Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What you can do

Don't feel powerless!

Follow this link to find ways you can help to make things better.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Beyond satire

I've been thinking about what I wrote in the last post and I've changed my mind. I am not going to limit what I read about Trump. I need to be able to protest, fully-informed.  Trump's policies are offensive, cruel, scary and depressing, and they are beyond satire. There is nothing funny that can be said about them. Perhaps it was the satire that was making me feel queasy.

Look at this link to see the full list of today's protests in the UK against Trump's anti-Muslim ban.

And if you live in the UK, look at this link if you want to sign the petition to the UK Government to stop Trump from coming to the UK on an official state visit. Downing Street announced this morning that the petition would not make any difference, but I think the more people we can get to sign it, the stronger the message will be to Theresa May that we want the UK to distance itself from Trump, not cosy up to him.

Friday, January 27, 2017

That man

Every morning on waking I look at the iPad for messages or photos from my family, then emails from anyone else, and then I look at the news headlines. They depress me, all bad, one after the other, boom, boom, boom, boom. Then I go on Twitter to see what Isaac has been tweeting about, and this broadens out to look at tweets from other people I follow. 

I've found it uplifting to read about the Womens' Marches all over the globe, and entertaining to see the many placards. I'm making a collection of my favourites. Some of them are too rude to post on here, but here's one I can show you:

There is a lot of politics in my Twitter feed, and lately this has meant a lot of Trump. Some of it is news reports, some of it comment, a lot of it satire. Yesterday morning I realised something had to change. I was spending an hour first thing reading about Trump. Even though half of it was satire which made me laugh, I ended up at 7 a.m. queasy and depressed. Yes, the satire might be funny but the reality is not. Yesterday that sick feeling lasted most of the day, so I decided things had to change. I have time-limited Twitter and Trump in the mornings and I'm going to start my days differently.

Today I read a chapter of the current novel and after posting this I am going to work on my own. 

Meanwhile, the snowdrops in the garden are pushing through the dead leaves, 

and the snowdrops in the lea of the wall down the lane are already blooming. 

We need to protest and to stand up for what is right. Meanwhile...

"The sun rises in spite of everything."

Derek Mahon

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Just three words

I was driving behind a white van in Bakewell last week. The initials F.M.E. were printed in bold on the back of the van along with the slogan: Passionate. Focused. Responsive. And at the bottom, by the number plate, small graphics showed three items, a plasterer's trowel being the only one I could make out. As an advert for a company it was lacking - I had to Google the initials to find out what they did: multi-disciplinary refurbishment projects - but I loved the slogan. I'd love it if someone described me as passionate, focused and responsive. It made me think of the Blind Date column in the Saturday Guardian where each person on the blind date has to describe the other one in three words.

How would you like people to describe you in three words? 

It also reminds me of that question we used to ask each other when we were little: If you had to choose between them, would you be beautiful, clever, or good?

p.s. I've just found out from the very responsive F.M.E. that they don't advertise on their vans because they only work in the commercial sector. It's a shame, that, as their speedy and private response to me was impressive, and I'd certainly get a quote from them if I didn't have my very own man-about-the-house.

Monday, January 23, 2017


We had a five minute interview about the Bridges Not Walls banner on Radio Derby on Friday January 20th on the Ian Skye programme. If you want to hear it, click on this link and advance to 1 hour 45 minutes into the programme. Our slot was at 8.15 a.m. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017


BAKEWELL FOOTBRIDGE, fixing the banner

Tower Bridge, London

Westminster Bridge, London

Vauxhall Bridge, London


West Cornwall





Demonstrators at the #BRIDGESNOTWALLS event in Bakewell yesterday

We did it! And the sun shone for us after a week of dank mist. There were 47 people with us over the two hour stretch, which is pretty wonderful for Bakewell in January. It was lovely to meet so many new people who came along to join us.

You can watch a video of the event here.

The Washington Post covered the UK wide banner drop here.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


It's been busy here. Thankfully I am better from the shingles. It was obviously a mild dose, or that anti-viral drug was super powerful. 

Monday was press day...by that I mean I set about getting publicity for tomorrow's BRIDGES NOT WALLS event in Bakewell. This resulted in a piece in the Derbyshire Times the same day, and an interview with a reporter for BBC Radio Derby. He met me and John Cummins, another Quaker, on Bakewell footbridge to ask us about our banner drop. 

He recorded some ambient sound - the rush of the weir and the screech of the gulls - and then we moved to the quiet end of the bridge for the interview. It seemed to go OK. He plans to have it on Friday's breakfast show, which is great. It might encourage some listeners to come and join us.

When I got home, Dave told me I had a streak of toothpaste on my cheek. Hmm. No-one told me when the photo was being taken, which reminds me of Sally Howe and her disastrous photo-shoot in Plotting for Beginners. (At least she didn't have dried up shingles spots to disguise. Oh vanity, vanity, thy name is Susan.)

Moving on....the banner is ready. I was sad that I was too tired from the shingles last week to organise a home-made fabric banner, but the one Dave and I designed looks good and as it's printed on vinyl we can use it again and again. It's message won't date.

Since then I've been making placards for people to hold. 

New slogans coming up today.

There are going to be over 100 banner drops in the UK, so I hope you'll look out for them, and join one if you can. There will be huge banners on many of the big London bridges on Friday morning. You can check out if there's a banner drop near you by going to the main page of BRIDGES NOT WALLS and scrolling down to the map. 

Fear and hatred get a lot of publicity, but friendship and trust will build a better world. Let's stand up against racism and fascism. We can all do something positive and practical - welcoming and supporting refugees is just one example.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A ramble through the last 24 hours

On my penultimate day in Boulder I woke up with three insect bites in a row on the edge of my jawbone. It looked as though a spider had landed on one side of my chin and then crawled up, biting me as it went. I paid these bites minimal attention but by the time I got back to Blighty I had three more, and the ones on my ear were shooting out little jolts of pain, so I went on the NHS website to check for some easily diagnosed spotty disease: there was nothing that looked like my large itchy lumps. The GP, however, took one look and said "Shingles. You have it on the trigeminal nerve - on the beard line." Hmm.

He gave me an antiviral drug to stop it spreading and getting worse. It's not been too bad since then - Tuesday - except that it wears me out. I am easily tired, under par, and a little fed up. Apparently I can give people chicken pox but not shingles. The family member who declines to be named wanted to come and visit yesterday and I wanted to see him. He cheers me up. But I couldn't recall if he had had chicken pox as a child, though I do recall his measles.  And this made me think of my mother. I was always incredibly frustrated when she couldn't remember which diseases I'd had as a child, and yet there were FIVE of us. Now I forgive her. I hope she forgives me. Dave did remember: the offspring in question had definitely not had chicken pox.

So I felt grumpy at not seeing him, and decided that a spot of writing would cheer me up. I've had a novel idea bubbling away for some months which I know it would be foolhardy to pursue, but I might do it anyway.

Then I went for a short walk and felt even better. The fresh air was one thing, but the afternoon winter sky was streaked with pearly grey and pastel yellow behind a row of tall trees and was heavenly. I love living here. 

Unfortunately I didn't take my camera with me, so here is Friday's sunset instead, taken from a bedroom window:

We played Scrabble last night and unusually I won. Dave said that when I am winning, I always tot up the scores out loud, something I never do when he is winning. Now that's the kind of trivial yet interesting habit that would be good to put in a novel. 

This morning I had a messaging chat with Karen, the aging hippie in California, who is going on three demos in the coming week (all pro-equality and anti-Trump): this is the banner she's made to hold -

and then a phone chat with my brother which involved a good-natured spat about Mr Vole (see last post). Having a jolly argument with a much-loved sibling about a children's book, where voices are raised but no feelings are hurt, is both invigorating and cheering.

Downstairs Dave was reading Alan Bennet's latest. He told me that his wellies are very warm and he is currently wearing them as slippers. Hmm. I checked them for muddy soles. (All clear.) Also, he might buy a pair specifically to wear inside. Hmm.

Then I went to Quaker meeting where only 18 people were present, but 7 got up to speak. It was very helpful.

Driving back in the rain I spotted the drains on the lane overflowing, so when I got home I excitedly donned my wellies and grabbed a spade and went back to clear them. As you know, I LOVE clearing drains.

Now I'm in bed at 2.05 pm exhausted, but the last 24 hours has been fun, even if I didn't see the family member who declines to be named.


Friday, January 13, 2017


When Zoe and Isaac were little, we had a Ladybird book of nursery rhymes in which appeared Goosey Goosey Gander - do you remember it? - "Where shall I wander?.....There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers so I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs." I so disapproved of that last sentence, on so many levels, that I glued the pages together.

Last year I came across a well-reviewed picture book called The Worst Princess by Kemp and Ogilvie. Readers on Amazon loved its feminist message so I bought a copy to give to Lux and Cece. But when it arrived in the post I was disappointed. It was funny and the pictures were good, and I loved the story of the princess ditching the male chauvinist prince and flying away with the dragon. But then in the last few pages the princess sets the prince's shorts alight and goes on to make mischief with the dragon, mischief wrought on "royal twits and naughty knights." It was a let-down. I wanted the princess to fly off with the dragon and be courageous, not to behave badly. She turned out to be just as bad as the prince, but in a different way. I didn't give the girls the book. It sits on my shelf, unwanted and unloved.

Lately I've been reading Allan Ahlberg's learn-to-read Happy Families books to Lux and Cece. If you haven't come across them, seek them out. They are wonderful. My favourites are Mrs Lather's Laundry, Mrs Wobble the Waitress, and Mrs Vole the Vet. The children and I laugh every time we read that last one (which is a LOT of times) and catchphrases from the book now pepper our conversation. 

After I got home I wanted to check something about the book and went on Amazon and found myself reading the reviews and was amazed and appalled. Readers found the book to be a BAD THING. They thought its messages were that professional women can't get by without a boyfriend, that absent parents should be forgotten about, and that having a lot of money is a necessary requirement of a good boyfriend. None of this had occurred to me. I felt challenged, but after careful thought I have decided that the problem is that these reviewers have no sense of humour and are not reading the book with sufficient subtlety. (I asked a children's-book-loving friend what she thought of the book and she said she loved it because of the way the children do their best to look after their mum.)

Let me set the scene. Mrs Vole has one son, two daughters, three cats, four dogs and no husband. She is a vet who works day and night in every season, and her three children worry about her constantly because she works so hard. When she comes home exhausted they look after her. They also decide that what she needs is a boyfriend. The absent Mr Vole (who appears on the second page only) has three stepsons and (I think) eleven rabbits and after telling us this, the author says "We will forget about him." He is obviously too busy to help the beleaguered Mrs Vole, even if he wanted to. He is therefore irrelevant to what happens next. The children say to Mrs Vole "What you need is a boyfriend, Mum." Then they give their spec of the ideal boyfriend.

Suitors then appear and are dismissed for various reasons, some of which are hilarious. The greengrocer, for example, is deemed by the kids to be "too cabbagey." Mr Aargh the Actor (who is pictured talking to a cucumber) is seen as too embarrassing. Mrs Vole ends up happily with Mr Lamp the Lighthouse Keeper.

The messages I draw from the book are that the kids love their mother a lot, do practical things to look after her such as getting her breakfast, making her cups of tea, and finding her slippers (I am working from memory here as the book is now in Boulder) and in trying to find her a boyfriend. The children's requirements of a good boyfriend are possibly questionable but they are children's requirements. Who can take seriously the requirement of good football boots? That sets the whole thing up as a joke. One of the Amazon reviewers is appalled by the book, and one reason is because the children dismiss "unsatisfactory candidates for the most arbitrary reasons, in a rather judgmental manner." Oh dear.  

I feel very sorry that such a wonderful book has been given such dire ratings. Authors are at the mercy of every reader who chooses to express an opinion online. Shall I write a review of The Worst Princess? Perhaps.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Are you disturbed by the nastiness and division of current politics?
Are you upset by the rise of racism?

On Friday January 20th, on the day of the inauguration of the new American president, people will be displaying banners on bridges in London and throughout the UK with varying versions of this message:

We will build
to a peaceful and just world 
rid of oppression and hatred

In Bakewell, Derbyshire, my local Quaker meeting is organising a banner drop from the main pedestrian bridge across the Wye, in the centre of Bakewell from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. There will be no chanting: the banner drop will be peaceful. Everyone is welcome.

Our banner will say:


It will signify that:

We stand together in solidarity, and speak for peace not hatred
We resist the fascism spreading through the world
We will treat everyone equally and with respect
We welcome refugees

Please come and join us if you'd like to. If you live too far away, you can find details of other banner drops here.

n.b. this is not the pedestrian bridge in Bakewell

Isaac Newton:
“We build too many walls and not enough bridges”

Martin Luther King:
“Let’s build bridges, not walls”

Pope Francis:
“We need bridges, not walls”

Saturday, January 07, 2017


I am home, sitting in bed drinking Yorkshire tea: it tastes better than it does in Boulder. I have opened the presents that Santa left by the bed, I have opened the pile of Christmas cards left on my desk (no of course Dave doesn't open them - you know what he thinks of Christmas) and on my bedside table I have this year's home made Christmas card from the OFF Christmas fairy. 

Yesterday morning was a blue time for me: a time of push-pull, mixed emotions. Getting ready to leave is always hard and not just because of the slight anxiety about making the plane, and the 19 hour journey ahead. After three weeks away I was so looking forward to being home and seeing Dave, and at the same time, it was a wrench to be leaving my lovely and loving American family. There had been such heavy snow that the schools were closed so it wasn't just a hasty goodbye after breakfast. When it was time to leave, four year old Cece hugged me and said "I will never forget you." Lux came out in the knee deep snow to wave me goodbye as my taxi drove away. 

It was the right time to leave. I can't tell you how wonderful it's been in the last few days to see Wendy returning to her buoyant, sassy self. Next week she starts her chemo. We wish you strength, courage, stamina and ultimately, astoundingly good health, LRH. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

living the wild life

We've had some fun times this week. Isaac took the girls and me for a walk round the nearest lake. It was just as beautiful as it looks in the photo. Those snow-topped mountains are the foothills of the Rockies 

photo by Isaac

photo by Isaac

The second half of the trip involved wearing wellies and playing in muddy icy puddles near the reservoir, where usually the kids collect shells. We managed to get them back to the car in fairly pristine condition. The children, that is.

Lux has developed a fondness for my lemon curd, so I was persuaded to make some with her and Cece (add it to the list of those activities that only grandchildren can persuade you to do - like going swimming in the local covered pool and shooting down the claustrophobic water slide, to boot) 

Lemon curd is actually pretty tedious to make, so the girls livened it up for me. Even so, the cooling and recooking part went on for so long they left me to finish the job, preferring a jaunt out with Isaac. C'est la vie. I can't say I blame them.

Yesterday, Wendy took us to a pottery painting studio. We all had the fabbest fun. Our pots will be ready next week after firing, when I am expecting to be back at home. They've promised to send me a photo.

Wendy is so much better than she has been, which is wonderful. It's so nice to have her lively presence around the house again. And a big treat for me was a simple thing like watching Project Runway with her - something we do most visits. 

She is well enough to drive now, which is freedom for her, and a relief to me, as school has started and it's been snowing for most of the day, with ten more inches expected tomorrow. Yikes. I hope I make it to the airport to catch my plane home.

The malls and the shops round here are huge and sparsely populated. I could even imagine myself learning to enjoy going shopping.  Wendy and I popped into a Nordstrom shop today, which is classy like John Lewis (though it did have piped music) and the shop floor was easily twice as big for the same amount of merchandise. There were vast and long empty spaces suitable for staging a scene in a musical.

The only other news is that a neighbour spotted a coyote in the backyard last night. 

Oh yes, I forgot to say that you know that Christmas greeting you see people make on American films - "Happy Holidays"? They actually do say that. "Happy Holidays" was flying around the school hall on the last day of term like nobody's business. Not a "Happy Christmas" in earshot. Interesting.

This is Boulder City Hall

photo by Isaac