Tuesday, July 26, 2016

it is a serious thing...

The news this morning was so black, the human world so dark, I couldn't read past the dystopian headlines, and I turned away and went to cartoons to blitz the darkness.

And then it was a toss up whether to post them on here or go for something more serious. Today, the serious won. Apologies that I am depending on other peoples' words, and some of them you have seen before. But they help me, so i am hoping they help you too.

First, a photo I captured from the Calm Things blog:

Then this quote:
Then this:

Monday, July 25, 2016

"We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools."

Martin Luther King

Friday, July 22, 2016


Loving these summer days of all doors and windows open and meals outside and the swifts screaming and wheeling overhead. Long may it continue - email from friend Liz.

Me too! I love this hot weather. I love sitting here ON bed with the windows wide open writing to you. I love lying ON the bed with nothing on and the windows wide open, sleeping. I love driving with the windows down and letting Paul Simon sing "Diamonds on the souls of her shoes" to everyone I pass.

Yes, it's too hot to garden: I even drip with sweat picking blackcurrants at 9 in the morning, and on Tuesday I had to come inside in the shade and lie down, I was so worn out by the heat. And to some people I might appear grumpy. But the heat is not here for long, and I do love the whole outdoor living thing! (exclamation point alert - that's the third one, including the title of the post.)

Yesterday a catalogue arrived in the post from Wrap. I get so many catalogues arriving unasked for that even Dave (who cares little for conventional sustainability and  recycling) has said I should ring up and cancel them. It's the autumn catalogue, and the contents convinced me to do that thing. It is full of boring and expensive clothes, but worse than that, they are all in dull colours. I might consider these blouses for a special occasion but not in this lack-of-colour range: 

and look at these dull jumpers:

I know I've said it before, but why do clothes retailers think that autumn and winter require colourless clothes? Isn't winter bad enough with a colourless countryside and nasty weather, without swathing ourselves in neutrals? Look at that top picture - two greys and a khaki! AAAArrggghhh!

Well, I may love the heat, but my laptop doesn't. It's humming with threat on this plasticky laptray, about to explode, so I'm stopping, and going to eat my breakfast outside in my pyjamas. Yay!

p.s. after receiving an email from my brother, I feel I should tell you that at no point has the temperature here been over 30 degrees C.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Every time we sit outside on a warm summer evening (which is twice so far this crappy weather year) I say to Dave "Ooh, I'd love to sleep outside!" but at that point I'm too tired to go ransacking the shed for the tent, which hasn't been used for seven years, since the family member who declines to be named went round Europe with his friends.

Yesterday it was baking hot from 6 a.m. so I knew it would be a lovely evening, and when I got home from my early bike ride, I found the tent, and Dave helped me put it up  I helped Dave put it up, and then I remembered how I can't sleep on the cold hard ground (like the woman in the folk song can when she runs off with the gypsy) because I'm a princess-and-a-pea kind of person, and I persuaded Dave to bring down a single mattress from upstairs.

This is me, trying it out (crap photo, I know, but we couldn't find the camera and had to use the iPad and Dave couldn't see what was on the screen):

I took down a duvet and a pillow, and at 10 o' clock I went outside and zipped myself in and settled down to sleep. But it was SO hot last night, that it was hotter and stuffier in the tent than it had been in the bedroom with the windows wide open. And the mattress was not as comfy as the one I usually sleep on, and.... 

Why didn't I open the tent flaps and get some fresh air? you might ask. I didn't, because I didn't want any kind of creatures, tiny or bigger, joining me in the tent. After two hours of lying in the dark, sweltering, not going to sleep, I decided to give up. I stepped outside the tent into a little more air and looked up at the sky, which was dappled with cloud. It was beautiful. Everything was still and quiet. Then I went inside to bed and went to sleep.

A question I am currently considering is: "Are there any advantages to getting older?" My first response to the question was "Only one: grandchildren." But I think there are more. One is the ability to accept one's limitations and not to be embarrassed or ashamed of them. That is why I am telling you about the failed outdoor sleeping adventure. As I was lying there outside, not sleeping, I decided that I could stay out there and save face and have a terrible night and wake up to the warm sunrise and the fresh air - the best bit about camping - and then be wrecked for the rest of the day on account of lack of sleep, OR I could give up and come inside and avoid laying waste to today. So now I am going to get dressed and pick blackcurrants before it gets any hotter.

And if you're wondering how I am going to fare on the camping trip with my brother (see last post) I will just say that there is more to camping with Jonty than sleeping in a tent. Plus it won't be so hotin August, or probably ever again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sax in public

It was my sax teacher Mel's wedding on Sunday. Do you recall she asked if I would play a solo at her reception? (She'd asked half a dozen of her other students too and told us that we could bottle out on the day if we couldn't face it.)   

I was talking to a couple of fellow wedding guests immediately after the ceremony about playing the sax, solo, in public, and how nervous I was, and how it is not something I have yearned to do. I just wanted to play the sax for me. And the woman said "Oh, everyone should have playing in public on their bucket list."  I bridled inwardly, thinking, Surely the thing about a  bucket list is that it is deeply personal and there are no universal shoulds or shouldn'ts. For the record I have two remaining items on my bucket list - to go camping with my younger brother, and to do a US road trip with my fabulous daughter-in-law Wendy (she of the margarita episode).

Mel's wedding reception was in the evening and I came home to get changed into fitted black trousers, a black top with a fifties neckline (it was a fifties-themed wedding) and these earrings and this leather bracelet:

Yes, the earrings are HUGE. Not fifties, but funky.

I thought I looked ace, until I saw the photo of me taken at a distance, when all I could see was a grey haired woman (whose hair wasn't doing what it should have been) wearing reading glasses, which were way more prominent than her funky earrings. This is why I am giving you a photo of the jewellery and not of me wearing them.  I always think i look better than I actually do - it's like a reverse of the body image problem that anorexics have, but at least it means I get a little confidence boost. 

I waited for my turn to play, shaking imperceptibly and with my heart thumping harder than I can remember it doing before. The last three times I'd practised Ain't Misbehavin' at home I had fluffed a bar, the same bar.

I am used to speaking in public and am rarely phased by it. I can always make a self-deprecating joke to get the audience on my side. But playing a solo in public is different. There is no space for jokes.

Well....I played! I smudged the same bar, and I lost the timing for two bars in As Time Goes By, but I picked up just fine and Zoe (who was there for moral support) said that Joe Public didn't clock a damn thing (ref. Acorn Antiques.) 

Mel was delighted, which made it all worth it. 

But I don't want to do it again. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016


When you've lived with someone for years, you become inured to their oddities, and also oblivious to them (except when their quirks are especially irritating, which usually coincides with periods when you are tired or stressed.) And then when someone says - "Does he really eat six large cartons of yoghurt a day?" you are surprised by their surprise, and then uber-bored, and you say "Yes" with no explanation, while hoping against hope that they will not pursue the topic further and give advice on the health implications and the necessity of a varied diet, etc, etc., as if you hadn't considered any of that and told the yogoholic yourself.

And when you have lived in the same house for years, you forget about the quirks around the place, things that might puzzle visitors. While Dave and I were away, some new friends came to stay in our house for a few days, and we left them notes about what to feed the cat and how the central heating system worked, though we forgot about the temperamental shower.  Since coming home to the novelty of a clean house, I have been noticing things round the place that might seem odd to strangers.

For example, why do we have what appears to be a chest of library drawers for index cards in our bedroom?

The answer is that someone was throwing them away and Dave converted them into a set of drawers for smaller items of clothing, thus:

And why does the bench in the garden have those slots in it?

Answer: because Dave recycled it from a 50 year old oak gate given by a friend as firewood.

And why are there are old bits of what look like charred wood on the hearth, placed as if they are ornaments?

They are the remains of the gate, that Dave thinks are "interesting." And the horseshoes are also donated and have been cleaned up and polished for use in an outdoor game. The board standing up behind them is a Crokinole board, the outside of which is made from an old university lab bench (donated.) Fortunately for our visitors, the family member who declines to be named called on them and taught them how to play Crokinole.

And what on earth is that plaque in the hall about?

It's carved from a  piece of a damaged oak tree (from Mary's father's garden) and the carving is a reference to a quote from a Larkin poem, For Sidney Bechet :

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes.

I love this carving.

The bell hanging up is the one my mother used to ring to call me and my siblings in to tea when we were playing in the farmyard and she couldn't see us.  The wind chimes are made from a spare bit of curtain rod (by Dave, of course) and the ornate wrought iron shelf supports are what my sister persuaded me to bring home from the Winchester tip, and which Dave then spent hours cleaning up. He's a peach.

Lastly, why on earth do we have three stacks of large yoghurt cartons next to the microwave?

Answer: because Dave thinks they might come in useful, and fights off every attempt of mine to put them in the recycling box. They used to be stacked in my main line of sight behind the fruit bowl which drove me crazy, and after a massive row we hit upon the current compromise position in the corner. 

So there you have it. Oddities.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Scuppered (updated)

I had a day off from politics and the rest of the news yesterday. I drove east out of Derbyshire, through the Nottinghamshire countryside, loving the trees of Sherwood Forest and the rolling fields of arable crops, the blue sky and the towering white cumulus clouds. I was visiting my sister and family in Lincolnshire. It was a lovely day of catching up, raspberry picking and bike rides, and politics only came up when our brother rang from the continent.

So I arrived home refreshed, with an idea for a blog post bubbling in the back of my head. But then this morning I checked the news before writing, and read about the Bastille Day horror. So now I don't feel like writing a bubbly post about the odd things found around the place at Hepworth Towers. 

I send my sympathy to the people of France and to everyone caught up in what happened last night.

I've just got back from a bike ride on the Trail. which is a good opportunity to think as well as to release some endorphins. I often edit my blog because of something that has occurred to me on a bike ride.

This morning, I realised that I usually don't mention terrorist atrocities on the blog, because I don't want to differentiate between the seriousness of a horrific attack in Europe from one in the rest of the world. I don't want to even imply that one is worse than the other. I didn't mention the Paris attacks, nor the one in Belgium, just as I didn't mention the one in Iraq on July 4th when over 200 people were killed. So why did I mention the one in Nice this morning? I think it's because it was such a shock. I am going to try to stick to my usual policy in future.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

what's happening here

My friend Karen, the Aging Hippie who has been working for the Peace Corps in South Africa, has finished her stint and is back home in California, and on Sunday we had an hour long messaging conversation. So nice. We spent the first twenty minutes talking about her and how she was fitting back into life in the land of plenty, and then she wrote: "Tell me about you! What are you thinking? Planning? Doing? Worrying about?"

I tried to explain to her about the dire state of the country since the referendum vote. And how I was feeling about it: that it's like being glued to a dystopian daily soap. One of my brothers rang me on holiday because he was so upset. One of my sisters and the other brother emailed to ask if I had our Irish grandmother's birth certificate, because apparently we are all entitled to apply for an Irish passport and stay in the EU.

It would solve nothing. We still live here in this xenophobic country with politicians who lie, and don't know the meaning of the word "planning," in a country whose future is uncertain, heading in a direction which I find abhorrent.

The Aging Hippie and I talk politics a lot - which you would expect from two people who met on a peace vigil -  but I don't think you come here for that.

So, here are the other things I am thinking about -

1/ I am wondering why two of my wigwams of sweet peas are loving this constant rain and warm temperatures, and why two wigwams - twelve plants each - have died.

2/ I'm wondering if my cosmos seedlings, nurtured lovingly in their pots since I planted the seeds, will survive the onslaught of the plague of slugs and snails encouraged by the warm winter and the current constant rain

3/ I'm still waiting to hear whether the BBC like my sitcom

4/ I'm practising As Time Goes By and Aint Misbehavin' everyday on my sax because it's Mel's wedding on Sunday (where I'm playing)

5/ I'm watching the Amazon sales rankings of Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups because Jane (co-author) has a very popular book out and people who want to read more of her stuff are turning to the Plotting books, even though they are rather different in character

6/ I am washing sleeping bags in the bath on days when it is not raining and I can hang them outside to dry

7/ I'm working out my plan of action for if the Beeb doesn't like my sitcom

8/ I'm knitting a jumper for Cece

and I can't have a pic here of Cece and not have one of Lux, So here it is - 

9/ I'm catching up with all the episodes of Neighbours I missed while I was on holiday (scorn my lowlife taste if you like, but in these awful times, twenty minutes of escapism a day hurts no-one)

10/ I'm wondering what novel to read next. I just read On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin and loved it, and then The Ties that Bind by Kent Haruf and didn't love it because it was so unhappy, even though the writing was wonderful. I have one more of his to read and then I'll have read them all. Our Souls at Night is my favourite, and then the Plainsong trilogy. 

11/ I am working out what I can do that is positive, to help to mend divisions and work for social justice. It might be volunteering to help asylum seekers...it might be something else.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Point of view

When I was young, my Gran lived in Morecambe and we used to stay with her for traditional seaside holidays with ice cream and donkeys and hook-a-duck on the pier. It was wonderful.

But when I was 10, I went on a young Quaker youth hostelling weekend to Northumberland. We had walks along what I thought of then as nondescript country lanes, but one day they took us to Bamburgh. We walked onto the beach and it was a coup de foudre. I had never seen such a vast stretch of sand before, with no urban clutter, and with that huge castle looming over it: it was the start of a passion for the Northumberland coast that has never left me. I've just looked through all my many photos of Northumberland and only found this one of Bamburgh beach and castle. 

Poor fare, with no sunshine, and actually no decent view of the castle. That's because I lost interest in Bamburgh when I came across Dunstanburgh ....so I have scores of pictures of Dunstanburgh castle...and Embleton bay, from every angle...

It's actually quite embarrassing how many pics of Dunstanburgh I have. Maybe I was taking the clouds in that last one. I do like clouds.
I don't take quite so many pictures of beaches or castles as I did...but here's one of Holy Island castle one early morning last week.

These days I'm in love with those 'nondescript' country lanes. There's a fraction of the traffic we have in the Peak District and they are so much better for cycling. They are quiet, many are sheltered from the prevailing wind, and the verges are generous. The skies are stupendous - huge and full of stacked up spectacular cloud formations. I don't have photos of them because I never want to step off the bike to get out my camera.

"Oh, those lanes - so silent, so fragrant, so deeply rural. And overhead the big sky, so much bigger than in Derbyshire, and so rarely like the solid grey helmet that so often weighed her down in Bakewell. In Northumberland the clouds were constantly moving and changing, and were luminous at sunset, a sunset that could be as late as half past nine in summer."  
excerpt from But I told you last year that I loved you.

And because I already have a full portfolio of bays, beaches and castles, my photograph interests are moving into colour and abstract, with pictures like this -

Friday, July 08, 2016

Back home

How fortunate for you that the result of the referendum coincided with our escape to Northumberland. I can't recall another holiday where we have spent so much money on newspapers or spent so much time talking politics (and we talk politics a lot at Hepworth Towers, which is why it's been tricky keeping it out of the blog.) 

These days we usually only buy newspapers on Saturdays, getting our news from the net the rest of the week. But there is no wifi at our favourite cottage so we bought hard copies of news - and boy was it hard. And we varied it - The Guardian, The Times and one copy of the i. Although I don't like the colour of The Times since Murdoch took it over, I did enjoy the clarity of writing, the sound punctuation (me, a geek?), and the variety of news in there that wasn't depressing. The Guardian is nearer to my politics, though it's no longer left enough, but boy does it specialise in depressing news. I can't recall when we stopped getting The Times, but I think it was 2004.  I may be more in tune with what's going wrong in this country and everywhere else since I had a daily diet of Guardian, but it must also correlate with my tendency to be overwhelmed and depressed.

The advantage of buying so many newspapers on holiday is that I had a new sudoku to do everyday and the time to do it, and I am now proficient.  Another vital achievement ticked off.... so important in these dark and troubled times when no-one is in charge of the country. At least it's not Blair. In case you hadn't already guessed - I was one of the million people who marched against the start of the Iraq war in February  2003.  

Here are the last two sentences of The Times editorial from yesterday - "At each end of the period covered by the Chilcot report a British prime minister has faced the consequences of his catastrophic misjudgments - Mr Blair's on Iraq, and David Cameron's on the referendum. Their successors have their work cut out to rebuild the public's trust."

Will it be possible?