Monday, April 12, 2021

No news

I'm really sorry, but the only news at Hepworth Towers on this sunny but bitingly cold Monday morning is that I have finished the painting of my painting dungarees  


which means that I can wear them again to work on my next painting.

I hope to be back very soon with a decent post. 




Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The shape of the day

Dave says all kinds of things that brighten my day. Take what he said this morning as I was eating my breakfast: 'What's happened to Vim? It used to be a demi-god of kitchen cleansers. Has it fallen from its pedestal?'

He has, however, a recurrent question, and it gets on my nerves: 'What are you going to do now?' 

Under pandemic circs we spend nearly all of every day together, or at least we're at home at the same time, unless one of us is out on our bike. We get on very well, and I feel lucky to be sharing living space in lockdown with Dave. 

Even so, there are times I yearn to be left alone and to not have to account for my every minute to someone else. This irritation obviously shows, because yesterday when Dave popped the question I sighed, and he responded 'Sometimes I feel as though I am something you're trying to get off your shoe.'

Hepworths have always said first thing after breakfast 'What's the shape of the day?' It's a given. And this question was originally framed and employed by Dave. He is a very organised person, and also, it has to be said, his aspergers makes him dislike surprises and sudden changes of plan.

I like spontaneity. (Yes, Dave - as long as it suits me.) These days when I set off on my bike ride Dave wants to know where I am going so he knows where to send the search party when I don't return, as death lurks round every corner.

Me: "When I go out for a walk and I'm longer than you expect me to be, you're always anxious."

Dave: "Only because I've been worrying how far I'm going to have to carry the cadaver back.") 

So I tell him my route, and then when I get to the end of our lane I get a yen to go somewhere else, and I dither - should I go back and tell him I have changed my route? should I just stick to what I told him? or do I think Oh sucks, I'm not going further than a ten mile radius so what's the fuss about?

In lockdown, when most days are the same, the anodyne question 'What are you going to do now?' has become particularly irksome. What are the options? - cycling, walking, painting, reading, gardening, cooking, facetiming a friend, writing the blog, ringing the bank - apart from the first two they are all home based. 

But they are how I am spending my life right now, with the occasional delightful blip such as when friends or family call to sit in the garden with us, to chat, drink coffee and shiver. 

Here's an Annie Dillard quote I thought apposite for this post:

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern."



I wonder how we will remember these days.

We may be largely housebound but we have beautiful views.

Here is the view from the east bedroom window on Easter morning:



And here are two from the front door:




We're lucky. And I don't take it for granted.


Saturday, April 03, 2021

A frayed thread

Progress on my dungarees painting is slow because the sun has been shining which means no loitering inside. So far my favourite part is the frayed threads on the top of the bib:




It sums up how I've been this week. Upset at the start, then feeling better, then unsettled and then upset again.

The credit for the above cartoon is dinosaur on Twitter:


I went on the Trail yesterday at 8.30 a.m., before the tourists arrived, and I had to stop for a rest on the up journey and on the down one too. I spent the rest of the day recovering. Admittedly the day had started rather early - at 4.30 a.m. - when we heard that scratching in the bedroom ceiling again. There is a creature that wants to live between the plasterboard and the attic flooring and Dave's attempts to catch it have so far failed. 

We have all kinds of measures already in place (both humane and otherwise* - *cue complaints from the family member who declines to be named). All have proved ineffective, but this morning Dave told me that humane pest deterrers online recommend cayenne pepper, so that's one new thing to try. I'll keep you posted.

I saw a clothes advert online this morning and thought - Hmm, I could do with some new pants, and wondered if M&S had got their act together in that department since I ditched them for Victoria Secret eleven years ago and Zoë suggested I become a transatlantic knicker mule.  

My searches of M&S turned up nothing and then I saw a line that said 'Pink and Black Female Empowerment High Legs 5 pack.' 

Would female empowerment pants sort out the pants problem AND the low morale?



I don't think they're the answer.

Apart from anything else, I worry about my 'children', even though a friend who also worries said on Thursday 'When has it ever done any good?'

This morning, after a week of emails, a friend down-under sent me a two line email:

Like Cece, 'I love you Sue.'

Here are my Autumn crocuses to wish you a happy Easter xxx

I think she was quoting from Days Are Where We Live:

Cece sitting on the downstairs loo down the corridor shouting out, a propos of nothing: "I love you, Sue!"

In my Thursday conversation with my friend I'd said that if children feel loved and safe it would make them resilient for their uncertain futures ahead.

Do you think that's true?

I felt loved and safe, and I feel loved and safe, and I'm still vaguely sane, even if frayed.

Sending love to all of you with all my best wishes for good times ahead. 

And I also hope that you're not fraying more than me.




Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Doing my best

How are you? I hope you're not struggling. I hope you're doing OK and enjoying the sunshine.

One week I'm fine, the next week I'm not.

I know one thing, though: this past year has aged me. I am forgetful and absent-minded and clumsier than usual. Yesterday I left the car in the drive with both windows open all night; I have just pressed delete in error on a blog comment from Jenetta and had to paste it in myself; I have taken to wandering round the house looking for my reading glasses when they are on the top of my head; and yesterday I fell off the basket chair and flat on my back on the kitchen floor when I was lifting down the two jam pans from the top of the dresser. Thankfully they fell away from me, otherwise I could have suffered a serious head injury. Just my bum and my pride were bruised.

Generally speaking I've been feeling less than robust, but even so I've been painting, gardening and enjoying the spring.


A bridleway near our village

I have also been reading. I've always shied away from non-fiction as a reading choice, but in this last year I've read four memoirs, three of which were about the experience of being a woman at home during the second world war. The latest was Where Stands a Winged Sentry by Margaret Kennedy. What a terrible title, what a gripping book. 

My brother is bamboozled as to why I want to read all these WW2 memoirs from the homefront. Why would I want to immerse myself in such a miserable time?  (And that's another aging problem - finding the right word: I couldn't retrieve the word 'immerse' from inside my head, and typed 'submerge,' and only now, reading this through, immerse has come to me.) 

I've been reading them to see what they could teach me about living through a difficult period in world history. I thought they might help. It was a terrible time, and they didn't know when it would end, and yet we know they got through. And after the war things improved for a while. I've found the books fortifying.



Dave, meanwhile, has been reading Michael Rosen's Many Different Kinds of Lovea memoir about having Covid, spending six weeks in an induced coma, and after lengthy rehabilitative treatment, coming home physically damaged but recognisably still Michael Rosen. I'm just about to start reading it.

Dave has now moved onto Failures of State, written by two Sunday Times investigative journalists. The jacket inside cover says: '...the insider's account of how the government sleepwalked into disaster and then tried to cover up its role in the tragedy - and it exposes one of the most scandalous failures of political leadership in British history.'

Yes, we know already, but this gives all the shocking details and shows how the truth is even worse than we already thought. 

This is heavy going for a sunny Wednesday when the world - at least here in the UK - appears to be opening up again.

My good news this week is that my first sowing of sweet peas is coming on nicely in the shed, and my second sowing looks like a row of tiny green submarines on the windowsill:




Next, I'll be sowing cosmos.

Oh my! I've just been outside to take the header photo and it's seriously warm out there! Enough of this...I'm going outside...



Friday, March 26, 2021

Weekend treat

Seven years ago another writer asked me which one of the four books I'd written was my favourite, and I refused to pick one.

One year ago, my sixth book was published, and this is the roll call:

Plotting for Beginners

Zuzu's Petals

But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You

Plotting for Grown-ups

Even When They Know You

Days Are Where We Live

and if someone asked me now, I would pick two favourites...

But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You



 

and Days Are Where We Live




But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You has sold many more copies than Days Are Where We Live and yet to my mind the quality of the writing and entertainment value is equal.

Both of these books were self published, but I spent heaps and heaps more time and effort on marketing But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You. Also, sales were given a boost because of a mention in The Guardian and because the National Autistic Society chose the book as one of their favourite novels about autism.

The other difference is that But I Told You is a novel, whereas Days Are Where We Live would fall into the category of memoir, being a chronological collection of the very best of my blog posts. (And incidentally it's 95% politics-free.)  Perhaps people don't want to read a memoir of someone they have never heard of. Is that the reason? 

It's a year since I published this darling book, and from today, Friday March 25th, until Sunday 27th, I am giving away Kindle copies for free. If you have not already read it, now's your chance - there are plenty of persuasive reviews on Amazon -  and if you have read it, perhaps you'd tell your friends about the special offer, and put it on social media, too? Also, if you see my tweets about it, would you be kind enough to retweet them?

And please, if you like the book, review it online. Thank you, friends.


I asked two fans of the book which sections I should include as a taster: one said 

"I particularly liked the bravery of the posts where you both celebrate and miss Mary - that was big. People aren’t usually able to share the complexity of those aspects of life, in a way that is honest without being maudlin."

The other fan said I should quote sections where Dave is being funny. 
So...here goes...first three posts about Mary, and then a post about Dave and me and our opposing approaches to life.


February 7, 2015

The answer

My dearest friend and confidante is gravely ill and my concern for her is having a weird effect: it’s making me sensitive to all kinds of exaggerated anxieties and sadnesses which are focussed on my family.

I’m not usually like that.

I expect it will pass.

And there’s a helpful quote from Rohinton Mistry which I found in that book I recently read twice in one week, Kate Gross’s Late Fragments. It especially speaks to my condition:

“There’s only one way to defeat the sorrow and sadness of life – with laughter and rejoicing. Bring out the good dishes, put on your good clothes, no sense hoarding them.”

-Rohinton Mistry from Family Matters

To that end, I am having pancakes for breakfast.

And I’m enjoying looking at photographs of the girls in Colorado.

And Dave is going out for the day which means I can get on with the rewrite of episode one of the screenplay undisturbed. Yay!

 

February 11, 2015

Current reading

This morning, feeling sad, I googled “Poems to read to the dying” and in a couple of links arrived at Anthony Wilson’s wonderful Lifesaving Poems Blog. I have been sitting in bed reading the poems on his list. Now, I’m ordering the anthology which is to be published in June by Bloodaxe.

In all my waking moments when I am not actually doing something, I am working my way through the poems on Anthony Wilson’s blog. It seems like an appropriate response in the face of death.

 

February 14, 2015

Gone

Sometime in the last century I saw an advert in the paper: someone was making a TV programme about best friends, and they wanted volunteers to be on it. Being a bit of a show-off, I suggested to Mary that we should offer, and she, being a shy, private person was horrified.

Mary died yesterday at home, surrounded by her beloved family.

If she thought about it beforehand she might guess I was going to say something about her on here.

Mary could be infuriating, embarrassing, and – for the first twenty years of our friendship – invariably late. But outside of my large family (and yes, Dave, as you define family differently from me, I am including you in my family) Mary was the person in my life I have loved the most.

In so many ways we were opposites. I am driven. She was whatever the word is to define minus drive. I could be writing at 6 a.m. She would be eating her porridge at noon. It would have driven me insane to share living space with her. But our values overlapped completely, and as a friend she was unsurpassable. She was a huge emotional support through long tough times in my life. She was caring, compassionate, tactful, loyal, discreet, non-judgmental, and considerate. (Ten years ago, she stopped being late.)

Another dear friend sent me a sweet email yesterday saying she knew I’d be devastated by Mary’s death. That about sums it up.

And here’s a Dinah Craik quote which sums up Mary…

“But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely.

Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

 

February 17, 2015

A burst of colour

Some of my family don’t understand why I write personal stuff on here: but they love me anyway. The thing is - I am a writer, and writing is what writers do. And I like the Ted Hughes quote: “What’s writing really about? It’s about trying to take fuller possession of the reality of your life.” And the Cecil Day-Lewis one: “We write not to be understood, we write to understand.”

Every morning and at periods throughout the day, Dave, concerned, asks me how I am. So far it’s been the same answer: “I’m sad. And I feel raw. As if I’ve been skinned.”

A few weeks after my mother died, I wrote this on the blog:

EXPOSED

Being bereaved is like being a walking wound. Every part of you is tender. You can't settle to anything because nothing feels comfortable. Sometimes you forget you're a wound and you become absorbed by something outside yourself - like cutting back the autumn garden, sweeping up the leaves, watching three hundred crows wheeling over the field at the back of the house.

Sometimes you go to a familiar place and chat to a friend and forget you're a wound, and you laugh out loud at a shared joke and you think to yourself "I can do this. I can live without my mother and still be happy." And then you leave your friend and walk down the street and you're a wound again. I will know I am healed, I suppose, when all the happy interludes join up and there are no aching times in between. And it is getting better every day.

This morning, sitting in bed, I turned sideways and saw the burst of colour on my bedside table, and I loved it: the freesias and genista I bought for myself the day Mary died. Then I spent five happy minutes trying to get the best possible photo of it.

The sky is clear and bright today, and my grandsons are coming over. It’s Pancake Day, so we’ll have pancakes, and later, I’ll tempt them to walk down the Trail with the lure of ice cream at Hassop Station.

I know that when they’ve gone home I’ll feel like a walking wound again, but in the meantime I’m going to seize any colour the day has to offer.






Dave and me


December 18, 2018

Frugality plus inventiveness can be a trap

When people see all the beautiful things Dave has made - furniture, stained glass, carvings, Christmas decorations - they envy me. They also envy me because he is so good at FIXING things. I am a lucky woman. I know this. However...there is a dark side to all this talent: his eagerness to create things from bits and bobs when one would much rather go out and BUY said object. 

Take yesterday. I came home from Bakewell market and complained to Dave about the heavy shopping, and how I was wondering about buying a shopping trolley - a trendy one (if 'trendy shopping-trolley' is not an oxymoron.)

He said “Oh, you mean one of those tartan ones.”

“No! No! Something modern!”

“You don't need to buy one,” he said. “I'll make you one. Something robust and capacious.”

My heart sank.

“What you need is one like window cleaners used to have,” he said. “I could use old bike wheels. I've got two in the shed.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about, but NO.”

“Yes, yes,' he said. 'Google an image of a traditional window cleaner's trolley.”

I did. It had large wooden cart wheels with a platform on top.

“That's it,' he said. 'But there should be a big box on top.”

“And just how am I expected to get that in the back of the car to bring it home from Bakewell?”

“I'll make you a ramp!”

You may laugh, dear reader. I would if I didn’t live with this man.

Anyway, this conversation reminded me of a piece I once had in the Times which I don't think I've shared with you before:

Make do and mend spend!

Do you ever look with dissatisfaction at your furniture and wish you could start again? You don’t want to submit to the horrors of trial by makeover, but you would like to junk that ugly lumpen armchair your mother-in-law gave you, or that trendy-in-the-seventies standard lamp reminiscent of a salon hairdryer? After we lost all our things in a fire, and the emotional ashes began to settle, we had that chance to start again. But even with a lump sum and an empty house the task was arduous for a couple with no experience of buying new furniture.

We married as impoverished students, and as the years passed most of what furnished our house before the fire was not so much chosen and bought, but inherited, or just somehow acquired. Objectively speaking we had some good stuff, such as the three handsome grandfather clocks my husband Dave had inherited. But I could have counted on the fingers of one hand the items of furniture which we actually went out and bought in a shop. This was a result partly of lack of funds at the appropriate time, but also of an abhorrence of waste, a make-do-and-mend philosophy, a drive to recycle and reclaim wherever possible, and the inability to look a gift horse in the mouth.

In our young and untroubled student days when we were able to afford a Land Rover but not new furniture (why was that?) we had been asked by some newly married friends if we would take to the tip a “hideous three piece suite” which a parent was foisting upon them to be helpful. Well, the suite turned out to be beautiful - art deco, upholstered in blue velvet, with walnut veneer arms – so we took it home. It became one of my favourites, much coveted by the more discerning of my friends, but much reviled by my modernist husband.  It was followed by similar items, which friends wanted to get rid of and which I wanted to give a good home to. At one time in the sitting room of our first small flat we actually had three sofas.

It’s hard to buy new things when recycling is in your genes. I remember going off to camp for the first time with a home made rucksack my mother had recycled from an old gaberdine mac, with zips reclaimed from long dead trousers, and a cord from a pair of tattered pyjamas. She would make us bedside tables and dolls houses out of orange boxes, and even long after she had anyone needing dolls furniture, she found it excruciating to throw away those tiny plastic catering tubs when emptied of jam or UHT milk - they made such wonderful wash-basins. Her one thousand and one ways with a pair of old tights is so well documented that we can’t see a pair adrift in a hedgerow without my husband saying “your mother must have been here again.” Her favourite use was as twine for tying up my father’s raspberry canes in the autumn.

And my grandmother was the same. She made a superior picnic blanket out of an old tweed coat, and dusters out of old knickers (“every gusset a memory” – Victoria Wood.) Her better underwear was not suitable for dusters, being made from an old silk parachute. The tights-recycling gene manifested itself in her case in the knitting of them into peg bags.

As for Dave, his recycling tendencies verge on the pathological. Once, to get rid of unwanted junk, we hired a skip with the couple next door. The two men would each wheel a barrow full of old rammel through their respective gates to meet at the skip with mutual cries of “Don’t you want that? Can I have it?” followed by the swapping of treasures and the wheeling of full barrows back up the two garden paths.

So you can see that the fire did us one or two favours:  I am delighted to be rid of the hundreds of beads from a dismantled car bead seat, the spherical light shade made out of Sainsburys High Juice plastic bottle caps, and a mound of worn bicycle tyres.

Make-do-and-mend is a trap. In one of my Dave’s joyful austerity periods he mended my daughter’s glasses with string and then sprayed it gold to match the glasses: she has never forgiven him. He also resoled his shoes with an old car tyre. Even now, when anyone needs anything at all, from a bird feeder to a roof rack, our long flown children will say with ghoulish delight “Don’t worry - Dave will knock you one up out of an old bike tyre!” Don’t get me wrong: I love the huge set of wind chimes made from wardrobe rail which now adorn our hall; and the aerobic ankle weights he fashioned from a piece of old lead piping are great.

But recycling requires raw materials, and even Dave was flummoxed by an empty house. On receiving the insurance cheque it was extremely difficult to break away from frugal ways and actually spend money on large items of furniture, particularly when we viewed them as once only purchases which had to last us the rest of our lifetimes.

And even though we had been married for 25 years, the profound clash in our tastes only became apparent when we were choosing new things. It was a case of traditionalist with a penchant for period style meets radical minimalist who thinks that form should always follow function. What possible middle ground in clothes storage is there between someone who wants an Edwardian chest of drawers in satinwood, and someone who prefers a stack of wipe clean plastic boxes? Or between someone who yearns for a kingsize cast iron bedstead, and someone who hankers after hammocks?

Yet another problem was Dave’s aversion to shopping. I thought I’d found the solution by using mail order. But catalogue sofas with apparently perfect proportions, when transposed to our sitting room looked like sofas on steroids. We returned them, and for 18 months we sat on the floor. 

We have now managed to buy most of the furniture we need, but it has been a novel and a gruelling process. And after having a lot of detritus forcibly taken from us, we are definitely more discerning in our recycling. But what’s that lurking behind the new sofa? A carrier bag full of old tights?



Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Looking back

It's the anniversary today of the beginning of the first UK Covid lockdown, and many people are looking back and thinking about who they have lost, and what they have lost. 

I am so thankful that all of my family are still here. (And as I have already fielded two enquiries about my Boulder family this morning after news of the shooting there, I'll tell you that they're safe.)

I've not been thinking about what I've lost this morning, but what I've learned. Here are just a few things:

1/ Physical affection was big in my family when I was a child, and hugs are vital to my well-being. Seeing my local family and not being able to hug them has been deeply upsetting. My missing hugs is what led to my designing my card last year that I sold in aid of the charity Help Refugees (now named Choose Love.)

2/ I like my own home-made fresh coffee better than coffee that I find in most cafes, even when it's out of a vacuum flask on a walk or a bike ride.

3/ It is possible to make a great margarita at home if you have the right recipe, and said margaritas have the same magical properties when consumed on Facetime with a friend as when drunk in a bar.

4/ There are many more local footpaths surrounding our village than I ever knew about, and we've lived here for 26 years.

5/ Vegetable gardening - that I tried last year - is not for me. Flowers, and especially sweet peas, is what I care about.

6/ I miss the visitors who came to our refugee hospitality days in Bakewell, days we have had to cancel. Most of our visitors were young women and children, survivors of human trafficking, all with horrible and sometimes traumatic histories. I've learned that I miss the warm social contact we had with them. Being with  people with different backgrounds and experiences and cultures is enriching and meaningful, and in our case, often fun. What we offered them was small in the grand scheme of things, but they appreciated it so much. 

7/ Even the smallest kindness can mean something big to the recipient. 

6/ Although there are difficulties of living with an Aspie, and there are things I have to do without because of him, including travel and sitting down to eat together (see my blog post, The Wife's Tale) I feel so lucky to be married to Dave. 

I have known this on and off for years, of course, despite his dubious clothes taste; despite the fact that he recently dismantled the bay window to look for the leak while insisting he didn't need a dustsheet;



despite my agreeing with Lady Longford who when asked if she'd ever thought of divorcing her husband said "Divorce, never. Murder, often." 

I have been up and down and all over the place during the last year, which you will know if you've been following the blog. Throughout this time, Dave has been even tempered, patient, kind, supplied hugs on demand even though it's not his thing, and encouraged me with my painting to the extent of saying "When's that going to be finished? I want it up on the wall!"

He has also designed a patent, instant picture frame and so far made seven of them...



And his quirky way of looking at things spices up my days. We are currently looking for a car to replace the ancient one we have, and one of the requirements is a large boot with no lip. 

'Our current boot is great,' Dave said. 'If our car was seeking marriage, it would be flaunting its boot.'


Friday, March 19, 2021

Blocked

I wrote a blog post on Wednesday and didn't post it, and I wrote a different one yesterday and didn't post that. They weren't fit to post.

It has been that kind of a week - full of halts and hesitations, a troubled mind and an untidy desk. The only escape I get from the stuff going round in my head is when I am painting, and I've not been able to get started on that. 

I wanted a painting of my dungarees and considered this photo:



I love those dungarees even more since I added the lime green patches, and 
my painter brother Pete had suggested I did a self portrait, so bingo!

But when I sat down to begin, I sighed, because it's not me that I am interested in, it's the dungarees, with their rips and patches and random splashes of paint.

I have been trying, and failing, to arrange the dungarees in a pose (on their own) which looked natural, included all my favourite bits, and that would fit on my canvas while showing sufficient detail. 

This is what I have painted in the meantime:


I've been fascinated by the patterns of barbed wire for a while, but it's an apt image for a week in which I've felt creatively blocked, and a week in which the UK government has been moving our country into a harsher, darker era.

It is the politics of now which has been swirling uncomfortably in my head and spoiling the view. Everything this government is pursuing is anathema to me...

  • they have cut foreign aid while selling arms to oppressive regimes;
  • they intend to increase our nuclear arsenal by 40% which is nonsensical and obscene and beside any point at all (and which, incidentally, would be illegal under the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of 1970);
  • they have passed the second reading of a bill giving the police draconian powers over protesters, while increasing penalties; 
  • this same bill creates a new trespass offence that criminalises the way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities;
  • they are planning to build new detention centres for women asylum seekers, many of whom have been trafficked or victims of sexual violence;
  • they are planning to send asylum seekers to places offshore, like Australia does, to its shame;
  • there is so much more to list but I am sure you get my drift.

I have written to my MP again this week about the Home Office's harsh and cruel policies regarding asylum seekers, (for example this) and I am signing an average of 5 petitions a week about this and that. What else can I do? 

I leave you with this quote from Andrew Boyd:

You are faced with a stark choice: do you dedicate yourself to an impossible cause? or do you look after your own, making do as best you can?

The choice is clear: You must dedicate yourself to an impossible cause. Why? Because we are all incurable. Because solidarity is a form of tenderness. Because the simple act of caring for the world is itself a victory. Take a stand – not because it will lead to anything, but because it is the right thing to do. We never know what can or can’t be done; only what must be done. Let us do it.


and this, from Sharon Owens:




Monday, March 15, 2021

Guest post from Cape Point, South Africa

I've been having a series of guest posts from regular readers of the blog, readers who live a long way from here, the Derbyshire Peak District. They've been telling us about their experience of this last pandemic year. It's been really interesting.

Today I'm delighted to welcome Di McDougal who has been reading the blog for years, and who comments under the name of Marmee. Di lives in a suburb of Cape Town, about 17 minutes drive from Cape Point. Di and I have never met, but we do correspond. She's a good friend.  

Take it away, Di...



Last year I can remember hearing about a corona virus. I took no notice, I thought it would be like with SARS, something somewhere but not here on the tip of Africa. I only started paying attention when things were going badly somewhere in Italy. Italy? I thought…in Europe?? Then we had our first 4 cases and it exploded as this virus does. Our first lockdown was announced and I stood on my balcony and looked out over my bit of the world and I was afraid. Our health system is almost non existent compared to Europe, I felt very sure that I would see bodies in the street before we were done. 

That did not happen thankfully! We had alcohol bans and curfews and travel bans and you can't leave your house, no, not even to exercise. People were ill, people died but during that first lockdown it felt like I was in an alternate reality. Here, in my house with my books, in my garden against the mountainside, all was peaceful, well. I felt so secure, so cut off from the world. Almost - virus, what virus? 





Then  lockdown ended and I was suddenly in the real world. And I was terrified. I was angry. Here I was seventy years old, I had made a good life, the life I wanted, I had learnt so many hard lessons. I was beginning to be the person I wanted to be! And here was a virus and I was afraid of dying, afraid of how the dying might be. I was locked in the fear, stifled by it. I stayed in there, in the dark far too long. A day came when I could see I was doing it to myself and I decided to stop.  First thing every morning I went outside to look at my world with awareness and gratitude for another day, a new day. Morning by morning I got my self, my happiness back.



When we were finally allowed  to go back to the beaches after our second lockdown I  started swimming in a lovely deep little bay. This is the path that takes one there. I love the light on the water, the swells that rise and fall, the penguins, the seagulls calling from a nearby clump of kelp. It is where I find it easy to just be, no thinking. I am hardly human there, just part of the movement and the beauty. 




Looking back now most of us regret that first hard lockdown. It damaged our fragile economy so much. So many jobs were lost. Maybe just the elderly and those at risk should have isolated. For us as for most of the world the pandemic did not so much expose as remind us of the fracture lines in our country  and here in South Africa, and indeed on the continent, it emphasised the chasm between those with deep pockets and those like us who could not buy up vaccines before those vaccines had even been made. 

There is so much in my beloved country that is broken and maybe that is why the good shines so brightly. We were so proud of the field hospitals that were prepared at such speed. We are so proud of the African NGO Gift of the Givers that helped create Covid wards in existing hospitals and supplied vital equipment. We were thankful and more than a  little surprised that for the most part the healthcare system held up. And I for one liked it that the president would announce that we were to have a “family meeting” when it was time for an update on lockdowns.  We were proud that our Professor Salim Abdool Karim (epidemiologist) shared the John Maddox 2020 prize with Dr Anthony Fauci. 

What is the happiest thing just now? That my grandson can see friends and they can run and play and shout and have at least that much that is normal! 

 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

A post for people who like clothes (also paintings)

'You're the only person I know who goes hiking in velvet trousers,' Liz said on our last walk together.

'They're not velvet, they're needlecord.' (I expect she couldn't tell from two metres away.) 'From Sainsbury's,' I said. 'Men's. And I wear them because they're warm.'

She pointed to her own muddy trousers and said she didn't know how I managed to keep so clean on walks.

'Because I'm a fancy lady,' I said. 'That's what the sibs used to call me when we were young.'

I've bought only four items of clothing since lockdown last March and those needlecords are one of them. Don't you think I've been abstemious when I like clothes so much?

They were a good buy, and so were the hiking boots, and the merino wool and silk long johns, which keep me warm under my dungarees when I'm sitting painting.

This is me a year ago, kitted out for painting:




This was me yesterday. You can do one of those spot the difference thingies on it.



Back view of hair after no haircut for 13 months




The item I bought this last year that I would not buy again is the duvet jacket. (See pic in my last post.) It's the real deal, bought from a hiking shop, but I've discovered it's no warmer than a thick jumper and an anorak, even if according to my daughter it makes me look up-to-date. It was a waste of money, and what's more it makes me look BIG and I'm really not.

The spring/summer catalogues have started to appear in our post box, and they're full of really dull clothes, plus too many too-short trousers (i.e. cropped) that I mentioned the other day. It's great we've got rid of the low waisted look, also that we've got some flares, but now we need trousers that are OK for anyone who doesn't have sylph-like legs.

This linen top is the only thing that tempts me:




I am probably past-it fashion wise, and this makes me sad.  

I mean...I am watching The Bold Type a comedy-drama series about three twenty-something career women in New York and I love it, but their shoes are beyond imagining for this 71 year old living out in the sticks.






They wear them for work all day everyday. How do they walk in them? How do they run in them? 

Would I have worn them if I'd been a 20 something career woman instead of a 30 something working mother? (I lived my life back to front)  
Maybe I would...

And now I'm going online to ogle a winter jumper in Donegal wool I've been dithering over for far too long. I might order it, knowing the company does free returns, so then I'll get a frisson when I get a parcel, a frisson when I open it and try it on, and then I can send it back. In lockdown we have to get our kicks where we can.

Lastly, here is my latest painting, just completed. It's our Christmas kitchen.




I painted it from a photo I took in December. It felt like such a challenging painting that I decided to start with a draft, but the draft turned into the final thing. It was very difficult and that made it fun, but I said to Dave this morning that I felt rather disappointed with it.

'Why? It's great.'

'It leaves me feeling a bit meh. It seems staged.'

'What were you trying to say with it?'

'Look! Isn't our kitchen pretty at Christmas!' 

'There you go.'

And he's right. I think it does say that. So he cheered me up. That seems to be his main role at the moment. (That and fixing the leaking bay window roof.)

Now I am going to do an abstract version - focusing on the shapes and the colours. A painting that won't seem staged. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Deliciously wet

I am sitting in bed writing this, which I have not done in ages.

There is something delicious about an unashamedly, uncompromisingly rainy day that was forecast as such and then delivered. It takes away my choices and means I feel able to stay in bed reading for longer in the morning, and I can start painting as soon as I'm showered and dressed. You have no idea of the complexities of living with a stranglehold superego urging me to 'get things done' and 'not waste time' and 'make sure you get outside for some fresh air and exercise.'

I find this so, even in the context of a pandemic, even in the context of this interminable winter, where the hellebores and snowdrops are still reigning in my garden, and only 15 of the 150 daffodils are out.

Anyway...I'm losing track of the walks and the weeks, but here are some photographs of a recent walk with Liz on Froggatt Edge that I haven't shown you because my lovely guests have been giving me a rest from writing the blog.




Liz, already euphoric because of the sunny walk and the view, exclaiming:
'And now there's a lark!



Calver Bridge from Froggatt Edge


FYI here is Calver Bridge closer to, last August:




And back to Froggatt Edge:


A millstone left behind. The rock on the edge is called  Millstone Grit.





On our last walk we ended up in Bakewell where a great little family run deli/takeaway has just re-opened, and Liz treated me to a bacon sarnie. 

It was the first thing I'd eaten in months that had been cooked by someone else. I love bacon sandwiches, but rarely cook them at home because the smell offends Dave's aspergery-sensitive sense of smell. Oh! Just remembered! The last thing I ate before this, that someone else cooked, was a bacon sandwich cooked by Dave as a Christmas breakfast treat. 

Anyway, here I am sitting on a wall by the water meadows:


Photo by Liz

It is such a trial having chunky legs. I am not fat, but my legs are so muscly/thick that I have to wear men's jeans, and if I try on those ubiquitous trousers (variously described as cropped or ankle skimming, depending on how posh the catalogue is) I look like a barrel with feet.

Ooh! Just remembered! I found a new series on Netflix last night that is ace. It's called The Bold Type. As Mary's daughter said the other day 'We can't talk about Covid or politics, they're too depressing, and nothing ever happens, so all we can talk about is television.'

You can see the break from the blog hasn't reduced the trivia quotient in my posts, but I'm still trucking.