Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thaw saves Derbyshire author's life

Yeah! The snow has thawed, and I am on my way to Wensleydale (option (a) in the last post.) Back next week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Potential suicide note

Jan 10 145

We have had more snow, and I am as disconsolate as a disconsolate sheep. (The snow has even had a deleterious effect on my similes.)

Yes, yes, I know that this long winter is NOT unprecedented. I know we had a similar one in 1979. And yes, yes, I have heard all about the glorious spring we are due for – with everything bursting out all at once, etc. etc. but I am still fed up. (that is the polite version.) I am still sick to the back teeth of snow and ice and leaden skies. And for all of you who are reading this who have long winters every year, you have to understand that the winters here are NOT snowy white, bright and clear and sunny. They are freezing and dull and GREY. And when I say grey, I mean GREY. Occasionally we will get a bright white day when everything looks beautiful but that is rare.

Two months ago, I arranged to go up to my mother’s house for a long weekend with my two sisters, at the end of February, thinking it highly unlikely we’d be worrying about snow and ice on the roads. Looking forward to seeing them all, and seeing Wensleydale, and our brother who lives there, is one of the things that has got me through this dreary winter. So if the winter weather now gets in the way of our weekend together, I’m going to throw myself under a gritting lorry.

So if you don’t hear from me, you will know that it is either because

a/ I am having a great time in Wensleydale, in a house with no internet, or

Kevock 2

b/ I have met my death under aforementioned gritting lorry.

Ah, those innocent untroubled days back in December, when I felt like this.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My latest crush

It’s a jolly good job I’m not taking exams in my quest to learn the sax. At my lesson two weeks ago, Mel said: “I think you’re ready for Rachel and the Boys.” This is a bluesy piece and it’s on the syllabus for Grade 4.  Grade 4 !  I was so chuffed that she thought I could play a Grade 4 piece after only 5 months, that I brought it home and practised it obsessively.

The piece was interesting, annoying, attractive, and like nothing I had come across before (a bit like the heroes in my novels.)  I played nothing but Rachel and the Boys for a whole week and managed to get it note perfect once. The rest of the time it was good enough to pass muster. Dave cheered me on and told me how great it sounded. “You’re going to wow Mel,” he said.

When I arrived at my next lesson, I was all keyed up, anxious to show Mel what I could do. But in front of her, my fingers turned to al dente spaghetti and I couldn’t play it.  I was mortified. I was crestfallen. All that hard work, all my determined practising, and I was useless.

Mel was sweet, as always, and got me to play it with her “as if you are drunk and going for a rambling walk in the park.” But I could still only botch the wretched piece. When I got home, I couldn’t face Rachel and the bloody Boys, and opened my Gershwin book to cheer myself up. And I fell into the arms of another song - But not for me. I think I’m in love with this piece now.*

Dec 09 041

*But I would like to ask Gershwin why he always took three quarters of an hour to get into the melody of all his best songs.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Foiled again

Yesterday was sunny and clear and beautiful and we went for a great local walk. This is me yesterday.


I was planning on hooking up the slackline again this week. It’s been two months since I had a go on it, and I’ve been pining.

But we awoke this morning to this…

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This is one of my slackline posts.

 Feb 10 023

No comment.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The bloody weather

Jan 10 099

I hope the winter ends soon, if only because Dave can’t get out on his bike in the snow, which means that when his interesting indoor activities pale, he has taken to feverishly washing clothes. He thinks that if there is something in the laundry basket, it has to be washed ASAP, that if the laundry basket is approaching a quarter full, the world will end.

I think that one should build up a decent load and then stick it in the washer. He cleared all the washing yesterday and has just ironed it all – thank you, Dave! – but now there are two pairs of pants in the basket and two pairs of socks and I just heard him lift the basket lid and dither – to wash or not to wash. I am going to start hiding dirty clothes and then we can have a house that is clear from either wet washing hanging up to dry, or a clothes horse filled with ironing that is airing.

He says he likes to see wicker at the bottom of the basket. This, however, does not apply to desks. If there is a clear spare inch on his desk it is covered in thick dust. Mine, however, is clean and dusted and virtuous – like its owner.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Still cheerful

Dec08 091

There is freezing fog outside the window and all the trees are white again. Am I downhearted? No. But I am far too busy to blog, so I thought you might enjoy this piece I had in The Times one February, some years ago.

What did you say spring cleaning was, exactly ?

At the beginning of January, as I helped my mother take down her Christmas decorations I asked her what she would like me to do on my next visit, in a few weeks time. “The spring cleaning, please.”

Hadn’t she seen the correspondence in The Times in December, where readers were asking whether the grass they were cutting was the last of the autumn or the first of the spring ? Didn’t she realise that as global warming is blurring the seasons into one, spring cleaning can be classed as an outmoded practice, and moved from the conceptual broom cupboard to the conceptual attic ?

When I told my husband – a man raised with a lavatory brush in one hand and a bottle of Windolene in the other – that my mother had asked me to do her spring cleaning, he turned the colour of his rubber gloves. He knows I am still working in Key Stage One in dusting the bookshelves. And he blames my mother.

Funny that, because I blame his mother for giving him unreasonable expectations. She would spend all morning every morning, cleaning the house from top to bottom, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays would have a cleaning lady round to mop up the speck she had missed. Hers was the only house I have been where, if you dropped a biscuit under the bed, you could pick it up and eat it without first checking it for fluff.

My mother, on the other hand, had her priorities right. For her, reading the paper, helping us furnish our dolls houses, making us cowboy suits on her sewing machine, or taking us out to fly our kites, were all activities preferable to cleaning. She would clear the kitchen floor not to wash it, but so that we had space for roller skating.

Now she is 84 she has no children to entertain, but she has trophies for bridge, and she is the only granny we know whose bedtime reading includes Stephen Hawking, J.K.Rowling, and Matthew Parris. She is still, like me, a slattern, but she is a wonderful conversationalist.

Slatterns fulfil a socially useful role: they allow others to feel superior, even other slatterns. (“My cooker may need cleaning, but you should see the state of her fridge.”) I get immense pleasure from eyeing my mother’s bathroom with disgust, and getting out the Jif to clean the washbasin. Similarly, my daughter loves to come home and chide me about the state of my dishcloth.

Admittedly, some of my mother’s housekeeping habits were beyond the pale. Her most memorable misdemeanour was the time she was making breakfast and dropped a bacon rasher on the kitchen floor. She picked it up, dunked it in the washing up water and slung it back in the pan, and then pooh-poohed our protests with “A bit of dirt will build up your resistance.” Recent research lends weight to her view ( though that specific practice remains dubious. )

But all this chat does not get the skirting boards washed. However warm the winter, you cannot escape the fact that at this time of year the sun shines low in the sky to expose dirty windows and grimy walls. But how can I do my mother’s spring cleaning when she has never shown me how ?

I asked my husband to explain the process. Through gritted teeth he spelt out the major rules: everything moveable in the house must be moved; everything must be cleaned; and it is vital you start at the top of the house and work your way down. Also, you throw out a lot of clutter. It sounds to me like a load of old Feng Shui.

In the last few years, parenting classes have become de rigeur for people struggling with a task that earlier generations launched into without a whimper. Perhaps the next thing to catch on will be courses in housework, with a specialist module in bottoming the bedrooms, and an advanced one in spring cleaning ?

Maybe not. Those eccentric people who see housework as the new sex won’t need classes in it, and the rest of us won’t want to waste time and money on learning to do something we hate. Personally, I shall rely on the global warming excuse, and take my mother to the library instead.

© Sue Hepworth and Times Newspapers.

printed here with kind permission of the Times.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hibernation blues

feb09 083

I’m very up and down at the moment and it seems to depend a lot on the weather. On Sunday, a bright day, I was chirrupping to everyone I met - “It was light at seven o’clock this morning and we are half way through the worst month of the year! Yay!”

Yesterday the sleet was back, and worse than that, the leaden grey sky. I was short of sleep and desperate. This is such a long winter. I have just looked through my February photographs for the last four years and the snowdrops were out in all of them (see below.)  This year the snowdrops are still teetering on the brink.

feb06 009

Today I am starting again, determined to be cheerful, and I don’t know what the weather is like because it’s still dark. (It’s 5.36 a.m.)

And here’s my first bit of cheeriness - I’ve just found this great new blog which has a thought provoking quote or poem on every day. I like it so much I have added it to the links at the side of this page.

And here are some great photographs, taken by Isaac on the Stop the War march in London, seven years ago yesterday. For example:

stop the war 2

It’s a shame the man in the teacup didn’t listen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Favourite comic insult

Blackadder: Your brain is so minute, Baldrick,
that if a hungry cannibal cracked your head open there
wouldn't be enough inside to cover a small water-biscuit.

from Blackadder Goes Forth

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Dec06 005

I went to see my big sister, Kath, the other day and she generously spent one of her birthday presents on taking me out for a delicious lunch. I had a really lovely day with her. I feel blessed to have two sisters and two brothers. I have someone who loves me no matter what, someone who knows how annoying I can be, who knows all about my little quirks, but is still on my side. Hooray for sibs!

I’m not going to show you a pic of my sister Jen because she wouldn’t like it, and I’ll have to check with Pete and Jonty about having their pics up here. But you can read about our childhood here. Kath has written about it on the website of the village where we grew up. My favourite piece is the second one down - “Multi-tasking in a fifties farmhouse.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I went to play with my grandchildren yesterday and I had FUN!
At the end of the afternoon they didn’t want me to come home and the 5 year old tied a scarf round my legs and held on tight to it (he was a bad pirate) so I had to shuffle precariously across their hall floor, edging my way to the front door, while the 3 year old (another bad pirate) hit me with a foam rubber sword. It was a scream – in more ways than one. I eventually escaped, amidst much laughter, and told them to wave to me through the front window – the 5 year old shouting that he would pounce on me and tie me up as soon I went back next time. Fabulous.
When I came home and told Dave what a good time I’d had, he said I should have left them calm and quiet for Zoe, not wound up and rumbunctious. “You’re like the worst  kind of supply teacher,” he said.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Parsing that random photo from yesterday

OK. here is the explanation. Take it or leave it.

We went to the Maazi, our favourite Indian restaurant, on Sunday, and found they were closing for a month for refurbishment, though staying open for take-away. And the guy had loads of these cardboard figures made to advertise the fact he will be doing lunches as well, and I just LOVE cardboard figures like this, so I brought one home. Yes, it is a weird thing to like, and no, I don’t have a use for it. At the minute it is in the dining room, but I may give it to the grandchildren – it could be a GIANT for imaginative play, n’est-ce pas?

But why is Dave standing on a platform with it?

Because he bought a half price hop-up decorating platform yesterday with which he is so delighted, it has to live in the dining room for the time being, and he wanted a photo of it because he likes it so much. (Shades of Richard in PfB. Yes, you guessed.)

You can see now that we are a pretty weird pair, but I certainly don’t care. Not caring what people think is the only advantage of being this age.

The cat, meanwhile, is thinking of leaving home.  “Omiaowgod, it’s bad enough, putting up with the God-awful racket from her sax and his electric guitar…”

One of my favourite quotes

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 with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.

Dinah Craik

Sunday, February 07, 2010

My favourite city

san fran skies ise

This morning I  got an email from a friend in California, and when she said she had been to San Francisco for the evening to a restaurant on Valencia, my heart quivered. Then I checked Isaac’s blog  as I always do, and found this little beauty, called San Francisco skies, and I wanted to be in San Francisco – and not just so I could hang out with Isaac and Wendy in some rooftop cafe, drinking margaritas in the sunshine.


Nor just to cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge…


I love San Francisco. If you have to be in a city (I don’t like cities) then choose SF. Forget New York with its crowds of tourists and its smells and noise, its traffic and its high rise buildings – arrghh where’s the sky? – and fly to SF where there are human sized houses, and they are pretty colours, and where you can see the sky and the ocean, and the natives are laid back and friendly, and the cab drivers give you money back if they think you have tipped them too much. (True! It happened to me!)

Balmy Street 7


Saturday, February 06, 2010

Hoarders anonymous

I have just used the last of the golden syrup, but how can I throw away the tin when it’s so attractive?

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I already have three million of them as pencil pots on my desk. I don’t need any more.

And this box…

Feb 10 014

The shed is already full of boxes that I have no use for, but which are far too strong and sturdy and attractive to throw away. Do any of you have this problem?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Freaking scales!

cut sax 2

I actually made it to a sax lesson yesterday, after missing 2 weeks for Mel’s Christmas hols, 2 weeks for snow, 1 week because Mel was ill, and 1 week because I was ill. Mel could really see my progress. She said she was speechless at my rendition of Misty, and I stood there glowing. And then I asked her to help me add frilly bits to it.

Oh my God.

Up until yesterday I was thinking I could get away with learning major and minor scales and that would see me through. Now I realise that if I want to improvise there are all kinds of frigging scales I have to learn, scales I didn’t even know existed – dorian scales, mixolydian scales, phrygian scales, pentatonic scales, and now Dave has walked in and told me not to forget the blues scales. AAARRRGGGHHH.

And all these scales fit together in a really weird way. For example a Dorian scale in G is really a Gm7 but if you look at the signature on the stave it has one flat which makes it look like F Major. How the hell am I supposed to get my head around all of this? I have stumbled into a nightmare world that is an impenetrable matrix of incomprehensible musical meta-theory. It makes multivariate statistical analysis (that I did in my former life) look as simple as counting on my fingers. And all because I heard that man playing Misty on the sax outside the Co-op in Bakewell. That man has a lot to answer for. I shall track him down and give him what for.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Empty nest and changing focus


We have an empty house again, and I am better from my ailments and there is no reason not to get on with my writing. That’s fine. I like writing!

On the other hand, there is the faint uneasiness that follows a family get together…

…you get used to an empty nest, where the (conscious) parent role diminishes, and you kid yourself you’re a free, standalone adult, and then when the chicks come home again for a fleeting visit, and you are in parent role again, and then they suddenly leave, you are left wondering how the chicks view you…as a parent.

And it is rather scary.

(stained glass above by father, Dave, photo by son, Isaac.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Two Christmases

sue chef

Yesterday was my second Christmas Day. In December I was with my brother Pete and family in Belgium and that was lovely. Yesterday, I had my family here – all of them home for the day: my two sons, my daughter and husband and my two grandchildren. The only one missing was the little red hen, who had to stay home in San Francisco. (We missed you, Wendy.)