Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Dear regular readers, when there's a ceasefire, I may have something to offer you as entertainment.

In the meantime, here is a link to an aid-worker's blog, posted on the BBC website, which talks about the psychological impact of the Israeli airstrikes on children in Gaza.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Stuck on repeat

Regular readers of this blog may be thinking to themselves - "Why on earth is she going on and on about Gaza? When is she going to get back to her regular posts about home and writing and everyday life?"

The answer - dear reader - is that I don't know. I have been concerned about the situation of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza for a long time. I am aware that there is violence coming from both sides - from Hamas as well as the Israelis. And I don't support violence of any kind.

But I also know that Israel is in breach of international law in occupying Palestinian territories, and has repeatedly ignored resolutions from the United Nations. They have built a security wall which means that the people of Gaza are under siege, and are dependent on the Israeli security forces to let them in and out. Since June, only a trickle of humanitarian aid from the United Nations has been allowed in, which means Gazans have been drastically short of food, fuel and medical supplies. Over 90% of them are dependent on this aid because their economy has been strangled - largely because of the wall.

The world wanted Palestine to have democratic elections. When they elected Hamas with a huge majority, the world refused to negotiate with Hamas.

The world says they want the Palestinians to build up their police and public institutions so they are more stable and now the world watches while the Israelis bomb those public institutions.

Will the world stand by and let the Israelis pound Gaza into nothingness?

A representative of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said yesterday that the hospitals in Gaza are so overwhelmed with casualties that only victims on the brink of death will be treated. If you have only had your arm blown off, he said, you are sent away from the hospital.

If you want an insider's view, you can read the blog here of a doctor who usually lives and works in Gaza.

If you would like to send aid - with no agenda of violence - please donate to Medical Aid for Palestinians, a British, non-governmental charity - follow this link.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An earthquake on top of your head

Over 300 Killed and 900 wounded in attacks on Gaza

57 of those killed were civilians, including 5 young sisters asleep in their beds

Dr Eyad Al Serraj, a practising psychologist in Gaza City, describes his family's terror as the Israeli attack began:

"The bombing went on for about 10 minutes. It was like an earthquake on top of your head. The windows were shaking and squeaking. My 10-year-old was terrified, he was jumping from one place to another trying to hide. I held him tight to my chest and tried to give him some security and reassure him. My 12-year-old was panicking and began laughing hysterically, it's not normal. I held her hand and calmed her and told her she would be safe. My wife was panicking. She was running around the apartment looking for somewhere to hide."

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is launching an emergency appeal to provide additional medicine and hospital equipment to the people of Gaza. MAP staff on the ground are working with hospitals that are struggling to cope with large numbers of dead and wounded. Click here to see how to donate.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Please help the people of Gaza

If you want to help the people of Gaza, one way is to support Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Finally, write to your elected representative to bring international pressure to bear on Israel to abide by international law, which means - amongst other things - ending the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas puzzle

OK, you lot, here's a Christmas puzzle.
My mother had an old chest of drawers in her pantry. It was stuffed to the gunwhales with - amongst more useful things - rusty tools, old tights, a bag of my little brother's long blonde hair (circa 1977), lethal electrical sockets, old wiring and six gimlets (why would she need SIX gimlets?) At the back of the bottom drawer we found the item below with instructions for use. We think it dates from late 50s - early 60s. The name of the object is on the back, and we know what it is and what it does. Do you? (The hand is there to give you a rough idea of size.)

If anyone posts the correct answer on this blog I will send them a signed copy of either Plotting for Beginners or Zuzu's Petals.
Don't crash my site, will you? (she said ironically.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Author falls silent

Derbyshire author Sue Hepworth sank into a decline last night - and not from Christmas exhaustion. Before she slumped silent in her armchair, her family heard her whisper- "Wallace and Gromit were going to be the highlight of my Christmas viewing, but Nick Park seems to have lost the plot."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Christmas message

Monday, December 22, 2008

Past lives

A newish acquaintance came up to me at a carol service last week and asked if I used to write for newspapers. She had been clearing out her drawers and found a clipping from the Times that she'd cut out ages ago because she had liked it a lot. The article (read here) was written by a woman called Sue Hepworth. Was it me?

It's always delightful when people tell me they enjoy my writing, but it was especially heartwarming to find that people I don’t know have cut out and kept my Times pieces. I was chatting to my little sister about how pleased I was, and she said: "Yes - it's great! One day, when you've been famous for ages, people will come up and say Did you used to be Sue Hepworth?"

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Here are some suggestions for Christmas holiday reading - books I return to again and again and not necessarily at Christmas....

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Homestead by Rosina Lippi

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor

I bought a book for my 6 year old next door neighbour for Christmas but it makes me laugh and I love it so much I am keeping it for myself. It's Mrs Lather's Laundry by Allan Ahlberg. Mrs Lather gets so fed up with washing socks and washing vests and with washing clothes of any sort that she puts up a notice saying "We wash anything except laundry."

I am busy writing cards, lists, cheques, emails and blogs, and also a notice for the door of this brand new beautiful turquoise study saying "I write anything except books."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Who, me?

I had to ring my mother's solicitor yesterday. I put down the phone, and thought "I'm too young to be dealing with my mother's estate." And then I felt sad.

And tomorrow I am driving 50 miles to meet my big sister, so that we can sign and swear the papers for probate. I'm way too young to be responsible for such weighty things. Can I be excused, if I get a letter from home?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Donkey puzzle redux

Dave made me two new pieces for the donkey puzzle, (read post below - Making Good Progress) and when my brother (the artist) comes to stay I shall ask him to paint them for me. So the puzzle will then have another layer of memories.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two miracles

I experienced two miracles at the weekend:

1/ I went out in the garden to pick some greenery and a branch knocked one of my contact lenses out onto the muddy, leaf-strewn garden. I couldn't find it, but my friend Mally (basket- maker extroadinaire) came outside to look for it and saw it straight away.

2/ My north-facing study is next to the bathroom and Dave has had his eye on it for years. He wants to knock through from the tiniest-bathroom-in-the-world so that it is the second tiniest bathroom-in-the-world. So... we moved my study downstairs and now I have sunshine and space and I love it to bits. I keep sneaking in here and gloating. But my study isn't the miracle.

Dave helped me hang up my pictures exactly as I wanted them in exactly the position I wanted them. My indecision combined with my need for precision drives him up the wall. The miracle is that he helped without moaning.

So this is where I am going to write my international best-seller.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


My new laptop has a webcam, and I have just discovered the joys of google-video-mail. There is only one drawback, as far as I am concerned. Guess what it is.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Knowing what matters

When you have spent 38 Christmases with a person, you pretty well know what the hotspots of dissension and disappointment are going to be, so when they arise, you can take a few deep breaths and let your irritation seep away.

One such issue for us is the tree.

The issue for Dave - Where the hell are we going to put it?

The issue for Sue - Why can't you get it vertical?

Yesterday we brought in the tree. One of my favourite Christmas poems is The Christmas Life by Wendy Cope. It's not fair to quote living poets' work on the net (how are they expected to make a living?), but here is the beginning:

Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,

Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold.

Bring winter jasmine as its buds unfold -

Bring the Christmas life into this house.

and the end:

Bring in a birth, of hope and love and light.

Bring the Christmas life into the house.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

October 9th 1907

Did you think people starting Christmas early was a new invention? Think again. My grandfather wrote to his fiancee on October 9th 1907:

"My pet abomination – Christmas Carollers – in the person of three or four little boys have just “struck up” outside making it impossible to write further tonight. they always start here at this time of the Year ( I don’t object so much to them nearer the season) and you can hear them from door to door all along the street. They absolutely get on my nerves and lest I should show I’m cross I will fold my writing paper and say – Goodnight. A stiff walk to the G.P.O. will soon put me in a good humour with myself and all the world such as should be the natural thing always but isn’t."

I am loving his letters, and woke up this morning with a great idea as to how to use them, as well as a great line of dialogue for the new book. That line has given me the key to a scene I've been stuck with - i.e. how should I start it? and how does it carry on? (Yes, pretty stuck.)

Here's another quote from one of his letters:

"Yes I am quite interested in The Soul Market though I was told by the girl at the library that I should not read it. I have nearly finished it now. I am not quite sure that Miss Malvary did not want to gain the same notoriety as Upton Sinclair with his Jungle."

I looked up The Soul Market on Google and lo and behold I could read the book on screen, turning the pages and seeing the text, just as my grandfather would have done. He would have been amazed. I am amazed!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2 year olds rock

It worked. Going to town with my daughter and 2 year old grandson was such a full-on experience that I only thought about Ma once in 4 hours. Dealing with tantrums, playing with trains-from-home on the bottom shelf in John Lewis' Christmas decoration department, and sitting on the carpet in Waterstones reading the BORING Thomas the Tank Engine was all consuming. It was also fun.

And I adored using my Society of Authors discount card in Waterstones. It made me feel like a proper writer. The chap had never seen one before and was very impressed. They have a special Society of Authors button to press on their till. Dudey, eh?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A day in the life

A friend emailed to ask me how I am.

How am I?

I have some very nice days – Saturday and Sunday – and then yesterday I was looking forward to being on my own for the day – to write (Hah!) or to write Christmas cards (a smaller hah! – I don’t feel like writing my usual letters but find that “My mother just died” is a trump card and saves you from having to say anything else – apart from “will write later”) also to make Christmas lists and then despair that I don’t feel like shopping.

I cycled to Bakewell market for fruit and veg and then did some editing of the current book (which will be the most edited in existence as I can’t actually write anything new) – no, no, I tell a lie – I inserted one new line about the hated next door neighbour – Fran says that she only came to visit her after Fran’s aunt died, because she was “attracted by the scent of death.” (Don't worry, dear readers, the book is not about death - this was an incidental line of dialogue and merely inserted to show how Fran feels about said next door neighbour.)

Then I went back to bed at 11 a.m. and stayed there drinking Earl Grey tea and reading my grandfather’s letters from a hundred years ago, which I hope to use in the aforementioned book.

Then I had an appointment with the optician, who asked me – family history wise - if my Ma was still alive and then asked me if I could read the bottom line of letters and I couldn’t because I was silently crying. She was very very sweet and handed me two tissues and said “It’s horrible, isn’t it?” and I said “I just can’t get used to her not being here,” and she said she used to go in M and S and pick up things for her mother and then remember her mother was dead.

The bright spots of the day were Dave coming home; and then later talking to my son on Google-video-mail (is that what it's called?)

Today I am going to attempt to shop with my daughter and my delightful grandson (see below.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Different strokes

I don't write about the loss of my mother on my blog in order to make you feel sorry for me. Rather, I have in mind a fridge magnet I once gave my mother which says "When your heart speaks, take good notes," and also a quote from Cecil Day-Lewis: "We write not to be understood, we write to understand." That's why I kept the original journal about my father's death (read here.) I can't write about the days surrounding my mother's death because it's much too painful to bring to mind.

What is intriguing me at the moment (I am a psychologist when all's said and done) is the fact that losing my mother is not like the experience of losing my father. I found out when my father died that everyone experiences the loss of a parent differently, but I didn't realise then that every bereavement is different, too.

Anger is a stage of grief - if you listen to received wisdom - but I didn't feel angry when my father died. I just felt incredulous that people should be expected to bear the pain of losing someone they loved forever - that this should be a normal part of life. But this time I do seem to have a hard kernel of rage inside me. Why? How could I be angry with my mother for leaving? She was 91. She was tired. She was a wonderful mother - giving me so much. And I know how lucky I was to have such a mother. So why am I angry? It's irrational.

And yesterday, when the phone rang at teatime I was expecting to hear her voice "It's Ma here."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Please help the children of Gaza

One of the generators in a major Gazan hospital has broken down and although aid agencies have prepared equipment to to fix it, the Israeli authorities will not let it past the blockade.

The situation in Gaza - right now - is unspeakably awful. Supplies of food and power are blocked. One child told an aid worker this week "I wish I could die soon." Read the reports here.

The border crossings into the Gaza Strip have now been sealed by Israel for 28 consecutive days. This closure of Gaza is inflicting severe collective punishment on the entire civilian population, and it's in total violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. Does anyone care?

The charity - Medical Aid for Palestinians - is working with another charity to give long-term support to malnourished children. See here.

Medical Aid for Palestinians also provides psychological and social support to children who have been traumatised by the continuing violence. See here. They provide all kinds of help to Palestinians under duress. Please support them.

And please lobby our government to bring pressure to bear on Israel to abide by international law, and as a first step, end the cruel siege of Gaza.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


My super-intelligent and super-handsome four-year-old grandson (well he is my grandson - what do you expect?) is articulate. He uses words like "apparently" and "actually" with as much ease as the words Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine.

Guns do not feature in his toy cupboard, nor in his vocabulary. Neither does "killing." But no-one can keep their children separate from the world forever, and recently he's started playing some new games, even though he doesn't yet have the words.

"I'll make you dead with my shooter," is what he says. Eat your heart out, the Sopranos.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"What will survive of us is love"

Helen Willis 1917-2008

Helen Willis was a well-known resident of Wensleydale, whose life was not marked by outstanding professional achievements, but whose influence was profound. She was like countless people who live quiet, modest lives but whose loving nature and strength of character are appreciated by their family and many beyond.

She was a long-time member of Leyburn Quaker Meeting, serving the meeting in a number of different offices. In 2003, aged 85, she attended a peace demonstration against the Iraq war. For her 90th birthday, she held a garden party to raise money for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

She was a prize-winning bridge player and a talented craftswoman. Her intellectual curiosity was insatiable and wide-ranging, and included nuclear physics, mathematics, engineering, astronomy, education, code-breaking and architecture. In her early eighties she went on a 24 hour winter trip into the arctic circle to see the Northern Lights. In her late eighties, she learned to use email to correspond with her large, far-flung family.

Born near Bedale, Helen Barron was an identical twin and was educated at Ackworth Quaker School, where she combined mental acuity with extraordinary physical vigour, qualities that she maintained throughout her life. She captained both the hockey and cricket teams, and gained a 1st class Instructors Certificate of the Royal Lifesaving Society. She was also Head Girl.

She then graduated from the Rachel MacMillan Training College for Nursery Education. She played hockey for Kent while at college, and later played for Lancashire.

She was called up a month early to her first teaching post at Hunslet Nursery School in Leeds in August 1939, to help evacuate the school to Bramham Park, the home of Lord Bingley. For the first few weeks, the children and teachers lived, worked, played and slept in the ballroom. She was on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

She worked as a nursery teacher until her marriage in 1944 to Fred Willis, whom she first met at school. They set up home in a farming community of conscientious objectors at Holton Beckering in Lincolnshire. After 18 months, the couple moved to north Lincolnshire, on Fred’s appointment as a Farms Manager. There they brought up five children.

After a spell in Derby, the couple moved to Aysgarth in 1972, and played a full part in village life, with Helen particularly making sure to welcome newcomers and include them in local activities.

Mrs Willis laughed easily and bore difficulties with casual fortitude, refusing to be cowed by any adversity. She was self-effacing and talked little of her considerable achievements, but was ambitious for others, giving encouragement, support and praise in equal measure.

She was an indefatigable maker, producing craftwork of grace and vigour until shortly before her death. Her making was carefully matched to the tastes and interests of the delighted recipient, who recognised not only her skill, but the love which had gone into the making.

Mrs Willis died on 30th October, after a brief illness borne stoically, with her usual dismissive disdain for her ailments.

copyright: Darlington and Stockton Times

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Making good progress

I could barely speak from tiredness when I got home from the weekend's sorting at my mother's house. How do people do all this alone? How do they manage if they don't get on with their siblings? I know how lucky I am to have brothers and sisters who want to take their part, and who think agreeing is the most important thing.

I've just been lying in bed talking to my mother.

Her: "You're doing so well."

Me: "Yes, I think we are."

Her: "But do you have to write about it on your blog?"

Me: "But mother, people wa-"

Her: "I suppose it's all copy, isn't it?"

Me: "I knew you'd understand."

Her: "And I'm so pleased you found the envelope of money I hid under the drawer liner. Do you know, I'd forgotten all about it."

My favourite thing I brought home is the donkey puzzle. Although I'm sad two pieces are missing. How could that happen when the pieces are so big? It must be those dodgy couldn't be one of us. We were always such good children.