Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My hero

My answer to my last post – Foxed - was…

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…ring up Dave. He was born with a screwdriver in one hand and a chisel in the other. He is practicality personified.

It should, in theory,have been possible for him to talk me through what I should do about the door knob, the fused circuit and the dodgy light fitting (neither of which I mentioned to you) but as T.S.Eliot would say – Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow. When Dave and I are talking about practical matters, all communication fails. I do not understand him and he does not understand me. (As Wendy from Plotting for Beginners would say -it’s because I have Mercury – the planet of communication - in Libra, and he has Mercury in Cancer, and they are in hard aspect.) Oh yes, we span the literary universe on this blog – from Eliot to Hepworth and Linfoot.

So Dave said…”Make sure the front door is locked and I will drive up on Tuesday and fix everything.”

My hero.

p.s. I can sew, knit, patchwork, cook, garden, write books, balance on a slackline and play the sax, and I have tried and tried to become accomplished in DIY, but to no avail. So don’t start telling me I am a pathetic loser. I have a fluffy brain and there is no doing anything about it.

Monday, March 29, 2010


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So there you are. It is a Sunday teatime. You have waved goodbye to your sister, with whom you have just spent a great weekend in your mother’s house. You have packed your car to drive the 100 miles home. You go round the house one last time to check that everything is in order, because the  house is on the market and the estate agent has a viewing later in the week.
You pull the front door to, and the door handle breaks off in your hand. You are not a practical woman - you find wheelbarrows complicated – what do you do?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Weekend off

I am off to Wensleydale for the weekend with my big sister Kath.

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Here is something to read while I’m gone…

The Comfort of Siblings

I am a late developer, and so it is no great wonder that it has taken me fifty years, and my father's death, to appreciate fully the worth of my brothers and sisters.

I don't deny that siblings can be some of the most annoying of God's creations, especially when young. Sisters are apt to borrow your opal ring, wear it to clean the hen-house, and then come and tell you they’ve lost it. Brothers are apt to lean from their bedroom window and give a running commentary while you kiss your boyfriend goodnight, or write in the cream on your wedding reception trifle "Wot, no shotgun?"

Siblings may also out-perform you at school, or in my case, something worse: be seen as having more common sense, so that when in the middle of my degree course I told my mother I was pregnant, she said "Oh Sue, I always said it would be you."

I know that in some families the death of a parent brings out the worst in those left behind, with scrabbling over legacies, and recriminations about how little this one or that one has contributed. Or there are arguments over the gravestone or where to scatter the ashes.

In my family it has been the opposite. During my father's last illness we combined efforts to support my mother in her caring role. Then when my father was in hospital we shared the visiting.

When I left my father at the hospital, I would drive disconsolately back up the dale to my mother's house. Wanting to share my distress at my father’s deteriorating condition before I saw my mother, I'd ring my younger brother (a gardener) and he would tell me which village and in which garden he was working. I'd meet him at the gate for a hug and a chat, so I was sufficiently restored not to burden my mother with my tears.

In my father's last week we took turns to sit by his bed - sometimes alone, sometimes in twos or threes. And between his death and his burial we stayed at my parents' house. All through the days we spent together with my mother we lurched between tears and laughter in a way that was both comforting and liberating. We all knew that each was upset, and we didn't have to be proper, or to make any kind of pretence. The closeness, the intimacy, the warmth and the comfort from being all there together, with no hangers on in the shape of spouses or children, felt special. We had not been assembled like that, with no-one else, since we were children. In the worst of times I found the best of times.

When other family members appeared on the scene for the burial at the end of the week this cocoon of ease-amid-grief evaporated.

Siblings, more than others, can understand why one is grieving for someone who in his latter years was grumpy and often less than loveable, because they too remember him as a fine and handsome hero.

Having so many siblings, I have one for every season of grief. There's one to be practical and effective, one to be sensitive, one to listen, one who, while missing the missing father, remains cheerful and good humoured and insists on looking to the future.

I can share family in-jokes and memories of my father with all of them. I can see my father's eyes in my brother's and my father's character traits in the others. And the fact that not all these characteristics are attractive helps me to be realistic about the father I have lost.

Last month I went on holiday with my elder brother and sister, something we haven't done before. It was as easy as being with close friends, but better.

At dinner we toasted my father. And during the meal my brother winked at me for no reason other than affection - just as my father used to do. After dinner he offered me some chocolate, giving me instructions on how to open the packet and tear the wrapper - just as my father would tell me how to cut the stilton.

published here with kind permission of The Times.

copyright Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Give an underprivileged woman a free mammogram

Follow this link and click. It costs you nothing. Why would you not do it?

Thursday, March 25, 2010


courage - the state or quality of mind that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence and resolution; bravery

from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

Because I am thick, I only recently realised that encouraging means that you give someone courage. I really like that. I feel as if my life has required a great deal of courage, not because I have faced danger or been in frightening situations, but because I am a softy and take the “vicissitudes” so very hard. That is one of the reasons I miss my mother so much – she embodied encouragement.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e e cummings

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Big S

Has it come? (whisper it) Is it here?

Daffs are three bunches for £1, so I can have them everywhere...

And my first sweet pea is up. Can you see it?

Monday, March 22, 2010


Mar 09 001

I went up to the pond every day last week to check on the frogs, because I was worried the awful winter had killed them off. Finally on Saturday, I found  three mounds of frogspawn, and a seething mass of mating frogs. I checked on last year’s blog, and guess what? The third week of March I posted about how late the frogs were. If you want to see my video of them, follow this link.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pet hates

When we were playing Scrabble last night I asked Dave about my pet hates, and he said that I have so many they would fill a book. But he was confusing pet hates with pet preferences. e.g. I would prefer him not to whistle the first few phrases of Rachel and the Boys over and over and over again, all the way through a game of Scrabble.

I hate…

1/ ringing up a business at half past ten in the morning and getting an answering machine message that tells me “Our opening hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

2/ shop assistants who carry on a conversation with a colleague all the time they are serving me and don’t even flash me one second’s eye contact.

3/ people in call centres who pick up the phone and say “How are you today?” as if they know me, as if they care, as if it it is at all relevant to the call. The Co-op Bank staff get ten gold stars on this count as they say “How can I help you today?” and proceed to be helpful and friendly and human, without that inane question at the outset.

4/ people who put their hiking boots on in the kitchen and don’t notice when they stand up that all the dried bits of mud fall out of their soles, all over the floor. (You know who you are.)

There – four pet hates – that wasn’t so very many, was it, Dave?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day four and I am stumped

I said I was going to do lists on the blog this week. I have done three lists and now I can’t think of a list that I have in my head that could possibly interest you. There aren’t even any post-its on the front door. Does anyone have a suggestion?

Actually, this gives me the perfect opportunity to explain that you don’t have to have a Google account in order to comment on my blog. If you want to comment, click on Comments under this post and then write your comment in the box and click on Anonymous at the bottom. You could still tell us who you are (in the comment box)if you want to.

I am agog!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


When Dave is out on his bike he rides with his eyes cast down. When I am on my bike I ride with my head up a la Fotherington-ThomasHullo clouds, hullo sky. Dave’s riding position means he sees flotsam and jetsam on the roads and the verges. This he loves. He brings home treasures. Here is a list of the ones I can remember this morning:

a pair of pliers

a wallet containing a five pound note and some ecstasy tablets

a pair of six inch long nuts and bolts

a huge loader strap from a lorry

the huge spring clip from a loader strap from a lorry

a crow bar

a yard brush – see below.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A list of moments

I’ve decided that this week the blog will consist of lists. Yesterday was a list of comfort reading.

Today - a list of moments from yesterday that I enjoyed:

eating a bacon sandwich;

my big sister ringing to check up on me because she had read my blog and was concerned;

watching a flock of gulls wheeling over the field at the back of the house;

chatting to my housebound neighbour – he is very funny;

encountering the two little girls from next door ( 7 and 10) – so fresh, so sparkling, so full of life;

lying on the sofa in front of the fire, watching a DVD of As Time Goes By, that my younger son gave me for Mother’s Day;

Dave coming home from work.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Comfort reading

I’ve not been feeling too chipper lately, and reading Home by Marilynne Robinson didn’t help. It was beautifully written, but far too sad for me. Fortunately, when I was in the Bakewell Bookshop on Friday looking for a map of the Llangollen Canal (but that’s another story)  I found The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. I am a quarter of the way in, and finding it delightful.

I have certain books I return to when I am feeling in need of a warm blanket for my bruised soul, or when I am ill, and these are a few of them:

Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor

Homestead by Rosina Lippi

Part of the furniture by Mary Wesley (the only one of Mary Wesley’s books I like)

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M.Delafield

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson

I have more but I am going to stop. If the list gets any longer you will realise how often my soul gets bruised.

p.s. Jane always maintains that we wrote Plotting for Beginners to cheer me up. But then Jane is very good at fiction.

Pile of Plotting for Beginners

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Author Blog Award

I just found out about the Author Blog Award. If you would like to nominate me for it, dear reader, follow this link.

You will need to know my url. It is

Friday, March 12, 2010

The map of grief

In the last year I have progressed from intense grief for the loss of my mother, to a place on the map that is not so bleak. I miss my mother and think of her often, but now when I go to stay at her house with brothers or sisters, I enjoy the visit. Eleven months ago, I felt differently and wrote this…

Losing my mother

Sometimes, it’s a comfort having my mother’s things around me - her Austrian jug on the windowsill, her mahogany chest in the bedroom, her Piers Browne painting on the wall. Sometimes I hate to look at them.

Sometimes I like to see her photograph – her smiling, strong, straightforward face. Sometimes I can’t abide it on my desk. I never had her photo on display before she died, so if I have it here now, she must be dead. And I don’t want her dead. I don’t like the new dispensation.

We have been clearing out her house in monthly weekend bursts, ever since she died at the end of last October. It’s April now, and I’ve just spent a weekend there. The weather was achingly beautiful – clear blue skies and sunshine, the full bright light of early spring skies, lambs in the fields, daffodils in the gardens and on the verges - and a brother and sister to keep me company.

Over the months we’ve been denuding the house of personal, sentimental and valuable items, and now it’s like the holiday cottage it was when our parents bought it, 50 years ago. It no longer feels like our mother’s home, but like a cottage we all feel comfortable in. We know how everything works – that there are two immersion heater switches, and both of them must be on for the heater to work, that the draught for the fire points to the right, that you have to thump the washing machine in the middle of the door at the top to get it going. But it does not feel like the place where I took my babies, my children, my teenagers, to visit their grandparents, and latterly went on my own to visit my mother.

We have a lovely photo of her, taken 6 weeks before she died. When we visit the house, we take it out from behind the bookshelf curtain and stand it on the shelf, and see her wise, healthy, loving face, and when we drink our wine at meals we toast her.

Helen Willis

It was good to be with my brother and sister at the weekend, comforting to have a hug and a laugh, to share memories and to miss our mother together. But the only time I got that rush of the safe, the cosy, the familiar, was when I was standing at my mother’s sink, washing up. At that moment, she might have been still alive, sitting in front of the fire, doing the codewords puzzle from the Telegraph, turning on the radio for a cricket update.

When Peter and Jen set off on the Sunday morning for their long drive south, I waved them off, and sat under the front wall on the bench that Ma put there (to catch the last of the setting sun) and I looked at the house.

Kevock in March

Behind me on the road, two hikers were walking down the lane and when they saw the estate agent’s sign, the woman said, “I could live there,” and her partner agreed.

“It’s a tidy garden.”

“A very tidy garden.”

“And look, it’s big – there’s an extension at the back.”

They walked out of earshot.

I didn’t feel sad at the thought of someone else living there, or outraged at the thought of someone talking about my mother’s house as if it was on the open market – after all, it was! I ached because she wasn’t there. No matter how many times I go up to stay with a brother or sister, she won’t be there. It wasn’t a chore to visit her, a woman in her nineties. She was vivacious, alert and chatty and she had a great sense of humour, a ready laugh. She was good company, and easy. And she was a rock.

Not one of my siblings – and I love them all – is a substitute for her. She wasn’t there on that bright spring day and she won’t be there in May for my nephew’s wedding, when the May blossom is out and the verges are thick with sweet cicely and cow parsley. She won’t be there to smell the Arthur Bell roses in June, or the lavender in July. She won’t be there to enjoy the colours of Crocosmia Lucifer in August, or the Michaelmas daisies in September.

I have to get used to losing her. To having her missing from my life. To have her gone, out of reach, unavailable for hugs or chats or encouragement, to live without that unfailing love that made the world feel safe.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


March 10 010

It’s all very well having to write tasks down so you remember them. It’s all very well having to write tasks down on post-its and stick them on the inside of the front door so you remember them (because you always forget to look in your diary.)  But when you come down in a morning and see one such post-it and you read it and you don’t know what the hell it means, it may be time to get a minder.

I found a post-it yesterday that said “Ring re bin.” What did it mean? What bin? Ring who? Did I write the post-it? I examined the writing carefully. It had to be mine, because Dave doesn’t use pink heart post-its. Every time I passed the note, I puzzled over what it meant. “Ring re bin”?????

An hour later I remembered. Ring Jonty in Wensleydale and ask him to put out Ma’s wheelie-bin on bin day. I was in Wensleydale the day before. I had seen Jonty the day before. That wasn’t so very hard, was it? Apparently so.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Silent post

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. Wittgenstein

I will be back when I have something to say that I feel able to share. Please be patient, dear readers.

Monday, March 08, 2010


Gone back to Wensleydale to do a spot of decorating. Back ASAP.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

My questionable taste

I worry sometimes about my sense of humour.When I saw this it made me laugh out loud.

And then there is slapstick. I always disdained Mr Pastry, Charlie Chaplin, and Abbott and Costello when I was young, but now, if I am watching an ordinary sitcom, and there is an unexpected shot of slapstick, it cracks me up. Like this, and  this.

And then there is Home, the latest Marilynne Robinson novel, which won the Orange prize, and the cover of which is a quote from a critic “the saddest book I have ever loved.” I have been reading Home for a couple of weeks. It is taking me a long time, because I cannot read more than ten pages at a time. It is so sad. It’s beautifully written, and way beyond anything I could even dream of writing, but I just can’t take the sadness. Last night, I was so depressed by it I had to go in search of a funny book to break the gloom, and the nearest thing to hand was Plotting for Beginners, which I haven’t read for ages. Once I’d got over the culture shock and adjusted to the different, lighter style, I was gripped.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Choosing a moment


This living in the moment notion is all very well, but when you get a sunny spring day after the l-l-o-o-n-n-g-g-e-e-s-s-t-t and GREYEST winter in the history of Derbyshire, it’s hard to choose which moment to live in. Should it be

a/ a moment when you’re cycling down to Bakewell in the sunshine to buy a bottle of wine

b/ a moment when you’re freshening up the flowerbeds in the sunshine, after four months of no gardening

c/ a moment when you’re slacklining in the sunshine after three months of no slacklining

d/ a moment when you’re sitting on the garden bench in the sunshine, catching up with the weekend papers?

Which moment do you think I chose?

And which would you have chosen?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Dinosaurs and Zen Buddhism

Yesterday afternoon, I went to play with Gil, my 3 year old grandson. We played a weird and hilarious game we concocted together. He wanted to have his dinosaurs dancing round his plastic volcano to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. So I supplied a doctored version of the song, and we danced the dinosaurs round. Then he pressed a switch, which made the volcano erupt and throw off rocks, and this knocked over and injured several dinosaurs (though none fatally, I'm happy to say.) So then we had to get the dinosaur ambulance and wheelchairs and stretchers and take them to the dinosaur hospital. When the patients were settled on makeshift beds, we left the doctor examining them, and started the whole process again with more dinosaurs. It was completely absorbing, and wildly funny.

Later on, at teatime with my friends, we ate sausage and mash, and talked about a variety of things - astrology; the latest Marilyn Robinson book and whether narrative drive is essential to one’s enjoyment of a novel; a daughter’s recent childbirth experience; whether or not if you say that someone looks after their own needs in a relationship it therefore means they are selfish; Zen Buddhism; the slowness of the Co-op check-out staff; Taoism; and how vital it is at our age not to put down a novel you are reading, because if you do, you forget what has happened and have to go back to the the beginning and start again.

When I look back on these evenings, I always remember the laughing and the jokes and the way we tease each other, and yet I always come away with a lot to think about…Zen Buddhism, for example. Living in the moment is a very appealing notion. Driving home, I realised that when I am playing with Gil, or laughing with my friends, I cannot think of anything else. I am utterly absorbed. I am living in the moment. I am completely happy.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Love conquers all

I’ve seen some blogs where every post is chirpy, and they read like an exercise in counting blessings. Blogs like that get on my nerves. On a personal basis, cheerfulness is attractive. Upbeat people are a joy. But unrelenting cheerfulness in a diary is dull. I can’t take the cheesiness. And it sounds so fake. What is this person NOT telling me?

Kevock 2

A weekend away for three sisters in their mother’s empty house (empty of their much-loved mother) had the potential not for cheese, but for immense discomfort, when the purpose of the weekend was to prettify the house (on a tiny budget, and with odds and ends from home) so that buyers could see its potential, and be willing to take on the modernisation required. Three women with different tastes engaged on a joint venture of domestic chic is bad enough. If those three women are straight talking, with very definite views, and are also picky, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

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Other conditions were not propitious. We arrived in fog so thick we couldn’t see the hills; the house was freezing cold (despite the fact that Jonty had turned up the heating and also lit the fire for us – what a peach!) because a cottage with three foot thick stone walls takes a lot of warming up. The weather was cold and grey, with rain  and sleet. We were too busy to enjoy the dale, apart from a brief walk to Aysgarth Falls, and an evening out with Jonty and Rachel, who cooked us a fantastic dinner.

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As for the mission..there was a spat over whether a leather suitcase on the dresser looked old-lady-ish or Country Living–ish, a disappointment over a framed poster that one sister wanted to hang and the others hated. One sister’s cushions were banished to the boot of her car because they were the wrong colour, and there were tussles over the exact position of a vase of flowers on the windowsill, and oh yes – a chair which one wanted in one corner and the other wanted “Here! To cover up this stain!” There was also a last minute overruling that the basket in the porch was an affectation, and looked twee.

But the mission was accomplished: with new curtains, new bedspreads, new cushions, different pictures and lots of hard work and careful thought, the house looks lighter and prettier.

And we had lots of teasing, lots of laughs, lots of cosy chats in bed with mugs of tea. We loved being together.

Love really does conquer all.

(And you’ll just have to forgive the cheese.)

Oh, and this is the bedroom where they wouldn’t let me put the leather suitcase! The b******s!

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