Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Current Status

What I’m reading…

Elizabeth Taylor’s  In a Summer Season

What I’m writing…

Plotting for Grown-ups

What I’m listening to…

Ben Webster’s Jazz ‘Round Midnight

What I’m picking…

sweet peas

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Where I’m going today…

my sax lesson

Where I’m going tomorrow…

Winchester to see my sister, Jen. Yay!

She is the smaller one; I’m the one with glasses…

cropped sue and jen

Monday, July 30, 2012

Quakerism for Beginners - I’m only telling you this because I think you might be interested…

This is what I did yesterday morning: I went to Quaker Meeting and helped Rachel and Josh, the two children who were there, (and their parents) build a tent out of newspaper.

r and j and s in tent

They do really interesting things in the Childrens’ Meeting – swimming, cooking a lunch for everyone to share, and they think and talk about the things that concern adult Quakers, such as how to live a good life and be helpful to other people. And they do activities which lead to their thinking about  social issues, such as global warming and sustainable living, world poverty, and peace.

As I sometimes mention Quaker Meeting on my blog, I thought I’d tell you a bit about Quakerism – just because I think you might be interested, not for any other reason.

I find Quakerism liberating because there are no creeds. If you are a Quaker you are free to believe what you want. I am in constant discussion with the family member who declines to be named as to whether you even need to be a “Christian” in order to be a Quaker. I don’t think you do.

I believe that if you are a Quaker, it is your attitude to other people, and the way that you live your life, that matters. The nearest Quakers come to a core belief is to say that we believe that there is that of God in every person. But then what/who do Quakers believe God is? Each will have a different answer.

The belief that there is something sacred or good in every person demonstrates that Quakers are positive, life-affirming people, and that they have a default position of accepting everyone. A Bob Dylan song springs to mind here…

I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you,

Beat or cheat or mistreat you,

Simplify you, classify you,

Deny, defy or crucify you.

All I really want to do

Is Baby, be friends with you.

Quakers may not have a creed, but they do have testimonies which they strive to live by – ideals to guide their lives – simplicity, integrity, equality, peace and social justice.

The heart of Quakerism is the Meeting for Worship where we gather together in silent waiting, seeking after spiritual sustenance and truth. We are all channels for this, and we don’t have a minister, so it is each Friend’s responsibility to minister to the Meeting. i.e. get up and speak if they feel led to do so.  It is also each Friend’s responsibility to serve the Meeting in practical ways. There are a lot of responsibilities to being a Quaker, and although I’ve been one for a lot of my life, I still feel like a beginner.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Show and tell with shame

When we first moved here, the garden was unkempt. It was overgrown, and full of nettles, brambles and convolvulus.

Dave made the structural changes to the garden and I was in charge of planting and maintenance. I spent hours and hours in the garden, and for five or six years it rewarded my efforts. That was before I started writing. Since then it’s been a struggle to keep the weeds at bay. It’s not just writing, I have a lot of other things I want to do, and not enough energy, and I neglect the garden. There are parts of it that look disreputable. I lie there on your steamer chair in the sun, working out the scene I’m just about to write, and I can hear the convolvulus chuckling…one of those evil wheezy chuckles, like Griswald makes in the original Top Cat.

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The picture above is of our strawberry patch, from which I’ve picked 15 kilos of strawberries during the last month. The tree in the middle of it is a Victoria plum tree, which has always borne a mythically large crop. We love plums, but even so, every September I distribute them to all and sundry because we always have too many. Not this year. This year there won’t be any because there was a frost when the blossom was out.

The shrubs at the top right of the picture are the blackcurrant bushes, famed for their fecundity. I’m showing you this picture so you can see the dreadful state of the path on the right. It should be gravel but is thick with weeds, notably grass and dandelions and alchemilla mollis. Can you make out a path between the tree and the shrubs, behind on the left? Barely? That’s because it is weedy and the shrubs behind are encroaching. That’s because no-one (i.e. me) sorts them out. There are far worse corners of the garden than this, but it pains me to think about them, let alone show you.

Here are some pictures from earlier happier times. (At least they were happier for the garden. I am perfectly happy now: I just need a best-seller so I can afford to employ a gardener.)

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The rot started some time ago: this below was in July 2008. There is an arch and a path under here. It doesn’t look as lovely this year, because the honeysuckle is being smothered by a rose that has gone back to the wild. Something drastic is going to happen this autumn. Look at the front hedge, oh rose, and be afraid, be very afraid.

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This below is one of my favourite pictures of part of the garden. This was August 2005. It’s just a shame I had to black out the face of the family member who declines to be named.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Scary post 2

I’ve just met a new reader via the comments box on Jam Today and it’s been really lovely. I love knowing who reads my blog and how they got here, but it’s not often I find out.

A couple of years ago, I asked regular readers to make de-lurking comments - in other words, to write something – anything  - in the comments section  below. The result was so encouraging. It was so NICE to hear from people who visit here often.

So, today I am asking for a de-lurking comment from you! Yes, you! You don’t have to tell me your real name.Your comments don’t have to be clever or witty. You could just say “Hello from” wherever you live. Or you could ask me a question – which I will do my best to answer.  Something, anything would be nice to get. If you’ve commented before, don’t let that stop you!

Your comment will not be posted until I have seen it – I get an email from Blogger -  so don’t think you have failed if nothing appears straightaway.

This post is a “Scary post”because I might get no comments from anyone, and then  I’d feel really really stupid.

Bakewell weather report:

It’s sunny again here today! And last night at 9 it was so still and quiet, I walked round the front garden, soaking up the loveliness, and ended up on my slackline. Because it has rained so often lately, on the days when it’s been fine I have spent all my outdoor time either gardening, picking fruit, walking, cycling, or just sitting in my steamer chair soaking up the unfamiliar sun: the slackline has been neglected. I can still do a dozen steps on it. Maybe one day I will get from one end to the other. Maybe I won’t. But I do like trying.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Now this is what I call summer…

…being able to have breakfast outside – Dave’s oatcakes, our blackcurrant jam, Yorkshire tea, and the new view beyond the wall.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Hello, sunshine

I’m sitting in bed with the window wide open and warm fresh fragrant summer air is wafting in and reminding me what summer days can be like. It seems so long since I’ve felt such air early in the morning; it’s like seeing a dear old friend again. A sunny day is promised after a month of relentless rain.

Last night I was playing internet Scrabble with the aging hippie in Redwood City  and trying to explain to her what the weather has been like this summer, but it was tough going. I often carp on to her about heavy overcast skies and rain and lack of sunshine, so it was hard for her to appreciate just how bad it’s been here lately. Then she asked me when the best month is to come here to stay, and I said May, because even if the weather is bad, the vegetation is fabulous. I also said, “Any time between April and October can be lovely but it can also be awful. It’s not like San Francisco where the best time is always mid-September to mid-October.”  So, dear reader, when do you think is the best month to come to the UK for a holiday?


This is a good time to explain that when you post a comment on my blog, it won’t appear immediately. I am sent an email telling me there is a comment, and then I have to approve it – which I always do, unless it’s obscene  or it’s spam. But if I am not checking my email, then there can be a delay in the process.

A July photo taken by Isaac – Dave and me (in the distance) walking down a green lane, half a mile from where we live.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Jam today (continued)

The jam did not set.

And it is my fault.

I do all the measuring and I always reduce the sugar a bit and then forget to reduce the water as well. Then, being the one who tests it and says when it is ready, and being impatient, and getting fed up of standing around (despite the fascinating conversation) tell Dave the jam is ready when it isn’t. So my name is mud, and we’ll be tossing the jam back into the pan for another attempt.

Sometimes jam does take a long time to set.

This happened two years ago (from my blog):

The jam took so long to reach setting point yesterday that we had a game of Scrabble on the kitchen table and watched an episode of American Office while we were stirring.

Meanwhile, back here in July 2012 it rains and it rains and it rains, and I am thinking of bringing my SAD light down from the attic.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jam today

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Why do Dave and I make jam? He never eats it, and I might eat a jar in two months. And yet every year I pick the blackcurrants, wash them, weigh them, collect and prepare the secondhand jars, and buy the sugar, and we stand around in the kitchen on rainy summer days, and make jam.

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By the middle of August we’ll have probably 80 jars of jam, and I will spend the rest of the year giving them away.

Why do we do it? Why do we like it? Don’t know why, don’t care why. Maybe it’s the homeliness of the activity, maybe it’s the conversations we have. Dave usually cracks me up with something he says on a jam-making session.

Three years ago, this happened (from my blog):

I got out the book with the recipe for blackcurrant jam, and in it I found a note in my handwriting - "Our pan holds no more than 6lbs of fruit." I told him, I did. "Never mind that," said the stirrer - "bung it all in."

And guess what? Our pan did hold no more than 6lbs of fruit. So we had to get the old one with the bumpy base down from the top of the dresser, for the overspill.

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Last year, it was this (from my blog):

Dave: “I wonder what’s the minimum amount of jam it’s possible to make.”

Sue: “With a pound of fruit I should think.”

Dave: “No, theoretically speaking. Would it be possible, for example, to make jam with only two blackcurrants…in a test tube?”

Sue -  thinks: The poor boy’s been watching too many of those Sixty Symbols videos on Youtube.

One year the blackcurrants will be ripe, and one of us won’t be here. I think things like that, these days. That’s why I want jam today.

And the days are not full enough

And the nights are not full enough

And life slips by like a field mouse,

Not shaking the grass.

Ezra Pound

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Lacklustre – that’s what I am.

I just read through my blog posts from a year ago (for inspiration) at the time when I was bringing out BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU,  and I can’t believe how much I did, nor can I imagine where I got the energy from. This month I am wiped out. The new novel – PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS -  is progressing just fine, but I don’t have any oomph left for anything else.

For the last three weeks I have been picking strawberries every day (13 Kilos in all, with 2 other kilos lost to slugs). Yesterday I went up the garden to check the blackcurrants and my heart sank.  They are ripe and need picking; and if I tell you we made more than 60 jars of jam last year, it will give you an inkling of how many blackcurrants there are. I gave away two bushes last year. I have five now. I must give away another two. You wouldn’t believe how bloody fecund these blackcurrants are. (Sorry about the language – that was a bit of Sally Howe coming out – heroine of PLOTTING FOR BEGINNERS and PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS.)

I am going to keep my daily aspirations modest. Today I am going to have a sax lesson, pick a few blackcurrants while I mull over the current plotting problems in PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS ( oh, the irony), and book my September ticket to San Francisco to see this person…

glamour girl 2012

and this person…

lux july 2012

OK, those last two were the same person;

and these people…


and this person…

Isaac in Isaac and Wendy and Lux

Aren’t I lucky?

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Two family members – interestingly, both ones who decline to be named – have emailed to ask if I am OK, as I haven’t been blogging much lately.

When I am quiet, there are a number of possible reasons:

  1. I am ill
  2. I am tired
  3. I am fed up
  4. I am busy writing the new novel - Plotting for Grown-ups
  5. I am busy doing something else
  6. I have nothing to say that I think will interest you
  7. I am away

In the present case it is four of these reasons, and being away is not one of them. I’ll be back. Watch this space. Please be patient with me.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012


You know that disastrous fire in BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU?  That happened to Dave and me. And here is a picture of me with half of the things we retrieved from the ashes. I’m showing it to you, not because of the things, but because it’s the only photo I can find which shows how high and dark our front hedge used to be. (Though it doesn’t really show you how high it was.)

Anyway… we put up with that hedge for 15 years, until last autumn we decided the 50 year old escallonia had suffered too much from the last cold winter, and it would not recover, and we would prefer a view.

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Dave started work last October…

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Today it looks glorious, and we wondered why we didn’t do it years ago. I sit in the sun in front of the house and look at the view and feel like a queen. Well, I would do if it would stop raining…

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Yes, I’m sentimental

Isaac just sent me this picture of Lux cuddling a bear that my  mother knitted. My mother died four years ago, and we all miss her terribly.

july '12 with bear knitted by great gran

When Lux first came over from San Francisco as a baby, I loved wrapping her in a soft blanket that my Gran had crocheted, I loved the family link.

When I made the quilt for her cot, I used fabrics from clothes of mine, my daughter’s, some curtains from my mother’s house, and I backed it with some fabric from my Gran’s. I liked the idea of four generations of family being represented in the quilt that welcomed her into the world. She won’t know, but I know; and I think it was important to me because she lives so far away from us all - 5,000 miles. That’s sentimental.

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Friday, July 06, 2012


  • Those strawberries above were in my garden. Currently, we are picking 1 or 2 lbs every day. Dave is red-green colour blind, so I pick them, and he eats them.
  • We bought an outdoor table tennis table last week and in ten days have played only once, on account of the rain.
  • gorgeous older grandson told me yesterday that I was born in the same year that Lego was invented – obviously a very good year. 

  • A friend told me that their book group had just read one of my books and enjoyed it, but they thought I should branch out more and write about stuff outside of my life. If Nora Ephron can make use of everything in her life on the grounds that “Everything is copy” then so can I. In her foreword to Heartburn, she writes, “I knew the moment my marriage ended that someday it might make a book – if I could just stop crying. One of the things I’m proudest of is that I managed to convert an event that seemed to me hideously tragic at the time to a comedy – and if that’s not fiction, I don’t know what is.” Rock on, Nora.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

My favourite Nora Ephron quotes

Still enjoying Heartburn, still feeling sorry that Nora Ephron has died. Here are just a few of my favourite Nora Ephron quotes. The first four are from Sleepless in Seattle. The last is from Heartburn.


Becky: “Verbal ability is a highly over-rated thing in a guy and our pathetic need for it is what gets us into so much trouble.”


Sam: “Even on the news women talk about cute butts. It's really caught on. So how's my butt? “

Sam’s friend: “Not bad.”

Sam: “Is it cute though?”

Sam’s friend (looking at Sam’s trousered butt: “Are we grading on a curve?”


Annie: “Thank God my life is in place.”


Sam: “He’s 8.”

Victoria: “He’s good at it.”


“Vera said: “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?”
So I told her why.
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 as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Things I am enjoying this “summer”

  1. playing with my grandsons
  2. listening to Mozart’s Clarinet concerto in A
  3. sneaking two squares of Co-op Fair Trade dark chocolate from my cooking chocolate tin, and imagining it’s Cadbury’s Dairy Milk
  4. watching Due South with Dave
  5. playing my sax
  6. writing Plotting for Grown-ups with Jane
  7. reading Nora Ephron’s Heartburn (again)
  8. seeing daily emailed photos of my new American grand-daughter

sleeping cece

Monday, July 02, 2012

“My” boys

I had a really fun weekend playing Stay Alive, castle Lego, jousting matches, 1 2 3 Done You!, banks (!?), watching Ice Age (good) and Walking with Dinosaurs (not so good) and cycling on the Trail, all with my grandsons.

You know one selfish reason I am sad that Nora Ephron has died? I had a dream that one day she would come across one of my books and want to make it into a film.