Monday, August 29, 2016

Guest post - celebrating friendship

Today I'm delighted to have a guest post from Di McDougall. I have never met Di but she's been reading my blog for years, she often comments under a pseudonym, and occasionally we email each other. Recently she commented that just as I was missing my friend Mary, she was missing her friend Ann, so I invited her to write about Ann on the blog.

Remembering Ann
This darkhaired girl called Ann was my new neighbour. I looked on in amazement and envy at how she handled her new born son…so at ease…staying in bed the whole day breastfeeding, resting , letting the world go by. I would find that she had gift for teaching small children, that mine would learn to use scissors sitting on her lap. In those early days of discovering each other we were beginning to weave the bond that would hold even though we would soon live in different cities , in different countries . It would hold for 36 years. It is still holding.

Writing about her now I want to tell of all she did, her accomplishments, all I so admired in her. She was one of those rare people who could turn her hand to anything; all the crafts and such a giver of gifts: a crochet blanket, bracelets she found in Tibet. I want to say how brave she was because she was. I have to tell of the pain life brought her… her second baby son dying at a day old…that was when Ann and I became sisters. That little one came to my home city by ambulance and died there and so it seemed he needed to undergo those rites with which we say goodbye there in my city. And because Ann was unwell and far, it fell to me to go with her husband and choose the little coffin and do what she would want. It was a gift from her to me to allow me to stand in her stead in that intimate place of love and loss.

There would be another baby boy…born early but well and beautiful. He was indeed beautiful, loving and kind and loved and welcomed by his older brother and us all but as time went on he had problems at school, not huge if one had perspective but he was a teenager and perspective and context were years away. And so I got a phonecall from a screaming woman it took me some time to identify as my friend…Nick had committed suicide at 16 years old. And then some days later we made that bond between us unbreakable. I had known since his pre teens of his unhappiness and fear ….in the years that followed I would have a hint every now and then that there was an anger and a dissonance that made me uneasy but I did not act. And I knew absolutely that I bore guilt. And that others did too and so I wrote to my friend to say this ..I knew , she knew, others knew…we were guilty of looking away, guilty. I expected the friendship to be broken but no, she had got there before me.

She mothered the son left to her wisely…no clinging …he was free to live his life, not required to assuage her loss. She was strong and brave and came to a place where she would speak of her lovely lost boy with joy. My dear Ann lived in Beijing for some years and helped in an orphanage for disabled children…just loving them, making birthday celebrations for them, saying goodbye to the lucky ones who were adopted…until a few months before she died she was still at it…teaching little ones, making little plans to help them overcome their  difficulties, finding ways to reach them. My friend Ann…

And my friend Ann was there for me all the long years…in my happiness and in my losses and when I was afraid. What did I most appreciate about her? That she celebrated my joys and triumphs as if they were her own. She was the friend of my heart, the friend you are fortunate to find in your life. I miss her every day. She knew who I was…and she loved me.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Quiet time

I'm feeling very quiet on the blogging front this week, but this morning I found a quote from an Oliver Sachs piece in the New York Times that I liked - 

There is something of this in the lovely quote from the Quaker Advices and Queries:

 Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God.

And here, a propos of nothing except the onset of autumn so apparent in this morning's mists and chilly air, is the view at 7.30 a.m. through our kitchen stained glass window into our sitting room:

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Talking to Mary

It's eighteen months since my best friend Mary died and I'm getting used to being without her. But every so often - perhaps once a month - I have a desperate need to talk things over with her. 

I said this to a good friend the other day (in an email) and she said "You still can talk to her, can't you? And there will be answers, sometimes, won't there?"

I've been thinking a lot about this and wondering if it's true. At the very beginning I did still talk to her. Now I don't. I can't. I do point things out to her, I share a joke with her...usually when Dave (whom she was very fond of) has done or said something that is particularly bonkers or infuriating. And we laugh about it. But I can't talk over serious, difficult, intricate, sensitive things with her. And I miss that. I really miss it. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Two go camping

I've been telling people recently that I only had two things left on my bucket list - go camping with my brother, and go on a US road trip with Wendy, my daughter-in-law. Then someone asked me what else had been on the list and I couldn't remember (!) so I scanned my diaries, found the list I made 6 years ago, and discovered there were several other items that needed attention.

Here's the list:

1/ learn to play Misty on the sax   ✔

2/ learn to walk on my slackline    
I can walk half the length of the line - thirteen steps -  but not to order. I think it still counts.  ✔

3/ go trampolining*

4/ go on a walking holiday, in Yorkshire or on a coastal path

5/ holiday on a Scottish island

6/ go to the Musee d'Orsay  ✔

7/ have a novel published with a sensible cover (i had on an earlier list - write a novel in the third person, and I've done that now, but the publisher gave it a toe-curling pink frilly chick lit cover)  ✔

8/ go on a US road trip with someone fun

9/ see the Grand Canyon  ✔

10/ go camping with Jonty  ✔

*I've been told I probably should not trampoline because I have an artificial knee, so that item is, I suppose, null and void.

That means I still have 4, 5 and 8 to do because this last weekend I went camping with Jonty, with whom I haven't camped since he was a toddler. I haven't camped without him since I was 14. 

Rain was forecast for our three days, and I texted Jonty to ask if he wanted to postpone the trip. He texted back "You can wimp out if you want to, but I'm still going."  So we did, and were rewarded with an hour of sunshine on arrival. As soon as we'd put up the tent and had a cuppa it started to rain, and it was showery all weekend, but it didn't matter. It was good fun. Getting away from everything, and having the time to talk properly when we never usually have the opportunity, was wonderful. And I loved lying in the tent wrapped in two sleeping bags listening to the weather as I fell asleep.

Poor Jonty, though. Out of the five of us I am the least practical, so he got a raw deal. Any of our other siblings would have been better at pitching and dismantling the tent. He was very patient, even when he said on packing up, "Fold it over the roof!" and I could no longer tell which part was the roof.

I haven't asked him if I could put his picture on here, so here he is, face hidden, on our trip to Lyme Park.

Thank you, Jonty. 

Friday, August 19, 2016


My friend Liz asked me recently how much I would pay to go and see Paul Simon in Nottingham, an hour's drive away. I couldn't answer. 

"Tell me how much it is and I'll think about it," I said.


"Not that much."

I love Paul Simon's music, but I hate crowds. The concert is at the Motorpoint arena, capacity 10,000.

I went to see Simon and Garfunkel in 1967 with my best friend Gill, and my lovely boyfriend John. OMG, imagine being able to say I did something almost 50 years ago. I really am an old person now.  It was at the Birmingham Theatre, now called the Hippodrome. I can't remember how much we paid for tickets but I guess it was 12 shillings and sixpence.

In those days an album cost three times that much. Now an album costs a fifth of the price of the Nottingham ticket. Interesting.

I bought a new phone last December because the old one broke. My new one cost £10. I didn't want a smart phone. I only have a mobile for emergencies and for when I am staying away from home and for occasional texting. I hate texting because my fingers are too fat and I always touch the wrong button and the text whizzes off before it's finished and then I have to type an explanation or an apology or whatever. I like email.  Unfortunately younger people do texting, or messaging on their phones, and one of my emails can languish for weeks in their inboxes waiting to be answered. This is annoying, and I don't know what the solution is. It is my problem, I know, all you lovely young people who text me, and you don't need to apologise (unless you are the family member who declines to be named. I am your mother, after all.) 

Anyway... I dropped my phone and broke the screen and tried to get a replacement but it was going to be £40. The sweet salesman couldn't believe I'd got my current one for £10. The phone still works, and as I insisted I hate mobiles, he suggested I sellotape the screen and keep it.

Dave has had the same cycling jacket for 40 years and it's a disreputable rag. I would be ashamed to show you a photo of it. He refuses to spend money on a new one though he cycles a couple of hundred miles a week in the summer.  But he will willingly spend money on new tools. I would willingly spend the £55 I am not spending on a Paul Simon ticket for a new cashmere hoodie if I could get one for that price. And I'd spend £55 on a round trip by rail to see my sister in Winchester. 

I don't know how to conclude this post though I have been mulling it over for several days. The first thing that occurs to me this morning is a political point though I promise I didn't plan it that way.  

This government is willing to spend £205 billion on an independent nuclear deterrent when the NHS is crumbling and homelessness figures are soaring and one million people in the UK  rely on food banks. As Tony Benn said, "If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people."

Monday, August 15, 2016

A missing gene

It all started at the beginning of the Olympics when I saw this tweet:

and I was baffled.

I did not understand that feeling. I can't imagine ever feeling like that, no matter what the flag or the country.

If I watch the Olympics it's to marvel at the feats, the skill, the hard work behind the success. Those synchronised high divers, for example.  Astonishing! I watched them with the sound turned off, and was thankful not to be a judge. There was only one pair who I saw with an obvious flaw. I have no idea what country they came from.

And I am fond of supporting underdogs. And runners who fall down and then get up and win the race. Which country was that guy from? 

I am not big on flags or patriotism. I see them as divisive and with the potential to lead to conflict and war. 

I wondered if anyone else liked the Olympics but only wanted the best competitor to win, no matter where they were from, so I asked Karen, my Californian aging hippie friend. She agreed. Perhaps she also has a missing gene.

I pondered about whether there ever could be an occasion when I would be shouting for 'my team.' I used to stand on the touchline and shout when the family member who declines to be named played footie as a teenager.

If there were a competition between the North and London I would shout for the North. That gives me a clue. Is it just that I don't identify with the UK brand? (I hate the current government's policies. And I ashamed of their attitude to refugees, and the lack of succour they offer. )

 Or is it just that I don't like flags and patriotism? 

It's the human species I care about. Xenophobia and racism are increasing everywhere. Perhaps flags and borders exacerbate them. What do you think?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday round-up

It's a hotch potch post today: it's that, or no post at all.

Here are some of the things that have happened this week...

After consultation with you and Bakewell Quakers I chose some slogans for new placards for our silent peace vigils and had them printed:

They are plain and simple and will interleave nicely with the other more visually complex ones we already have. I realised when I was thinking about the placards that ones you have for a stationary silent peace vigil are different from the ones you might have on a noisy march, where the bystanders are the stationary ones and have more time to read them.

I had a rejection from the BBC for my sitcom, and am preparing my pitch to approach production companies. Onward and upward!

I met some women asylum seekers in Sheffield to ask if they'd like a day trip to Bakewell if it was arranged for them, with everything provided.  They were very friendly and very keen, so I hope very much that we (Bakewell churches) can give them a day to enjoy. Did you know that asylum seekers are not allowed to work and are given £5 a day on which to survive ?

On Twitter someone started a meme ( look it up, Pete) where people listed their first seven jobs. I joined in:

Then I tried to start my own meme which didn't catch on:

Ah well. Most of my dream jobs didn't come off either.

I had a super sax lesson this week. Last year I was playing what Mel called lots of mushy slush i.e. sad and/or romantic ballads. This year I am whooping it up. She presented me with a new tune called Big Girls' Blues with a backing intro like The Stripper and she said "Sue needs to open a can of seriously raunchy whoop-ass!" which creased me up.

The other person who creased me up this week was Lux. Here is Isaac's tweet quoting her:

And I don't think I've shown you this photo of her and Cece wearing the aprons I made them last year:

That's it. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

PR for peace

Today I am currently trying to choose the wording for some new placards for the peace vigils that Bakewell Quaker Meeting holds in November and August. 

We had one last Saturday for Hiroshima Day. It was wonderfully hot and sunny. Our next one is on Monday. We always stand by the pedestrian bridge by the river Wye, over which the hundreds of tourists pour on the way from the car park. They see a bunch of Quakers standing silently holding placards and wonder what's going on. Some try to read the slogans, some walk straight past, eyes ahead, some stop and stare. Occasionally someone will take a photo - one time it was a teacher taking the photo to discuss with her class, and last week it was a visitor from Northern Ireland who thought what we were doing was worthwhile.

Children are generally interested. Some parents hurry them away, wordlessly. Some parents stop and explain what is going on and why we are there and what the placards mean. 

Some visitors are struck first by the powerful silence and then realise what is going on. They have told us this.

On Saturday a friend stood with us whose son and family live near Hiroshima. Her daughter-in-law is Japanese and grew up in Hiroshima, and she was very touched to hear that on the other side of the globe, people were standing in silent remembrance and solidarity with Hiroshima. 

I've made a list of slogans for new placards and am currently seeing which people think are the most powerful, bearing in mind they have to be short to be large enough to be easily read from a distance, and the idea must be easily grasped by someone hurrying past. This is the list. Which do you think is the best one for the job? the current favourites are 11 and 13.

1/       Everything you do in war is a crime in peace.               Helen McCloy

2/       All war is a failure of man as a thinking animal.        Steinbeck

3/       Killing innocent people is the problem, not the solution

4/       What if there were a war and nobody came?

5/       Let's Try Pre-emptive Peace

6/       Peace Takes Brains

7/       There Is No Path To Peace - Peace IS The Path

8/       If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention

9/       War is so last century

10/     Kill one person it’s murder, kill thousands, it’s foreign policy

11/     Arms are for hugging

12/     Make tea not war

13/     People need bread not bombs

14/     What is morally wrong cannot be politically right.

15/     We must learn to live together as brothers or all die together as fools.   MLK

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Annoying characters

One of the first rejections I had for BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU was from an agent who had read the customary first three chapters (that's what you send them) and who responded along the lines of 'I like your writing a lot, but I can't bear to spend any more time with this annoying man and his patient wife.'

And last week I met another writer who had read the book, and who said she and her friend were annoyed by the wife (Fran). They wanted her to leave Sol. Sol himself is a Marmite character - you love him or you hate him. You 'get' him or you don't. Another agent, who almost took me on, said "I ADORE Sol." (Yes - she used the caps.)

For the last three weeks I've been watching a character I now find very annoying - Lorelai in Gilmore Girls on Netflix. The programme is new to me. It's about a fast-talking, attractive, sassy, 32 year old single mother. She has an extremely close and loving relationship with her teenage daughter, but a fractured relationship with her snooty parents. For the first half of the first series I liked Lorelai. I thought she was funny and clever and attractive, and a good mother. Then I began to find her juvenile and petty and I wanted to shout at her and tell her to stop trying to be so damn clever in everything she said in her long witty diatribes. Also, I wanted her to be nicer to her parents, whose values are very different, but who do their best, and who love her granddaughter very much, and who obviously try to love her, too.

So why do I watch it every night when she sometimes makes me want to scream? It's a warm, engaging programme with other likable characters, especially the guy I think she is going to end up with eventually, and it's set in small town America. I'm a sucker for small town America in fiction - Lake Wobegon, Bedford Falls - though I don't know how I would feel living there for real. These are some reasons, and the Carole King theme tune is a winner, but I am still pondering.

Friday, August 05, 2016


If you want to see the full Hepworth Towers jam-making story, read this.

Here, though, are my two favourite home jam making images - Wendy with the bloody Mary innovation...

and the little snail that came aboard during picking...

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

That aging thing again

This morning I woke up feeling so sluggish and unready for the day, even after eight hours sleep, that I lay there thinking - Hmm. Well. I wonder of it's OK to feel like this, because I am over 65 and maybe this is what over-65 feels like to a lot of people. Is it OK to not get up, but to lie here till ten o clock and read the new Meg Rosoff novel I just got out of the library?

I didn't, though. I attended to my emails, rewrote a short piece I've been working on, and then made a list of things I might do today - a list of 16 items. Now I am up and showered, the washing is out on the line, the 24 jam jars are clean and ready for today's batch of blackcurrant jam, and I have a new bunch of phlox, honeysuckle, purple loostrife and buddleia in a jug on my desk. I'm ready for the day.

You might think I dealt with the whole aging and wrinkles thing last September - here and on the day after that,  here. But it's surfaced again.

Let me explain. It was Lux's birthday at the weekend and she sent me a video thank you (for my present) which I watched several times, because I was entranced. Cece was also in it, showing me a felt fish she'd sewn at school. I decided I would send them a video back, and got out the iPad, swivelled the camera to capture my face, and oh horror! No matter where the light was, I was an old woman. I recorded the message anyway and sent it off. 

I mentioned to Dave the horrific experience of seeing myself on screen, and he said "But you see yourself in mirrors everyday."  I think, though, that when I look in mirrors I generally see the person I expect to see, not the real unvarnished me. It's as I said on the sax post - I have a body image which is kinder than the reality.

Wendy messaged me later in the day to say that my video had made the girls' morning and they had already watched it five times. 

Love is blind.

Small blessings

I've just discovered the Calm Things blog. And I've added it to my links at the side of the blog. I commend it to you.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016


Sorry not to have posted for a week. We've had visitors staying, and it was a heap of fun but it left no energy for writing.

I cycled up the Trail yesterday in the early morning (to beat the summer holiday tourists) and when I stopped the bike to pick up a discarded energy drink bottle (grrrh) I glanced in the window of a nearby tiny brick-built shed that is all that remains of Monsal Dale station. It is the only unlovely thing on our deeply rural Trail, with an interior of 6 x 8 and no doors or windows remaining. This is what I saw:

At first I thought "Oh, that's sweet. Some kids have had a nice holiday and are saying goodbye to the Trail." Then I noticed the stars. Of course. Europe. And I liked it just as much, not just because of the sentiment but also because of the tone. I liked it despite the fact that graffiti is visual litter. You had to look, to find this graffiti. You wouldn't see it if you were just cycling down the Trail, looking at the view. I've not seen any other examples of graffiti on the Trail, though Dave says that two names have just appeared on a bridge, and he hates it all.

The whole thing has made me think, though. If it had been written in a different tone - an angry tone, perhaps - I wouldn't have liked it. And if it was expressing the opposite point of view in a gentle tone, I wouldn't have liked it either. Would I have liked it if it had been a Banksy? I love Banksy graffiti, and to have had one appear on the Trail would have been special but....actually, I think graffiti are for an urban environment, and that includes Banksy. What do you think?

I'm writing about it here, but I don't feel like publicising it locally in case we get loads more graffiti appearing on the bridges (the only other spaces where anyone could draw graffiti.) As it is, it's a sad, lone, goodbye, which fits in with the whole awful Brexit disaster.