fastest. Then when we were bored with that, we'd turn the jigsaw over and do it without a picture. Pete always won Monopoly but I can't recall who was best at speed jigsaw. I like to think it was me...

I am pondering this because of the nightly game of Scrabble at Hepworth Towers, which for me is becoming very trying. I've complained on the blog before about Dave beating me at every single game - crokinole, table tennis, darts and Scrabble - and how dispiriting this is. 

Several years ago he stopped playing Scrabble with me because he hated my competitiveness, and I only managed to persuade him to start again by pretending that I didn't care who won, that I just wanted to reach the score of 300.

Lately I have not been able to pretend, and I know why that is. He's made some new boards which are twice and three times the size of a normal game, and bought extra letters. This means that when he beats me it can be by hundreds of points.

He always says things like 'But it's not about the score, it's about the pleasure of making words!' and 'I never crow!' and 'I really don't care who wins.' 
and I say 'If you were the one who always loses you might begin to care.'
'But you win sometimes.'
'Yes, one time in ten.'

Last night in a game with a normal sized board - admittedly a game in which I was drowning in vowels from beginning to end, and apart from the Z, the only letter I had in the whole damn game with more than one point was a G - he beat me by 200 points.

Sue: 'I am so fed up!'
Dave: 'The scores are not so far apart.'
Me:  'Don't give me that rubbish! It's bloody double!'
Dave: 'Well, would you like me to start you off with a hundred points next time?'
Sue: 'I don't want a handicap! I want to nail you on my own terms!'

The ugly beast of competition was out in the open.

Not very Quakerly, is it? 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Below par

You can tell you've not shaken off last week's virus when you wake up with a headache and tinnitus (which you usually only get when you're tired or stressed) and then your brother rings for his weekly chat before Quaker Meeting, and whereas you usually chat for an hour or more, this time you run out of things to say, and then after you've said goodbye, although it's the most beautiful sunny morning, cold and clear, you not only can't face cycling to Meeting, you can't face Meeting itself. 

So you get back into bed and sit propped up in the sunshine and try to work on your current writing project, but find that you can't even do that.

However, I want to share with you two things... one a comparative analysis on Youtube of the four major screen adaptations of Little Women. It's fascinating, and also sheds new light on why the Prof Bhaer ending in the 2019 film is not altogether convincing. It's not meant to be!

Secondly, I have two new fab reviews of my novel, EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The stonking new adaptation of Little Women

When I first heard that there was a new film adaptation of Little Women, I thought 'Why do we need another adaptation? Haven't we got enough? The 1990s one with Winona Ryder was super, and that unusual one the BBC had on a couple of Christmases ago, that was good too. And different. Why on earth has someone decided to bring out another?'

But seeing all the plaudits for the Greta Gerwig adaptation, and loving Little Women as I do, I went to see what all the fuss was about. And I told you briefly on here, didn't I? Go! It's fabulous!

Now I've been again and love it just as much the second time around, and I could easily go and see it again next week if the circs were right.

So what's all the fuss about?

Greta G, who directed it as well as writing the screenplay has mined the writing of Louisa May Alcott and used her views to inform the script, which makes the film richer and deeper and more adult (No, no, I don't mean sexy. It's still a U.) 

It also means Jo's writing is central. The film begins with her selling her first story to a New York publisher, and running down the street in abandoned happiness afterwards. How well I remember that feeling. And the film ends with her cherishing her newly published first novel. I remember how that felt as well.

There are some new themes raised - the position of women in the 19th century, the economics of marriage, the sidelining of the work of women artists and writers. Don't reel back in horror. It's not preachy, and it fits completely. And there is all the original material in there as well: 'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents' and the comment Amy makes when Jo cuts her hair off: 'Jo! Your one beauty!' 

One of the new bits that sticks in my mind is this speech from Jo near the end of the film:

"Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it! But I'm so lonely."

And I cried three times in the film (always a good thing for me) and not just when Beth dies.

The film is long - two and a quarter hours - and yet it is very pacy and never drags. My only tiny misgiving is this: the film switches back and forth between different times in the story, so often and so rapidly, that I wonder if people who have never read the book or seen a film adaptation before will be able to follow the narrative arc.   What about all those men who have never read the book or seen a film of it? But then, will they even go and see it? A lot of them will dismiss it just because of the title. Poor saps.

My son-in-law, who goes to the cinema every week, and keeps up with the new releases, said he didn't fancy it. When I said how sad it is for all those men and boys who would never dream of going to see the film, he said wryly he felt sad for all the women (meaning me) who would never dream of going to see JokerTouché.

Sally commented on the blog last week that she loved the new film. I'd love to hear what the rest of you think if it.

Oooh, ooh, nearly forgot. The clothes are fabulous! I hope they rock the fashion world and boho stuff becomes more widely available. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Something that amuses me

I'm not too well today, with a head too thick to blog, but this old post came to mind because we've recently been embroiled in a pants crisis. Thankfully, Dave has now resolved it - until the ones he has ordered arrive on Thursday and he finds they're no good...

Crisis on the Home Front

All of Dave’s jeans (four pairs) -  which I bought in a January sale 5 years ago - have worn out at the same time. This is an emergency. He wears jeans 99.9% of the time, and owns just one pair of smart trousers (Hugo Boss, no less) that were hand-me-downs from Isaac when he moved to the USA in 2003. As a stop gap I have given him my over-sized dungarees that I bought in Colorado last autumn.


You know I hate shopping, don’t you? It isn’t that Dave hates shopping, it’s that he doesn’t know how it works. He thinks that if he sits on the sofa by the fire in the evening and says his clothing is at crisis point, and he really has to get some new jeans organised, they will materialise in the chest of drawers upstairs.

He has the same problem with his underpants. I used to shop for Dave’s clothes, but it is a dispiriting sport. Where do you think all the jokes about jeans and pants spring from in Plotting for Grown-ups?

exhibit 1: the problem with jeans

Richard called at lunchtime and I showed him a pair of jeans I’d bought in the Scouts jumble sale. They are just Richard’s size, and they look quite hip to me.

He tried them on and said precisely what I expected: “The waist is far too low.”

Richard spends the entire day hitching whatever pair of trousers he is wearing up round his waist, and these wouldn't go high enough for his liking. They weren't the kind that exposes your pants, they were merely an inch lower than the M&S seconds he bought off Bakewell market five years ago. “I want something more robust,” he said.

“They are robust!”

“I'm looking for something more workaday. I need something that genuflects less to fashion and more to safety and comfort.”

“But you’re trying to look attractive to women, aren’t you?” I said.

He pulled up his sweatshirt and exposed the flesh above the waistband. “This low waistband is an outrageous ploy to dupe the consumer. Dickies don't skimp on material like this.” (Richard worships Dickies work clothes because “they are commodious, they shrug off stains, and they have wonderful pocketry.”)

“These jeans make you look ten years younger, Richard.”

“I don't think I'll be wearing them,” he said, vainly trying to hitch them up high again. 

“They look like a high risk trouser. Edgy.”

exhibit 2: the problem with pants

He got up from his chair (we were sitting in the kitchen) and tugged at the seat of his trousers. Then he sat down again and said, “Some of my underpants are terrible. It’s as if they’re alive – I can feel them creeping down my thighs. I need to cull them.”

“What you need to do when you get home is get them all out of your drawer, and lay them all out on the bed and go through them, one by–”

“I am going through them! That’s the trouble! But where can I get some decent ones? I have had it up to here with M&S Y-fronts. They’re hopeless!”

What is it about men and their underpants?

“You need to get something that isn’t a standard Y-front, something a bit more 2011-ish. Especially now you’re on the pull. I mean – what would Ms Fuchsia Pink think of them?”

“This is where Dickies could pounce,” he said. “They ought to be calling in their top designers, even as we speak.”

“So what do you think the perfect underpant needs?”

“Security, material that shrugs off stains, adequate ventilation – possibly assisted – and a reliable fastening. It’s about time persons of quality gave their attention to the comfort and protection of the nation’s manhood. Paxman tried a few years ago – do you remember all that kerfuffle on the Today programme? Nothing happened. Next thing you know, Prince Charles will be muscling in with the Poundbury Pant and the Prince’s Truss.”

There are several problems – as you can see - but the main one is that he thinks good quality jeans and woollen jumpers cost under £10. You, dear readers, may be able to source such prizes, but out in the sticks the discount stores are few. I have brought home too many items in the past that have been rejected on grounds of cost.
I’m waiting to see who will crack first – him or me.

Friday, January 10, 2020


Have I ever shown you this piece I had in the Times some years ago?
I hope not...

He loves me! He thinks I’m an old Land Rover

            Valentine’s Day will be upon us within a few weeks. How many of you with long-term partners are expecting to receive a card oozing with loving feelings and brimming with compliments?
            When Ronald Reagan’s letters to Nancy were published a few years ago, it prompted a Times reader to write to the paper quoting some of her husband’s offerings in contrast. “You may be an old goat,” he had written, “but you’re my old goat.” Women all over the country must have laughed grimly in recognition. I did.
            Can you top this gem that my husband delivered as we sat in the late summer sunshine? "You know, sitting there with the light behind you, you look quite attractive. For your age. From this angle." Or this one, said as I was trying on a new jumper:“You look quite slim in that garb – it must be an optical illusion.”
            What is it with long term partners? Do they have an automatic complimentectomy after two years of cohabitation? Being more charitable, maybe they think it undermines the integrity of the relationship to be anything but completely honest at all times. And if they do find themselves slipping into rave revue mode they feel they have to tone down the comment by qualifying it. Yesterday, I found a note my husband had sent with some flowers when I was in hospital after a mastectomy, and I quote:

These look terrific, but not as terrific as you.

And underneath this he’d written:

This may be overstating the case.    

He’s not insensitive though. He does realise that ageing is difficult to come to terms with, and that couples should give each other kindly, supportive boosts form time to time. One day, as we sat doing the crossword, he said, "The inside of your eyebrow looks youthful."
"What?" I spluttered. 
"If I squint, the inside of your left eyebrow looks quite youthful. It's wrinkle free." Then he smiled, and his imaginary tact lights started flashing. He thought he’d done so well.
His latest attempt was - “Your back is one of your best remaining bits”- but it just made me feel like an ancient ruin
Working from home, I rarely have to brave the world of power dressing. Unfortunately, living in an empty nest, I have to depend on my husband’s feeble efforts if I need reassurance about my appearance. On going to a festival where I was due to give a presentation, I asked if I looked OK to stand up in front of a lot of people. He replied rather anxiously: "How far away are they going to be?"
         Last week, when I was going to an important meeting he asked me what I had on my eyes.    "Eye make-up" I explained.
"Why?" he said.
"So that I don't feel like such an old hag," I said.
"Why aren't you covered in it?"         
            I used to feel sorry for my teenage children when they had unsightly pimples in very obvious places. On coming down to breakfast, mortified at the new blemish, and desperately wondering how to disguise it for a day at school, my daughter would be greeted with: "Zoe, did you know you had a huge, nasty spot right on the end of your nose?"
            Living with an incorrigibly candid man can be psychologically bracing, but at least when he says something complimentary you know he means it. In our house we have a game where we go through each member of the family and say, if they were an animal, what animal would they be? Or alternatively, what piece of furniture, or what type of house ?
One day we used cars as our reference point, and I was delighted to be described, not as a Morgan, or a Mercedes, but a Land Rover. The pile of magazines my husband keeps under the bed to leaf through last thing at night are well-thumbed back copies of Land Rover International. In his eyes a Land Rover is reliable, versatile, unbeatable, fun and, above all, an object of desire.

Me: "What did you think of my article in the Times about your compliments?"
Him: "Well, it wasn't nearly as boring as I was expecting."

This weekend my latest book EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU is free as an ebook on Amazon.

Follow this link. And tell your friends about it too. And Facebook, and Instagram and...anywhere else you can think of!

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Hey ho

You know that petition I asked you to sign the other day?

Yesterday, the House of Commons rejected proposals to keep protections for child refugees in the redrafted EU withdrawal agreement bill. Oh my God, would it have hurt them to keep it in? The bill goes to the House of Lords next, so we're not yet entirely done.

When my blog posts are scanty, there are a number of possible reasons:
  1. I am ill
  2. I am tired
  3. I am fed up
  4. I am busy writing 
  5. I am busy doing something else
  6. I have nothing to say that I think will interest you
  7. I am away
In the present case it is 4 and 6. It was 3 as well, but I am keeping away from the news so 3 is waning. 

Please be patient. I’ll be back.  

And in the meantime, here are the girls in Colorado, for those of you who follow their progress...

photo by Isaac

photo by Isaac

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The new Little Women

I haven't got the time to write a decent blog post, but I do want to tell you that I went to see the new Little Women adaptation yesterday and it was fabulous. 

For once the hype is justified. I have liked the last two adaptations, but I LOVED this one, and I'm going to see it again as soon as possible. 


Saturday, January 04, 2020

Something postive to do

At the end of previous years on the blog I have given a New Year round-up, sometimes with highlights of the year, or highs and lows, or bests and worsts. This year I couldn't face it. I had looked back on the 2019 posts and been shocked as to how much wailing I'd done about the Tories and the results of their cruel and unnecessary austerity policies and their hostile attitude to refugees and asylum seekers.

I clearly stated 10 years ago that this wasn't a political blog - and I meant it, too, with the exception of posts about Palestine - but I just couldn't keep my feelings about politics off the blog last year. So the troll who surfaced in the comments section in December, could, I suppose, be forgiven for thinking this was the place for political debate. Long-time readers know it's more a place of the day-to-day at Hepworth Towers, the ups and downs in my writing, musings about this and that and not very much, and photographs of the Monsal Trail, my garden and my grandchildren. And let's not forget the annual jam-fest.

There's been a lot of despondency at Hepworth Towers since December 13th, and yesterday evening Dave said 'Do you think we'll ever be able to watch the news again?'

But I want to draw your attention to this bit of news in the hope you will help: it's concerning child refugees.

Right now, the Government is preparing to scrap a scheme which gives child refugees the right to be reunited with family members in the UK. The new Brexit withdrawal legislation has dropped the UK's agreement to honour the arrangements about this that already exist.

But there is an amendment to this legislation coming up in Parliament in the next couple of weeks to ensure that child refugees with family members in the UK can still have the right to be reunited with them. 

Please will you sign the petition here, and also write to your MP to ask them to support the amendment. The petition website gives you a specimen email that you can use. 

Please help.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

What I am really thinking

I've been worrying about what I was going to write on the blog for New Year. Look, you know I try to be honest on here and that's why you say you like me, so...

I woke up to warm and loving New Year greetings, texts, tweets, emails, etc and my reaction was - But how can it be a happy new year? Right wing nationalism is sweeping from country to country and the world is literally on fire.

Then Dave came in the bedroom (he'd been up for hours, as always) and said what he always says about the new year - Why is a change of date significant? What is everyone making a fuss about? - and I tried, yet again, to explain.

Then he picked something up that was lying on the chest...something that he'd written and wrapped up and put in my Christmas stocking:

and I cheered up. He'd been in Bakewell on Christmas Eve, talking to our Big Issue seller, Sophia, and she'd hugged him and said 'And give a big hug to your wife.'

It was a such a lovely and surprising thing to find in my stocking. And now, I'm thinking about something I tweeted yesterday:

We never know what effect we have on other people and thus on the wider world. That's why we need to keep going, following our path, being ourselves, doing our best, even if our efforts seem small and insignificant.

And now I need to get going. We don't stay up till midnight at Hepworth Towers, we get up and go out at dawn. It used to be to feed the ducks in Bakewell. 

January 2010: Before the activity was frowned upon

but now the local authority frowns on that for ecological reasons, so we go for a dawn walk on the Monsal Trail. What could be better?

I wish you many, many small pleasures in 2020 and the stamina to keep on trucking in difficult times.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Crime Against Fashion

Today, there's a real treat for those of you who recall Dave's blog from some years ago. He suddenly stopped writing it, much to everyone's shock and disappointment, and he took it off the net. This morning I said I'd like to post something from it, and he agreed. This is the post I chose:

Crime Against Fashion

Here's my excuse and I am sticking to it. When I was a kid, we got all our family clothes from Blanchards. If Blanchards did not stock it, we did not wear it. Simple as that. And, to take the ambush out of this, let me tell you that Blanchards was never at the cutting edge of fashion.

In the war of style, Blanchards was so far behind the lines that it did not even hear the cannon fire.

When I was not in school uniform, I was wearing Blanchards' best. If Blanchards ever made anyone a babe-magnet, I have yet to hear reports of it.

True, I had occasional twinges of doubt, but the family criteria for clothing were that it should be durable, shrug off stains, not catch on nails or machinery, and keep your body warm as toast, even in summer. Oh yes, and the chief criterion: it should be, if not cheap outright, then fabulous value for money.

If I tell you that I still wear the coat my father got for his wedding in 1949, well, you will get the picture.

The result of all this was that I never developed a sense of style, and have teetered all my life on the high wire of sartorial anarchy. It never worried me that what I wanted to wear would raise eyebrows, or even attract derision. If I liked it, that was enough. 

You would have to ask Sue about the fate of my tam o' shanters which I dearly loved and which vanished in unexplained circumstances. And about the suede jacket with alluring and intriguing suede fringes all the way down the arms. Sheer poetry in clothing. I mean, you do not just lose a piece of kit like that.

Anyway. Here it is: my crime against fashion:

Nonchalant and unapologetically chic
This is my WONderful leather jerkin by Philip Moss. It replaced the previous one, made in 1917 (yes, really) and bought by me in 1967 for 25/-, less than the price of the latest Incredible String Band Album (32/6).  

This works out at about £1.25 for the jacket, and £1.65 for the album. Both phenomenal value.

I dithered for years (yes, literally) about the replacement, and had a very lengthy and jolly email exchange with Philip Moss, who was ever-patient, and who eventually made the sale. He probably needed therapy afterwards.

Anyway, what has fashion to do with an heirloom garment like this? (Heirloom in the sense that it will last way longer than I will, and some poor bugger will not have a clue what to do with it, and have not the heart to chuck it out.)

My jerkin is commodious, warm, keeps out all kinds of weather, has accommodating and no-nonsense pocketry, smart (I feel like a million dollars at least), and rugged. Nothing gets through this baby. Nothing. This things laughs at the weather, Nay, it snorts.

Cheap it wasn't. But then it is modelled on a pattern that goes back to the Civil War of 1650. And it is beautifully made and lined with some kind of woolly stuff. Putting it on is like slipping on a dream.

I have worn it daily since getting it. Almost hourly.

I mean, who would not love this?

Philip Moss: artist in leather.

Friday, December 27, 2019

It all matters

“It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing. What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”

― Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise

Thursday, December 26, 2019

On being 70

I turned 70 this year and it's OK. If you're not there yet, be encouraged!

I hated being 60. I was miserable at 60, and 70 is so much better. I was telling this to a 59 year old friend at Meeting yesterday and he said, jokingly, 'Is that because you don't have to worry about what you're going to be when you grow up?' 

It sort of is.

I feel as though I've arrived. This is me, warts and all, or, in my case, wrinkles and all. (See yesterday's photo.) Take me or leave me. 

I was recently in the supermarket with my two teenage grandsons and embarrassed them by explaining to the young and pleasant check-out man that it is much easier for the customer if, when giving change, you proffer coins first into the palm, and then notes. Said check-out man responded graciously. It was Waitrose.

As we left, I told the younger grandson 'I know you find it embarrassing but the great thing about being old is that you don't care what people think of you.' 

'I wish I didn't care,' he said. Of course when you're a teenager, what other people think is crucial.

Later in the morning, he said 'Actually, Sue, you do care what people think.' He calls me Sue, as they all do. 'When you buy something new to wear, you always ask Mum what she thinks of it.'

He'd got me. 'You're right. But I don't care what people I don't know think of me.' 

The other nice thing about turning 70 was the party. It was wonderful. I mean it was really wonderful. The last time I had a birthday party was when I was 40. That was a fancy dress party and people had to dress up as what they wanted to be when they grew up. This growing up thing is obviously a big thing for me. I realise that only now as I write this post.

Different flavour cakes made by Zoe, friends and me

Isaac and Wendy and the girls came over from Colorado for my 70th birthday party, and of course my local 'kids' and grandkids were there, all my siblings and spouses came, plus one niece, and lots of old friends. I got to dance with three of my four grandchildren (one a 15 year old boy - dancing with him was one of the highlights of my night - but along with his brother I am no longer allowed to name or picture either on the blog, and more's the pity, because I would dearly love to show long-time blog readers who recall them from ten years ago what these fabulous teenagers look like now). 

And there was a surprise cake...

Surprise cake made by a friend, Chris Oxley

made by a friend and relation-in-law, Chris Oxley. Look! She put on it all my books - those dear little books - sweet pea packets, sax, sax music - and the sheet music is Misty - my patchwork and my laptop. I am still in awe of it. We ate the cake and the icing but I've kept everything else.

I only had the party so I would have a chance to dance, but having all the immediate family together plus old friends and the way everyone helped to make it happy - that was what was special. I went to bed that night thinking 'If I die tonight, I'll die happy.' Maybe that's what turning 70 is about for me. If I die now, I'll die happy.

The grandchildren I am still allowed to show you - Cece and Lux
Photo by Isaac

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Christmas!

Wishing all my friendly readers a Very Happy Christmas.

I hope you're having too nice a time to check my blog, but if you're not, bear up. It will all be over soon.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The blurred Christmas

Apart from the sign on the landing - and look at it very carefully, friends - 

visitors to Hepworth Towers wouldn't know this was an OFF Christmas.

First there were was the forest of Christmas trees that Dave made from scraps in the shed. 

He had intended to make just one, but when Dave makes something that costs nothing but his time, and he likes said object, there is something about the wiring in is head that makes him go on and on until my cries of protest finally get through and he stops. I think he got up to twenty this time. It's happened before with wind chimes, Edison puzzles, trivets, kumiko, coffee tables from recycled wood, and little wooden boxes.  

Then there is the fact that the tree - which should technically be corralled in my study with all other decorations on an OFF Christmas - is in the sitting room. I've had a new carpet in the study and Dave thought I'd be bound to spill water on it when I was watering the tree, so it's in the sitting room with Dave's latest innovation...

What has got into him?

Anyway, we had our OFF Christmas family meal, presents and games on Saturday, and it was fabulous. I am so lucky to have such a lovely family, and a husband who is happy while hiding in the kitchen to do all the washing up.

And because my brother Pete was impressed yesterday when I told him the list of things I managed to cook in my small kitchen and normal sized cooker, I'm going to boast to you as well:
roast free-range chicken
veggie nut roast
veggie gravy
vegan nut roast
vegan gravy (admittedly ready-made from Waitrose)
roast potatoes 
baked potatoes
roast parsnips
pigs in blankets
force meat balls (a wartime recipe from my mother and my favourite part of the meal, I've decided)
I had intended to make bread sauce as well but as it's only me who likes it and things got a bit fraught towards the end, I missed it out.

My only disappointment was the quality of the roast potatoes, but it's hard making successful vegan roast potatoes, and the oven was rather full. The hordes wolfed them down anyway. 

Now it's a week of peace and quiet, writing, cycling, walking, and reading my new compendium of Nora Ephron's writing, The most of Nora Ephron.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Early mornings at Hepworth Towers

Every morning for the last three months, Dave - who gets up hours before me - has come into the bedroom while I am drinking my first mug of Yorkshire tea in order to recount the latest outrage from Trump. I wish he wouldn't. 

For one thing, it is not a good start to the day, and for doesn't matter what awful thing Trump does, he can no longer surprise me. I say this to Dave, but still he tells me. Every morning. 

On Wednesday Dave went out before I was awake, and when I woke up I breathed a sigh of pleasant freedom, thinking I'd have a Trump-free morning. What to begin the day with no news from here and no news from there. We have sufficient problems on this side of the Atlantic without dwelling on the US horror show. 

I got out of bed, switched on the fairy lights on the weeping fig in the bedroom, and fetched my tea. Then I picked up my iPad to check my emails and found an early morning email with an attachment from Dave, entitled 'Nuts!' Inside was a domestic message, and then 'What do you think of the letter?' 

He had attached a copy of a letter from Trump to Nancy Pelosi, beginning thus:

There was I, thinking I'd escaped the morning bulletin on Trump, and here instead was a six page bloody letter to wade through. Reader, I didn't. 

Yesterday, Thursday, I woke up at 5 a.m., too late to go back to sleep but also too early to switch on the light, so I thought, 'Ooh, I know, I'll listen to the next episode of The Railway Children on BBC Sounds.' 

I found this delightful programme by chance. A young actress [sic] is reading The Railway Children in 14 entrancing episodes. It's a wonderful antidote to everything OUT THERE. 

Yesterday's chapter was entitled The Amateur Fireman and featured a part of the book I'd forgotten, where the children rescue a baby from a burning barge. It was so exciting! I was on the edge of my pillow! It was far too exciting for a gentle musing doze, and at the end of the episode I switched on the light, over-heated and charged up for the day, and it was still only half past five. It took me some time to recover.

I've just realised that a biographer could use this as a vivid illustration of something about me, but it's only 6.52 a.m. and I am still drinking my first mug of tea, so you'll have to decide what it is.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Stages of grief

Before I begin this post, I want to make it clear that this is about how I feel,  and how I feel is not open for debate, so if you're spoiling for a fight, please go somewhere else. 

I am avoiding the news: I can't face it. There could be a third world war for all I know. 

Last Friday morning my brother rang up to say "Isn't it awful?" and I shut him down. "I don't want to talk about it. I'm sorry but I really don't."

My other brother sent me a text:
"Feeling so depressed about the election. Our man got a majority of 27,000."

"I am too depressed to talk about it."

I was in shock. 

I couldn't believe that so many people were wiling to vote for someone they know is a liar. And that so many people didn't seem to care about poverty, the crisis in the NHS, the increase in homelessness, in racism, in awful working conditions, the lack of funding in schools, the likely future infringement of civil rights, the lack of care about global warming, etc, etc - the list goes on and on.

It's not just me. There are an awful lot of people on Twitter who feel the same, who are too stunned to think about what to do next, about leaders or strategies or anything else. People like me who can't bear to look at a newspaper because even a photo of the new Prime Minister makes them feel sick. 

On Saturday I met with good friends who share a lot of my interests, including politics, but none of us could bear to talk about what was bothering us the most.

On Monday I was stomping around in a mood as I prepared the vegan nut roast and the veggie nut roast for Saturday's OFF Christmas family meal. I was mean, I was snarky, I was full of resentment, and poor old Dave kept asking if he'd done something to annoy me. 

"No, no," I said. 

It was at teatime that I realised I'd moved on from shock to anger. 

It's Wednesday today, and I spent half an hour sorting out presents for one brother and one sister's Christmas presents. They wanted a donation to charity. It was such fun giving money away to people who really need it.

And I've just been in Sheffield where I saw a large graffiti (yes, Pete, I know it is technically graffito if it's only one, but that is way too formal) and the graffiti made me laugh.

It was a very rude, two word rejection of the new PM written in large bold capital letters.

Yes, it made me laugh. It cheered me right up. Can I move on to the another stage now? Acceptance, perhaps?  

I will leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King:

We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Kindness in a cruel world

Yesterday I came across an article saying that since the election result, food banks and housing charities had received a huge increase in donations. It warmed my heart. 
And here from another century is this...

"Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books. We read some, and mean to every day," they all cried in chorus.

"Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?"

They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, "I'm so glad you came before we began!"

"May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?" asked Beth eagerly.

"I shall take the cream and the muffings," added Amy, heroically giving up the article she most liked.

Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread into one big plate.

"I thought you'd do it," said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. "You shall all go and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinnertime."

They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately it was early, and they went through back streets, so few people saw them, and no one laughed at the queer party.

A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.

How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in.

"Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!" said the poor woman, crying for joy.

"Funny angels in hoods and mittens," said Jo, and set them to laughing.

In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been at work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and stopped up the broken panes with old hats and her own cloak. Mrs. March gave the mother tea and gruel, and comforted her with promises of help, while she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had been her own. The girls meantime spread the table, set the children round the fire, and fed them like so many hungry birds, laughing, talking, and trying to understand the funny broken English.

"Das ist gut!" "Die Engel-kinder!" cried the poor things as they ate and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze. The girls had never been called angel children before, and thought it very agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considered a 'Sancho' ever since she was born. That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.

excerpt from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott