Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Please, Mr Custer

Dec 09 042

I missed my saxophone while I was away. It’s a huge surprise to a person not a million miles from here that I practise my sax manically everyday. This is because the person not a million miles from here knows that I learned the Spanish guitar, the violin and the double bass at school and I never practised any of them.

Maybe things would have been different if I’d had a big stack of attractive music that I could plunder (belonging to said person) as I do now. But I didn’t. And I loathed the dull exercises with trumped up names masquerading as genuine music that were in all the beginners’ music primers. The thought of a tune that was in them all – Lightly Row – still makes me shudder.

At the moment I’m practising a Gershwin tune called Someone to watch over me, which is so delicious I want to eat it.

Dave asked me why I didn’t buy myself some sheet music that I liked when I was a young teenager, if I hated the music the teacher gave me. But I had no money. And I only had a few records. My first two purchases were Apache by The Shadows, and Please Mr Custer by Charlie Drake. Just imagine, if I had had the music to Please Mr Custer back then, I might have practised obsessively and become a famous violinist.

Favourite movie quotes No.3

I don’t agree with this quote, but it does makes me laugh.

“Verbal ability is a highly overrated thing in a guy, and it's our pathetic need for it that gets us into so much trouble.”

from Sleepless in Seattle.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

While the cat’s away…

Dave enjoyed his OFF Christmas, and he made the most of my being out of the house to bring his workbench and tools and solder and…into the kitchen to make this fabulous candlestick.

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Don’t you just love it?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Favourite Movie Quotes No.2

“I’m hopelessly flawed.”

Jo in Little Women, 1994.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sad anniversary

A group of universally respected aid agencies have criticised the world community for ignoring the plight of the Palestinians under occupation, and letting the injustice of the Israeli siege continue.

Exactly a year ago today, Israel began a month of sustained and brutal bombing of one of the most densely populated parts of the world - a place already under siege - a place like an open air prison camp - Gaza. Now, a year on, Gaza remains in ruins, with thousands of people homeless, and widespread health problems - from malnutrition to post-traumatic stress disorder in children. The Israelis are blocking not only the import of building materials to rebuild ordinary Palestinians' homes, but also the import of spare parts for maintenance and repair of the water and sewage treatment facilities. These cannot function. The World Health Organisation reports that over 80% of Gaza's water is no longer safe to drink, while up to 80 million cubic litres of untreated or partially treated sewage is being dumped into the sea daily.

If you are concerned for the Palestinians' suffering, please write to your elected representative, and/or donate money to the charity - Medical Aid for Palestinians, which is a UK registered charity committed to non-violence. Also on the MAP website, you can sign an open letter to Gordon Brown, asking him to put pressure on the Israelis to lift the blockade.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas, whether you drink tea or coffee

This is my beautiful niece - how could I NOT post a picture of her, here?
Just to mqke this post q bit more interesting, I hqve decided not to correct the French keyboqrd ( see last post.) Cqll it Christmqs puxxle 2009 mqrk 2.
I hqve q theory thqt you drink qnd understqnd either teq or coffee. Not both. I drink teq qll the time qnd my brother drinks coffee qll the time. This meqns thqt zhen he comes to my house, he hqs to put up zith zeqk coffee mqde in q cqfetiere qnd he is very polite qbout it. Yesterdqy, here qt his house in Belgium, he mqde me q coffee zhich he mqde qs weqk qs he knez hoz, qnd it still knocked me out. Then he rqnsqcked the cupboqrd to find some teq thqt I could recognise as tea. Todqy, qfter extensive excqvqtions, ze found Rose Blqck Teq, China Tea, Chqr, Moroccqn Minted Teq, qnd some lily-livered Qssqm teq leqves. Ze qlso found some empty teq bqgs thqt you fill for yourself. Intriguing!
Thqnk God for the English shop, qnd the ex-pqts zho get them to stock Yorkshire teq. You see noz hoz English zomen of q certqin qge got their reputqtion qs inflexible teq drinkers.
(Qnd thqnk God, too, for the tiny jqr of instqnt coffee lurking forgotten - qnd probqbly in shqme - qt the bqck of the cupboqrd, bought, possibly qs q life sqver for the lqst teq drinker zho visited.)

Bulletin from the continent

Did you knoz thqt the French hqve q different keyboqrd from the English, qnd not only thqt... I cqnnot find either the exclqmqtion mqrk or the auestion mqrk qnd they mqke you use the shift key to type q full stop. And I cqnnot sqy qnything rude qbout the French becquse my French sister-in-lqw is stqnding behind me. Qh! I found the exclqmqtion mqrk! qnd you don't need q shift key! is thqt becquse the French exclqim more thqn they use auiet full stops?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An ON Christmas (at least for me)


As a follow-up bulletin to the post My Muse, both Dave and I are going to have the Christmases we like. He is having an OFF one – at home with his electric guitar – and I am having an ON one – with my brother Pete (above). I am looking forward to Christmas, Dave is looking forward to Christmas, and we're both looking forward to being back together again on Sunday when it's all over. Maybe after 40 years we have finally found our perfect Christmas compromise. I'll keep you posted.

Whatever you are doing over the holidays, I hope that at least part of it is spent doing something you like with someone you love.

The winner

The answer to the Christmas puzzle 2009 is – a bag to hold a Thermos flask (vacuum flask). The winner is Samc: she deserves it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

My muse

Dec 09 018

People frequently ask writers if their fictional characters are drawn from life. All I will say on this subject is that Dave has so many interesting characteristics that it would be a huge waste not to make use of some of them. (And before you ask – no, he doesn’t mind.)

The idea from Plotting for Beginners of having an ON Christmas one year, and an OFF Christmas the next, originally appeared in a Times article I wrote several years ago. This is it…

Christmas in the Shed

Are you and your partner at odds as to how to celebrate Christmas? Does one of you want to go and sit by a peat fire in a bothy in the Outer Hebrides, while the other wants to stay in the thick of things and party every night ?

Although we have tried to find the perfect Christmas compromise, for us there is no middle ground. It was somehow not a problem when we were first married. As impoverished students we both thought it fun to have a second hand Christmas tree and to make baubles out of painted eggshells. Now – forty years and three children later – we disagree.

You may need some background. I come from a meat eating, sub-Walton family of five children, with a history of jolly Christmases - not extravagant, there was no money for extravagance - but certainly festive. I don’t ask for incessant parties, or for spending overkill. For me there is nothing more heart warming than having the house packed with people I love, sharing good food, conversation and games, and to have decorations and a tree.

For my teetotal, vegetarian, atheist husband, who is an only child, and who is not one of life’s natural celebrants, an empty, quiet house is the ideal. He is allergic to visitors, cards, tree, seasonal food and tinsel, and his idea of jolly activity is a spot of DIY, whilst his only concession to over indulgence is an extra carton of natural yoghurt.

Last Christmas I tried to be selfless and to accede to his puritan yearnings by having no decorations and by giving up the tree. This was painful. Admittedly we missed out on the annual row about where to place it ( the issue for him ), and whether or not it was perfectly vertical ( the issue for me ), but still I was bereft. I lasted out till Christmas Eve, but failed to go cold turkey, and resorted to assembling all my over-wintering geraniums in the dining room, and stringing the fairy lights on them. It was sad, but it was better than nothing.

This year he floated the idea of the Christmas Shed. I was suspicious, because we already have a potting shed, a storage shed and a workshop shed, and I know he harbours an evil imperialist plan to have the garden covered with a vast shed complex. But actually his idea has promise.

Firstly, we would alternate a Christmas ON year with a Christmas OFF year. In an OFF year ( his year ) we would have no visitors and the house would be declared a festivity free zone. I would decorate the Christmas Shed to my taste, with a tree, cards, holly and tinsel, and there would be a stash of Christmas goodies in there, and a radio for Christmas music. If friends or family visit I would entertain them in the Shed. If no-one calls ( and who would blame them ? ) and if the sitting room is not available for a surreptitious screening of It’s a Wonderful Life, I could seek refuge from the monastic desert and go out to the Shed for a mince pie and an invigorating blast of Jingle Bells.

In an ON year, the house would be mine to fill with whoever and whatever I liked. My husband could slink off to the Christmas Shed with a bowl of yoghurt and sit in a deck chair in his boiler suit reading Walden. If he wanted a little light activity he could mend a few broken chair legs.

We could have a sign inside the front door saying “Next Christmas: December-” and then give the year. That way, adult children visiting the house during the year would be able to discreetly note it in their diaries, and no-one would suffer embarrassment or hurt feelings when the subject of Christmas was raised in those difficult parent-offspring telephone conversations that often occur in September. Outside the house, my husband could erect a sign directing carol singers and other assorted revellers towards the appropriate location.

So, that’s decided, then. We’ll buy a Christmas Shed and get started. The only problem now is to decide whether we start the new regime with an ON Christmas or an OFF Christmas. He says we’ve had Christmas for thirty years, so this year should be OFF. I say I did without the tree last year, so Christmas should be ON.

© Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2009

published here with kind permission of Times Newspapers

Dec 09 024

Friday, December 18, 2009

Only one regret

I am so lucky.
Nov 09 089
I may not be a bestselling author (yet), only two people may have attempted my Christmas Puzzle 2009 (so far), and my slackline may be covered in snow,
I am not sitting in a busy office thinking of all the Christmas chores I have yet to do. Nor am I in some noisy city being pushed and shoved by crowds of panicking Christmas shoppers. I don’t live in the south of England where, when it snows, the media thinks the world has come to an end, and I don’t even have to go out today if I don’t want to.
I can sit in my cosy study with the log-burning stove, in my warm and comfortable, shapeless grey trackie bottoms (because I am here all alone) and I can write in peace, with the cat for company.
My one regret is that yesterday afternoon, when I was babysitting 3 year old grandson, it began to snow, and Dave rang to tell me to come home asap because of the treacherous roads. This meant that when Zoe got back with the 5 year old, and he asked if I wanted to play foxes with him and his brother, I had to say “I would LOVE to play foxes, but I have to go home because of the snowy roads.” There is only one thing I would rather be doing than sitting here, and that is pretending to be a fox, chasing my squirrel grandsons under their beds.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Come on, you lot...

...and engage your brains on the Chrismas puzzle. Read the comments below the puzzle post and you'll find a clue. If you don't want the prize, that's fine. You don't have to have it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas puzzle 2009

Last Christmas, I had a successful puzzle on the blog – successful in that it puzzled a lot of readers. I asked you to identify and explain the use of a piece of equipment I found in my mother’s pantry.

Here is something else we found when we cleared out her pantry.

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It’s made of linen, and I have laid it next to the book so you can see what kind of size it is. What is it? The first reader to post the answer – and I want a precise answer – will receive a signed copy of one of my books – Plotting for Beginners or Zuzu's Petals.

It’s easy to post a comment on here – you don’t have to sign up to Google.

p.s. my brothers and sisters are disqualified from entering.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Another helpful quote

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack

A crack

In everything.

That’s how the light gets in.”

from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Appeal for the children of Gaza

Gaza xmas 2009

Please support the Christmas Appeal for the children of Gaza, launched by Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) works in partnership with local organisations to meet the health and medical needs of Palestinian refugees, and those Palestinians worst affected by the occupation, and the ongoing conflict with Israel. MAP works on long term development projects, and they also deliver emergency aid during times of crisis.

Do you remember the horrific and brutal bombing of Gaza this January? The children of Gaza can’t forget it.

Through their psycho-social care programme, MAP supports thousands of children and families across Gaza, who have been traumatized by Israeli offensives.

Listen to what 16 year old Senah says:

"We were sheltering in our house in Jabalia. Most people had already left the area, but we had stayed inside our home, and our neighbours were sheltering with us. On January 3rd an Israeli tank fired a shell that struck our house, injuring my sister, Fida. We knew the situation was very dangerous, but we needed to take her to the hospital, so we all left our house together."

As Senah and her family were attempting to leave their house an Israeli tank fired a second shell towards them, killing eighteen year old Fida, and Senah's four year old brother, Rehan, instantly. Her sister-in- law, Iman was also horrifically injured. "Iman lost both her legs, and my mother was wounded too" says Senah. 'We managed to get them into another neighbour's house - but we could not find my father or my younger brother, Ibrahim."

Iman died almost immediately. Senah and her surviving family spent the next five days hiding with their neighbours, too frightened to leave the house because of the Israeli intense bombardment of the area. Even medical personnel could not reach them. Eventually, on 8 January, they felt safe enough to try to move out of the area. "I searched for my father and my brother, Ibrahim" says Senah. "I was hoping they were still alive. But our neighbours found their bodies in the rubble." Her father, Mohamed, had been dismembered by the Israeli tank shell.

Ismail is one of the community workers who is supporting Senah and her family as they try to rebuild their lives. "We have spent a lot of time with Senah" he says. "At first she couldn't even speak - she just cried and bit her nails. But eventually she began to trust us." When Senah's school re-opened after the ceasefire on 18 January, she was too scared to attend at first -she told Ismail she was frightened the rest of her family might be killed while she was out at school.

"Senah is now supporting her family as they start to deal with their experiences and how their lives have changed forever" says Ismail. "We will support her, and the whole family, for as long as they need us."

Please support the Christmas Appeal for the children of Gaza, launched by Medical Aid for Palestinians.

the truth or not the truth or maybe just part of the truth

Someone responded in a private email to my post of yesterday about what one should write on annual newsy letters accompanying Christmas cards. They said that people want to hear cheerful news at Christmas.

I am very exercised by this issue.

I want to hear how my friends and family are feeling about things, not just WHAT they are doing. A list of exploits and events is all very well, but surely it is not just a list of facts one wants, but how people respond to those events and how they feel about their exploits. That is what is interesting.

And what about the people receiving your news who are feeling low? Won't a superficial skimming over the events of the year, emphasising successes, all very sunny-side-up, won't that make them feel lonely in their unhappiness, and much, much worse? Does one really contact another person, if one censors out everything negative? Don't people want real, honest contact?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What does one say?

xmas card

This time last year I wrote on the blog that I didn’t feel like writing news on my Christmas cards, because it was only a month since my mother died.

Now I am wondering – again – what to write on my cards. Do I say that in January I was outraged and upset on a daily basis by the brutal bombing of Gaza, that in the the spring I was almost unhinged with grief for Ma, that I had a difficult summer, and that in the autumn I was overwhelmed by my first ever encounter with existential angst ?

Or do I talk about the exploits of my funny and supportive husband, my loving children and my adorable grandchildren, my birthday trip to NYC, my absorbing new activities - playing the saxophone and slacklining – and mention the book I am tweaking (But I told you last year that I loved you) that everyone thinks is better than Plotting for Beginners and Zuzu’s Petals ?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Missing quotes

When Jane and I were writing Plotting for Beginners, she was very strict and wouldn’t let me use quotes from other writers. I would put them in our text and she would cut them out. She was absolutely right.

There was one point in the book, where Sally Howe was talking about her writing, and I wanted to use a quote from Nora Ephron in her book, Heartburn, because it speaks for Sally and it speaks for me. We didn’t include it. This is it:

OK, a friend asked Nora Ephron “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?”

And Nora Ephron said:

“Because if I tell the story, I control the version

Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me

Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt so much

Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Favourite movie quotes

I love this riff from Out of Africa
Hopworth, he'd got a book from Denys and didn't return it. 
Denys was furious. I said to Denys...
"You wouldn't lose a friend for the sake of a book."
He said, "No, but he has, hasn't he?"

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Sue: “Didn’t you think I played that well? Do you know what it was?”

Dave: “The Hovis tune. You played it very well.”

Sue: “It was Dvorak’s Largo from The New World Symphony!”

Dave: “Yes – the Hovis tune.”