Friday, February 27, 2015

Things I can’t tell her

I’ve just been writing in my journal all the things that have happened in the last 24 hours that I want to run past Mary, and can’t. And only two of them are about her funeral yesterday. 

You know how you go to some funerals and a vicar at the crematorium who doesn’t know the deceased (who never went to church anyway and was probably an atheist) talks obliquely about the person who’s died, and then you sing hymns that he/she probably didn’t believe, and you go home feeling cheated and bereft? 

Mary’s funeral was the opposite of that. It was rich, full, honest and deeply meaningful. It was - above everything else - full of love. It was a fitting tribute to someone whom her nephew so perfectly described as graduating from life summa cum laude.

It was officiated by a humanist who was merely there to introduce the people taking part, and the pieces of music. Mary’s wonderful children led a chain of family and friends in talking about Mary. I read out my blog post about her. The room was packed with people who had been touched by her quiet kindness and care. There were so many people present who thought of Mary as their best friend because they could talk to her in a way they could talk to no-one else.  I realise now, as I have not before, what a privilege it was to be her friend.

Me and Mary 1

I can share this with you…

as I did with Zoë yesterday, on leaving the crematorium, “There are some occasions when you are never too old to have your mother lick her hankie and wipe the mascara off your cheeks.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


I don’t have that raw skinned feeling this week. Now I am dazed and weird, wondering how I’m going to get by.

I had a lovely weekend away in Wensleydale with my sister Kath. We stayed at the B and B we always stay at. It feels like home there, but with better cooking.

We went for long, long walks mostly under cloudier skies than these:


and had lots of great food, including a meal at our brother Jonty’s house.

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It was relaxing and stabilising. I love weekends away with Kath.

Now I’m into timing my “speech” for the funeral on Thursday.

I’m hoping to get back into the screenplay next week. In the meantime I’m pressing my sunset patchwork quilt, of which this is just a section,

patchwork sunset

and measuring it up for backing and lining. No, I haven’t been working on it all these months. I work on it when it’s impossible to settle to writing, and when I can’t face going out.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

those moments

This is the poem I wanted to show you last week. It’s posted here with the kind permission of the poet, Mandy Coe.

Let’s Celebrate

the moments
where nothing happens.
The moments
that fill our lives.
Not the field bright with poppies, but
the times you walked, seeing
no leaves, no sky, only one foot
after another.

We are sleeping
(it’s not midnight and
there is no dream).
We enter a room – no one is in it.
We run a tap,
queue to buy a stamp.

These are the straw moments
that give substance
to our astonishments;
moments the homesick dream of;
the bereaved, the diagnosed.

Mandy Coe, from Clay (Shoestring Press)

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The February photo above is a track above the village in Wensleydale where my parents lived. I’m going there with my big sister for a long weekend. See you next week.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

a burst of colour

Some of my family don’t understand why I write personal stuff on here: but they love me anyway. The thing is - I am a writer, and writing is what writers do. And I like the Ted Hughes quote: “What’s writing really about? It’s about trying to take fuller possession of the reality of your life.” And the Cecil Day-Lewis one: “We write not to be understood, we write to understand.”

Every morning and at periods throughout the day, Dave, concerned, asks me how I am. So far it’s been the same answer: “I’m sad. And I feel raw. As if I’ve been skinned.”

A few weeks after my mother died, I wrote this on the blog:


Being bereaved is like being a walking wound. Every part of you is tender. You can't settle to anything because nothing feels comfortable. Sometimes you forget you're a wound and you become absorbed by something outside yourself - like cutting back the autumn garden, sweeping up the leaves, watching three hundred crows wheeling over the field at the back of the house.

Sometimes you go to a familiar place and chat to a friend and forget you're a wound, and you laugh out loud at a shared joke and you think to yourself "I can do this. I can live without my mother and still be happy." And then you leave your friend and walk down the street and you're a wound again. I will know I am healed, I suppose, when all the happy interludes join up and there are no aching times in between. And it is getting better every day.

This morning, sitting in bed, I turned sideways and saw this burst of colour on my bedside table, and I loved it:


Then I spent five happy minutes trying to get the best possible shot of it. The freesias and genista are the flowers I bought for myself the day Mary died.

The sky is clear and bright today, and the boys are coming over. It’s Pancake Day, so we’ll have pancakes, and later, I’ll tempt them to walk down the Trail with the lure of ice cream at Hassop Station.

I know that when they’ve gone home I’ll feel like a walking wound again, but in the meantime I’m going to seize any colour the day has to offer.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Sometime in the last century I saw an advert in the paper: someone was making a TV programme about best friends, and they wanted volunteers to be on it. Being a bit of a show-off, I suggested to Mary that we should offer, and she, being a shy, private person was horrified.

Mary died yesterday at home, surrounded by her beloved family.

If she thought about it beforehand she might guess I was going to say something about her on here, and I am.

Mary could be infuriating, embarrassing, and – for the first twenty years of our friendship – invariably late. But outside of my large family (and yes, Dave, as you define family differently from me, I am including you in my family) Mary was the person in my life I have loved the most.

In so many ways we were opposites. I am driven. She was whatever the word is to define minus drive. I could be writing at 6 a.m. She would be eating her porridge at noon. It would have driven me insane to share living space with her. But our values overlapped completely, and as a friend she was unsurpassable. She was a huge emotional support through long tough times in my life. She was caring, compassionate, tactful, loyal, discreet, non-judgmental, and considerate. (Ten years ago, she stopped being late.)

Another dear friend sent me a sweet email yesterday saying she knew I’d be devastated by Mary’s death. That about sums it up.

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And here’s that Dinah Craik quote again…

“But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely.

Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

Aysgarth, Nov 2011 008

Friday, February 13, 2015

Various choices

I could tell you about going into John Lewis for vacuum cleaner bags on Tuesday and coming out with a new coat. Or I could tell you about a new poem I discovered via that amazing blog – Lifesaving Poems.

I wanted to post the poem  - Mandy Coe’s “Let’s Celebrate” - on here, and I emailed the poet to ask for permission, but I haven’t heard back yet. But I am sure Anthony Wilson, who writes the above blog will have her permission, so I’m going to direct you there. Follow this link and scroll past his commentary to the bottom of the page. I think it’s worth the trouble. If that one does nothing for you, try this one. (Again, scroll past the commentary to find the poem.)

I’m sorry today’s post is rather once-removed, but that is where my head is right now: once-removed.  In all my waking moments when I am not actually doing something, I am working my way through the poems listed on Anthony Wilson’s Blog. It seems like an appropriate response in the face of death.

Also, today there is a choice of photo. You can either take this one…

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or this one...

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How did you get here?

This morning, feeling sad, I googled “Poems to read to the dying” and in a couple of links arrived at Anthony Wilson’s wonderful Lifesaving Poems Blog. I have been sitting in bed reading the poems on his list. Now, I’m ordering the anthology which is to published in June by Bloodaxe.

Then as I was eating my porridge I got to wondering how you, dear readers, came across my blog. I am always amazed how many people get here via an old post of mine called It is possible to have too many tables.

Feb 2012 048

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The lonely Trail; and accepting criticism

Because I had that wretched virus, because of the snow and the bitter cold, and because the quieter section of the Monsal Trail has been covered with a thick sheet of dimpled ice, I’ve not been cycling. And I’ve missed the Trail.

I got to feel like that bit at the end of The Railway Children:

They seemed to be hardly Railway children at all in those days, and as the days went on each had an uneasy feeling about this which Phyllis expressed one day.

“I wonder if the Railway misses us,” she said plaintively. “We never go to see it now.”

Yesterday I cycled up it for the first time in three weeks, and most of the ice had gone. And I can confirm that an hour’s brisk walk around the village does not use the same muscles as an hour’s brisk ride up the Trail.

At teatime we drove up above the village, onto the edge, to see if the starlings were murmurating in the same place as last year. But we saw no starlings, just some lovely sunset clouds.



The other news is that I had some professional feedback on episode one of my TV adaptation of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU. Guess what? It’s not dramatic enough. There were other valid criticisms too, such as the suggestion that there were too many montages, and there was too much talking. I was upset for a day, and then I got excited again at the prospect of making it work the second time around.

So here’s the thing: I now understand why people who adapt novels for film sometimes have to tweak the plot, because I am tweaking my plot in order to add that extra drama. No, Fran is not going to murder Sol when he washes the duvet in the bath, but I am injecting more conflict commensurate with the existing tone and characters. Once I got over the resistance to change anything at all, it became easier. The trouble is that when something changes in episode one, it is likely there will have to be other changes in episodes two, three, and four.

In case you wondered, I am not hating the rewriting. I am loving the challenge of trying to get it to work. And my good friend Chrissie (crime writer extraordinaire) who understands plot, is being a wonderful help.

p.s. I have waited until now to have snowdrops on my header, because in my garden they only just came out. (That’s our cat, by the way.)

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The answer

My dearest friend and confidante is gravely ill and my concern for her is having a weird effect: it’s making me sensitive to all kinds of exaggerated anxieties and sadnesses which are focussed on my family.

I’m not usually like that.

I expect it will pass.

And there’s a helpful quote from Rohinton Mistry which I found in that book I recently read twice in one week, Kate Gross’s Late Fragments. It especially speaks to my condition:


To that end, I am having pancakes for breakfast.

And I’m enjoying photographs of the girls in Colorado (come on, I haven’t had pics of the grandchildren on here for ages):




And Dave is going out for the day which means I can get on with the rewrite of episode one of the screenplay undisturbed. Yay!


Photographs by @isaach

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Crisis on the home front

All of Dave’s jeans (four pairs) -  which I bought in a January sale 5 years ago - have worn out at the same time. This is an emergency. He wears jeans 99.9% of the time, and owns just one pair of smart trousers (Hugo Boss, no less) that were hand-me-downs from Isaac when he moved to the USA in 2003. As a stop gap I have given him my over-sized dungarees that I bought in Colorado last autumn.


You know I hate shopping, don’t you? It isn’t that Dave hates shopping, it’s that he doesn’t know how it works. He thinks that if he sits on the sofa by the fire in the evening and says his clothing is at crisis point, and he really has to get some new jeans organised, they will materialise in the chest of drawers upstairs.

He has the same problem with his underpants. I used to shop for Dave’s clothes, but it is a dispiriting sport. Where do you think all the jokes about jeans and pants spring from in Plotting for Grown-ups?

exhibit 1: the problem with jeans

Richard called at lunchtime and I showed him a pair of jeans I’d bought in the Scouts jumble sale. They are just Richard’s size, and they look quite hip to me.

He tried them on and said precisely what I expected: “The waist is far too low.” Richard spends the entire day hitching whatever pair of trousers he is wearing up round his waist, and these wouldn't go high enough for his liking. They weren't the kind that exposes your pants, they were merely an inch lower than the M&S seconds he bought off Bakewell market five years ago. “I want something more robust,” he said.

“They are robust!”

“I'm looking for something more workaday. I need something that genuflects less to fashion and more to safety and comfort.”

“But you’re trying to look attractive to women, aren’t you?” I said.

He pulled up his sweatshirt and exposed the flesh above the waistband. “This low waistband is an outrageous ploy to dupe the consumer. Dickies don't skimp on material like this.” (Richard worships Dickies work clothes because “they are commodious, they shrug off stains, and they have wonderful pocketry.”)

“These jeans make you look ten years younger, Richard.”

“I don't think I'll be wearing them,” he said, vainly trying to hitch them up high again. “They look like a high risk trouser. Edgy.”

exhibit 2: the problem with pants

He got up from his chair (we were sitting in the kitchen) and tugged at the seat of his trousers. Then he sat down again and said, “Some of my underpants are terrible. It’s as if they’re alive – I can feel them creeping down my thighs. I need to cull them.”

“What you need to do when you get home is get them all out of your drawer, and lay them all out on the bed and go through them, one by–”

“I am going through them! That’s the trouble! But where can I get some decent ones? I have had it up to here with M&S Y-fronts. They’re hopeless!”

What is it about men and their underpants?

“You need to get something that isn’t a standard Y-front, something a bit more 2011-ish. Especially now you’re on the pull. I mean – what would Ms Fuchsia Pink think of them?”

“This is where Dickies could pounce,” he said. “They ought to be calling in their top designers, even as we speak.”

“So what do you think the perfect underpant needs?”

“Security, material that shrugs off stains, adequate ventilation – possibly assisted – and a reliable fastening. It’s about time persons of quality gave their attention to the comfort and protection of the nation’s manhood. Paxman tried a few years ago – do you remember all that kerfuffle on the Today programme? Nothing happened. Next thing you know, Prince Charles will be muscling in with the Poundbury Pant and the Prince’s Truss.”

There are several problems – as you can see - but the main one is that he thinks good quality jeans and woollen jumpers cost under £10. You, dear readers, may be able to source such prizes, but out in the sticks the discount stores are few. I have brought home too many items in the past that have been rejected on grounds of cost.

I’m waiting to see who will crack first – him or me.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Interchange at Hepworth Towers

Dave:  “You’re in a an odd mood today. You’re not yourself.”

Sue:  “No. I’m being uncharacteristically stoical.”

And here – totally unrelated, except that trees embody stoicism  - are some trees I encountered on an icy afternoon walk around the village.

My favourite sycamore:


My favourite Scots pines:


My favourite oak: