Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review of my blogging year

First, thank you for reading my blog this year. It’s a weird thing that there are so many of you I don’t know and will never know, and yet often when I have finished writing a post, I feel better, just as I do when I have shared part of my life with a good friend.

Before I start the review, I have to tell you that I realised last night while watching Alan Rickman in Snowcake that I absolutely have to get him to play Sol in BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU when it’s televised. He is perfect for the part.

alan rickman

Now down to business. I’ve just been scanning my blog for the past year to remind myself what happened, what I thought about it and how I felt. And here’s what I gathered….

1/ KEY TURNING POINT - Going on the screenwriting course 

It was exhausting in all kinds of ways, chiefly because when you live as quiet a life as I do, living and working with 18 other people at close quarters 24/7 is a shock to the nervous system. It’s so intense. One morning I was so tired I went back to bed after breakfast and watched On Golden Pond on my laptop. But I came home encouraged and inspired to complete my screenplay. Now I am so in love with the medium I am working on another. This is a big thing for a writer who has given up hope of getting someone else to publish her books in this current ghastly publishing climate.

2/ KEY SADNESS - The brutal Israeli bombardment of Gaza

It was horrific, day after day, in July and August. And today in Gaza the situation is terrible. Although many countries promised aid to the people of Gaza for a rebuilding programme, many have not made good on their promises.

homeless in gaza

Tens of thousands of people in Gaza are homeless this winter. Some of them are newly orphaned children. Some are bereaved families. Some have lost limbs or sustained other serious injuries in the attacks. With whole neighbourhoods destroyed and nowhere else to go, many in Gaza are returning to what is left of their homes, mostly ruins, where there is no electricity or running water. If you would like to help, you can donate to Medical Aid for Palestinians, here.

3/ KEY PRIDE – Tate’s sponsored swim

My grandson Tate (10) swam half a mile to raise money for the Asperger Childrens’ Club he attends - ACCT.  He raised £665.30. . . And many of you sponsored him. THANK YOU!

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4/ FAVOURITE PHOTO – Liz’s summer picture of the gate down the lane

THE gate by Liz

 

5/ BEST FILM

I loved Sunshine on Leith, but Pride was the most inspiring film I saw this year. Here’s what I wrote about it.

pride

 

6/ FAVOURITE BOOK

The screenplay for Billy Elliot. Yes. Really. That’s how hooked I am on screenwriting. And this screenplay is brilliant.

7/ MOST HEART-WARMING MOMENT - Lux’s love letter

My granddaughter Lux(4) wrote me a love letter (dictated to her mother, Wendy.)

Dear Sue

I hope you have a good day and I love you.

And I want to take care of you.

I want you to have a star of good luck and many good things.

You are my Sue and I love you,

Lux.

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I wish you all a contented, committed and creative New Year.

Or if that’s not what you want – I wish you whatever you choose.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pictures and plot

This post is in two parts – first the pictures, and then a piece for those of you who are interested in plot and story.

This was our lane the morning after Boxing day when we went out for a walk…

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And here is the gate on the next lane…the one we used to lean on, on summer evenings, and wonder what Isaac and family were up to way out west…

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You may as well know that I hate the snow. Yes, it’s pretty, but it interferes with my life.

Part 2:

Wanting to write another screenplay, I got out my notes for a novel I started a couple of years ago. I have the three main characters fully developed, I have the main trajectory worked out, and I have the first three chapters written. But.

What is the but? The agent who was very keen on BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, but who in the end decided not to take it on, said “it won't be easy to sell this quiet, delicately nuanced novel in which nothing much (other than Life!) happens in our current horrible publishing landscape.”

The same could be said of my current work in progress. I feel as though I need some big big big things to happen to make it acceptable as a popular TV serial. The trouble is that my brain does not produce BIG things. It produces reflections, insights, interesting characters, quiet everyday emotional dilemmas, funny dialogue.

I’m wondering if story-telling genre is genetic. Neither Gil(8) my grandson, nor his cousin Lux(4) my granddaughter, like watching films with baddies in. They don’t like being scared. And I’m talking about age-appropriate films here. e.g. Gil went to see Paddington with the family at Christmas, and he had to leave in the middle because he didn’t like the baddie. Zoë (his mother) tried to explain to him that it’s just a story and a story needs a baddie, and why it needs a baddie and how it all works out happily in the end. Gil is a boy who likes to write stories (his last two works were  Jaims Bond [sic] and The Zooming Chickin!!! [sic] ) but he was not convinced. He said the film didn’t need a baddie because it was bad enough that the bear didn’t have a home. 

When I was on the screenwriting course in August I secretly wrote on the kitchen blackboard “Plot is a necessary evil” and the next morning, someone had written underneath “Evil is necessary to a plot.”

Seeking inspiration, I just googled “dramatic plot ideas” which produced an entry on Wikipedia called The Thirty Six Dramatic Situations, and listed things like Crime pursued by vengeance, Vengeance taken for kin upon kin, Pursuit, Disaster, Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune, Revolt, Abduction.

Could you see any of these in a Sue Hepworth production? Thoughts, anyone?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Each to his own

Yes, we have snow – hence the new header.

I felt very proud of myself on Christmas Day. I got all the fourteen items ready at the same time, there was no cross-contamination between carnivore and veggie food, and the roast free-range chicken was wonderfully moist. I can cook just fine, but roasting meat is a mystery because I so rarely do it - having no-one to share it with, and living with someone who finds the smell abhorrent. So every ON Christmas, I try very hard to GET IT RIGHT. This year I did. Go, me!

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In the midst of the last minute flurry of serving up all the different dishes, the family member who declines to be named asked me why I always do so many things. Why don’t I keep it simple? The answer is that I am trying to recreate the Christmas dinners we had when I was little. This means that one of the most important items for me are weird things called force meat balls which are balls of a kind of stuffing made – in our family - from fresh white breadcrumbs, vegetable suet, lemon, parsley and egg. My mother would prepare them on Christmas Eve and the fragrant smell would pervade the house.

Such delights are not shared by the person who lives here and doesn’t like Christmas and especially doesn’t like Christmas dinner, and who keeps his Christmas supplies in the water trough because there is no room for them in the fridge.

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But that is OK. It’s really OK. Each to his own.

 

Friday, December 26, 2014

My ON Christmas

It was lovely.

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And this is my home made “card” from the man who hates Christmas. 

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I love it!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Who are you? (revised)

Zoë and I went to see It’s a Wonderful Life at the weekend, a film I have seen once a year for the last OMG I don’t know how many, and a poster for which I have on my study wall.

its a wonderful life

The first time I saw it was with my father, who cried all the way through, which is exactly what Zoë and I did on Saturday. The person we were with had a different reaction. It surprised me, and it’s prompted me (as a former psychologist) to devise a new personality questionnaire  - the SHCPS (the Sue Hepworth Christmas Personality Schedule.)

1. When It’s a Wonderful Life is on the TV, do you…

a/  watch it and cry at the end?

b/  watch it and cry liberally throughout?

c/   enjoy the film but feel there are loose ends, e.g. why is Mr Potter not indicted for stealing the £8000?

d/  rush out of the room as soon as the opening titles come on?

e/  wonder why they are still showing a black and white film from almost 70 years ago, especially when it’s post-war American propagandist hogwash?

2.  Christmas trees: do you…

a/  buy a real one, because amongst other things, you adore the smell of fresh pine?

b/  buy a real one only if it has a root, because you worry about the environment?

c/  buy an artificial one, because you worry about the environment?

d/  buy an artificial one, because you loathe and detest dropped needles on the carpet?

e/  buy an artificial one, because they’re cleaner, cheaper and altogether more practical?

3. Mince pies.

a/  do you use home made pastry and home made mincemeat?

b/  do you use home made pastry and bought mincemeat?

c/  you don’t see the point of making them: what’s wrong with ones from the shop?

d/  you think mince pies are old hat and bring the cool quotient down on your Christmas comestibles

if you ticked c/ skip the next question.

4. What others say about your mince pies..

a/  they’re a perfect balance – in terms of the amount of mincemeat and of pastry?

b/  they’re mostly pastry, and mean on the mincemeat?

c/  they’re very pretty?

mince pies

 

5. Christmas tree decorations. Are yours..

a/  all old ones that you keep and use year after year for sentimental reasons, no matter how tatty?

b/  a mixture of old and new?

c/  only the latest, most trendy ones?

d/  you don’t have a Christmas tree?

That’s it. If I carry on, you’ll be getting the same old questions that all these Christmas quizzes have – I mean, I’ve come across that last one before.

And I’ve realised that if I devised a scoring system it would be impossibly skewed by my own sentimental, one-sided view of Christmas and all that pertains to it. But I do still think that the first question has real potential for an item in a serious personality questionnaire.

Today I’m going to make the nut roast for the veggies’ Christmas dinner; go for a walk; hope the wind that has been blowing for four days finally stops so that my bike ride will be more enjoyable; and clean the bathroom.

I hope you have an enjoyable Christmas season wherever you are, whatever you’re doing and whoever you’re with. And if there’s sadness in your house, I hope that Christmas doesn’t make it worse.

Happy Christmas, dear readers!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bad language

I’ve just had my usual lovely lengthy Sunday morning phone chat with my big brother, and he upbraided me for swearing on the blog. He said he was shocked. He said he didn’t think I used language like that (a four letter word beginning with f) and he was especially shocked that I should use it in public.

I said I hadn’t used it in public: I had sworn at a bauble.

And it was the first time I had ever used the word on the blog, but the fact that I had done so showed a/how desperate I was feeling, and b/ that I realised it was funny to tell a bauble to f off.

Also, I’d just read something that said it was ridiculous to use swear words in print and to substitute asterisks for the middle letters of the word. When everyone can work out what the word is by the end letters and the number of asterisks, you may as well use the word. I found that a compelling argument.

We then had an interesting chat about swearing and when we do it and what words we use and how it is perfectly possible to swear freely and yet manage easily to refrain from cursing in front of the grandchildren. I also said that I like words beginning with f. I like the sound of them – fitful, fretful, feckless, frock.

I hope you weren’t offended, dear readers.  I shan’t be making a habit of it.

Here is this years’ ON Christmas tree – all done. It’s small because it was grown in a pot and will be planted out after Christmas. I’ve forgotten which was the offending bauble.

my tree

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Veggies vs carnivores

I was in Bakewell’s answer to a health food shop yesterday buying broken mixed nuts, and the assistant said “A lot of people have been after those this week. I wonder why.”

“You’re obviously not a vegetarian,” I said. “Or a cook. They’re for nut roasts.”

“I am a vegetarian. And I cook. But my partner has a nut allergy.”

So that put me in my place. But it made me think about cooking at least two Christmas dinners next Thursday – one for the carnivores (Brian, Gil and me) and one for the veggies (Zoe, Tate and the family member who declines to be named.) Dave won’t be eating anything other than his usual grub (various oddments, and a lot of natural yoghurt.)

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If you’re embarking on the Christmas cook and you’re catering for different diets, you might like to read this piece I wrote for The Times so long time ago that my writer’s voice has changed.

Veggie Talk

Did you ever see that episode of The Royle Family, where Anthony brought home his vegetarian girlfriend at Christmas, and Nana asked “Can she eat wafer thin ham?”? In spite of the increase in the number of people saying they are vegetarians, misunderstanding is rife as to what exactly that means.

The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as "Someone who does not eat meat, poultry, game or fish, and who also avoids slaughterhouse products such as gelatine and animal fats. Most vegetarians eat dairy products and free range eggs."

I write this as a carnivore, bred in the bone. I was brought up on a farm where animals were for milking, fleecing or eating. Oh yes, and for stealing eggs from. Mine was a large family, and when we left the farm for life in the suburbs, meat became scarce through lack of funds and therefore all the more prized. My father would carve and serve the Sunday roast and then sit back, grasping the carving knife and fork, and say: “Does anybody feel hard done by?” It was a brave child who asked for more. When the first course was over, he would choose one of us to carry the meat out. To make sure that we didn’t pick at it while out of sight, we had to whistle all the way to the pantry and back. That way my father knew we had not been picking off precious juicy bits and scoffing them.

Much to my father’s bafflement, I married a vegetarian, and we had three children who also chose to be vegetarians, so I have been sharing a kitchen with vegetarians for many years. We don’t have any upsets over ingredients because they know they can trust me not to contaminate their food with meat, fish or animal products.

Here are some tips for mixed catering….

To banish problems from parties it’s best to keep meat, and food containing meat, on separate plates, and to clearly label the vegetarian dishes. And please make sure you know which is which. At a conference once, my husband was assured by hotel staff that a curry was vegetarian, but on taking his first mouthful he discovered he was eating chicken.

Some of my vegetarian friends who have lived with meat-eaters say that sharing a kitchen can be difficult. Hannah says grills in particular are a nightmare: flatmates grill bacon and sausages and leave the grill pan unwashed and “the veggie wanting to cook their own food has to start by cleaning the grill of revolting meat fat.”

She also complained about what happens with shared celebratory meals. The carnivores will cook a large meat dish, and the veggies will cook special vegetarian fodder usually in smaller quantities because there are fewer of them. The carnivores will then say “Ooh, that looks nice. Can I try some?” with the result that there are tiny rations for the veggies, because the sharing cannot be reciprocal. “The carnivores then add insult to injury by whacking all the left-overs on the same plate, so that bacon rolls are nestling up against roast potatoes, which someone had originally been considerate enough to cook in vegetable oil.”

If you are a carnivore you may think that this sensitivity about keeping foods separate is a bit precious. But a person who finds the very idea of eating meat repellent may not want to eat anything touched by it. And someone brought up in a household where meat is not eaten for religious reasons may think of meat as unclean. When a fellow guest at a party dips a sausage in the houmous there may well not be any meat residue left, but it could feel like the equivalent of someone dipping a severed finger in there.

Even some carnivores will have foods they prefer to avoid for serious reasons. Because of concerns about animal welfare, I only buy eggs and meat that are free range. Many people want nothing to do with genetically modified foods.

We each have our own individual sensibilities. When my son was six he found a dead squirrel on the pavement and wanted to take it to school for show and tell. Unfortunately, this was during half term, so my husband wrapped the perfectly intact body in several layers of plastic bags and put it in our freezer to preserve it. A couple of my friends were horrified. Another friend scoffed at their attitude but did complain when her detective husband started to keep bits of evidence in their home freezer.

But back at the table, can I make a plea for veggies to show equal tolerance towards meat-eaters? Even if vegetarians consider themselves to have the moral high ground, they should behave with impeccable politeness. On the rare occasions when I do cook meat for myself at home, it is extremely irritating to hear someone calling from another part of the house: “What’s that disgusting stench of burning flesh?


TIPS FOR HAPPY KITCHEN SHARING

· begin by sorting out the ground rules as to what is acceptable practice

· store meat covered, and on the bottom shelf of the fridge

· place a large plate under thawing meat to prevent blood dripping into the salad drawer

· reserve a separate chopping board for meat preparation

· always clean the grill after using it

· consider having two frying pans and two sets of utensils and cooking tins

· if you have a double oven, consider cooking meat in only one section

· when frying meat, shield other items from spitting fat

· wash up with more care than usual

When cooking shared food

· substitute vegetable oils, vegetable suet or butter, for lard and dripping

· use vegetable bouillon powder or vegetable stock cubes for flavouring

· check ingredients of prepared food to avoid animal by-products. e.g. many yoghurts and mousses contain gelatine, and bought pastry and biscuits may contain animal fats

At parties

· keep foods containing meat and fish on separate plates from vegetarian food

· label food clearly

 

© Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Desperate times

When you’re a person who loves Christmas, but it takes you two days to decorate your three foot high tree and you hear yourself saying “Fuck off” to a Christmas tree decoration, you know you’re feeling blue. The short days, the cloudy skies, the rain…they’re all conspiring to make me want to hibernate. I forced myself to go out in the rain on the Trail for a ten mile ride on my bike yesterday and I came home dripping wet but feeling better.

A confession: sometimes when I’m fed up in the winter, I stay in bed late and dip into my favourite bits from one of my Plotting books to cheer myself up. Today it’s been Plotting for Grown-ups and the bits where Sally tells her kids she has got a new man. I love those bits even if it isn’t the done thing to say so.

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Here is an excerpt where Sally attempts to tell her lovable, errant son Sam that she’s moving on:

“It’s about me and Dad. You haven’t been home for so long, I really can’t remember if you know the full story. I mean, do you know that we’ve agreed it’s over between us, and he’s staying in his cabin in the Rockies for keeps?”

“Course I know. He’s really cool, isn’t he?”

Cool? Cool? That’s not the word I would use.

“So we are separated, Sam.”

“Well, yeah.”

“I mean in the marriage sense.”

“So?”

“Don’t you care? What do you mean – so?”

“Well it hardly makes any difference, does it? I mean, you’re both past it now. You’ve fulfilled your genetic imperative and you’re finished.”

Sometimes I could strangle that boy. Sometimes I could strangle Gus. They are so alike, those two! If we’re talking genetics, it’s clear to me that I married beneath my gene pool. I am so much more evolved than either of them. I absolutely am not finished. I was very tempted to tell him about Kit and me and the last few days, but I couldn’t face his reaction. Anyway, is there any point?

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And here is the next time she broaches the subject:

“I told you that he’s a friend, Sam, but he’s more than that. We’re a couple. An item. And, shock, horror, we sleep together.”

“At your age?”

“Yes, at my age!”

“Oh, you mean for companionship. Like mates. Well, if that’s what you want – cool. So long as you steer clear of the squelchy stuff.”

“Listen, Sam. I know you think I’ve fulfilled my biological imperative and therefore I’m past it, but that’s based on the premise that people only have sex in order to have children. I’m damn sure you and Xanthe don’t want children.” An awful thought struck me. “Do you?”

“Course not. But we’re young. People your age having sex is perverted. I mean – how can you even fancy someone when they’re as old as you? It’s bordering on necrophilia. No offence.”

“I’ll have you know that the fastest growing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases is in the over-60s.”

“Oh, gross. I’m out of here. I don’t have to listen to this. It’s as bad as listening to X reading out the technical bits from Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Why on earth did I mention STDs?

Now I’m going to get up, finish the tree, put the boxes away in the attic, and clean. Yes: clean. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Darkness

I’m struggling with all kinds of darkness. And I just looked at last year’s blog posts for the same week, and it was just the same then, so maybe I have seasonal affective disorder, despite the SAD light beaming out like an alien spaceship from the top of the chest of drawers.

Today I will bring in the tree. I love the tree: apart from being surrounded by family, it’s my favourite bit of Christmas.

It's not fair to quote living poets' work on the net (how are they expected to make a living?) but here is the beginning of The Christmas Life by Wendy Cope:

Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,

Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold.

Bring winter jasmine as its buds unfold -

Bring the Christmas life into this house.

and the end:

Bring in a birth, of hope and love and light.

Bring the Christmas life into the house.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Casting

This week I’ve been rewatching (is that a word? I’ve just woken up from a nightmare and my brain is addled) As Time Goes By and loving it again. And I’ve been wondering how much of As Time Goes By’s success was due to Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. Do you think the script would have been funny if someone else had played the leads?

as time goes by

Then I considered Last Tango in Halifax and decided that although the cast were brilliant, it would be a success whatever.

All this stemmed from a discussion I had with two friends who read my screenplay before I sent it off. They said how important the casting of Sol and Frances would be. I agreed.

The only other thing that’s bothering me is that someone who’s been reading my blog for years has just read BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, and I am dying to know what she thinks! I only know her through the blog and I can’t email her because I don’t have her email address. It’s so infra-dig to put this on the blog, but hey, I’m not proud. So Marmee, tell me!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

And now for some good news

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These are dark days – literally and figuratively – so I thought I’d share some good news with you that might have passed you by. Or… if you just want some visual cheering up, you can skip to the bottom for some of my domestic December photographs from the last few years.

1/ The blanket ban on sending books to prisoners in England and Wales was last week declared unlawful by the high court. Mr Justice Collins quashed the ban imposed by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, and ordered him to amend his policy on what can be sent to prisoners. Read more here.

2/ Russia's richest man has revealed that he bought US scientist James Watson's Nobel Prize gold medal, and intends to return it to him. Steel and telecoms tycoon Alisher Usmanov said Mr Watson "deserved" the medal, and that he was "distressed" the scientist had felt forced to sell it. Read more here.

3/ Loggers did not accidentally cut down the world’s oldest tree – a story circulating on Facebook. Read more here.

4/ Ireland has become the latest European Union member to approve a non-binding parliamentary motion seeking recognition of Palestinian statehood. Lawmakers in Britain, France and Spain already have passed similar motions calling on their governments to follow Sweden, which was the first western EU member to recognize Palestinian statehood officially.

On the home front, I’ve finished the screenplay and sent it off for someone working in the film industry to look at. I shan’t hear for at least a month and I have an ON Christmas to think about between now and then, so it won’t seem such a long wait. Fingers crossed. It’s a weird thing that when you type up something you have written in rough it seems to immediately assume an air of authority. Have you noticed? It was the same with the screenplay. When it was all formatted correctly  it looked brilliant.  It’s not, of course. But at least it has its best bib and tucker on for its first foray out into the world.

To celebrate, I’m having pancakes for breakfast.

And now for the pictures…..

The ancient stone bridge in Bakewell:

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The viaduct carrying the Monsal Trail:

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Our lane:

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Dave (nutter) :

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The kitchen prettied up for Christmas:

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Chione when she first came to live with us:

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The back window in my study:

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Breakfast by the fire in my study:

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Yes, this one is really December:

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The man who hates Christmas:

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Tate and Gil playing Pictionary:

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Absent friends:

Cece -

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Lux -

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Postscript: I can’t get over the delight I feel on listening to this saxophone duet. Check it out.

Monday, December 08, 2014

One of those days

Did you ever have one of those days where you woke up late because you’d had four hours lying awake in the middle of the night (for no reason), and then when you wanted to go out you couldn’t find your house keys and the last time you remember seeing them was the afternoon before when you were going out on a bike ride, and you hunt around for so long that you’re  three quarters of an hour late for Quaker meeting, which is only an hour long anyway, and then when you get home and decide that the keys must be in the house and you start a systematic search, you find them in a wellington boot – why were they there? and more mysteriously, why did you even think of looking for them there? – and then a family member visits and you ask her if the cardigan you’ve bought suits you or should it go back to the shop and she turns round suddenly and smears henna from a wet henna design on the back of her hand onto said cardigan so even when you’ve applied sellotape to it and got most of it off, a tiny spot remains so it’s not enough to notice if you’re wearing it, but it is enough to mean you can’t take the thing back to the shop, so you don’t have the option of dithering over the purchase any longer  ?

Well I had one of those days.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Home on the range

Winter in the country can be a bummer - the dark, the cold, the mud, the leaching out of colour, the lack of access to what’s going on elsewhere. It takes only half an hour for us to drive to town, but we have to go over a ridge of hills to get there, which means that if there’s an event we want to attend in winter weather – ice, snow, fog – it requires skill, courage, determination, four wheel drive and snow tyres. I can say yes to only two of those.

On the other hand, when I arrive home from Sheffield on a clear night, the stars are bright. And I’m so much more aware of the sun and the moon out here, how their arcs change through the seasons. I like that I know exactly where they rise and set throughout the year.

When I drove home the three miles from Bakewell just after four yesterday, I was bewitched by the huge full moon hanging above the horizon in a clear sky. I parked the car and rushed in to drag Dave out to see it, and then I tried to take a photo of it and failed.  See what I mean?

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Yes, I took a photo. But could I capture the enormity of it? The awesomeness? The magic? No.

The last leaves have fallen from the copper beeches in the garden, the frost has turned the lingering nasturtiums by the front door to mush, and the Christmas tree is up on the village green. Starlings are gathering in flocks and flying up to their roosting place over the hill and soon we’ll be driving up to see their murmurations. We’re nearly at the winter solstice. The natural world is quiet. And you know what’s next?

An ON Christmas. 

If you’re new to the blog and don’t know what an ON Christmas is, read this.

And here’s a more successful photo I took four years ago of the winter moon setting behind the village.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Country mouse goes to town

Only read this post if you have nothing better to do. Firstly, it’s a long rambling petty tirade about an activity I hate. And secondly, I’m beginning to feel uneasy again about blogging about trivia when the world is in tatters. (Amongst other current horrors all over the globe, I read this morning that in Texas they execute the mentally ill.)

So….

Once a year I go shopping in Sheffield: a designated Christmas shopping trip. It’s marked in my diary because it’s an event. It’s an event I have to build up to because I hate shopping. It’s not the Christmas, it’s the shopping.The last time I blogged about it was December 2012.

On Monday I went to five shops and came home wrecked. That’s how pathetic I am at coping with city life. There were exacerbating factors, such as my phone running out of credit mid-crucial phone call, and thinking I was locked inside my car. But still.

I started hopefully, supposedly breaking myself in gently, in John Lewis, retailer beloved of Sally Howe (of Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups.) But the devil has been at work in John Lewis. They have revamped it and reorganised it and there is less stock of the things I care about (e.g. buttons and wool and toys) and more space given to things I don’t care about, so cosmetics and fragrances and all associated mysteries now take up the whole of the front of the shop. It’s brightly lit and scary there, like a modern designer kitchen. I had to venture in because I needed to get something for the family member who declines to be named. I found said item but the staff had no idea how much it cost because of recent pricing changes. I said I’d go back later.

I went upstairs in search of childrens’ slippers, but the buyer of children’s slippers had obviously been as traumatised as me by the recent changes. The stock was execrable. (And as a side issue – why is there so much lurid pink around these days?)

The childrens’ slipper stock in M & S was also pretty dire, and there they have piped music. Aarrggh. I’d forgotten how piped music addles your brain. But I did alight on something suitable, only to be told they didn’t have it in either of the sizes I was after.

Next stop T K Maxx, which strangely felt calm and spacious (how John Lewis used to feel) and I bought another thing on my list. Then I was seduced by a cashmere hoodie (not on my list.) I am a sucker for cashmere hoodies. I bought one in San Francisco in 2007. It has been darned and patched and is only fit now for wearing in bed while I blog. I want another one but have never seen one priced in a catalogue below £100. This one was, so I tried it on, but the terrible lighting in the changing room showed not whether the colour suited me but what an old hag I have become. I left it. Also the piped music was doing my head in.

At so to Waterstones.

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What a relief. The staff were helpful. There was no piped music. They had three of my books in stock (I mean MY BOOKS). And what a success – five things purchased, and a chance to flash my Society of Authors discount card, a perennially rewarding experience. The only disappointment was the celebratory toasted teacake (eschewed for ten years as not worth the calories). They toasted it in one of those griddle things which meant it came out not plump, cushiony and inviting, but squashed and mean-looking and not amenable to soaking up butter.

Back to John Lewis. I spent half an hour in the kitchen department (I exaggerate not) while the staff tried to price an item on the computer/till and then when I said – “Yes, I’ll take one!” they said it wasn’t in stock in that size.

I warned you about this blog post.

But this, dear readers, is why I like to shop remotely.