Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What’s happening?

What I am reading and enjoying  –

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I put this off for ages, as I have a lowbrow antipathy to Booker winners. I tried to read an earlier Booker winner - The Finkler Question - as it was supposed to be funny, and I was delighted that even the Booker judges recognised that comedy can be serious. Sadly, I did not find it funny, just dull. I read another Booker winner - The Sense of an Ending and didn’t know what the fuss was about. I’m a cultural low life – no doubt about it.

What I am listening to –

Paul Simon’s Graceland, over and over in the car, especially the Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes track. I laugh out loud when those big fat drums come in after the quiet start.

What I am writing –

plans for future work. You’ll be hearing more after Easter. I know that’s on the way because I shared a hot cross bun on Monday with Gil:

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What I am playing –

Scrabble with Dave, and Words with Friends with the Aging Hippie. But I have gone off WWF in a big way. I hate the fact that it’s based on a US dictionary (e.g. it won’t admit that vire is a word!) and I’ve realised that two thirds of the fun of Scrabble is the chat and the socialising. The other third is the delight in the words. So playing WWF doesn’t fit the bill. I need  a real time game, preferably with both parties in the same room as each other and an up-to-date English dictionary. 

What I am practising on my sax –

Here comes the Sun, after seeing that joyous flashmob perform it in the Madrid Unemployment Office.  Every time I watch it, it makes me smile.

What I am making –

the patchwork quilt I started last year (not the one below). I’ve finished the Fair Isle hoodie which I designed myself. I had to have two attempts at the hood, but if unpicking things and redoing them was a problem I’d never have completed a novel.

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Here is a bit of knitting geek info – did you know that traditional Fair Isle only has two colours on any one row? Mine is traditional in that sense, but the heart pattern is one I made up.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Finding your writer’s voice

When I started writing creatively about 15 years ago, I read a lot of stuff about “the importance of finding your voice.” I worried about this. What was my writer’s voice? Would I know when I had found it? I didn’t really understand what these people meant. I did what you’re supposed to do and wrote as much as I could – screeds of stuff in my journal, poetry, short pieces, a novel (all right, an attempt at a novel – I shudder to think about it now) – and I thought “Have I found my voice yet? When will I know?”

When I first started trying to get pieces in The Times, I showed them to Dave for his comments, and he would say things like “You need to make it more vivid. How about saying this, and putting it like this, and…”

I listened to him because he’s so clever, and has a huge vocabulary and is an entertaining raconteur.But then when I read the pieces again after his insertions and alterations, I felt uncomfortable. It was then that I had my first inklings about what is meant by a writer’s voice. His suggestions and his writing were sharp and clever and expressive, but they weren’t how I express myself. I am understated, dry(when I’m good)  and minimalist. He is the opposite. He has a wonderful voice, but it’s not my voice. Here, below, is my voice of some years ago – in this piece I had in The Times. I wonder how I would write this now – if my voice would be different. Hmmm….

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 2013/Times Newspapers

reproduced here with kind permission of Times Newspapers.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

I’m back!

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Get out the champagne!

It’s been a bad week, but this is a new week and things have just got better.

On Wednesday night my Twitter account was hacked, with the result that I was tweeting links to a fat-busting product. How embarrassing.

Then I discovered that my blog had disappeared. No-one could see it online, not even me. My blog is on Blogger, run by Google, and after four exasperating days, Isaac and I found out that Google had changed something their end and not thought to tell anyone. So there are probably thousands of other people out there wringing their hands and swearing profusely and wondering whether to switch to a blog that you pay for, but which has a department of real people whom you can contact and ask for help when there are problems. I contacted an online user group where you post your problem. Someone called Nitecruzr gave me some helpful advice, and Isaac fixed it. Who is the mysterious Nitecruzr? A kindly insomniac geek who spends his time cruising the user group, helping people out? Does he get a small stipend from Google? I will never know.

The photo of me with the cycling helmet isn’t relevant, except for the celebratory drink, the Californian connection (Google), and Isaac. It was taken on one of the best days of my life. I cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge with Isaac and we stopped in Sausalito for lunch. I’m a lucky person: I’ve had a lot of best days. This last Christmas Day was another one.

Onward and upward!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cabin fever

I am trying to stay cheerful.

Dave is trying to stay cheerful.

We are trying to stay cheerful.

The truth is – we have cabin fever. He wants to go out on his bike and he can’t. I want to drive to my sax lesson and can’t. I have a day trip train ticket to London for tomorrow and no idea if I’ll be able to get to the station, let alone London, get home again, etc, etc, etc. 

The days are filled with long, long tramps through the snow so our bodies don’t atrophy at home.Yesterday even Hassop Station Cafe was closed on account of the snowy roads, so we walked in the other direction.

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I am also playing my sax a lot. Since I heard that flashmob singing and playing Here Comes the Sun so beautifully, I’ve been trying to nail it myself.

My Fair Isle hoodie is almost finished. I had to design the hood myself, having no pattern, and the first attempt was a failure, but this second try is working well and I should be sewing the whole thing up this afternoon. Yay!

Meanwhile, Dave has been keeping himself occupied with baking batch after batch of oatcakes, blogging, and yesterday he went down the Monsal Trail to Bakewell in search of fresh fruit, on his scooter. Yep, his scooter. He is totally nuts. But also rather wonderful.

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When the sun comes out, the landscape looks pretty.

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But we still wish the snow would melt.

Monday, January 21, 2013

To cheer you up

Here’s something to cheer up all those snow-haters out there.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Our morning excursion (in pictures)

 tweets

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We were the first customers of the day. ..

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Friday, January 18, 2013

In the mood

I have been scratting around for a book to read for a week. We have a house full of books, which includes a shelf full of novels I have garnered from secondhand shops and sales for “reading later,” and yet whatever I’ve picked up and opened, and read a few lines of, I’ve thought: “Nah…”

Then I remembered reading a book by Elinor Lipman that I loved – The Way Men Act – and I asked the local bookshop (trying to live without Amazon) if they could get me Lipman's The Pursuit of Alice Thrift. Normally they can get things the next day, but Elinor Lipman is obviously not popular in the UK and the warehouse didn’t stock the book, so I have to wait two weeks. So then I went to see a friend who also has a houseful of books (50% non-fiction – not what I was after) and roamed her extensive shelving but only came up with a book I read 6 years ago – Graham Swift’s Light of Day. It could certainly bear re-reading, so I borrowed it.


Then yesterday an old friend came for the day and brought us two books as presents. She always comes laden with books and we don’t seem able to persuade her not to. (Thank you again, D!)

I picked up one after she left and read the first paragraph and was hooked. Lovely evocative writing, and I was drawn immediately into the world and the head of the main protagonist. It’s called The Snow Child and is by Eowen Ivey. It’s exactly what I want to read right now.

My reaction to that first paragraph made me think about PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS again. Jane and I have finished the book except that we keep returning to the first part of the first chapter and tweaking and re-tweaking. Last week we thought we had sorted it out definitively, but then yesterday I looked at it again (after a few days off) and saw that it was wrong. It WOULD NOT DO. Oddly, I could also see immediately what the solution was.  I emailed Jane and she agreed. Everything was quickly sorted bar the very first, very short line. We discussed this at length. In the end we went with her gut feeling, not mine. My reasoning on this is that no-one is going to be put off by the first (short) line unless it has swear words in it. (And it doesn’t.) Now I look forward to hearing what you all think about that first chapter, when you eventually get to read it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Deep and crisp and annoying

My big sister sends me excited emails during the winter -

“Have you got any snow yet?”

“Has it got there yet?”

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She lives 50 miles east of here, in flat, flat Lincolnshire, where snow is a rarity. I live in the hills of Derbyshire, where snow is frequent and deep and annoying. I am so over snow. Yes, it is pretty, yes, it lights up the landscape when it is dingy and dirty and the sky is grey, but boy does it get in the way. When the roads are dangerously icy, I am stranded out here in the sticks, missing my sax lessons, missing the cinema, missing everything.

I loved playing in it when the children were young – sledging, snowballing, building snowmen and igloos. If they were here now, I’d love it again.

At least I’m not fretting about fuel bills as so many people are, though our woodpile is diminishing fast. Jane has kindly offered us the felled tree in her garden, and that’s great. We’ll fetch it as soon as the ice has melted on the 1 in 4 lane to her house.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The non-exploding laptop

You have no idea how serene I feel, writing on a laptop that isn’t threatening to explode. I’ve spent the last three weeks working with the background noise of a hyperactive laptop fan, which got even louder when you ventured out of Word into the apparently scary environment of emailing and surfing. I was frenetic with worry all the time I was writing, that this time the thing was going to crash for the last time. My new machine is so quiet I have to keep checking it’s still breathing (like I did with my firstborn when she was new.)

So, yes. I have a new laptop. And thanks to every one of you who gave me advice and suggestions (mostly to get an Apple) but I plumped for a PC. Not because I don’t think Apples look lovely, and behave reasonably, ingeniously and in a friendly way (and I am sure they are just as wonderful as you say they are) but because I couldn’t justify spending an extra £1000, which is the difference in price between this HP and the Apple with the same size screen. That £1000 will pay for another trip to see Lux and Cece in San Francisco. Which would you choose? A fancy tool, or these little sweeties?

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So thanks to Adrian of 121 IT services, who found me a brand new HP Pavilion Series 6 (old model with Windows 7, because Windows 8 is reputedly APPALLING). And to Dereje (also of 121) who transferred everything over so smoothly. They took most of the stress out of a potentially traumatic time.

This last week, while waiting for the HP to arrive, I played around on the iPad that lives in the house, and discovered it is ace for tweeting, playing Scrabble with the Aging Hippie in Redwood City, and catching up on the blogs I follow. I am still – even after years of surfing - amazed and delighted that I can sit in bed here in Derbyshire (in the UK) at 10 p.m. and read and comment on a blog in New Zealand (written by someone I have never met) and get a reply from her within five minutes, and then type goodnight to the Aging Hippie, 5,000 miles away in the other direction. If you could remember having a party line like we used to have, I bet you’d feel the same.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Twitter and Me – Part 3

Dear readers, I am taking a short break from the blog until I get a new computer. This one keeps crashing. I need to put the book  -  PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS - to bed, and I need to do it before this computer croaks for the last time.

I will be back as soon as I can. In the meantime you could follow me on Twitter. My tag is @suehepworth

I have tried to get along with Twitter for a couple of years – see this post, and this post, and although I’ve learned to use it to follow my interests (by following useful links on there) I have not found it a friendly environment because all my friends disdain it. The ones who only check their email twice a week (OMG) don’t understand it, and even those who do have some inkling about Twitter want no truck with it.

I don’t want to follow people tweeting rubbish or telling me they have just eaten a Thornton’s chocolate, which means that I generally follow serious people and websites (e.g. Palestine Today and Mondoweiss) though I am getting a lot of laughs from following @TheTweetofGod. I also get to see new photos of my Californian granddaughters on there when Isaac tweets them.

Because I have no friends on Twitter, and all but three of my followers are serious geezers (or live in a different time zone so when I am tweeting, they are asleep) it means that when I ask for help on there – such as “How do you do a hashtag on an iPad?” no-one answers me. If you were there, YOU could answer me!

I wish you would join me. We could chat. I feel lonely in the Twitterverse. Go on. Give it a whirl. Otherwise, I’ll see you when I have a new computer, which I hope won’t be too long.

And here’s a photo of Monsaldale in the Derbyshire Peak District to keep you going until the summer.

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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Targets for 2013

I gave up telling people my new year resolutions years ago. I do them in secret and then peeps can’t say - “But you resolved never to nag me again about wiping my feet on the front door mat!” (Although if said peeps would have some resolutions of their own, I wouldn’t have to break mine…)

But… I do have six new targets for 2013:

  • get out on my bike three times a week (to stay fit, and to deal with the problem identified by Nora Ephron)
  • be outside under the sky for an hour every day, no matter what the weather (because I always feel better in the fresh air, and in the winter, it should keep seasonal affective disorder at bay)
  • work harder to get to grips with music theory so when Dave says he is playing in G on his guitar, I know what key I should be in on my sax to jam with him
  • sort out  my filing cabinets so I don’t need to have a pile of folders 10 inches high at the left hand back corner of my desk (which I imagine must be very bad Feng Shui)
  • grow up, and finally get a mobile phone contract in order to save money
  • tweet five times a day. More on this tomorrow.

 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year!

This is what we do at New Year. We don’t stay up late, we get up early and go to Bakewell and feed the ducks and geese before anyone else is awake. This is our new year ritual. It’s quiet and real and hopeful.

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I wish you a 2013 that contains love and hope, both quiet, everyday things that make this harsh world bearable, often beautiful, and certainly easier to navigate and survive.

(Gosh, I am in a serious mood, today.)