Thursday, July 31, 2014

One day I will get my blog back…

…from the crazed, raging, heart-broken woman who has had to turn off the pictures in her tweetstream because she can’t bear to see another mutilated Palestinian child, and who has had to stop listening to BBC Radio 4 news programmes because she cannot take another Israeli spokesperson talking rubbish and being completely unchallenged by the pussyfooting interviewers. Yesterday I heard the BBC’s Ed Stourton on The World at One repeatedly challenging the poor United Nations guy, Chris Gunness, about the Israeli shelling of a UN school where he was based, as if he were a member of Hamas. And then Stourton gave a soapbox to the Israeli speaker and the strongest thing Stourton could say to him was “You are in danger of losing friends in the west.” Big deal.
Every morning I wake up hoping for good news, and today the headlines were that the US had condemned Israel, and were sending more ammunition. I am serious.
What is there to say?
I cannot write here about my happy life when children like these –
Gaza xmas 2009
who might be MY grandchildren – are being killed by the IDF, supported by my government and yours.
If you don’t understand what the roots of the conflict are, here is an article in The New Yorker, explaining it.
Here is an a short animation from Jewish Voice for Peace.
And here is a 3 minute video from Channel 4’s Jon Snow (made after he got back from Gaza) whose view of Palestinian children is the same as mine, and who singlehandedly counterbalances the Israeli bias of the entire BBC.
Please help other people to understand what’s going on.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to help Gaza

gaza - motherless children

1/ Give money to a charity working in Gaza.

e.g. Medical Aid for Palestinians, Oxfam and Save the Children are three charities already working in Gaza.

2/ Protest by signing a petition.

e.g. Save the Children petition; or David Ward MP’s petition to the UK Government, which already has 65,000 signatures and needs to have 100,000 to have  chance of a debate in Parliament.

3/ Email your government to make a stand.

If you don’t know what to say, you could do it via Amnesty International

Did you know that the UK sells arms to Israel? – ask the government to embargo these sales

Did you know that the USA gives $3 billion in aid to Israel for defence?

4/ Demonstrate wherever you can.

Whichever country you live in, there will be a demonstration about the war on Gaza. Follow this link to find the nearest demo to you.

5/ Boycott Israeli goods 

– there is a growing movement. Find out more.

6/ Make yourself aware of the causes of this conflict.

This short animation made by Jewish Voice for Peace is moderate, straightforward and clear.

Don’t rely on the BBC to give you a balanced view. Channel 4 News does not bow to Israeli pressure.

6/ Explain to other people what is going on and why

7/ Be aware that Israeli violence towards Palestinians goes on ALL THE TIME

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights centre, 90 West Bank Palestinians were killed, 16 of them children, by the IDF or by settlers between January 2009 and May 2014. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there have been 2,100 settler attacks since 2006, involving beatings, shootings, vandalising schools, homes, mosques, churches and destroying olive groves. According to Amnesty International, between January 2011 and December 2013, Israeli violence resulted in injuries to 1,500 Palestinian children.

8/ Don’t forget about the Palestinians when this current crisis is over. They will still be there, oppressed and suffering and their need will be even greater.


Monday, July 28, 2014

A friend is someone who…

A friend is someone who

1/ points out you have a whisker on your chin when you haven’t noticed it

2/ gives you a hug when you stand before her mute, with tears in your eyes

3/ listens patiently while you rant about what is upsetting you

4/ …knows the song in your heart and will sing it back to you, when you have forgotten the words.

karen and me big sur

A couple of days ago I got a letter from the Aging Hippie, who has been away from the internet for a month. (You remember letters? They come in envelopes and the postman brings them.) I was so excited to hear from her that I ripped the letter open roughly to devour it. Then later, when I was about to address a reply, I looked on the back of her envelope for the address, and a centimetre square piece of paper was missing, the piece which contained the P.O. Box number and the postal district. I couldn’t find it. And Dave – who cannot find anything of his own, but used to be an expert at finding my dropped contact lenses – found the scrap in my study bin.

The Peace Corps have given AH a mobile phone so I spent all my credit on ringing her. She was sitting on her bed, in her room, in the house of the family she lives with, learning Zulu. She is down a dirt track, a four hour journey from Pretoria and she has received no letters yet, though I, for one, have written twice. She sounded close. She is very happy, and said that being there with the Peace Corps has exceeded her expectations - which is wonderful. I’m so happy for her.

She wanted to know all my news, and I began with the horrors of Gaza. She has only seen a couple of headlines, and a two minute tirade came out of my mouth. Tears were in my eyes, and my voice got higher and higher, as it does when I am upset (“You’re going supersonic,” Dave says). She listened patiently, suitably appalled by everything I told her. Later, I told her about the family, and about how it is so hot here that I am outside playing instead of getting on with my screenplay.

Another friend of a different sort is Garrison Keillor, whose books are always a comfort. Instead of reading a long list of tweets from Gaza before I go to sleep, I read a piece from We are still Married. It’s a treat.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The year the sweet peas failed

This is the first summer since we moved here 18 years ago that I’ve not had a good showing of sweet peas. Something like this:

Aug 2010 048

and this:

Aug 2010 052

This year, because I did not dig in my spanking new compost sufficiently well, and despite nightly watering (until I gave up last week) they have failed. There are perhaps five plants that are higher than a foot, and just one that has flowered, and that’s a nasty dolly mixture pink one.


But the failure of my sweet peas is as nothing to the failure of politicians to stop Israel from killing children.

You’re probably sick of my going on about Gaza, but the crisis there burns my days. I have to speak out about it.

Would you consider signing this petition, put forward by Save the Children?

Or this petition put forward by David Ward MP asking the UK government to stick up for Palestine.

Would you write to your own MP, David Cameron, and the Foreign Secretary, and/or the papers, and voice your concerns? It is easy to find the email addresses of all these people on the net. If you’re writing to politicians, you need to include your name and address. (My MP replied to me and I am going to write again today.)

Would you consider giving money to a charity working in Gaza such as Oxfam, Save the Children, or Medical Aid for Palestinians?

Please inform yourself of what is really going on and what are the causes. Channel 4 gives far better coverage than the BBC. BBC radio sees it from Israel’s point of view and doesn’t challenge it.

Twitter also has huge numbers of contemporaneous first hand accounts which you will find through following, just for starters, @millerc4 – of Channel 4 news, @ChrisGunness – of the United Nations,   @intifada and @benabyad

And if you haven’t watched this explanatory animation  by Jewish Voice for Peace, it’s really good.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The view from here

Our house is not pretty but the light and the views are stupendous. After we’d bought it, but not completed and not moved in, we would drive up the limestone edge a mile behind it and sit on the grass verge and look at it through binoculars, and poke each other in the ribs and say  - “That’s our house!”

This was the year of the mastectomy and the warehouse fire that destroyed 95% of our possessions, personal and domestic. The house was our happy ending.

And when we moved in, we loved its setting so much that we felt as if we were living in a holiday cottage, despite our lack of so many basic things like dining tables and sofas. In fabulous summer weather like we have this month, that feeling returns. Last evening we were sitting on the bench looking out over our front wall and our neighbour drove up and said “You look so contented.”

“We are!” we said in unison. It is rare, it is very rare, for Dave and I to say anything in unison.



Unless we are talking about Gaza.

I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t turned away my gaze, and I hope that you haven’t either.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Meanwhile, at Hepworth Towers

I’m declaring my own personal ceasefire, in order to tell you what we’ve been up to (apart from weeping over Gaza).

I have a lot of siblings with a lot of opinions, and one or two of them have opinions on my blog – not that they are willing to post them in the comments section, mark you. One says I shouldn’t post so many photos of my grandchildren, but he hasn’t got any of his own yet, so he doesn’t fully appreciate the allure of the species. The other sibling with opinions says I shouldn’t mention jam. According to her, I have posted on jam too many times.

Well, this is my blog and I shall do what I want.

So here is the obligatory jam-making picture for the blog in July:

jam making

Jam-making is part of our summer. We have five blackcurrant bushes and they are impossibly fecund, and people who are jam connoisseurs – and don’t regard that pink/red sugar solution you buy in the shops as jam – they beg for our jam. My sax teacher is one, my daughter’s father-in-law is another, my eldest granddaughter is another

photojam and lux

and last but not least is my sibling with the opinions on the pics of the grandchildren.

So far this year we have made 53 jars of jam and there are more blackcurrants to pick.

Another thing that happened is that I put away the almost finished patchwork until the winter, and I got out my screenplay to work on:


I got my hair dyed – just a streak of turquoise (and no doubt there’ll be opinions flying around about that as well):


And Dave has been making a stained glass window for the landing. Too many years ago he was given a dozen windows from a 1930s bay:


And he has been storing them behind the porch ever since. This summer he realised what he should do with them – make them into a landing window that we only have up in the winter when the landscape and the garden are dingy and drab. His working on the project temporarily got in the way of the table tennis

working on the glass

but hey, look at the end result -

landing window

Monday, July 21, 2014

Open letter to my MP about an arms embargo on Israel

Dear Patrick McLoughlin MP,

I have given up hope of this government condemning Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, or the inhuman siege of Gaza, or even to call for a halt to the massacre of the people of Gaza.

But now the Israeli forces are committing war crimes - not just in the targeting of civilian areas, but


-namely, flechettes.

gaza - flechettes

In 2009 they used white phosphorus in civilian areas.

I call on the UK government to act with moral courage to condemn these actions, and to install an arms embargo on sales of any weapons at all to Israel. They clearly cannot be expected to act ethically in war.

Yours sincerely, and in huge distress at the suffering of innocent children in Gaza,

Sue Hepworth

If you want to write to your MP, you must include your full name and address to receive a response.

Yesterday I posted that in Gaza mothers are the only shelters.

Here, five children wait in the hospital for their mother, killed by the Israelis:

gaza - motherless children

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mothers are the only shelter in Gaza


gaza - mothers are the only shelter

I am pleased for you that you’re not on Twitter and can’t see the horrible photographs on there of injured children, and read the eye witness accounts of civilians lying dead and dying in the streets.

I am not going to post them here. They are too horrific.

Even the paramedics can’t bear it:

gaza - paramedic

Please give money to Save the Children

or Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Please boycott Israel – it is not anti-semitic to do so – look - these Jews are advocating we boycott Israel:

gaza -  Jews boycott israel

Please demonstrate.

Please educate other people about the issues behind the violence, behind the rockets from Hamas (which I do NOT condone) -

  • the seven year siege of Gaza
  • the destruction of its economy
  • the seizing of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers
  • the destruction of homes, olive trees, livelihoods
  • the treatment of of Palestinians as second class citizens in a country supported and armed by the west  - a country which prides itself as a democracy.

Here is a video made by Jewish Voice for Peace explaining the background

And now I must dry my eyes, take a shower, and cycle to Quaker Meeting.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Naming the dead: Palestinian children killed by the Israelis

Dr Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor, kisses one of the Palestinian children killed in Gaza:

Norwegian doctor 

These are the names of identified Palestinian children killed by the Israeli forces between July 7th and July 24th, 13.59 hours (there have been more deaths since then and I was going to update this list. However, Save the Children have given the names of children killed between July 8th and 3rd August here ):

    1. Mohammed Ayman Ashour, 15
    2. Hussein Yousef Kawareh, 13
    3. Ahmed Moussa Habib, 16
    4. Ahmed Nael Mahdi, 16
    5. Basil Salem Kawareh, 10
    6. Dunya Mahdi Hamad, 16
    7. Siraj Ayad Abdelal, 8
    8. Mohammed Arif, 13
    9. Mohammed Malake, 1½
    10. Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, 4
    11. Nidal Khalaf al-Nawasra, 5
    12. Salah Awad al-Nawasra, 6
    13. Raneem Judeh Abdel Ghafour, 1½
    14. Mariam Atiah Mohammed al-Arja, 11
    15. Abdallah Ramadan Abu Ghazal, 5
    16. Yasmin Mohammed al-Mutwak, 4
    17. Bassam Abdel Rahman Khattab, 6
    18. Nour Marwan al-Najdi, 10
    19. Shahd al-Qreinawi, 7
    20. Anas Youssef Qandil, 17
    21. Qassim Jabr Adwan Ouda, 16
    22. Qusai Issam al-Batesh, 12  
    23. Mohammed Issam al-Batesh, 17
    24. Manar Majed al-Batesh, 13
    25. Anas Alaa al-Batesh, 10
    26. Muayed al-Aaraj, 3
    27. Hussam Ibrahim al-Najjar, 14
    28. Ziad Maher al-Najjar, 17
    29. Sara Omar Sheikh al-Eid, 4
    30. Ibrahim Ramadan, 10
    31. Ahed Bakr, 10
    32. Zakaria Bakr, 10
    33. Mohammed Bakr, 11
    34. Ismail Bakr, 9
    35. Hamza Raed Thari, 6
    36. Yasmin Al Astal, 4
    37. Osama Mahmoud Al Astal, 6
    38. Fullah Tarek Shehebar, 8
    39. Jehad Essam Shehebar, 10
    40. Wassim Essam Shehebar, 9
    41. Rahaf Khalil Al Jabbour, 4
    42. Mohamed Salem Ntaiz, 4
    43. Mohamed Shadi Ntaiz , 15
    44. Fares Jumaa al-Mahmoum, 5 months
    45. Ahmed Ismail Abu Muslim Abraj, 14
    46. Mohammed Ismail Abu Muslim Abraj, 13
    47. Abdallah Jamal Smeiri, 17
    48. Emad Hamed Elwan, 7
    49. Qassem Hamed Elwan, 4
    50. Sara Mohammed Al Bustan, 13
    51. Rizk Ahmed Al Hayek, 2
    52. Child from Abu Jarad family, age unknown
    53. Haniyeh Abderrhman Abu Jarad, 2
    54. Mussa Abderrahman Abu Jarad, 6 months
    55. Ahlam Mussa Abu Jarad, 4
    56. Mohammed Bassam AlSarri, 1
    57. Ibrahim Jamal Kamal Nasr, 13
    58. Wasm Reda Salhiya 15
    59. Mohamed Ziad al-Rahl, 6
    60. Rouya Mahmoud al-Zouaydi, 6
    61. Nagham Mahmoud al-Zouaydi, 2
    62. Ahmed Hamouda, 10
    63. Omar hamouda, 7
    64. Mahmoud Anwar abu-shabab 16
    65. Anas Mahmoud mamar, 17
    66. Hiba Hamid Alsheikh Khalil, 14
    67. Kanan Akram Al Halaq, 5, killed in El-Ramal
    68. Rayan Tayseer Abo Jamea, 8, killed in Khan Younis
    69. Eman Khalil Abd Ammar, 9
    70. Omama Osama Khalil al Hayaa, 9
    71. Tala Akram Ahmed al Atoowi,  7
    72. Khalil Osama Khalil al Hayya, 7
    73. Deema Adel Abdullah Asleem, 2
    74. Dina Rushdi Omar Hammada, 15
    75. Rahaf Akram Ismeal Abu Juma, 4
    76. Saji Hassan Akram al Hallaq, 4
    77. Samya Hamed Mohammed Alshiekh Khalil, 3
    78. Shadi Ziyad Hassan Isleem, 15
    79. Assem Khalil Abd Ammar, 4
    80. Alaa Ziyad Hassan Isleem, 11
    81. Omar Jameel Soubhi Hamoodeh, 10
    82. Ghada Soubhi Saedi Ayyad, 9
    83. Fadi Ziyad Hassan Isleem, 10
    84. Kanan Hassan Akram al Hallaq, 6
    85. Mohammed Ashraf Rafiq Ayyad, 6
    86. Mohammed Rami Fathi Ayyad, 2
    87. Mohammed Hani Mohammed al Hallaq, 2
    88. Marah Shaker Ahmed al Jama, 11
    89. Marwan Salman Ahmed Al Sarsaw, 13
    90. Hiba Hamed Mohammed Alshiekh Khalil, 13
    91. Tawfiq Ahmed Abou Jamaa, 5
    92. Haifaa Tawfiq Ahmed Abou Jamaa, 9
    93. Shaheenaz Waleed Mohammed Abou Jamaa, 1
    94. Husam Husam Abou Qanees, 5
    95. Unidentified (child)
    96. Abdullah Tarad Abou Hajeer 16, Al Nusriyat
    97. Mayar Alyazaji 2, Al Karamah
    98. Unidentified, 5, Al Karamah
    99. Mohammed Mahmoud AlMaghrabi, 24, Khan Younis
    100. Yassir Ibrahim dieb Alkilani, 8, Burj Alsalam
    101. Elias Ibrahim Dieb Alkilani, 4, Burj Alsalam
    102. Sawsan Ibrahim Dieb Alkilani, 11, Burj Alsalam
    103. Reem Ibrahim Dieb Alkilani ,12, Burj Alsalam
    104. Yaseen Ibrahim Dieb Alkilani, 9, Burj Alsalam
    105. Mona Rami Al Kharwat 4, north Gaza
    106. Yaser Ibrahim Dib al-Kilani, 8, Gaza City
    107. Elias Ibrahim Dib al-Kilani, 4, Gaza City
    108. Sawsan Ibrahim Dib al-Kilani, 11, Gaza City
    109. Rim Ibrahim Dib al-Kilani, 12, Gaza City
    110. Yaseen Ibrahim Dib al-Kilani, 9, Gaza City
    111. Mona Rami al-Kharwat, 4, north Gaza
    112. Ahmad Salah abu Sido, 17, al-Mahatta.
    113. Rawan Ziad Hajjaj, 15, Gaza.

(source of information – Al Jazeera English)


What can we do?

  • Write to your Member of Parliament to ask the government to endorse an arms embargo on Israel
  • Donate to MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians) a British registered charity with a non-violent agenda
  • Demonstrate

You can find your nearest demonstration against the war on GAZA  (wherever you live in the world) - HERE

MAP provides every kind of medical aid, and that includes help for traumatised children.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why doesn’t Hamas stop sending rockets and then the bombing of Gaza would stop?

Perhaps you think that the Israelis and the Palestinians are just as bad as each other, and that neither side deserves sympathy.

I urge you to watch this short animation made by Jewish Voice for Peace and then make up your mind about who is to blame and what could be done about it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


You know I had a cataract removed last November? Well, in June I had the other eye sorted, and Monday saw my follow-up appointment with the optician. Our optician is fantastic. She is the opposite of flash: she has a tiny office and writes her notes on index cards. She gives you as much time as you need, and will explain everything. She also comes to the rescue with free, emergency disposable contact lenses when you are flying to America the next day and have lost your permanent contact lens on the bathroom floor. Dave and I think she is tops.

Anyway, she said that the reason my eye was sore was because I had scratched my cornea. We discussed how that might have happened, and the only thing I could think of was dust from the Monsal Trail. (It has been so dry lately that my bike is covered with a film of dust.)

“Perhaps you had better stay off the Trail for a bit,” she said.


“I can’t do that!” I said instantly without thinking.

I walk or cycle (or both) on the Trail everyday. We agreed I should always wear sunglasses when cycling, until my eye is better.

When I cycle up the Trail at teatime to my thinking spot between the Cressbrook and Litton tunnels, and then cycle home again, the sun behind me, I love the warmth, the atmosphere, the wildflowers, the views, the quiet – I love them all so much – that I have this feeling that in the future, when I am ancient and unable to cycle, and perhaps live somewhere far from here, that I will look back on these summers on the Trail with huge nostalgia.


It will be like the nostalgia I feel now for the summer afternoons I sat and talked with my parents in their Wensleydale cottage garden. There are certain weather conditions that bring on those yearnings – a warm, bright afternoon, with a breeze ruffling the leaves of our copper beech.

If I were Bob Dylan, I’d express it like this -

Perhaps it’s the colour of the sun cut flat
And coverin' the crossroads I'm standing at
Or maybe it's the weather or something like that
But mama you've been on my mind.

Here is George Harrison’s rendering of the song – after the horrible, rackety ads.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Interview with Christine Poulson, a crime writer whose time has come…



Ten years ago, I sat next to a woman at a Fiction Masterclass at the Sheffield Literary Festival, and the next day I met her at my local Quaker meeting. I had just read a Mslexia article about writing buddies, who critique each others’ work, cheer each others’ successes, commiserate over rejections, and gee each other up when the going gets tough. Being a pushy sort, I said to this woman whom I had only just met, “Would you like to be my writing buddy?”

She reeled: she is not a pushy sort, and she is also more grown up than me. I could see her thinking, “Can this woman even write?”

She did become my writing buddy. And more. Now she is a close friend. That woman is Christine Poulson, crime writer extraordinaire, accomplished in creating intricate plots, and writing suspenseful novels and brilliant short stories, and other arcane arts not part of my skill set. Today I am interviewing her about her writing, and her gripping new novel, Invisible.

What comes first for you when you are dreaming up a novel? I imagine it is plot. Am I right? Or is it character, theme or setting?

It varies a bit, but It is very often setting. I am often fired up by the atmosphere of a place. Cambridge almost amounts to a character in its own right in my Cassandra James stories. More specifically with Stage Fright and Footfall, I knew that I wanted to write a novel set in a theatre and an independent library respectively. Holidays are a wonderful source of inspiration: Venice, Crete, Copenhagen, the London Aquarium, Salisbury Cathedral have all sparked ideas for short stories. My new novel originated in a trip to Sweden. My husband's an architectural historian and I was accompanying him on a research trip. When we visited the extraordinary Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm I knew that one day I would set a scene in a novel there and it grew from there.

Do you think writers of different genres share personality characteristics? You write crime. I write family comedy or romantic comedy. Do you think this shows an essential difference in our outlook on life, and/or our backgrounds or the course of our childhoods?

This is such an interesting question. My own childhood was disrupted by the death of my father. Crime fiction is generally about the restoration of moral order, and in that respect is a reassuring genre, so perhaps there is a connection there. Or perhaps not . . . After all romantic comedy also ends with a resolution, and like crime fiction is essentially escapist.

What are the best three things about being a writer and what are the worst three things?

The best things: when the writing is flowing and I'm surprised to find it's raining outside because it's sunny in my novel; when someone tells me that they were so gripped by my novel that they had to read it in one sitting; the friendship of other writers.

The worst things: the business side - dealing with agents and publishers; when I am sitting on the floor with index cards all around me and simply cannot get the plot to work out; going to an author event and finding that hardly anyone has turned up.

Do you ever use material from your family or friends characters, dialogue or lives in your fiction?

Of course! Doesn't everyone? But only as a jumping off point. As Fanny Trollope said, when asked the same question, 'You'd never recognise the pig from the sausage.' The only character who has gone straight into a novel is our cat, Billy.

Here’s a question from my brother:

You have a knack of creating un-predictable twists and turns in the last third/quarter of a book which keep the reader on her toes. Are these planned from the beginning or do you just bring them in as you think of them?

Some are planned, some not. I always start off with a destination in mind, but how I get there might change en route. If a better idea occurs to me, I will go with it and that sometimes happens when I am galloping towards the home straight. Sometimes I'm surprised myself! Two thirds of the way through Stage Fright, for example, I suddenly realised that someone who was a minor character until that point was going to take on a much bigger role. I like it when that kind of thing happens. If I'm surprised, probably the reader will be too.

Pretend you are the PR agent for your publisher and sell us your new novel Invisible.

Invisible is a gripping suspense novel.

Lisa has a secret lover. Once a month she escapes from caring alone for her son, who has cerebral palsy, meets Jay, just for the weekend, and loses herself in a realm without responsibility. Its perfect - until the day when Jay doesn't show up, and everything she thought she knew about him turns out to be a lie.

For Jay it was perfect, too. Five years ago he fled witness protection after his wife and son were murdered. He began a new life. But he shouldn't have let himself fall in love with Lisa, because now the villains are onto him and he must disappear again . . .


Sunday, July 13, 2014


gaza 2


gaza 3


gaza 4 


gaza 1

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Aging Hippie, zero tolerance and the Foreign Legion

You know my good friend the Aging Hippie, with whom I have shared so many adventures in California? The woman whom I met at a peace vigil on my very first visit to San Francisco? The woman who has a guest appearance in BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU?

sept 2011 116

She is gone.

She has joined the Peace Corps (the US version of VSO, as far as I can tell) and she is teaching in a primary school somewhere in Pretoria. She is in a similar-ish time zone now, but that’s no help to me, as she doesn’t have Wifi. I don’t even know if she has the internet, because she might as well have joined the Foreign Legion: she has disappeared into a black hole and is incommunicado. (The Peace Corps could not/would not give her postal address before she left, and I have to write to her care of their office there for now.)

We used to have long messaging conversations twice a week, send each other pictures, play word games in the ether. I miss her! Now I have to write to her by snail mail, and the official Peace Corps information says there is no knowing how long the letters will take to get to her. My letter sat on the stairs for a day because there seemed no urgency to drive to the post office with it.  I hate not having her available at the click of a mouse.

I admire her tremendously. She has committed to volunteering for 27 months and she is 68, for heaven’s sake. She has been doing volunteering of many kinds at home for years, but this has been her lifelong aim, and now she is doing it – go Karen!

When she was at home in Redwood City and fed up and kicking her heels, she would walk out into her neighbourhood and pick up litter. She said that if she could not manage to engineer world peace, at least she could make her immediate environment a little bit more beautiful. In her honour I have started a zero tolerance policy on litter on the Monsal Trail. This is what I picked up on my ride on Wednesday…


Is that a used paper plate amongst the chocolate wrappers???

Yes. A paper plate. 

Well, Karen might be out of my loop, but my family on their road trip through the Rockies to their new home have just been messaging me. I LOVE messaging. Isaac sent me this picture of them having their bedtime story at the same time as I was having my morning cuppa


(Yes, I know I am not supposed to be posting pics of my grandchildren on here, but it cheers me up to think of them safe and sound in Nevada, when my heart is breaking for families in Gaza.)


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Waking up to contrast

I woke to another glorious sunny day behind the blind

waking up

And the first pictures that caught my eye on Twitter were these..

1/  Moonrise from the International Space Station

moonrise from the ISS


2/  My family leaving their home in San Francisco to live in Boulder, Colorado

my famiky leaving sf


3/  A family fleeing their home in Gaza to escape Israeli bombing:

family fleeing airstrikes in gaza

And my immediate reaction is despair that there is nothing I can do to stop the suffering, here and everywhere.

But I don’t think the answer is not to enjoy the sunny day I have been given. I came across a poem by Jack Gilbert lately called A Brief for the Defence. Here is an extract:

extract from A brief for the defence

So I have been out picking strawberries in my pyjamas, cut back some seeding Lady’s Mantle with my sharp new pruning sheers (Oh joy! – I love those sheers that a Twitter friend recommended to me) and I’ve worked out where I’m going to store the huge heap of kindling that Dave has piled high in the wheelbarrow. He is always commandeering the wheelbarrow when I need it for gardening (bless his little cotton socks.) Now I shall take my morning shower.

I hope you enjoy your day, too.

Monday, July 07, 2014

How to make novelists love you

I have just read a newish novel by a respected author and although I thought the central premise of the novel was good, and the narrative drive was strong, and there was other good stuff going on, I could only give it three stars out of five, because I thought the writing had serious shortcomings. I didn’t post a review on Amazon: knowing how hard to is to write a successful novel, as well as how subjective is a reader’s reaction to it, I am squeamish these days about criticising other novelists’ babies.

Do you ever read reviews of novels on Amazon?

Do you know how powerful the reviews and the overall average rating is in persuading other readers to buy a book, or not to buy a book?

And did you know that some people rate the service from Amazon, and not the book?

I just read a two star review of a modern classic that says

“actual second hand book description did not come up to expectations
TATTY would be my description of this book, dog eared and yellowing pages
I will not be buying used again.”

Some people actually do give their opinion of the book itself in a two star review, but along the lines of

“I know this author is well-respected, but I just couldn't continue with this book. It was all the swearing which put me off, not that I never swear, it just didn't seem right that squaddies would use such language in front of their officers in 1914.”

And here is a one star review of another book

“I found the characters and narrative of this book highly irritating and at points I struggled to read on. Aspects of the book were also ridiculously unrealistic. A big dissapoinment [sic] after such amazing reviews!!”

All three of the above “reviews” pertain to intelligent novels – two of which were listed for major literary prizes. The other is a modern classic.

I am not suggesting that the reactions of the last two readers are not valid, but I am saying that they are not helpful. But isn’t it also the case that sometimes, one is just not in the right mood to enjoy a particular book? Sometimes, I have picked up a book, and then put it down unread, thinking it dull or unrewarding, only to pick it up at another time, and ravish it.

These days, I follow the advice from Thumper in Bambi - “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

I would translate this into Amazon book review protocol as never giving anything lower than a three star rating. and if I can’t do that, I don’t post a review.


Because one’s reaction to a book is so personal and subjective, it is a shame to damn a book (and its author) on a forum so public that it will alter the ratings of that book and possibly put other readers off who might enjoy the book – and thus damage sales for the author. When a book is a runaway bestseller, a couple of dodgy “reviews” will be neither here nor there. But when a book is by a new or a little known author, and only five people have rated it on Amazon, a single one star review can bring the average rating down in a powerful and heartsinking way.

So next time you want to blast a book on Amazon – please, think on.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Friday picture show

If I go on too much about the countryside where I live, the Monsal Trail, or my garden, I’ll be in danger of turning into a pensioner version of Fotherington-Thomas from How to be Topp.  But in high summer, being outside is what I like best. All the long days. I like waking up to sunshine on the lime trees in the field across the road,

south view limes

but it feels sacrilegous to be going to bed while the setting sun is still playing on the blossom outside the side window in the bedroom.


Here are some pictures - sans warbling - from my week of summer.



The rose at the garden wall


a morning ride up the Trail





Waiting for Liz and tea  (aka supper/dinner)  on the terrace at Hassop Station


Walking home after tea down the Trail



And home up the lane



Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Different strokes

I was listening to a Getz/Gilberto CD yesterday while I was making lemon curd

lemon curd 1

(and by the way – why is it that half a pound of butter, five lemons and five eggs and an unhealthy amount of sugar will only make four jars of lemon curd?)

lemon curd 2

when Dave came in the kitchen, and questioned my choice of music (poor benighted guitarist that he is.) I believe the word “wallpaper” featured somewhere in our conversation and it wasn’t me who uttered it.

I explained that the sax playing is not only mellow and very skilled, but it makes me feel happy. Just like the backing on the Billie Holiday CD I listen to all the time in the car. The sax, trumpet, trombone and piano of the jazz backing lifts me. Yes, I can listen to Leonard Cohen and Natalie Merchant along with the rest of the misery gutses, but right now, I want uplifting music, music that feeds me.

Did you see that film Quartet, with Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly and a rather yummy version of Tom Courtenay? It was set in a home for retired musicians. There was a lot of classical music and singing, but what made my spirits soar was the muted trumpet backing of the number “Are you having any fun?”

I may think a lot, but I am still a deeply shallow person.

And while I am at it, I can’t stand opera, or that middle-class dark, dark 70% cocoa mass chocolate. Give me Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, or please don’t bother.

And now I am off to play Corcovado on my sax.