Monday, June 25, 2018

Blind spots

It was the Quaker meeting picnic in our garden yesterday, after a cycle up from Bakewell on the Monsal Trail. Dave and I had set out games - table tennis, horseshoe throwing, boules and crokinole. It was so hot, though, that most of the adults lounged in the shade, eating and talking. 

I noticed one Friend checking his phone a lot - very unusual for him, most unusual for him - and then heard his wife saying: 'Don't tell me! Don't spoil it for me!' and I wondered what was going on.

Then this morning, the front page of my online daily Guardian (that I get on subscription) looked like this:

and I wondered what the picture of the boys in the street with all the flags was about. Was it to do with the World Cup? Had England been playing yesterday and won? I didn't even glance at the big picture, bottom left, of the footballers. I never look at the bottom left of the front page because that's where the sports news is and I automatically blank it out. But isn't it big? How could I blank it out everyday? 

Anyway, talking of impaired vision, I had my left eye lasered on Saturday. A few years ago I had cataracts fixed in both my eyes. They took out the cloudy natural lenses from my eyes, and inserted new artificial ones. But there'd been protein build-up on the left lens which had meant my left eye vision has been cloudy for several months, and it needed dealing with. So I was referred to a Saturday NHS clinic where an eye doctor zapped it. I was only in the consulting room for five minutes, and that included signing the consent form. The result was amazing! It was as if someone had cleaned the window on the world and someone else was holding up a spotlight on it. The geraniums were a sharper pink, the leaves of the sedum a bluer green. Wow. Now I realise that my right eye, which I've been depending on, is in the early stages of cloudiness. I trust that will be dealt with too in time. I LOVE the NHS.

p.s. The best thing about the World Cup is that the Trail is unusually quiet. Long may it continue.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Has the World Cup finished yet?

"Has the World Cup finished yet?" I asked Dave the other day.
"I don't know. I don't think so," came the response.

I don't watch TV news (although we are buying a TV tomorrow - wild excitement!) and I try not to listen to the radio news. I read the news every morning, and I also get a lot of news on Twitter. I find it easier to cope with news in written form. That way I don't have to listen to politicians prevaricating or lying. That way the radio stays safe from having things hurled at it.

But the other day I was listening to The Archers (the world's longest running radio soap - for you guys outside the UK) and there was a scene in the village pub where some men were talking about the World Cup, and I couldn't avoid it.

It made me think. It made me think about people who say casually - "Oh, I'm not interested in politics" in the same way that I say "Oh, I'm not interested in football." They say it as if politics has no bearing on their lives, or the lives of anyone else, as if politics is a minority interest, or a hobby, and not about things like immigration policies that reduce people to poverty and homelessness  - think the Windrush generation; or widespread welfare benefit maladministration and pennypinching that mean 4 million people in the UK use foodbanks; or a policy that snatches tiny children from their parents.

I spent most of Wednesday thinking about the children in cages. I knew about the obscene policy of separating children from parents at the Mexican border before it hit the main headlines in the UK. I first found out about it on Twitter. And when Isaac rang from Colorado on Sunday he told me about a Democrat politician building a coalition to challenge the policy, and about other groups who were fighting it. Since then even some of Trump's fanbase have protested about the policy and Trump has reversed it. 

It is not clear, however, how the children already separated are going to be reunited with their parents. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a regime that thought it was OK a/ to take children from their parents and b/ not to document everything so carefully that in the future these families could be reunited?

And yet normal life has been going on. This week I have felt like I did when my mother died: "How is it that life is continuing as per usual as if nothing has happened?" 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

It breaks my heart

Last week my 13 year old grandson was playing a computer game and I asked him what you had to do. The game is called Fortnite. Players are parachuted onto an island and they have to scavenge supplies, build structures and find weapons to eliminate each other until only one person is left. The winner is the 'last man standing.'

I cannot think of a more hideous game. Actually, I can, but I'm not going to pursue that line of thought.  Apparently the game is so exciting and so gripping that some kids wet themselves rather than leave it to go to the loo.

Why do so many computer games revolve around fighting and killing?

Why can't someone design a game that involves saving people? It could be just as exciting. They could save refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean sea, for example. If there has to be violence, they could fight people-traffickers and vicious border guards and people who foster hostile environments for refugees and asylum seekers. 

And why not a mission to rescue children from cages? Or a mission to depose a racist, narcissistic, bullying, inhumane and dangerous president?  

Monday, June 18, 2018

The history of a habit

If a medical researcher ever discovers that yoghurt is carcinogenic then my husband is doomed.
His passion for yoghurt began in 1971, when he began to dabble in hazelnut yoghurt, made by Ski. He was just becoming hooked on the stuff, and therefore thinking that he ought to stop eating it, when Ski ran a special offer. If you sent them six yoghurt carton lids they would send you a teaspoon with a long handle, a design which enabled the yoghurt fancier to scrape the last trace of yoghurt from the distinctive cartons, which were shaped like miniature cooling towers. Dave cannot resist a bargain, nor can he resist interesting tools, and what is a long handled spoon, after all, but a tool?
Unfortunately he had never heard the saying "He needs a long spoon who sups with the Devil." All too soon we had twelve long handled teaspoons; and Dave was a yogaholic.
When we moved to Sheffield two years later, he switched to natural yoghurt. He says he abandoned the hazelnut variety because it was too fattening, but I know it's because it only comes in 150gram cartons. Longley Farm Natural Yoghurt is available in larger cartons and is powerful stuff - a Class A yoghurt that gives him a high like no other.
At one point he decided he was spending too much money on yoghurt and started to make his own, first in the warming section of our Rayburn and then in a yoghurt maker. But soon he could not make it in sufficient quantities, and we had to supplement it with Longley Farm Natural Yoghurt from the deli down the road. Reintroduced to LFNY, Dave remembered its superiority and he gave up making his own.
By 1979, he was slurping a 450gram carton of LFNY daily. I had to go to the deli every day, because if I bought more than one carton, then more got eaten.
When we went on our annual holiday to Northumberland, the week was taken up in
the pursuit of LFNY. Visits to the beach, tours round castles and boat trips to the Farne Islands were interleaved with yoghurt hunts.
We found a source in a Bamburgh greengrocers, and another - though only in small cartons - at a caravan site near Dunstanburgh Castle. But they didn't have enough. There must be dealers in Northumberland with supplies big enough to feed Dave's habit but we never managed to map out a definitive, reliable network. In the end, we resorted to buying a week's supply from the deli and taking it with us.
By 1984 Dave had persuaded the deli to supply him with catering cartons of LFNY. Each of these cartons, made of tough white plastic, with a bright orange screw top lid, has an integral handle. A good job, as these caterers cartons contain 5 kilograms of the stuff.
In 1994, when we moved to the Peak District it was my job to ask the man in the village shop if he could get us two 5 kg cartons every week. He made no comment. He was a discreet man. He got it from the driver every Tuesday afternoon and stashed it safely in the bottom shelf of his fridge behind the counter, away from prying eyes.
Dave moved onto consuming three catering cartons of LFNY a week. Every Monday morning the last carton was cut in half and licked clean (and not by the cat) and he had more than 24 hours to wait for the next delivery on Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes I would make an emergency dash down to Bakewell's Monday market on my bike, where it was possible to buy LFNY, though the price was high.
Sometimes the Tuesday delivery failed to arrive and I scoured the Derbyshire Dales for shops that stayed open late and stocked LFNY, an odd 150 gm carton, the normal size for normal people.
 If on a Tuesday we were not home until after the village shop had closed, the shop man swathed a carton in carrier bags and hid it behind the old milk churn outside his shop, for us to collect.
At Christmas when the shop was closed and Dave had to pre-buy his LFNY in bulk, and yet I also needed extra fridge space for family entertaining, he kept his extra cartons cool by floating them in the water barrel behind the shed. One year he put them in the pond, tethering the carton handles to the garden seat.

A grandson wheeling the Christmas yoghurt

When he was working away from home and staying in hotels, the LFNY went with him. The 5 kg carton is too big to fit in the minibar, so he filled the bath with cold water and stood the carton in there to keep it cool.
You might think that I am an indulgent woman. Not true. If you could have seen Dave on Monday nights vainly searching the fridge for a hidden cache of liquid snow, your heart would have melted too.
And if you could have seen his pleasure on a Tuesday afternoon when he unscrewed the orange cap and discovered that this week the LFNY was prime vintage, so thick that it was difficult to shake it through the spout, so thick that it came out with a glug and swirled in the dish, and kept its shape, just like egg whites whisked for meringue… you would understand.
In the days of the LFNY 5 kg cartons, I planted my sweet pea seeds in adapted ones, filled with compost and Dave would say: "Good job I eat yoghurt when you need so many sweet pea pots."
"Yes Dave, only £19.80 a week. What a bargain."
(Actually, I still use them for my sweet peas so maybe it was a bargain.)

But times have changed. Dave is more careful of his health and has switched from the delectable full fat LFNY to low fat Sainsbury’s yoghurt, and he eats 5 or 6 450gm cartons a day.
Here's the evidence.

Lux and yoghurt cartons

Cecilia and yoghurt cartons

Published here with kind permission of News International.
©             Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday bliss

Don't you just love waking up in a morning and luxuriating in the thought that nothing is happening that day - it's a rare free day! -  and then remembering that something is happening, but it's enjoyable and requires zero effort from you? That's me this Saturday.

I can pad around in my pyjamas till I need to get ready to go out to lunch at a friend's house. I just went outside in them to pick a bunch of roses - Arthur Bells - to have next to me while I'm having my breakfast in bed, because they're so fragrant.

And this is the first bowl of strawberries I picked from the garden this year:

The garden. I've complained to you before that it's getting too much for me to cope with because I don't have the energy it requires any more if I want to save some for cycling. Well, Dave has been remodelling part of it - digging up stuff and levelling it into lawn. He's been at it all week, as well as driving over to the house of the family member who declines to be named to work on landscaping his garden. Today we buy the seed and sow it. Dave's energy levels are incredible: it must be because his diet is 70% yoghurt. I am not exaggerating - I once wrote a piece in The Times about his yoghurt addiction, and guess what, I just found it here on the net!

Anyway, you know how I sometimes post pics on here of my garden? Well, they are carefully crafted so you don't see the scuzzy bits, the shocking bits, the parts where convolvulus is rampant and the bits where gravel paths have all but disappeared under overhanging unpruned shrubs. I am hoping that after the changes I will be able to take a photo of any section and not feel ashamed. Here is what Dave's been busy with this week:

Allow me to point out two things. Firstly, the self-layered golden privet bushes (courtesy of those aforementioned overhanging unpruned shrubs) that have made themselves at home in my strawberry patch centre left. I shall be digging those out this week. They were unreachable before the changes. Secondly, the new orange wheelbarrow which Dave loves so much that on the day it arrived brand new, he wanted to bring it upstairs to the bedroom at bedtime. That's my man.

p.s. I need to point out on Dave's behalf that the horizontal brick edges are there as a guideline and are not yet properly laid.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Balancing act

One day I'm visiting my sister and her beautiful garden, and the next day I'm helping an asylum seeker make headway with the incompetent, uncaring Home Office. 

One morning I'm reading about the results of the government's chosen and unnecessary austerity policy on the sick and disadvantaged, and that afternoon I'm out on my bike, revelling in the summer countryside.

One day I'm editing my manuscript, and the next I'm helping to organise a hospitality day for survivors of human trafficking.

You wouldn't believe how many petitions I sign - mostly at the moment they're about immigration. The most memorable was one to stop the Home Office deporting a 10 year old boy back to Georgia because his mother had died. She had  been trying to claim asylum for 7 years. The boy, who only speaks English, was being looked after by his grandmother in Scotland.

Yesterday I came across this tweet and it spoke to my condition:

It's sometimes hard to believe that spending time on my writing is the right thing to do when there is so much outside my home and my personal world that I could be contributing to. My writing sometimes feels like an indulgence.

Last week, though, I was stressed and finding it difficult to relax, and then I realised that I'd not been writing. Sitting quietly in my room, reflecting and writing, keeps me sane. And unless I am sane, I can't help put out the fire.

View over my garden wall

Monday, June 11, 2018

My family and the earthquake

I woke up to news there'd been a minor earthquake in Lincolnshire, so I messaged Killer Kath (my sister) to ask if she'd felt it. No response: I guess she's still asleep.

It reminds me of the earth tremor we had here some years ago. I had a piece about it in The Times. It’s my favourite ever piece, because all my family are in it. Here it is -

There we were, quaking in our boots

Derbyshire. Monday morning 12.54 a.m. We wake to a sound like a bowling ball rolling across the wooden floorboards of our bedroom. My husband switches on the light and sits up, “What the hell was that?”

“Don’t know,” I say. “Weird. Let’s go back to sleep.”

But he is sitting up, fretting. Is it settlement? Subsidence? Last year we built an extension and now we are sleeping in it. “What the hell was that noise?” says DIY man again.

I want to sleep, but I need a pee. My adult daughter – who is staying with us – hears me out of bed and calls out, petrified: “What’s happening ? The walls were shaking. The roof was rumbling. The wardrobe doors came open and now they won’t shut.”

She had been lying in bed unable to sleep, so was writing a to-do list for the following day. I give her a hug, thinking Silly billy, fussing again: she lives her life on the margins of hysteria. Then I remember her ringing me on September 11th last year telling me to turn on the telly, and my refusing because I had to post a birthday card.

I return to our bedroom to find DIY man getting up. He has heard daughter speak of the shaking walls, and thinks the house is falling down. He dons a dressing gown and wellington boots ( the mission is too urgent to find the beloved boiler suit) and prowls around outside for fifteen minutes with a torch, looking for cracks, subsidence, disaster.
He finds nothing. He comes back inside and engages in anxious discussions with daughter while I retreat under the duvet and long for sleep. The front door opens: it’s our younger son. He has been sitting on the village recreation ground under the full moon, having a philosophical discussion with his friend.

Only on arrival at our garden gate did he become unnerved – not by unusual shakes or rumbles, having felt nothing and heard nothing - but by the freakishness of all the house lights being on after half past ten. A rarer sight is DIY man still up and about. Younger son is phlegmatic, but he is also an X files fan, and suggests to DIY man and sister that the noise was supernatural.

DIY man comes back to bed and props himself up in worry mode, arms tense, head twitching. His next theory is that something has happened to our older son, who was flying to Denver and arriving there in the middle of our night. You hear stories, he says, of people dying and doors opening in family houses miles away. He gets up and leaves a message on our son’s mobile phone: “Are you safe?”

More effectively, younger son (in the UK) logs onto the internet, gets instant messaging and immediately contacts older son (in the US.)
[01:40] son in UK: isaac. say something
[01:40] son in US: hello. wozzup?
[01:40] son in UK: thank god for that
[01:40] son in US: :S?
[01:40] son in UK: theres some weird shit goin down here
[01:40] son in US: o no... what?
[01:40] son in UK: hang on, let me tell peeps youre ok. brb

Younger son tells aged parents that older son is safe, then returns to the computer.

[01:43] son in US: what gives?
[01:44] son in UK: i got back at 130 to find everyone up and wandering around the house looking worried
[01:45] son in US: there's been an earthquake
[01:45] son in UK: where?
[01:45] son in US: uk.
[01:45] son in UK: haha coool

The lights are off and I am just dropping off – oh bliss - when younger son brings us the printout from BBC news online: an earth tremor shakes the Midlands – 4.8 on the Richter scale.

“Great," I say. "Can we go to sleep now?” 

“Are we insured for earthquake damage?” says DIY man.

Morning breaks and I go downstairs to find him outside checking the drains. He has heard of damaged drains and wants no truck with them. If something needs fixing he will fix it. If the earth moves, he will steady it. Failing that there’s always the BBC. (But yes. The drains are fine.)

published here with kind permission of News International
©   Sue Hepworth 2018

Saturday, June 09, 2018

My big sis

I had the loveliest day on Thursday. I drove over to Lincolnshire to see my big sister. Her garden is in the village open gardens event next weekend and she wanted me to check it over. As if she needed advice from me! When we moved into this place and the garden was nothing but brambles and nettles with a few unkillable peonies and Spanish bluebells, she gave me some plants to begin with.

Her garden is fabulous. I took some pictures, which did not come out as well as I hoped. I think I got the exposure wrong. Whatever, they don't do justice to the vibrant colour, the exuberance and the fascinating design of her garden. It's a cottage garden with rooms - what I've always wanted. 

She only lives 50 miles away but the climate and soil are completely different from here. That's how i comfort myself. They get half as much rain as we do, rarely see snow, their winds are not so biting, and their soil is light and fertile. She has some of the same plants as I do but the leaves on hers are twice as big and the plants are a good foot taller. 

She insists she doesn't fertilise her soil, but she does have half a dozen chickens running around. She also has more energy, and works harder at it than I do. These days I'd rather be out on my bike than pulling up stubborn weeds.

Speaking of which, I told her my right wrist was painful from yanking buttercups out of our hard clay soil, and how were her sore thumb joints doing these days? Were they painful? How did she manage the gardening?

'Oh,' she said, 'they're not too bad, they're just weak. I don't think I could kill a chicken, though.'

I fell about laughing. 

'Oh God,' she said, 'that will be going in a novel, won't it? I only said it because we had a sick one this week and Peter had to finish it off.'

This may be true, but you should know that her widely used nickname is Killer Kath.

Comments are now open.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Evening walk along the Trail

Liz and I took a walk down the Monsal Trail to Hassop Station last evening, 

and sat on the terrace eating tea/supper/dinner depending on where you come from and how posh you are. Personally speaking,  I was having my tea. 

Last year we tried for a similar event but the weather never fitted our opportunities. This year there have been so many fabulous warm sunny days and we made it at our first attempt. Yes!

We have never seen the countryside so lush as it is this June. The hawthorn blossom is finished, but now the ash trees are out - high and arching and vivid green, with huge clumps of ash keys dark against the sky. We wished each April, May and June were twice as long. We wished we could hold it all for longer.

The cowslips have gone, but now we have foxgloves, borage, birds foot trefoil, coltsfoot, quaking grass, dogrose, moonpennies and high waving grasses which are so inviting I want to lie in them, stroke them, pick one of each kind to take home and have in a jar on my desk.

When we arrived back at my house where Liz had parked her car, our blackbird was sitting on the TV aerial singing. Perfection.

Comments update - I'm trying a new system, so it might work now.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Me and him and the tip

I've been trying to write a blog post for an hour. 

This morning there were ten items on my to-do list and I was trying to decide which to tackle first when Dave appeared at the kitchen window and waved his arm about in a table tennis movement. The table has been out in the garden for over a week and so far we've managed one game, so I decided to seize the moment and play.

Then I came into my study and shut the door and had just begun to write when he knocked on the window and frightened the life out of me and said "Can you tell me exactly what you want me to take to the tip?" which is a request that could not be ignored. I've been wanting him to go to the tip for over a year.

You know about his shed, don't you? I wanted to take a photo to illustrate, but it's been embargoed. Suffice to say his shed is so rammed full of 'stuff' that he often has to work outside it. And this 'stuff' leaks out onto the patio area in front of it, and bits of rammel get left there when the job is finished and the tools have been put away and the man who works in the garden is in the kitchen eating his yoghurt. And said rammel (which includes jam jars of unlabelled noxious liquids) stays outside the shed for months and months reducing that part of the garden to an unsightly, distasteful mess. And I can't clear it away because if I do, I am bound to throw away something that would have "come in useful later." 

So...when he appears at the study window saying "Can you tell me exactly what you want me to take to the tip?" it takes precedence over everything - even a literary agent emailing a response to my novel. Yes. Even that. Pretty extreme.

Well I've given him a list of what to take, and now I'm going to do some writing. Then I'll tackle the rest of the list. 

Aarrgghh! another question - "Would you like me to take all the green stuff that won't fit in the recycling bin?"

p.s. Blogger has not yet fixed the broken comments section. I'm sorry.

Friday, June 01, 2018

The problem with comments

Two good friends have emailed me to say that they have posted comments on my blog and their comments have not appeared. 

I am very sorry if this applies to you, dear reader. I am trying to find out what the problem is. So far I have drawn a blank. 

Usually when someone comments, I get an email to tell me about it and then I publish the comment. My intervention is to prevent spammers from flooding me with annoying rubbish.

I hope you'll bear with me until I resolve the problem.

update - I just got this message from the Blogger team: 

The Blogger team is aware of the issue and is currently working on a fix.