Tuesday, May 31, 2016


I was sitting in bed yesterday  morning revving up to blog about the immense pleasure of an empty day after a busy week, when Dave suggested we should go to see more art exhibits in the Derbyshire Open Arts weekend. 

Radical. We usually sit in the garden on Bank Holiday Mondays counting our blessings that we LIVE HERE, while tourists flock into Bakewell from who knows where. But Dave knows long windy roads with grass growing in the middle that tourists don't and we managed to make our destination with only one short snarl up on the way. 

Even when I haven't liked the art, or I didn't think it was as good as I'd hoped, it's been exciting, inspirational and stimulating to see what others are doing in so many different media (e.g. acrylic ink, which I'd never heard of). I've been wanting for ages to mess about with colour that isn't fabric. (I'm addicted to patchwork.) The last time there was a local abstract colour painting workshop was the same week as the launch of Plotting for Grown-ups when I was up to my eyes in arrangements and stress, and I couldn't go. But now I'm signed up for a "Painterly Printmaking Workshop" in June, and I can't wait.

This is the last time I did any printmaking. It was those young ambitious days when I still had my authorly plait, some time before July 2007. It's been too long.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Living it up

It's been a good week.

On Sunday I cycled up the Monsal Trail with children, teenagers and adults from Quaker meeting and had a picnic in our garden. There was sunshine, slacklining, table tennis, boules, plate spinning, dinky toys, crokinole, home made brownies and cake. A mobile phone was spotted only once - when someone's mother rang to say she was on her way on her bike. (She'd been at Meeting while we'd been frolicking in May.)

Tuesday I cycled up Longstone Edge and only had to get off and walk for twenty yards.

Wednesday I saw my homeopath and told her I was feeling BETTER!
Then there was delicious home made soup at Mary's house with Mary's husband, when we talked about this and that and Mary, and on the way home I did not cry because Mary had not been there. 

Thursday morning was sax lesson when I delighted Mel with good playing and the story of me and the burly firemen.

Thursday afternoon Liz and I went to Buxton to see a film we both enjoyed a lot - Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin. Last week the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. This week the Buxton Opera House. 

Not really. The film was in the Pavilion Arts Centre round the back, but I wanted to show you the Opera House.

I recommend the film - it had everything in it I liked - comedy, drama, love, interesting women, a sexy man, love. When I got home I read the reviews and came across a reference to the Bechdel Test. Have you heard of it? It asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. What really interests me is that films that pass the test make more money than those that don't.

Yesterday we went for a wonderful long family walk through lush green countryside, that included this view of the Monsal trail:

Today it's Derbyshire Open Arts weekend and Dave and I are visiting some exhibits.

Life is good.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

British cluster bombs

British cluster bombs are being used by Saudi Arabia in the Yemen.

Cluster bombs are an illegal weapon, banned under international law since 2008.

Please will you sign this petition to the UK government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

and then...

I knew what this morning's blog post was about until I sat up and drew the blinds. Then it changed. It's sunny and clear and bright and green, and it's also still. Still days are rare here. I will treasure it and celebrate it and live outside all day.

i thank You God for most this amazing 
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a true blue dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

e e cummings

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Acting on advice

You know that my sax teacher wants me to play a solo at her wedding reception, don't you? And you know that when I play in public I am paralysed by nerves? Well Dave and (independently) my friend Het suggested I force myself to play to as many people as possible between now and the wedding, in order to get past the nerves.

So yesterday, I took my sax and my backing track to Ruth's house where we were having lunch with two other friends. We had lunch, and decided which of Kent Haruf's novels we liked the best, and various similar matters, and then they told me to get out my sax and play. I played a tune and made one mistake. They were very encouraging; they said it sounded good and if I hadn't pulled a face at the mistake they wouldn't have noticed. In the middle of my second tune there was a knock at the back door. Ruth lives in a terraced house and you can see through the window who is at the door. It was four burly firemen. 

They were calling on everyone in the street to talk about fire prevention because there'd recently been a local house fire. Ruth invited them in and they checked her fire alarms and gave advice, all while Muggins was standing in the corner with her sax. 

Guess what happened next?

Yep. They asked me to play, and I did.

Would you believe this story if it was in a novel?

I told my grandson Gil (9) about it. "Isn't it funny?" I said. 

"I don't know if it's funny," he said. "It's random."

Friday, May 20, 2016

A very lucky country mouse goes to town

When Zoe and Isaac still lived and worked in London, I loved going to visit. They'd shepherd me to where I wanted to go, and take me out to cool new places too, and it was huge fun. They both moved to other places years ago, and since then I've thought of London as a place I don't much like, where I only go when there's a demo I simply have to attend, or an exhibition I'd kick myself if I missed, or a screenwriting festival I want to pitch at, or there's  a visiting aging hippie who wants to meet me. I tend to feel alienated, tense and lonely when I'm alone in London.

Thanks to a friend who lives there, I'm beginning to like London again.  I got back from there last night. My friend had invited me to stay at her flat overlooking the Thames,

and to go to the ballet with her. Oh wow. Frankenstein at the Royal Opera House, along with champagne and dinner. I'd never read Frankenstein nor seen a dramatisation of it, and all I knew of the story was that someone created a scary creature. (I'd seen photographs of Boris Karloff as that creature.)

I had the most wonderful time. It was lovely to spend the afternoon catching up, and then at teatime to head to the ballet. Here's me on Tower Bridge:

Here's me sipping my pre-prandial champagne:

And here is the Creature:

We had fantastic seats - the middle of the stalls, five rows from the front. I could see every muscle move. I could see the facial expressions of the dancers. I could feel overwhelmed by it. The stage sets and special effects were stunning, and the story was sad and moving. I'm still pondering it. It was a mega treat being there on Wednesday night - all of it. Thank you, Het.

The following morning we walked along the south bank of the Thames to a Mona Hatoum exhibition at the Tate Modern. She's a Palestinian video and installation artist. Her work is political, provocative and often chilling and I'm still thinking about some of the messages in what we saw. One of her many exhibits was a keffeh woven of human hair. That's the easiest piece to describe. I don't want to go into the many pieces that had an impact on me, but I do recommend the exhibition.

Now I'm back home in green, green Derbyshire. I've been up the Trail on my bike, heard so many blackbirds singing, and pulled out some dandelions on the back path. I love being here. But London was very, very stimulating, and I'm looking forward to another trip some time - perhaps this year -  to charge my interest circuits. 

I feel refreshed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bits and bats - the news from Hepworth Towers

It has been a quiet week at Hepworth Towers.

The table tennis table has been on the lawn for a fortnight but we've only played three times because the senior batsman has insisted it's been far too breezy to play. He has also been hassling me to buy a new bat. 

He wanted a new bat and said I needed one too, but that I needed to choose my own. I didn't care about bats. I just wanted to play. Could he not just buy me a bat? Any old bat. But he insisted I had to choose my own, because if he got one for me I would complain it was too heavy, or too light, or the handle wasn't comfortable or the colour was wrong. He obviously sees me as some sort of Goldilocks, or perhaps a Princess with a Pea.

Anyway...we went to Sheffield together yesterday and called in at a sports supermarket and although there was nothing classy enough for him to bat with, I bought this:

Note the brand - STIGA - and the name of the bat - FRENZY - and the fact that it has FIVE STARS.

Well....you know how Dave always beats me at everything? Last night he didn't. I actually won some games - all on account of the new bat. The trouble is that when he gets his new bat, we'll be back to square one. My edge will have gone, and he will be winning every game again.

The reason we went to Sheffield was to take my old bike to a workshop that fixes up bikes for asylum seekers. The guy in charge came out of the workshop to take the bike from me and said "Thank you," and I told him it was in good working order, but I'd got a new bike. ( See this old post.) 

He was about to go back in and then a thought struck him. "This bike might just suit an asylum seeker who is here right now, working on another bike." My heart fluttered. He leaned inside the workshop and called to someone. How wonderful to actually meet the person who would have my bike. How often do you get to meet a stranger you help? I absolutely wasn't looking for thanks, just the personal connection.  The guy came out, he was about my height, and peered at my bike. Then he said "I'm happy with the one inside, thanks."  A slim chance. But it was a very nice idea - and I liked the workshop guy for thinking of it.

Some other news is that I washed the porch floor last week and went out somewhere, and when I came home, the two hideous boxes of rammel (see this post about our porch) had gone and the porch looked beautiful. Dave was in his shed sorting through said rammel and later presented me with a new string dispenser made from an old cafetiere plunger. 

The last bit of news is that a kind friend, wanting to cheer up a miserable me, is taking me to the ballet tomorrow at the Royal Opera House in London. There will be dressing up, champagne, music, dancing, and Frankinstein. Beat that!

I am so excited!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Grace and Frankie: Frankie and Grace

Ever since I decided to write a sitcom, I've been sampling ones available online and mostly thinking "meh."  I've enjoyed Catastrophe and Detectorists and Rev, but I'm currently devouring Series 2 of Grace and Frankie, trying not to binge-watch it, and failing. Series 1 was on Netflix a year ago and this is what I said about it.

Series 2 (also on Netflix)  is far superior and I'm loving it. I particularly love the character Frankie (a 70 year old aging hippie) and I want to know where she gets her clothes! She looks fantastic. Grace (played by Jane Fonda) also looks good but her shape is unattainable so I've classed her as irrelevant.

I'm getting sidetracked by the superficial. The issues that arise in the series are things I can relate to. I'd like to know who the writers are. Are they over 60? If not, how do they know what it feels like and how do they know what the issues are? You could say that the thing is a flimsy, glossy bit of nonsense, but I don't much care. I am glued to it and it's brightening up my evenings. 

When I've finished watching it I'll start again at the beginning of Series 1 and see how it works - structurally and plotwise. Oh yes. I love being a writer and having all these brilliant bullshit excuses up my sleeve for watching something that cheers me up so wonderfully.

I do have one question, though. Why do you suppose they called it Grace and Frankie when Frankie and Grace trips off the tongue so liltingly? 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Me and my sax

When I started learning to play the sax at the age of 60, I never wanted to perform. I just wanted to play for me.  Then a  couple of years ago someone asked me to join a new band and I went to three rehearsals and loved it, but then I realised that if I continued I'd be driving home from Sheffield over the moors in all weathers after late night gigs, and I cried off. I would love to play with another musician in private though. I have just never found that person. 

Mel, my sax teacher, is getting married in July and she's asked some of her students to play at her reception - solos. I am one of those students. I love Mel, so I've said yes, but I'm petrified.

I have never played in public before. I told her the tune I'd like to play at my lesson yesterday and set about playing it. I've been practising it all week and playing it perfectly at home, but in her music room - with her standing behind me so I could pretend she wasn't there -  I bungled it because of nerves: I so wanted her to be pleased. 

She said that it's much harder playing for just one person than it is for a crowd, and that I shouldn't worry. Hmm. She's full of encouraging baloney. 

I always play better in the morning than the evening, but the open mic set at the reception (during which I'll be playing) starts at 5 p.m. when my intellectual capabilities are at the brink of their inexorable slide into the daily abyss. That means I'll need a rest in the afternoon, then a coffee to wake me up, and just before I go on a glass of wine to relax me. I'm going to be seriously self-medicated. If I feel on the day that it's something I just can't do, she says that of course she understands. Sean - the guy who has his lesson after me - feels as nervous as me. So we're going to take our saxes along and see how we feel on the day. 

I'd like to do Mel proud. She's been a fantastic teacher. She is encouraging and understanding and has no agenda of her own. She sees herself as an enabler - to get us to enjoy playing the sax in the way we want to do, playing the music we like. And I do. Kudos to Mel!

Wish me luck, you guys. I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

It's not over yet

I've been looking back at my blog for the last year, and found that every few weeks I've been saying "I'm taking a week off from the blog." The blog has also been on-and-off miserable ever since Mary died. Sometimes very miserable. Since Christmas, I've even mentioned giving it up a couple of times (in addition to last Saturday.)

And a month ago I realised I was depressed: so it's no wonder blogging has been hard.

After a long helpful chat about the blog with the family member who declines to be named, I've decided that as people still seem to want to read it even when I'm a misery guts, and as one or two even find it helpful, I'll carry on. 

This last week I've been loving working hard in the garden, getting it shaped up again after years of neglect. Those tulips I posted the other day - and the ones below -  are MY TULIPS! 

Here is a quote I found on my blog from last year, in amongst the wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth:

Let’s love today, the what we have now, this day, not
          today or tomorrow or
yesterday, but this passing moment, that will
          not come again.

James Schuyler, from A Few days

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Lost: the blog

I may have lost it. With the blog, I mean. I don't seem able to write a post with any heart. 

I started the blog ten years ago in June. Then it wasn't really a blog - just a web-presence to coincide with the publication of the first novel - Plotting for Beginners. There was nothing personal in it. It comprised short bland posts with bits of info and links.  It only morphed into a proper blog two years later in August 2008. 

I said the blog wouldn't be political with the only exception being the issue of Israel and Palestine, which I would mention occasionally. Then in January 2009 with the bombing of Gaza, I blogged every day for a month on the appalling behaviour of the Israeli government. This resurfaced in the summer of 2014 with another vicious Israeli onslaught on Gaza. 

I was hoping to keep on blogging until June to make the ten year stretch. But I think I've had it. For six months I've been feeling low and sharing that with you. Lately I've tried to keep my depression and pessimism out of the blog, but it hasn't worked. Not for me. If my blog doesn't express how I feel I don't like it. It's a fake. 

Now I seem to be shutting down. I'm thinking about life and death and refugees and politics and the state of Britain under these heartless, bloody Tories for whom everything is a market, where rich people are to be courted and ordinary people are irrelevant. Today in the paper it said "More than 8 million people struggle to put food on the table."  It's talking about the UK!- the country with reportedly the fifth largest economy in the world. The government is destroying everything that's good - the NHS, the welfare system, social housing, the schools, education, the health and happiness of young people, public amenities such as the BBC, libraries, parks and museums. Every new initiative they announce goes against everything I believe in. It feels downhill from here. Forever.

That's my blogging world as I see it today.

Now I am going to shower and get dressed and wash the porch floor, vacuum the bedroom and finish weeding the strawberry patch. Later I'll play table tennis outside on the lawn with Dave, and then go to babysit the boys - my beautiful grandsons. They're almost 12 and 10 now and no longer want their photos shown to the world. It's such a shame.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Clinging to the wreckage

I've been awake since six, but only now feel strong enough to sit up and write. The last sentence of my journal from yesterday morning explains why: "There is so much to do out of bed."

Yesterday's to-do list contained 13 items - 4 housekeeping (boo), 7 gardening (hooray) and 2 office (meh). I ticked off 6 in all. I spent the morning gardening and today I am knackered.

After skimming the news, I've been lying in bed doing Sudokus on the iPad. Ten years ago, when we still read the news in a paper and not online, I successfully completed a Sudoku everyday. It was so absorbing, it soaked up any stress I was feeling. Since that time I haven't done them, but lately,  feeling upset for various reasons, I returned and found they utterly bamboozled me. The horror! Had my brain deteriorated beyond redemption in the last ten years (of writing and publishing and doing the blog) ?

In order to persuade myself it hasn't, I am doing two Sudokus a day and am determined to progress past the "easy" category. This is quite a scary admission: I feel really stupid.

Now I must get dressed and after my sax lesson, tick off more of the items on yesterday's list. The first of these is to empty the porch of Dave's junk, wash the floor, and then try to persuade him to house his rammel somewhere else. I am not hopeful. I've tried it before.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

My new literary hero - KENT HARUF

I've just finished reading a novel called Eventide, by Kent Haruf. It's the second book of a trilogy about people living in the small town of Holt in Colorado. The writing is simple, plain and beautiful, and the stories and characters are dealt with compassionately. You get the sense that Haruf, like Keillor, likes his characters, has sympathy with them even when they are weak and hopeless. They are everyday stories of countryfolk, and yet not like The Archers, either past or present.

Dark and light are interwoven. Bad things happen, and there are great sadnesses, and yet you finish the book feeling hopeful because there are kind, humane people in his books as well as weak and bad ones. The ordinary everyday kindnesses shine out from the darkness. Sometimes a character will do a BIG kind thing that improves the life of someone forever. Sometimes, it is a small unnoticed thing they do. Just like life.

For someone like me, who struggles with the enormity of the darkness in the world, Haruf's books deliver wisdom and a rounded view of everyday life. I am about to start the last of the trilogy. These books will stay with me.

Eventide made me think of this quote from the novel We Are Called to Rise:

Monday, May 02, 2016

I've been robbed

The BBC used to call it "An everyday story of country folk." Now they call it "Contemporary drama in a rural setting." The radio show I've been listening to for 45 years - the longest running radio soap in the world - has changed, and I don't like it. I'm not the only one. Hundreds of thousands of listeners are grumbling, complaining, ranting, or just not listening any more. 

For those of you who don't know anything about The Archers, it used to be a gentle way to escape the world. Yes, awful things would happen. Every ten years someone would be crushed by their tractor, or commit suicide, or fall off a roof. There would be realistic emotional consequences, and the storyline would move on.

Since the current editor came over from the dark side (i.e. the grim TV soap East Enders) to take charge of The Archers, it has changed horribly. Now you have to brace yourself before you switch on the radio. And it's not just wusses like me who don't like it. I know this, because my sister Jen and brother Pete are also complaining.

For those of you from overseas, the current storyline has been in the media spotlight, and been praised for bringing general attention to the problem of domestic abuse, and specifically what is called coercive control. One listener started a JustGiving page and has raised more than £125,000 for the charity Refuge, which helps women escaping domestic abuse. 

Obviously both of these things are good. Of course I care about social issues. So how can I be angry?

One problem is that the story has been played out in real time, so it has been going on so far for about 14 months, and it is set to continue for another year. 

The real problem, though, is that I don't (didn't) listen to The Archers for realism. I listen (ed) to it to escape a world that's becoming nastier every week. Now that's been stolen from me. 

Why couldn't the BBC have the same storyline on a programme that is known for being grim? 

Now all I have left as escapist entertainment is Neighbours. I heartily recommend it, folks. Channel 5. 

Sally from Plotting for Grown-ups agrees with me:

I really haven’t known him long enough to tell him the truth: that Neighbours is fab, that I love all the stupid plotlines – the amnesia, disputed paternity, blackmail, on-off love affairs, business wars, mistaken identities, manipulative ex-girlfriends, violent ex-boyfriends, people stuck down mine shafts, plane crashes that kill off half the street. And the characters – Paul Robinson, Karl Kennedy, Lucas, Jade – they’re like family. One day I’ll confess to him, but not just yet.