Monday, October 31, 2011

Twitter and me – part 2

When I first heard of Twitter, with tweets just 140 characters long, I thought it sounded great! I thought it would be full of witty people writing epigrams like those of Martial or Oscar Wilde.
More fool me. 

Last week, feeing increasingly disenchanted with the big T, I tweeted this...
@suehepworth @twitter I'm a writer, blogger, email constantly, don't have a TV, have no friends on Twitter. I WANT to like Twitter. Help me!
…and I got no response from anyone. Zilch. Nada.
Not one of my  41 followers responded.  (I hate telling you I only have 41 because it feels so pathetic, but you could find it out for yourself anyway, because Twitter insists on making everyone’s statistics public knowledge - I have complained to Isaac about this but to no avail.) I probably have only a handful of followers because I have no friends on Twitter, tweet on average once a day and not about TV and celebrities, nor do I join in on trending topics. But mostly I think it’s because the people who like my blog and like my books are not in the category of people who “get” Twitter.
Then on Tuesday, I posted Disappointed in Twitter, and Isaac, who has over 4000 followers, and who works at Twitter, tweeted this…
@isaach lessons for Twitter from my mom -> RT @suehepworth: disappointed in twitter - read all about
and I got a response. A few people tweeted to me direct with suggestions and comments. And I had a huge swell of hits on my blog.
So this is the result…
@robinsloan, a colleague of Isaac’s, sent me two suggestions
and I like them both a lot. They have directed me to interesting articles and features on the net, and I think the ratio of “tweets of interest” to “tweets not of interest” is acceptable, so thank you, @robinsloan.
When I checked Twitter first thing this morning, though, the whole of my visible timeline was taken up with tweets from @brainpicker and I panicked - Omigod!  Where are Isaac’s tweets? And it struck me then that one of the things that annoys me about Twitter is that you can’t delete or hide irrelevant tweets. You can’t clear the decks of detweetus and concentrate on the tweets that matter, like you can when you look at your email and delete the stuff you’re not going to bother with. This makes my brain feel cluttered, and it also induces a feeling of unease every time I log on to Twitter, because there is so much there that I have no time to follow up. This makes me feel inefficient and inadequate. Over time, I have been conditioned to associate Twitter with these negative feelings.
But back to the problem of finding interesting people to follow. Someone suggested via Isaac that I use a site called so I could find people to follow according to my interests. I began by looking at Writers, but they were either publicising their stuff (e.g. John Cleese) or  having personal conversations (e.g. Susan Orlean.) In general, following individuals who tweet doesn’t work for me. I searched the Inspiration category and came up with @tinybuddha which I did like.
The categories of Tweeters on the site are ranked according to how many people follow them, but I don’t much care about this. The Sun has 3 million readers, but so what? I prefer the Guardian, with readership less than ten percent of that.
There are many and various categories  of Twitter user, and I am the type who wants to follow:
1/ the three people in my family who tweet
2/ people who write amusing self-contained one-liners, e.g. @greenberg (and I’d welcome suggestions of other people who do this)
3/ one-offs, like @arjunbasu who writes 140 character short stories
4/ tweeters with links that interest me e.g. @brainpicker, @lettersofnote @tinybuddha
5/ organisations with whom I am in sympathy, or who have news about issues I care about e.g. @NatAutSoc (the National Autistic Society) and @MaanNewsAgency which has up to the minute news from the Gaza strip.
This exercise has clarified for me what Twitter can and cannot do, how I can use it and not be dismayed.
I may now have a happy-ish rapprochement with Twitter, but what of all those people like me who join Twitter, become disenchanted because they’re drowning in detweetus, and who have no insiders at Twitter to guide them through, publicise their distress, or field suggestions from colleagues. I was especially lucky in that @robinsloan cottoned on to the kind of tweets I’m looking for.
Isaac told me he sometimes asks job applicants to Twitter how they would explain Twitter to their parents. Perhaps he should be asking “How would you help your parents be happy using Twitter?”

Sunday, October 30, 2011


My mother died three years ago today. We miss her dreadfully.

Helen Willis

This is her obituary which appeared in The Darlington and Stockton Times.

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.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I’m sorry I’ve not blogged for a while – I was wiped out by the killer bug and even after my symptoms had disappeared I found even trivial occupations tiring. But today my seven-year-old grandson Tate had a Bake a Difference sale for the Blue Peter Children in Need appeal. Good old Tate! It was the most enjoyable Saturday morning I have spent in a long time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Disappointed in Twitter

I may have grey hair but I’m not behind the door when it comes to the internet. I check my email six times a day, I get my news from the net, I’ve published an ebook, I’ve had a blog for five years and post on it two or three times a week.
I am, however, about to give up on Twitter.
Rather, I am about to give up looking for people I want to follow on Twitter. They must be there somewhere, but I have spent six months trying to find them and I have failed.
The Twitter sign-up screen says Twitter helps you follow your interests. Twitter hasn’t helped me. Even the search facility has not helped in finding people who share my interests.
I can understand fully why others like Twitter. I’m not knocking that. I am just saying that it doesn’t work for me, and I am disappointed.
If you haven’t read my two earlier posts on Twitter – here – and here – you may need a recap. I joined Twitter because
  • My son Isaac works for Twitter and I like to support him and understand his work
  • I want to keep up with what he and his family are doing
  • I thought it would help me publicise my latest novel
  • I didn’t want to be one of those old fogeys who asks “What is Twitter?”
  • I might find I liked it – that I would be entertained and stimulated
  • It might be fun
I have tweeted 288 times since April.
I follow Isaac. His tweets are many and varied – with links to techie stuff, general interests, his excellent photographs, life in San Francisco and his family life. It’s all that a parent 5,000 miles away could ask for. And following the links he tweets, I often find interesting articles on the net.
But there is hardly anyone else I’ve found on Twitter for whom it is worth wading through an onscreen ticker tape of trivia. (exceptions, see below.)
My key problem – I think - is that not one of my friends is on Twitter, so it is not a way to keep in touch with what they’re doing, and it’s not a way for us to share interesting stuff on the net.
Another problem is that so many tweets are about what is on TV, and about celebrities. I don’t watch TV (except for occasional programmes I catch up on later, on the net.) I care little for celebrities.
I decided that before I concluded this piece, I would give the search facility one more try.
I searched for Palestine, and found several people/organisations who tweet about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. They could be fruitful. Time will tell.
I am a Quaker – so I also searched for Quakers. I found a tweet abhorring the unseemly glorying in the end of Gadaffi,
@davidyelland Will we ever learn that brutality breeds brutality and never to glory in it even when an evil man dies. More Quakers on Twitter please....:)
The tweeter’s profile showed that he had some interests overlapping with mine, so I looked at his other tweets. The majority of his latest ones were about football – which I am NOT interested in. This is the heart of the problem. Individual tweeters are usually not single issue fanatics – they are people with many strands to their lives and many different interests. if I sign up to follow an individual because we have one thing in common, i have to put up with all his tweets on my timeline about things I care nothing about. It is the onscreen equivalent of junkmail.
Obviously I am not interested (nor can even understand) some of what Isaac tweets about. But the ratio of “tweets of interest” to “tweets not of interest” is sufficiently high to make me want to follow him. The other ones I have found in this category are
@LettersOfNote    who has links to interesting literary letters
@arjunbasu    who writes 140 character short stories
@greenberg    who writes amusing one-liners (which is probably what I want from strangers on Twitter)
And – of course, my beloved daughter-in-law @wendyverse and granddaughter @thebeean
Show me another way, Twitter. Persuade me otherwise, please.  I am happy to be a guinea-pig for new methods of helping me follow my interests: if you want older people to join up I might be a help.
My interests are:
current affairs, psychology, social science, social justice, the arts, fiction, writing, comedy, playing my saxophone, trying to find time to slackline,  gardening, walking, cycling, knitting, patchwork, and justice for Palestine.
With so many interests, maybe I don’t have time for Twitter.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Worse things happen at sea

There are more dangerous addictions than online Scrabble.
There are sadder lonelinesses than sleeping solo because your coughing wakes up your partner.
There are more extravagant items to covet than a winter coat from TOAST

that costs so far above the clothes budget it’s in fantasy land, especially when one has a perfectly good winter coat already (but still I covet the one from TOAST – it is so me.)
And there are bleaker books than Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time, but not ones I want to read in bed while feeling slightly under par. His writing is good, like Raymond Carver’s, but Raymond Carver’s always makes me want to slit my wrists. Think on. (As Dave’s mother would say.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Choosing the right verb

Dave: Well, you look a tad less corpse-like this morning. You look as if you might be climbing out of the pit of illness, not cavorting in the bottom.

Sue: People don’t cavort when they’re ill.

Dave: No. It sounds like cavorting, it’s only when you look down that you see they’re wrestling with death.

(Sue – THINKS BUBBLE –  Now I see why he makes a fuss about having a cold, and makes light of a cracked rib!)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

in dreams

My mother died three years ago this month: I miss her. In all that time I’ve dreamed about her twice. I used to long to dream about her so I could have her back, if only for a tiny snatch of time. But she never came, and I stopped expecting her. This week, when I’ve been ill, I’ve missed her more than usual.

Last night, I dreamed I was sitting on the sofa talking to Isaac and Wendy about how hard I try not to offer advice on parenting unless I am asked for it. Isaac said I do very well. The phone rang, and when I picked it up there was the familiar voice - “Hello, my love. How are you? I’ve been wondering about…” and I was so overwhelmed with happiness I woke up and lost her again. But it was so very wonderful to have her visit.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bulletin from The House of Doom, formerly known as Hepworth Towers

Dave felt better from his killer bug, went outside to work on the new fence, and cracked a rib.

This morning he has flashing lights in both eyes.

I spent a feverish night but have managed to eat some porridge for breakfast.

In the meantime i thought you might like to see two of the funniest birthday cards I got last week -

birthday card

birthday card 2

Monday, October 17, 2011

A certain symptom

There’s a story in my favourite book - Garrison Keillor’s Leaving Home - where the whole town of Lake Wobegon gets the Swedish flu -

It’s the usual flu with chills, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, achiness and personal guilt, but it’s accompanied by an overpowering urge to put things in order. Before you collapse into bed, you iron the sheets. Before you vomit, you plan your family’s meals for the upcoming week.

Dave had a flu-like cold at the weekend.  Usually when he’s ill, he doesn’t go to bed. He scorns the very mention of bed. This is his usual mantra: “I’m going out on my bike to teach this cold a lesson.”

But this time he was so ill he did go to bed. I wanted to look after him. I like looking after poorly people (at least I do until it gets boring.) I wanted to make him drinks, fluff up his pillow, bring him treats and a nice cold flannel for his fevered brow, but he spurned all my offers.

Dave: “Do you think I’m going to die?” 

Sue: “No, Dave. You’ve just got a nasty cold. Would you like me to make you a drink?”

Dave: “Are you being a bit impatient with me today?”

He said this three times on Saturday and three times on Sunday, and I kept answering – patiently, of course  - “No. I’m not being impatient. I think you’re ultra-sensitive because you’re feeling so rough. I’m actually being extremely sweet to you. Don’t I keep offering to do things for you?” (Could paranoia be one of his symptoms?)

This morning he was his usual self again, and even though he was coughing, and his head was aching. and his chest felt as if someone was sticking a loo brush down it, he went out on his bike.

I, however, started sniffing, and then worrying that I was getting his cold, and then manically swallowing aconite every two hours as a prophylactic. And no-one was being very nice to me: Zoe sounded unfriendly on the phone, and the man in the cafe was rather off. Didn’t they like me?

Now Dave is sleeping in the other room so as not to disturb me with his coughing. Or is it because he doesn’t like me? And I am sitting here at midnight unable to sleep, two hours past my bedtime, because my nose is running and my face hurts, and now my eyes are sore.

7 a.m. the next morning. I have got it. And Dave just came in and brought me a mug of sweet tea, without my asking. He always looks after me beautifully when I’m under par.

jul07 055

Sunday, October 16, 2011

In my next life…

I once bought a (disappointing) jumper from a Pure catalogue, and since then I have been bombarded with too many other clothing catalogues. I never buy anything from them, but still they plop through the letter box. A clutch of them arrived in the post this week – from Toast, Wrap, Poetry, Brora, and one I can’t recall the name of because the stuff inside was so gross I chucked it out. My question is –

Why are the clothes in autumn and winter catalogues always sludge-coloured? With long grey days and longer dark nights approaching, wouldn’t it be more cheering to wear brightly coloured clothes?  Winter clothes are the sartorial equivalent of literary fiction – serious, subtle and too often miserable.

There is one garment that cheers me up, however. It’s a faux fur jacket from Wrap. You are supposed to wear it and embrace your inner rock chick. (They spell it rock-chic.)  One of my regrets is not dressing like a rock chick when I was young enough to do so. In my next life I would like to dress like a rock chick.

And in the life after that I would like to be be a Quaker who makes an impact on the world (like Elizabeth Fry, or Joseph Rowntree, or George Cadbury who looked after his workers.) Or I could do both at once: be a worthy Quaker who dresses like a rock chick.

It’s a real shame I don’t believe in reincarnation. Enough of this woolgathering: it’s time to get up and cycle to Quaker Meeting (in my cut-price indigo denim jeans and my second-hand T shirt.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Here and there

So I’ve finally stopped dreaming I’m in America, and I’ve stopped waking in the night and wondering where the hell I am. My sleep cycles are set to England, and specifically Hepworth Towers, and my brain works from 7 a.m. onwards everyday. But I just got an email from Wendy, giving me domestic and family news, and I’m back in their living  room in Bernal Heights, watching laughing Lux chase up and down.

August 21st 2011

How on earth did people manage with emigrating families before air travel and phone and email? I guess when you kissed them goodbye at Southampton or Liverpool, it really was goodbye. I’m so glad that’s not how it is for me.

And now it’s made me think of a piece I had in The Times, some years ago…

The continuing story of the empty nest: optimum distance

An empty nest is a place that is heartening to look forward to, in the way that the suffering, in olden times, looked forward to heaven. And now I have achieved nirvana I relish it.

But I still love to spend time with my children. Nor is my caring role redundant.

That ridiculous term "life long parenting" - to describe the phenomenon of adult children returning to live with their parents - must have been coined by a non-parent. Haven't children always been for life, and not just for Christmas? Whatever their offspring's pain - whether it be a trapped finger or a mangled heart - a mother always wishes she could bear it for them. Soppy? It's true.

The very week the 18 year old moved out and left us in peace, the 29 year old rang to inform us he had just spent the night hooked up to monitors after an emergency admission to hospital. The medics insisted his condition only required rest and an early check up, and sent him home, but I was unconvinced, and hopped on a train to go and make my own early check up. Mothers do that.

But even if there is an unbreakable bond, once children grow up there is an optimum distance at which parents and offspring should live: near enough to allow travel of either party for an emergency dash, or for a weekend stay, but far enough away to make it unfeasible for anyone to drop in unexpectedly.

Parents, just like children, have their own lives to lead, and their own need of privacy. If a couple of old fogeys are agile enough to want to make love on the kitchen table, they won't welcome someone with a front door key waltzing in unannounced.

The other advantage of having children easily accessible but at a distance is that a weekend visit provides a chance to get away from middle aged cosiness. For several years my eldest two children have lived in London, thus providing me with comfortable bolt-holes from which they could take me out to sample the delights of young urban chic entertainment.

How else would I - a country bumpkin who has led a sheltered life - have the chance to sample tequila slammers in an ex-engineering-workshop bar in Hoxton, with décor so uncompromisingly industrial I expected the ladies loos to consist of a row of galvanised buckets? My last exciting foray into their lives led to cocktails in a private bar with a secret Soho location, which, when I entered the blacked out frontage, made me feel as if I was time travelling back to the prohibition.

But now one of these children has moved to live within half an hour of here (Derbyshire) closing one of my bolt-holes; and the second child is threatening not just to leave London, but to flee the country. Last week he told us of his plans to stop teleworking for his American employer and to move out to Denver to work on site.

I wanted to scream "Don't do it - I'll miss you too much!" but I didn't. I was well behaved and breezy. I couldn't quite squeeze out "What a great idea," as the old man did (with no apparent effort, incidentally), but I did manage some intelligent questions about living in lofts.

Vacating the nest is one thing: leaving the continent is another. What is the point of having children if you can't spend time with them and enjoy their company? And how can you do this if they live a ten hour flight away?

What is troubling me now is the thought that because I voiced no protest he might think I don't care about his going, and that I really shall not miss him. It's the same kind of bind you get into when young adult offspring hint, for the first time, that they might not come back for Christmas. You wish they would come home but genuinely don't want to apply any pressure; but then you worry that if you don't sound disappointed they might think you don't want to see them. And then there is the Christmas when you long for a quiet time a deux with your spouse, but don't want to offend the offspring by suggesting they stay away.

It's a tricky skill to master, this next stage of parenting.

Also, the caring role has started to hover between the generations before it finally settles on the younger one. It was my adult children who were looking after me on our nights out in London. But on one occasion when waiting for the midnight tube, I wondered how safe we were, and if my children ever got nervous, and I heard myself ask “If I weren’t here, would you be scared?”

But we are getting there. On a recent protest march with my children my elder son left early, with the words (to me) "Take care. Have fun." Then, pointing to the other two, he said "Make sure you stay with them."

A woman walking alongside me overheard and laughed.

"That," she said, "must be your son."

© Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers  2011

published here with kind permission of The Times.

lux oct 1 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jet-lag Day 6

 Up till yesterday,  I was so dozy I could manage only one event a day, and yesterday’s event was to see the new Jane Eyre at the Sheffield Showroom. Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classics, and I’ve probably seen all the film and TV adaptations in the last twenty-five years. I know all the scenes, and even some of the dialogue from the book off by heart, so when a screenwriter misses some out, or messes with it, I know.

But I’m not daft. I accept they have to miss stuff out or you’d be in the cinema for days. (Now that’s an idea - Dave’s been saying that people should be in  quarantine till they get over their jet-lag, which actually would be rather nice if it meant sitting in a quiet comfortable place watching an unabridged screen adaptation of Jane Eyre.) As it turned out, the screenplay did miss out a couple of my favourite scenes, and it also skimped on the development of the relationship between Rochester and Jane. But the on-screen chemistry between the actors and their exquisite acting made up for this, so the connection between them was completely convincing.

Anyway…. I love the latest version. Michael Fassbender is probably too good-looking for Rochester, but I’m not complaining. He can sweep me off my feet any time he likes.

He played the part well, and so did Mia Wasikowska, who was suitably plain, and a superb actress: I was so moved by her reaction in the proposal scene, I cried.

It was fun to recognise the places in Derbyshire where some of the scenes were filmed, and so refreshing to have a version in which the characters have Northern accents. Most of the actors were pretty good at this, but oh dear, Judi Dench (whom I love) kept slipping from her good flat Northern vowels into her Judi Dench voice. It was offputting and distracting, and made me wish they’d cast someone else in the part.

I’d like to see more of Michael Fassbender – maybe with some decent ageing make-up he could play Sol in the film of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU. what d’ya reckon?

Friday, October 07, 2011


I am still blurry from jet-lag: it’s the worst I’ve ever had. Since Tuesday, when the execrable US Airways changed my flight and sent me home via Frankfurt (where I had to go through security twice, because I needed to exit the secure zone to get more info about the new flight, which meant two security pat-downs on account of my artificial knee bleeping, and then worrying about my bag disappearing at the end of the conveyor belt and my saying to the security guard “I’m worried about my bag,” and his saying in a threatening German voice “It is our bag, now”)  my days have been ragged.

But I got a lovely email from someone in Pennsylvania who told me how much she had enjoyed my book. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to get emails from readers – and especially with this book, which I had to publish myself.

Lastly (or “last of all” as they say in California) if you live outside the UK, I want to tell you that you can buy my book – BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU – and get it POST FREE – from The Book Depository. Though if you want details and reader reviews and if you want to buy it for a KIndle, you’ll have to visit or  I have just checked – there are only reviews on the British Amazon at the moment.

And if you want to be really, really helpful to a poor self-published author, you can write a short review on or on  It doesn’t matter where you bought the book. I read recently that book reviews on Amazon sell books. Oh, yes. I may be still blurry, but I haven’t stopped thinking about how to sell my book.

Actually, this is last of all: a snap of my friend Karen (aka the ageing hippie) going down the Bright Angel Trail into my new obsession, the Grand Canyon.

sept 2011 136


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I left my head in San Francisco

I have been lying awake in bed (in the middle of my night) wondering why I can hear wind in the trees and rain lashing the windows when I am in sunny San Francisco.

Could it be because I am home in Derbyshire? My first night home – last night – I dreamed I was walking round the city with Wendy and Lux.

Even though my brain has not returned to blighty, and I am unable to think clearly through the jet lag, my body is here and I’m happy. When we lived in Sheffield it was usually a bummer getting home from holiday. Now we live here, I never mind. I love to go away and I love to come home. How lucky am I. And I am even luckier than usual, because Isaac says they’ll all be over here in 3 months. Yay!

On my last day there we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, and up country to the family’s favourite winery, Iron Horse Vineyard…

iron horse 2011

Lux drank water…

sept 2011 001

It was sunny and warm and wonderful.

The day I left, it rained. It always rains on the day I leave. You could book your holiday by it.