Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It must be a sign

There is plenty of Yorkshire tea left in Isaac and Wendy's cupboard, but the Twinings Earl Grey has run out. It must be time to go home. Isaac asked me what was the first thing I'd do when I got there. I shall pick some sweet peas, and then play my sax.

What I'll miss when I get home

Isaac and Lux
Hanging out with Wendy
Drinking a margarita in the sunshine
( I never drink margaritas in England, and we all know how often the sun shines there. Dave has just emailed to say that "Here it was damp and grey, and this morning, peering out into the dark, it is damper and greyer. The morning looks like a run-over squirrel. There is fog licking the windows." Has he forgotten who the writer is in this family?)

Friday, September 24, 2010

More schmaltzfest

This is my fourth visit to San Francisco, and I am still falling in love with the place. Now I understand the character in But I told you last year that I loved you when he says "I have been falling in love with anchovies for twenty years." I can imagine saying the same about San Francisco.

SF has many of the qualities I love about Venice: the colourful houses (which are in a wider range of colours here than in Venice) the sunshine, the clear open skies, the blue of the Bay and the Pacific Ocean, the picturesque bridges - though obviously picturesque in a different way from the Academia, and the Rialto. Venice has no traffic so it scores on that, and also on the antiquity of the buildings, but San Francisco has an abundance of flowers and trees so it wins on that one, and it's also near unspoiled and easily accessible countryside.

My friend drove me back from Marin County over the Golden Gate Bridge on the evening of the autumn equinox. The sun was setting over the ocean to my right, the harvest moon was rising on my left over a pretty city. We were in the middle, on the Bridge. It was a special moment, and I will always remember it.

I have a strong clear memory of sitting in the sunshine on the bench on the stone flags outside my mother's cottage in Wensleydale, breastfeeding my daughter, Zoe, and reading Anna Karenina.

I have been sitting on Isaac and Wendy's sofa, watching the life of the Mission district on the street outside, feeding my granddaughter Lux, and reading Cannery Row - and it will become another clear strong memory.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cultural differences

When the Colorado-born Little Red Hen came to England on her very first visit, Isaac took her to a cafe in Camden and she asked the waiter for "hot tea." This caused much amusement to the waiter, to Isaac, and to the rest of the family when we heard about it. Poor Wendy. She had no idea that in England, tea was hot by default.

I have done a similar thing over here. I asked for orange juice without any ice. Apparently, they wouldn't think of serving orange juice in the USA with ice.

In the the realm of babycare, a buggy is a stroller, a dummy is a pacifier, a nappy is a diaper, newborn babies wear hats whatever the weather, and stranger than that, a lot of women think it necessary to wear a "nursing cover" when breastfeeding their babies. Why?

I was puzzled by that almighty fuss over Janet Jackson's boob mishap a couple of years ago, and also by the men in Friends being so juvenile when someone was breastfeeding her baby. But if American men never see women breastfeeding their babies, because of the nursing covers, they will continue to think there is something to make a fuss about, won't they?
I've just found out that 12,000 women per year are arrested for breastfeeding in public in the USA, even though it is quite legal.

On a final and separate tack, I watched Pretty Woman on Network TV the other night and they kept in the suggestive sex scenes, but censored the swear words. This meant they cut my favourite line - when Viv asks her friend Kit for the name of someone who married someone much richer than her and it all worked out, and Kit says: "Cinder-f***ing-rella."

And now I am doing it too. Sigh.


I am sitting here in my pyjamas nursing Lux. Her parents are asleep next door. She came in to play, to kick, to crow, to wave her hands around. She has long fluttering fingers that are never still: she is like a tiny sea anemone, but one with intense dark eyes, a cupid's bow mouth, a pointy chin and a very serious expression. I am 5,000 miles from home, but I'm never alone with a grand child, even when she's asleep.

Things I don't understand

Things I don't understand:
1/ why I can't get images to fit on my blog any more
2/ what there is to eat on a grilled artichoke
3/ why Marks and Spencer no longer make good quality knickers. I bought some new ones to bring on the trip but left them at home to return later, because they were so hopeless, so thin and so flimsy. So Wendy took me to Victoria's Secret ( where, not being into shopping, I have never been before) and I bought some knickers like M&S used to make. They're such great quality, I am going to go back to stock up. When I told Zoe this on the phone, she said "Oh, so you're going to become a transatlantic knicker mule."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I am living in a children's picture book

My American family live in the Mission district of San Francisco. I love it - when you walk down the street it feels like you're in the pages of a Richard Scarry book. There is a saloon car on the corner with a cop leaning on each side of it, one talking through the window to the driver, their cop car parked behind; there is a man with an ice cream trolley; a big, shiny, and very long, San Francisco Fire Dept truck gliding down the street, a big blue and yellow cement mixer truck, mixing cement; a nail boutique, an ice cream parlour, a cafe, a shop that cashes your cheques, one that buys gold for cash, a deli, a hairdresser, a garage that will fix your brakes, a nursery. But I have not yet spotted Lowly Worm.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Here at last

I am here in San Francisco - at last - where the sky is blue, the sun is hot, and the babies are beautiful.
Sue and Lux

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


The book I've chosen to read on the plane tomorrow is Star of the Sea. It's about a boat carrying Irish refugees who are fleeing to America from the Irish Potato Famine in 1847.
I keep thinking that the plight of the Irish in the potato famine is like the plight of the Pakistanis in the recent floods, because of the paltry help offered by people outside the disaster.

The media spotlight has moved away from Pakistan, but the suffering goes on and on. There has not been the overwhelming and generous response from the rest of the world as there was for the victims of the Haiti earthquake, or the Indian Ocean tsunami. It’s been suggested that this is because of the suspected links between the Pakistanis and Al Q’aeda and the Taliban. A friend told me that someone said to her – “I’m not sending money to Pakistan – they’re all a bunch of terrorists.”
“14 million of them?” said my friend.
“Even if you really believe that” (utter rubbish) “what about the children?”
“Their children are their responsibility,” said the heartless one.
Inside the cover of Star of the Sea is a quote from Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary to HM Treasury in 1847, who was knighted the following year for overseeing famine relief. He said:
“[The Famine] is a punishment from God for an idle, ungrateful and rebellious country; an indolent and un-self-reliant people. The Irish are suffering from an affliction of God’s providence.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I need to lie down

My suitcases are sitting on the blanket chest half packed.

I have assembled my ticket, my passport, my dollars, my travel insurance, my ear plugs, my anti-thrombosis socks. I have cleaned my shoes, washed my jumpers, assembled my presents.

I have bought a new book to read on the flight – Star of the Sea by Joseph O’ Connor.

How am I expected to contain myself for the next two days until my flight?

I haven’t seen Isaac since January, the Little Red Hen since last October, and Lux never.

lux 41 days

Monday, September 13, 2010

Helpful quote no. 6

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. 
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

W H Murray

note – Goethe did not actually write these words. It is a very free translation by John Anster of an idea expressed in Faust.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Blast from the past

I recently met Isaac’s old nursery school teacher in the Co-op in Bakewell. She hasn’t seen him for 33 years but oh, she remembers him. “He was delightful,” she said. “He was my treat.”

Zoë Peter Helen Kirsty Jonty  Isaac

(Isaac is the little one on the far right.)

Mrs T asked me what he was doing now. I gave her a two line summary of his life, and said he lived in San Francisco.

Then came the difficult question: “What does he do?”

It is a long time since I understood what Isaac does in his job. All I could say was that he had an important job with Twitter.

I just looked it up on his resume:

Twitter (San Francisco CA)

Lead, Partner Product Management

Built the Partner Product Management team from scratch. Now the lead of four Partner PMs defining Twitter's product partner strategy, divining and prioritizing product needs in key verticals.

What, oh what, is a key vertical?

Who knows? Never mind – I shall be able to ask him next week when I see him. Yay! I am going to SF next week.

As I sit here in bed writing this, a male voice is shouting from the bathroom - “Have we got any more of this conditioner stuff?”

Not only does he not know what a key vertical is (either),  until six months ago he didn’t even know what conditioner was, and now he is anxious because we seem to have run out. Aren’t men sweet?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


I’m sorry, you guys, but I’m not in a bloggy kind of mood at the moment. I am writing, saxophoning, gardening, and making lists for my trip to see Lux and family next week. (Yay!)

Today I have to go and buy some dollars while trying not to pay too much attention to the appalling exchange rate.

In the meantime, you might be amused by the following piece I had in The Times some time ago.

Every couple needs one

Just as every newly married couple should have a shed on their wedding list if they want their marriage to survive, so there is something every older couple needs, and I know what it is.

It’s not just retired people who need it, such as those poor wives whose husbands – bereft of work - follow them around all day asking “What are you doing? What are you doing now? Where are you going? What time will you be back?”

It can also be couples who work from home, like my husband and I, who have a room and a computer each and who have, you would think, no need to argue.

Our problem is our different styles of working. He works in short bursts, sharp and efficient, sure footed and sound. He cuts through work like a man with a machete hacking through brambles.

I am slow and woolly headed. I need to go to my room and shut the door and be left alone for hours at a time. I am like the author who, when she was asked if there were words she tended to overuse, said “Yes - two words: go away.”

But machete man does half an hour here, and gets up for a drink; half an hour there, and gets up to stroke the cat. Then as he’s on his feet he will come and ask if I remembered to ring the plumber. He’ll do ten minute’s writing, then look outside the door to see if there’s enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers, so he can go out cycling later. But then as there’s only enough blue sky for one leg, he will come and ask if I think it’s going to rain. Then it’s fifteen minutes on the phone, and a shout to ask where his stapler is. He does half an hour of planning, then feels peckish and slopes into the kitchen for a bowl of yoghurt, and while he’s there he may as well listen to the headlines. Then he comes up to rage about what he’s just heard. Aarghh !

This was all true until a month ago. That’s when he bought the router, which (for the uninitiated) is a power tool used for precise cutting and shaping of timber.

Routers are wonderful. Every couple should have one. The router has revolutionised our lives, which I now divide up into BR and AR ( Before Router and After Router ). Now, in the AR epoch, I have no excuse not to get on with my work, because he sits in his room as if nailed to his chair until all of his work is done: the sooner it’s done, the sooner he can play with his router.

He started with picture frames. Everything in the house that’s vaguely rectangular has now been framed. Luckily, a router isn’t just useful for framing. It can do decorative edging for shelves, cupboard doors, engraved wooden signs, etched patterns and pictures, dovetails – anything in wood that needs shaping or grooving, cutting or profiling.

And in the evening when his back aches from bending over the workbench, and his fingers are numb with vibration, he sits and flicks through his catalogues of router attachments and cutters. All is quiet except for occasional exclamations, such as “I’m going to get some pronged teenuts. They’re a joy.” Or he may read one of his routing magazines - the sort of publication that features in the missing words round on Have I got news for you - with headlines like “Power up!” or “Beautiful Beast! The new big Bosch router is here.”

It’s not just my husband who is besotted with his router. Believe me, there is a routing fraternity, with ramifications way beyond woodwork. Last week my brother ( who has a “tasty” Elu router ) asked my husband’s view on some abstruse etymological question and on hearing the reply said “Yes, of course. Anyone with a router talks sense.”

As well as improving domestic harmony, the router has solved the Christmas present problem: from now on I’ll buy presents for his router. There is an infinite variety of cutters: no man could live long enough to try them all. I’ve just been down to get his catalogue to count them, but my husband had gone, and on his study door was a new wooden sign “Gone routing.”

published here with kind permission of The Times

copyright Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Rules for writing

You might be interested to read Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing. If you don’t write yourself, you could see if the book you are currently reading fits in with these guidelines…
Creative Writing 101

Now lend me your ears.  Here is Creative Writing 101:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist.  No matter sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person.  If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.  To heck with suspense.  Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964).  She broke practically every one of my rules but the first.  Great writers tend to do that

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Rabbit redux

July2010 021

So there we were, sitting in the bay window of the dining room playing Scrabble, when who should we see creeping down the path, but the cat, carrying a young rabbit by the scruff of the neck. We peered through the glass at the rabbit. It’s eyes were wide open, but it was motionless. It appeared to be dead.

The cat walked towards the front door.

“All the doors are shut, aren’t they?” I said, remembering our earlier troubles (this and this).

“Yes, Yes, everything is shut.” said Dave.

I moved my letters around on my letter rack.

There was a mild thump from across the hallway. We looked at each other. It was exactly the kind of thump the cat makes when she comes through a window and drops onto the carpet. We raced to my study. Nothing. I ran all over the house calling for the cat. No response. I shut all the doors. Dave returned to the study.

“She’s here! And the rabbit has escaped. I think it’s behind your desk.”

He gallantly hoiked it out.

Thank God for Dave. Thank God we heard the thump. I can just imagine stumbling into my room with my early morning cup of tea to do some writing, sitting down at the desk, stretching out my legs and feeling something small and warm and furry, move against my bare foot.

Now all we have to worry about are the fleas.

Thursday, September 02, 2010



Well, I have to tell you I’m a tad disappointed by your lack of response to the last post. There was I,trying to get a discussion going, and what do you say? Zilch. And to think that I was hoping you’d rate different designs for my book cover if I have to go down the self-publishing route. Sod that for a lark.

Dave’s just come in the bedroom raving about the latest images on the Hubble telescope site. He checks them out every so often, and then dances about the room in excitement and awe at the vastness of the universe. I find it hard to make my imagination stretch that far. I look at the images and just think Aren’t they pretty?

But then when he was little he apparently said to his father every night, when his father tucked him in, “What is there at the end of the universe?”

Meanwhile, in another town and another bedroom, I was asking my mother, “Will we be having ice-cream tomorrow?”