Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The least from the east

On Monday it was so cold when we walked eastwards down the Monsal Trail to Hassop Station for a BLT that the wind burned my face. I clung to Dave with one hand and covered my face with the other. But the snow itself had not arrived. It did its pathetic best for 24 hours and on Tuesday we woke to a light dusting on the hills. 

What were the weather warnings for? Yet again, we thought, it's the London-centric media being hysterical. It reminded me of this piece I had in the Times some years ago. Here's a brief excerpt:

Go chew on some northern grit
...............One winter night, Leeds was completely cut off by a severe snowstorm and hundreds of commuters had to find somewhere to sleep in Leeds, but the BBC said nowt. By contrast, whenever there is a even a whisper of snow over Primrose Hill the national newsreaders begin to tremble with excitement. And if the snow actually settles to more than half a centimetre deep, you can be sure it will be the scariest of the six o’clock headlines.
I lived in Sheffield (you remember Sheffield - England’s fourth largest city) for twenty years and several times each winter there was sufficient snow to stop the city buses. We made no fuss. We put on our wellies and walked. But if a sprinkling of snow stops a London commuter train, and poor Londoners have to trek half a mile up the track, the whole of the British Isles gets to know about it.............
At least the London-based Guardian printed this letter today:

But yesterday afternoon we got respectably heavy flurries interspersed with bright skies, and Liz and I decided to go for a walk on the Monsal Trail. Oh yes: we need our fresh air and our exercise. Liz took the following photos - thank you, Liz.

View from the lane:

Longstone station:

Emerging from Headstone tunnel:

Outside the tunnel:

Benevolent local witch:

Walking home:

It was exhilarating and fun, and this morning we woke up to this: real snow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Yearning for youth

I went to see a production of West Side Story on Sunday at Buxton Opera House. It was performed by a cast of local young amateurs, and directed by an award-winning director. It was fabulous. I enjoyed it so much that at the end of the show I felt like storming backstage so I could thank the cast in person. Now the mere thought of it raises my spirits. 

It took me back to being 17 and in love. It was a weird feeling. The cast were exactly the right age for the parts, and that made me yearn to be young again. I'm always wishing I wasn't this old, but on Sunday I wanted to be young enough to run around the stage and dance like they were doing, to be slim and lithe and have my thick brown hair back again, and my eyelashes, to be getting ready for a date with a boy I really really fancied like Maria when she was singing I feel pretty

This is me at my favourite age, my sister Jen, and my brother Jonty:

Hey ho. I'm off to play my sax.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

This is what the weekend papers call a 'long read'

I have another domestic post in mind this morning, and it's occurred to me that a stranger happening upon my blog might think I'm a puny-minded person who deals only in trivia, who is uncaring about the state of the world, insouciant about the horrors in Syria and the Yemen, politically uncommitted, blind to the lack of compassion and morality displayed in the current government's callous approach to the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, the people fleeing to safety from war and terror. Such a stranger wouldn't know that the news tears me apart every morning, and that I do try to contribute to making the world a better place, and on Thursday night in a meeting about refugees I heard myself say in a raised voice too loud for the sitting-room venue: 'I want people to be outraged at the way the Home Office treats asylum seekers.' 

Such a stranger reading just one post wouldn't know that this is a place where real things are talked about as well as little bits of nothing. 

Now, I'm going to be trivial...

I go to have my hair cut every seven weeks. At this week's appointment I was restless and looking for change. I toyed with the idea of having it coloured, but decided that with my hefty dose of wrinkles, it was too late to be having turquoise streaks in my hair. It's not my age, it's the wrinkles. (Despite the fact that when I was flicking through a Poetry catalogue this week, looking for something to wear at the upcoming wedding of the family member who declines to be named, Dave said: "Shouldn't you be looking in a catalogue for biddies?" Get back in your shed, Dave!

Actually, his comment annoyed me so much, I'm going to interleave this piece I had in the Times years and years ago, when Dave could still be described as middle-aged.

Marks and Spencer’s U turn: succour for the middle aged male
 This may be the era of the grey pound when trendy fifty-somethings refuse to grow old, and avidly scan the fashion pages for what is hip. But there is a sartorially disreputable underbelly of middle aged men who are unmoved  by new styles, and who wish it was still the 1950’s when custard was custard, and middle aged men were middle aged men, in cardigans and slippers. These are the men whose wives buy all their clothes for them, who would like to wear the same thing year in and year out, and who don’t care whether black is the new black, or if bottoms are the new bust, as long as M&S still stock the same trousers as they did three years ago.
Since M&S moved away from “classically stylish” clothes, and began trying to keep up with the competition, wives who could formerly swoop in and rekit their husbands in half an hour, have been traipsing the high street looking for the middle aged look that doesn’t exist any more.
Granted, Oxfam is a godsend: I recently found four M&S (as new) shirts in my local branch for £2.99 each. And in the past few years my husband has bought three perfectly respectable jackets there.
This is the university educated, middle class professional who reached the age of forty without owning a suit, and who took Richard Branson as his role model in dispensing with ties. Some years ago he had an important job interview coming up, and he temporarily put aside his favourite Thoreau dictum that you should beware of all enterprises that require new clothes: I was dispatched to buy him a suit. Still reeling from the idea that my husband would not be visiting the shop, the shop assistant offered me something as “the most up to date style,” and was horrified when I explained that I needed a classic design that wouldn’t date, as the item would be worn for interviews only, and would be the only suit my spouse would ever own.
Having finally acquired a suit from M&S, we realised that he had no black shoes to go with it. We found some old beige ones in the back of the wardrobe and transformed them with a bottle of instant shoe colour. But during the interview, my husband was disconcerted to see the panel chairman staring at my husband’s shoes, transfixed. The black dye was flaking off the shoes, and revealing the old colour underneath. (No, he didn’t get the job.)
Whilst M&S have been chasing hot fashion, there has been an increasing danger of these middle-aged men - children in the market place - losing their way. For the past few years, two pairs of old patched jeans have been sufficient garb for my husband’s favourite pastime of DIY. But these got to the stage of being knee deep in three layers of patches, with new rips appearing just above the patch zone. One day I heard pathetic whimpering coming from my husband’s deep litter clothes storage system in the bedroom: it was the said jeans begging to be given sanctuary in the fabric recycling bin.
He let them go, and in our local agricultural suppliers he was seduced by a Dickies boiler suit in a subtle bottle green, for only £25. Here was a garment he could relate to. It was practical, comfortable, warm, commodious, cheap and had, joy of joy, 9 pockets, three of which were zipped.
But the boiler suit was so new, so comfortable, so smart, he refused to wear it for jobs such as mending the shed roof, because it might get dirty. Instead he would don it as soon as he got home from work, slipping into it as “smart leisure wear.” At the weekend he would wear nothing else, and I colluded with him, and bought him another one in navy blue.
I was on the point of persuading him that in fact they weren’t classy leisurewear, when, by some freak chance, he spotted a men’s fashion article in a colour supplement. This featured a boiler suit by Kenzo Homme, at ten times the price of his. He was trendily dressed – the only recorded time since student days.
Last week, something similar happened. The family had at last convinced him that his battered sixties white leather belt (with the white cracking off ) was past it, and I was off to M&S for a new black one. Then the photo appeared in the paper: Bob Dylan clutching a Golden Globe award and wearing a black suit with a white leather belt. Apparently, “If it’s good enough for Bob Dylan, it’s good enough for me.”

            So, come on M&S. Take the weight from our shoulders, and get back to what you do well: providing clothes for middle aged men who want to dress as they’ve always done. They can be boring and respectable, and we can have the biggest bit of the clothing budget.

Back to the hair salon...I sat waiting for my hair cut, flicking through Marie Claire. I love waiting because it's the only time I ever look at a women's mag and Marie Claire appeals to me with its intelligent writing and its focus on FASHION. Where else would I find out how to build a capsule wardrobe? The trouble was that before I began, I had to categorise myself as a Modern Romantic, A Minimalist or a Statement Maker. I plumped for Minimalist but was appalled at the suggestion of trousers priced at £250, as men's straight cut indigo jeans from Sainsbury's (£14) are my current favourites. But then Nicola arrived and asked what I wanted me to do this week and I said 'something different.' I trust her. She's been cutting my hair for 27 years, she knows my hair, and she's a good cutter.

She cut it beautifully. It's a really pretty cut. 


...isn't it a shame that just as you can take stuff back to M and S and get your money back if you decide you don't like it, you can't go back to the hairdresser and ask her to put your hair back because actually, you don't like it this short? Hey ho. Worse things happen at sea, as we've already established.

Times piece published with kind permission of News International.
Copyright: Sue Hepworth and Times Newspapers 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Letter from home

It's half term, and our grandsons (11 and 13) came for the day on Tuesday. It was a great day. They made a marble run inspired by the Winter Olympics

complete with a ski jump

but the marbles were too quick (or I was too slow) to get a shot of one mid jump.

We also went to the rec and played football - yes, me included.

Other things that have happened this week:

My laptop went back to the shop with a fault, which is one reason I haven't blogged;

I became re-attached to a calming game on my iPad - Flow Free - which I find especially helpful as a way of regaining equanimity after reading the morning news;

I got out the suitcase full of papers that came from my mother's house ten years ago and which I have not yet sorted out. Amongst other ephemera, there were my father's school reports; some (uninspiring) letters my mother wrote to my father in 1934 when she was 17; a university newspaper from a few years later with a tiny report underlined on page 6, of a hockey match in which my father was mentioned; letters my children wrote to my mother when they were tiny; and an 1847 edition of the Daily News (London) which I will have to tell my sibs about. 

There was so much other stuff which I couldn't decide what to do with that I became discouraged, took out the childrens' letters, and stuffed everything else back in the case and shoved it back under the bed. It was a dispiriting exercise. Hey-ho - the things you will do on a rainy February day when your laptop is out of action and it's too early to get out the knitting and you're waiting for feedback from people who are reading the latest draft of your work in progress.

Yesterday I replaced the sad cyclamen on the doorstep with rosy pink primroses. And you know how disappointing my sweet peas have been in the last couple of years? I decided that this year I would go back to doing what I did years ago and sow my own. So rows of sawn-off megasized yoghurt cartons are now looking hideous on the windowsills. 

Yesterday I was bathed in sunshine when I received a very lovely email from a friend in NZ who I haven't seen for years and years, and who had just caught up on two months of my blog. This is what she said about it:

I think perhaps she was responding to my post that said we should appreciate people while they are still alive, and not wait until they're dead. It was a treat, a powerful shot of encouragement (also, nice to know that it's not just me and Chrissie who love Mr Earbrass.)

Lastly, I've been thinking about the pernicious effects of social media, which are blamed for the alarming rise in student suicides. 'It's not OK to have a bad day' said Hugh Brady, vice-chancellor of Bristol University. 

There is someone I have been following on social media who gets on my nerves with her persistent - nay, unrelenting - 'inspiring' posts of her wonderful days in beautiful places. I don't find it helpful. I would prefer to read about the ups and the downs because that keeps it real and makes the ups truly uplifting. 

At least you get plenty of downs with me.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Shower the people you love with love

Yesterday was bright and sunny.
Today is bright and sunny.
Sucks to the rain, sleet, ice, mud, bitter winds and grey skies of February. 

Today's post is more cheerful. But first I want to show you this photo that I took of the clematis on the front of our house, because I really like the shot and it seems to capture February - even down to the tear drops/raindrops clinging to some of the tendrils.

I woke up from some nice dreams this morning at the perfect time - the sky was light enough to draw the blinds but the sun was not yet up. It's peeping over the horizon as I write. I can see it through the bedroom window.

Last Sunday when Quaker meeting finished I walked across the room to say hello to a friend who's been away for a month, and who I haven't seen since December. Before I could say anything like 'Welcome back!' or even just 'Hello,' she gave me a big hug and said 'I've missed you!' It was such a heartening thing to hear. It made my day, and I realised later that it touched me so much because I've been feeling embattled and discouraged. 

In bed this morning something in the nice dream I'd been having, made me think how good it would be to be able to attend you own funeral and hear what people said about you. In a Quaker funeral or memorial service there is no minister (just like in Quaker meetings) although an elder will introduce the meeting. After that, everyone present is free to get up and speak about the person who has died. It's a warm and wonderful occasion, as well as sad. 

Let's not wait until people are dead before we list why we liked them or loved them, or what it was about them that made them special, or why we are grateful to them, or how they have helped us. Let's tell them now. Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone needs to feel loved.

The view above is a February photo of Wensleydale taken by Rosemary Mann some years ago. Rosemary and I first met through Twitter, and this week she sent me a summer photo of Wensleydale to cheer me up because she realised I was feeling low. Today's header was also taken by Rosemary.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The jigsaw

It's three years today since my dearest friend Mary died. It's like having an important and irreplaceable piece missing from the jigsaw of my life. No other piece will fit in her place, and the gap spoils the picture. It's no longer complete. 

Lying in bed this morning, thinking about this image, I developed it and thought about my parents, who were like the corners of the jigsaw, maybe most of the edges, giving the puzzle stability, protecting it from the edge of the table. But they are both dead, so there's no longer anything to stop me falling over the edge, except perhaps my brothers and sisters, who are vital parts of the picture - the lighthouse or the beach, the cafe or the cliffs. 

There are other missing pieces besides Mary - my grandmother, other good friends who have died - and the gaps spoil the jigsaw too, but they were lost some time ago and the gaps feel almost part of the picture now.

My friends are there in the picture - the flag, the clump of seathrift, the lone oystercatcher, the sandcastle, the rowing boat.

Towards the centre are my immediate family - Dave, Zoe, Isaac and the family member who declines to be named. Then there are their partners and my grandchildren. Every one of these pieces are those very, very, favourite bits of the jigsaw - the vivid red scarf, the seagull sitting on the pirate's hat, the child's small hand resting on the mother's knee.

I don't know if this image works or if it sounds silly. But I do know I miss Mary, and that I'm dedicating my new novel to her. 

Friday, February 09, 2018

That February feeling

There's an awful lot of the glad game going on in my head at the moment, the subjects of which I won't bore you with, and my mood is far too dependent on whether the sun is out. Yep, it's February.

And trivial stuff annoys me to a ridiculous degree...such as people misattributing quotes to Oscar Wilde. Misattribution is a pet hate of mine anyway, but when someone quotes Wilde as saying 'The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole' I feel like pelting them with a pile of very sticky ones.

And then there was the author of A Little Life (that long miserable, harrowing novel about child abuse) who was asked in an interview what was the last book that made her cry, and she said 'I haven't cried since 1995 and I don't intend to start.' My reaction was Would you want this woman as your friend?

Bad tempered? Moi?

On the plus side, I have just about finished the third rewrite of my new novel. And I've lost an inch round my waist, despite the bag of Werthers Originals in my desk drawer which I bought as research for one of my characters.

Lastly, my 13 year old grandson is becoming more and more interesting to talk to. Last weekend he said this: 'The reader has more empathy for the characters than the writer does.’ I am wondering if it is true.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Have you ever...?

Have you ever finished knitting a scarf for your grand-daughter 

and realised it will probably be far too thick around her 5 year old neck, and in fact you realised this (without admitting it to yourself) half-way through the process but you wanted to get the thing finished within the week so you didn't pull it out and start again?

Have you ever spent an hour cooking dishes from store cupboard basics without all the necessary ingredients and ended up with two nutritious meals that are tasteless, but you will have to eat them because you don't want to waste the food?

Have you ever written a blog for eleven and a half years and run out of things to say but not wanted to say to your readers you are taking a break because when you've done that in the past, you've always thought of lots to write about the following week but no-one read your posts because they thought you were taking a break? 

Have you ever wondered if your time for sharing happenings and thoughts and ideas with the world has come to an end because you have morphed from an opinionated extraverted writer into a quiet person who has private thoughts she doesn't want to share, unless they are disguised and put in the mouths of  fictional characters?

Have you ever been (just a bit) fed up?

Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself and thought:  'My God! I have really thick ankles!'