Friday, September 30, 2016

Thoughts from abroad

Americans may not understand tea, but they excel at bacon, breakfast, being cheerful, and teeth.

And Boulder, Colorado is a beautiful place with trees and green spaces galore, multi-use paths winding from the city centre to the countryside in every direction, and the Flatirons always on the skyline. For example, this is the setting of Lux's school...

Boulder culture can be a little extreme at times, viz.



But hey! It's nice to be adventurous (within limits - my thoughts and feelings continue to reel at the thought of that facial.)

The weather here this last week has been wall to wall sunshine with vivid blue skies and temperatures of up to 80 F. (26 C.) Today it's cloudy and showery, but then today I was supposed to be home. It's always been like that when I've visited my American family. My last day, or the day after I'm gone, it rains - here, and in San Francisco when they lived there.

A delayed flight means I'm leaving a day late, and it's helped the painful transition. I was so upset about leaving my girls, I couldn't sleep. The flight changed and so did my mood. Nothing was quite so desperate. We went out on the town, the girls had balloon bracelets ( Lux a unicorn and Cece a butterfly) and Wendy and Isaac bought me a hat for my birthday:

Tonight (D.V.) I fly home, and if Dave is spared (as he likes to put it) he'll meet me at Manchester airport and we'll drive home over the hills into Derbyshire where the trees will be as beautiful as here in Boulder, but there will be sheep and drystone walls, and my real life, waiting to be picked up again.

Monday, September 26, 2016

There but for fortune

I'm lying in Isaac and Wendy's hammock and this is the view. The family is out and the house is quiet: the cicadas are not. I'm in heaven.

This morning I went for a glorious, sunny bike ride with Wendy. Cece was in the trailer. I managed to keep up more or less, but cycling in a place a mile high is harder than cycling at home. I am always surprised by this. I get breathless because the air is thin. 

We called in for lunch at the Wholefoods buffet ( There was a dress code: shoes and shirts were mandatory. When have you ever seen a dress code on the door of a British supermarket?) There was a vast array of delicious food....fabulous salads, hot food, cold cooked food, food for vegans, veggies, carnivores, and omnivores. And the plates, cartons, cups and cutlery were biodegradable. My box was compostable: my food delicious.

When I got home I checked my email and read the nightly news bulletin I get from Channel 4 News at home. The headline was the relentless bombardment of Aleppo. The tragedy that is Aleppo. The second story was the refugee camp in Calais. Another tragedy - people fleeing the horrors of war, violence and starvation, trying to get to the UK for sanctuary and finding an unbreachable barrier that is a heartless government.

How fortunate am I? I am safe and fed, and my family is safe and fed. We all have homes. I don't ever want to forget how lucky I am.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Life has been so full out here, I've had no time to blog. This last Monday to Friday I was with the Aging Hippie in California. We drove up to Yosemite National Park.

I left the cars in on that last one so you could see the scale. The valley floor is 4000 feet above sea level and the mountains around are as high as 8000 feet and more. We spent two days below and one above when we drove around and to the top of the ridge on the right (in the top picture.) we then walked a mile and ended up climbing that granite dome (top pic again) on the skyline - the tiny dome that emerges from trees centre right. There was a panoramic view. I edged up the bare rock, terrified. There was a sheer drop on one side so I kept to the back, where if I fell, I'd probably survive. Sadly, it was a very misty day and the views, though stunning, looked like a backdrop of a play.

And it was raining. Outrageous! California is supposed to have a drought.

Who cares, really?

I was last in Yosemite ten years ago on my own. It was so good this time having someone there to share it say "Ooh, look at that!" And "Can we sit down for a rest now?" And "Will you watch out for people while I have a pee?" Though the ten years show when you squat down for said pee and can't get up again.

I flew back to Boulder last night, and am sitting in bed right now, waiting for the kids to wake up and climb into my bed for stories. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Picture postcards and picture books

Photographs of Cece and Lux, taken by Isaac ( their dad, my son.)

It's hectic here, but not so hectic that I didn't have time to read THE GREAT PAPER CAPER by Oliver Jeffers five times on Friday. This is the fifth time below. Look at the level of interest! (Pic by Wendy.)

I always bring the girls three or four books when I visit. Recently there have been a lot of Julia Donaldson books. Before that it was Shirley Hughes. This time a friend who also loves choosing picture books for her grandkids suggested Oliver Jeffers' books. I pondered them for ages. I wasn't sure I liked them - the text or the artwork. But in the end I did bring two, and they have been a huge hit. Every time we sit down to read, it's been "Read The Great Paper Caper!" And from me: " Again?"

It's the story of a bear who secretly chops down branches and trees and feeds them into his paper making machine. He needs sheets and sheets of paper to make paper aeroplanes for the upcoming paper plane race. The other animals in the forest launch an investigation to find the culprit. A court case ensues. 

We've had endless questions about police work and what happens in court. I've warned Isaac and Wendy about this so they know where it's come from. It will run and run.

Oh yes, and the book is funny too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Flying West

I'm flying out west tomorrow to see these little Boulder beauties:

I might blog while I'm out there. We'll see.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Observing the everyday

I've been pondering this post for ages. How to get across in words what I want to say. I'm supposed to be a writer and I haven't yet worked it out, but I'm going to launch in anyway.

I cycle up the Monsal Trail three times a week. Some people might find that boring. Occasionally I do, but mostly I am either lost in thought, or I'm noticing the minute changes in the vegetation, the latest batch of wildflowers that are newly out, or the fact that the sun at 5 p.m. no longer reaches my favourite thinking spot. One week I might notice hazel nuts on the tree by one particular bench where I often stop.

Two weeks later, they're been eaten. 

There's an artist called Mick Oxley who lives in Craster on the Northumberland Coast who takes a photo of the sea and sky from his window early every morning, and tweets the picture from @SeaSkyCraster. There is no coastline showing, it's just sea and sky. 

Every morning when I switch on the iPad I delight in checking out that day's photo. It's the best thing on Twitter and I wanted to share it with you. Mick Oxley kindly gave his permission. I've taken his photographs from this last week to show you an example of the variety, day be day.

5th September 6.29 a.m.

6th September 6.20 a.m.

7th September 6.51 a.m.

8th September 6.31 a.m.

9th September 6.27 a.m.

10th September 7.45 a.m.

11th September 6.31 a.m. 

This is one week. Over the year, the variety is amazing.  And every day it's beautiful. 

Friday, September 09, 2016

Another Friday round-up

It's been so hectic this summer in so many ways that I decided to pare down every outside engagement I could this week. It was a good decision.  A week of quietness at home has been just what I needed. 

I've been re-arranging things in the garden, cycling, hanging out with Dave (table tennis and walks to Hassop Station) and... I don't know what else. Oh yes, submitting my children's picture book to literary agents. The important thing is I have been pacing myself instead of rushing around trying to cram in this before lunch and that before tea, and worrying that I haven't had time to do the other before bed.

One lovely quiet moment consisted of me resting on the bed after a bike ride with the window open to the sunshine, drinking a Bloody Mary and messaging  the Aging Hippie in California. I need to take more such moments.

There's all sorts of nastiness going on out there in the world and I've not been reading the papers in depth, but I did see the news about the wall they're building in Calais to keep out desperate refugees. We need more bridges not more walls.

Did you know that in the spring the numbers of refugees in Calais was 3000 plus and now it is 9000 plus and the charities providing aid are running out of money. If you'd like to help, you could donate to this charity - Help Refugees

And then there was this report in Middle East Monitor about the horrendous threats from an Israeli army commander:

Local youth in Al-Duheisha told BADIL ( the Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights) that Captain Nidal has made statements such as: “I will make all the youth of the camp disabled,” “I will have all of you walking with crutches and in wheelchairs,” “I will make half of you disabled, and let the other half push the wheelchairs,” and “I will make all of you stand in line at the ATM waiting for your disability subsidies and assistance.”
They added that Al-Duheisha had been raided at least three times by Israeli forces between the end of July and mid-August, during which time 18 Palestinian youth between 14 and 27 years old were shot in their legs – eight of which shot directly in the knee and several more in both legs – causing both permanent and temporary disabilities.

Things get worse and worse in Palestine, just as everywhere else. You can help by boycotting Israel and supporting Medical Aid for Palestinians.

To round off the week on a happier note, you know what I was saying in my last post about a generation gap in cultural references? Someone wrote to me yesterday saying lots of nice things, including that her daughter thought I was "the bomb." I wondered if predictive text had got the better of her email, but just in case, went to urban dictionary for a translation. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

I'm one of them now

I'm sitting in bed late (8.18 a.m.) on a fine dry morning with both windows open because although there's an overcast sky, it's sultry. A red hot air balloon is about to land beyond the trees.  Dave is downstairs playing his guitar and singing A blacksmith courted me.

I need to get up and tackle a list of jobs such as delivering some of my books to Hassop Station, moving a hardy geranium and some primulas to another border; picking plums from our tree, and then making and freezing a plum crumble for visitors arriving when I get home from Colorado in three weeks time. 

Yes! A week today I'm going to see Cece and Lux and all of the others, which means I also need to hurry up and finish Cece's jumper, and check I have enough books to give her and Lux. 

I shall also be visiting the Aging Hippie in California. I told a young friend this yesterday and she laughed at the term 'Aging Hippie' and I explained that Karen really was a hippie in the sixties and lived in Haight-Ashbury and was arrested at demos, etc. 

And afterwards I wondered if my young friend knew what I was talking about, because she was born in the eighties. Had she heard of Haight-Ashbury? Does she know about the love-ins? 

I mentioned Ralph McTell to my sax teacher Mel the other day and she said "Who? Who is Ralph McTell?" and I though she was joking. 

It's energising and life affirming to be with young people, and I need to do more of it because it cheers me up. But it's challenging when you mystify them with your cultural references. You become like one of those old codgers who used to say "We could buy a bottle of whisky and a packet of fags and still have enough money for the bus back from town." 

Monday, September 05, 2016

Why do you go away on holiday?

Why do you go away on holiday?

  • relaxation

  • a change

  • a challenge

  • an adventure

  • to see somewhere new

  • to find out about somewhere

  • to get away from your usual routine

  • to meet someone - either known or unknown


I ask, because someone I know told me yesterday that there is no point in his going away because when he gets there, he is there. i.e. he would like to go away on holiday to get away from himself. He would like a rest from being himself. He'd like to be someone else for a while, and maybe, he said, it will be possible to do that in the future. 

Saturday, September 03, 2016

being old, successfully

I recently set a writing exercise for a group of people, 90% of whom were over 50. They had to answer the question: "Are there any advantages to getting older?" I was amazed at how many of them came out with abundant and optimistic lists of reasons to say "Yes!" 

I was surprised, because I could think of only six, and four of those are my grandchildren. My other two were seeing my children grow into adults I admired (as well as loved); and having the mental space to really appreciate tiny, everyday pleasures, such as my pillow, or a summer evening bike ride on the empty Monsal Trail. I could go on forever with this list.

I'm still thinking about the question. 

Assuming we have enough money not to worry, and we are healthy, being old successfully - i.e. staying happy - is still a tricky thing to master. Death is all around us, and we're aware of how tenuous is our grasp on life, so we want to use our days in ways we won't regret. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.  And in order to retain our health we have to pay daily attention to keeping fit, eating well, not drinking too much. We need to keep cheerful and not complain about our aches and pains - or in my case, my tiredness and lack of energy. And we need to stay involved in the world and it's concerns, up to date with latest trends and developments so as not to become old fogeys, always doing new things and going new places so as not to be boring and bored. (Mixing with young people helps with all of this.)

It's hard work and it's a skill to practice - being old successfully. Weirdly, it reminds me of that poem that Larkin wrote for Kingsley Amis' daughter when she was born, Born Yesterday. He was wishing her well for her future, and being old successfully is a different venture, but it takes many of the same skills - 

In fact, may you be dull -
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

it's a mystery

When we bought our house twenty years ago our garden was wild and overgrown. It was a hot June that year and the escallonia front hedge -  fifteen foot high and eighteen foot deep - was budding with tiny pink blossoms, with vivid cerise dog roses trailing over it. The front garden was a charming haven with unmown lawns knee high. You could imagine finding an old bench in there and settling down in a sunhat with a cool drink, and reading a favourite book. Bees went in and out of the hives in the garden. The back garden was thick with nettles, brambles, dandelions and convolvulus. 

After we moved in we got rid of the bee hives because the bees were annoying, very annoying. Dave helped with the heavy work of clearing, and landscaping, and I spent long days gardening. In those days I could garden for six hours before I was tired. (Now I can manage two.) Here's a photo of the back garden from that time - the results of the hard work. 

A few years ago we chopped down the front hedge because the escallonia was sad, damaged by a bitter winter, and we revelled in the view of the fields beyond.

It's a lovely garden now but it lacks the charm it once had. I think it lacks the charm.

When I go for a teatime bike ride on the Trail there's a spot where I often stop and sit, overlooking a deep valley. I sit amongst the wild flowers and grasses, and revel in the silence. The only sounds come from sheep and birds. I sit and mull over problems, or plots and plans, and think it would be great to sit there all day in the wildness and to sleep there at night. I feel more at peace there than I do in my garden. Why is that? It's not just because when I'm sitting in the garden I can see weeds that need pulling up, or a shrub that needs pruning, or a lawn that needs mowing. It's something more, and other than that.

And if sitting in the wild country makes me feel so peaceful, why did we ever tame our garden?