Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Worse things happen in the Mediterranean sea

I was talking to someone the other day who was depressed, and after he'd told me how he felt, he said 'But I have nothing to complain about - there are so many people in the world who have REAL troubles.'

What he said was true, but if you're depressed, counting your blessings doesn't help. It's in this same spirit, however, that although I burned the roof of my mouth 6 days ago and it's made me miserable, I've not yet blogged about it. You know what a wuss I am. You know how I long to be a stoic, but am the least stoical person in my family.

Do you know the film Annie? Do you know that bit when the orphans are singing It's a hard-knock life and Miss Hannegan says 'And we're not having hot mush today' and all the orphans smile and cheer, and then she says 'We're having cold mush'? Well, lukewarm mush is what I've been eating for days and I'm bloody sick of it.

But back to those REAL troubles. I heard the BBC4 programme Ramblings on Sunday and it made me cry. Clare Balding was walking in Surrey with a group of asylum seekers who are former detainees of the Gatwick Removal Centre. Walking with them were a group of volunteers from the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. You can listen to it here.

I am fairly well-informed about how the Home Office treats asylum seekers  - yes, it's still a hostile environment - but hearing on radio about one man's horrific and arduous journey from Eritrea to the UK brought it home ten times more powerfully than reading about it in the newspaper. The last part of his journey was from Calais to Dover and he travelled under a truck. It brought to mind the poem HOME by Warsan Shire, of which this is an excerpt:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

Saturday, May 26, 2018


Mary died three years ago and I am used to the gap. Most of the time I get by but there are some times when I miss her so much it hurts. This morning at 4 a.m. was one of them. I needed to talk to someone and she was the only person who would do. Even the blackbird didn't cheer me up.

Still...in general I'm very happy. Hasn't this May (my favourite month) been fabulous? 

Here's a picture of our lane this morning:

And the hawthorn blossom is something else. I have never seen it so abundant as I have this spring. When I saw Hockney's paintings of hawthorn in his 2012 exhibition A Bigger Picture I thought they were overblown and faintly ridiculous. 

But this morning on the Trail I changed my mind and I took these photographs:

Friday, May 25, 2018

The list

Someone commented on my last blog post that I should make a list of fourteen books to leave on a hired narrowboat, so that whoever was on the boat would find at least one book that suited their taste. It's such a hard task, but here goes...

A comedy - a Jeeves and Wooster book by P.G. Wodehouse

A crime novel - by Ian Rankin or Christine Poulson

An intelligent chick-lit book, such as Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding or You Before Me by Jojo Moyes or Plotting for Beginners by Sue Hepworth and Jane Linfoot

A biography - Claire Tomalin's Samuel Pepys: the unequalled self

A poetry anthology - Staying Alive  ed. by Neil Astley, or Lifesaving Poems ed. by Anthony Wilson

A book on politics - The Establishment by Owen Jones

A thriller - please help me here!

A historical novel - The Siege by Helen Dunmore or The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

A book of short stories - Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor

A memoir - I am Malala

A non-fiction book (I nearly forgot this category as I don't read non-fiction)  - something readable about the history of canals

A Charles Dickens novel - you pick, as I am not a Dickens fan

Two contemporary novels - I suggest Under the Same Stars by Tim Lott and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strouut, which are both accessible literary fiction.

So what do you think?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When you need a librarian

The man from whom we hired the narrowboat tries to give his boats little finishing touches - such as a bowl of fresh fruit, cotton sheets, toiletries in the bathroom, and a pint of milk in the fridge. He also had a shelf of books, some games and some dvds. We took our own Scrabble so we didn't need the games, but I checked the 12 dvds and there was nothing either of us wanted to watch. We both took books and didn't need his, thankfully. But at the end of the week when we were packed up and waiting to hand over the boat, I had some time to fill so I picked a book off the shelf to read.

This was the selection:

There are some big-hitting writers here in terms of sales, and apart from the one by Jane Francis, the Rankin and the Sharpe, they all look to fall in a similar category. I picked the Ian Rankin. I am not a crime fiction aficionado, but I know Rankin is a superb writer, and indeed, the book drew me in.

But the collection made me think. If I were furnishing a narrowboat with 14 books and wanted there to be something to suit everyone's taste, what books would I choose? 

Monday, May 21, 2018


I was talking on the phone on Saturday to the family member who declines to be named about his upcoming wedding, which incidentally I hope against hope is not going to become the family wedding that cannot be blogged about. And he mentioned the OTHER WEDDING, and I said I was going to be busy because my sweet peas were crying out to be planted and the bed needing digging over first. I grew them from seed this year and they've been tenderly cared for by our neighbour while I've been away in Colorado seeing these two sweeties 

and while Dave and I have been away on the narrowboat.

Also I wanted to get a bike ride in at teatime when I thought the Trail would be deserted. We're both republicans, and he and I assumed I was not going to watch the wedding, though I did admit I wanted to see THE DRESS.

Well, I planted out half the sweet peas (two dozen) 

and I was hot and sweaty and in need of a bracing coffee, so I made one and sat down at my desk and logged onto the net just as Meghan was arriving at the chapel with her mother. 

And oh! That DRESS! It was perfect. And then I was lured into watching the vows.... and more. I am a hopeless romantic. The first thing I turn to in the Saturday paper is that week's blind date. Meghan and Harry looked so happy! Didn't they look happy? And relaxed. It was so wonderfully different - thankfully - from the last royal wedding I watched: Princess Diana's. Sadly, I somehow missed the sermon, which sounds as if it was a cracker, so I'm going to watch that today on Youtube. Anyone preaching about love changing the world, about social justice and peace, has got my ear.  But first I have to plant the other two dozen sweet peas.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


We're back from a glorious week on a narrowboat on the Lancaster canal. It was a perfect holiday - seven days of sunshine, quiet rural countryside, convivial chat and no wifi. There is nowhere lovelier than England in May. The trees by the side of the canal were beautiful - lush, vivid, and alive with birdsong. I heard so many blackbirds, it was as if we had one travelling on the boat with us.

I didn't take many photographs this time. I was just drinking it all in with no gadget in my hand. Here are my favourites from the week.

Below, the view from the front of the boat in my favourite mooring spot, with distant views (in the other direction) of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District mountains. The sky really was this intense blue, and the tiny copse was alive with birdsong. I'm showing you this view, because it encapsulates the simplicity of canal life and rural vistas, and why I like it so much.

Oh, OK. Here is a view of the Bay...not very clear in a picture, which is why I wasn't going to bother showing you...

I spent a lot of time sitting on the back deck while Dave steered the boat, talking to him, and saying every now and then - "Look at the trees!"

This last photo was taken on an evening walk along the towpath. It's interesting how beautiful dandelion clocks are when they're not in our garden at home.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Tattered Cover

There's a fabulous bookshop in Denver called The Tattered Cover which I always try to visit when I'm over there. They sell secondhand books as well as new, and the staff are very friendly. There are squishy chairs you can lurk in to read, such as when you're waiting for your son to finish work and you've had enough of the blazing Colorado sun, and a tempting Graham Swift novel is calling to you.

This time I bought The Light Between Oceans by M.L.Stedman, described by reviewers as 'heart-wrenching,' 'elegantly rendered' and 'sublimely written.' I wanted an emotional book. I wanted to see how it's done. 

And I recognised the title of this book, because there's a film of it - which I have not seen - starring Michael Fassbender, and the news of anything starring Michael Fassbender stays in my memory. (Have you seen his Mr Rochester? Swoon.)

Well, I've got to a crunch point near the middle and I can tell from here on in it's going to be emotionally gruelling, and I'm not sure now that I'm up to it. Watch this space.

It's been hectic since I returned from Boulder, and I have another busy week ahead when I know I shan't have time to blog. I apologise, and I'll try to make it up to you after that. 

Here's a May view of the Monsal Trail in the meantime:

Monday, May 07, 2018

Dicombobulated observations

Since I got home on Thursday I have been waking up in the early hours to go to the loo and every time thinking I am in my mother's house and that she is asleep in another bedroom. She died in 2008 and her house is long sold.

And in the morning I wake up as if drugged, and drenched in sweat. I don't know if it's due to jetlag or the antihistamines I'm taking. This morning was worse. I woke from nightmares that I was taking my O levels and had done no work - I mean NO WORK - and I was bunking off to go to the hairdresser's to get my hair coloured. (I did in fact work for my O levels back in the sixties, and did very well in them.) Usually I dream I am taking my A levels and have done no work, which is nearer to the truth. (Again - in fact - I passed them well enough to go on and get a good degree.)

It took me some time to shake this off. A bike ride on my beloved Monsal Trail certainly helped. 

I set off before 9 a.m. to beat the Bank Holiday Monday crowds, and it was very restorative. The cowslips this year are so much taller than last year when we had that dry spring. I love cowslips.

I have some things to say after my trip to Boulder, but they're disparate and fairly unrelated observations, hence the title of this post.

This time on my trip to Boulder I noticed that Americans never say "It's a lovely day," they say "It's a pretty day."

Secondly, people really like the British accent. A waitress in a restaurant overheard Isaac and me conversing and said "I love your accent so much, you could be really rude to me and I wouldn't mind."

Coloradans are very friendly.

I have yet to be in an American house that has china mugs. (I prefer my tea out of a china mug - it tastes so much better.) 

I have discovered (thanks to Dave) that there is far more alcohol in my favourite Colorado tipple - a margarita - than there is in a glass of wine. I am surprised, and somewhat disconcerted, and am considering whether or not this will affect my habits on future trips. Already decided: no.

I went away to America before the trees came into leaf in Derbyshire. Arriving home to all but the ash trees green, I feel as if it's Christmas and I've woken up late to find everyone else has started opening their presents.

Lux and me: photo by Isaac

Saturday, May 05, 2018


I'm home from Colorado in green, green May. And the trees are beautiful, but their pollen is making me feel too awful to blog. I hope I'll be feeling better soon.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Hostile environments

I may have ignored news of royal births while I've been over here, but you can be sure I've been following the important news, such as the Windrush affair. The Guardian has been highlighting awful cases for months and I've been tweeting about them and signing petitions. Yesterday, I read this letter to the Guardian and as it expresses exactly how I feel, I'm copying it here:

I'll leave it with you.