Friday, August 31, 2018

In which I contemplate the future assisted by a guest blogger

Me first, and then Dave...

Yesterday morning Dave walked into the bedroom at 6.15 a.m. and said 'I'm glad you're awake. I want you to help me find my keys. I've looked everywhere. I'm really worried!'

Dave's inability to find his keys is legend. He is not the tidiest person (ahem) so I thought OK, better get up and get this over with and then I can get my Yorkshire tea and come back to bed and drink it in peace.

So I got up and looked everywhere obvious. No joy. I looked in places not obvious. Still no joy.

We verbally retraced his steps of the previous teatime when he'd arrived home on his bike from an optician's appointment in a village 11 miles away. Was the front door locked so he'd need his keys? or had he walked straight in? Neither of us was sure. 

Having searched and fussed again for another five minutes, the theory was that either his keys were in the optician's car park for some reason, because he'd felt hassled when he'd finished his appointment, or they had fallen out of his shoulder bag on the journey home. 

He was going to look for them and couldn't wait for me to get washed and dressed, so I hastily pulled on my jeans, and a jumper over my pyjama top and took my mug of tea with me in the car. Dave set off, and I kept my eyes glued to the kerb of the far side of the road for eleven miles. The keys have a bright green lanyard attached to them which I had always thought excessive, but now was secretly pleased about.  

But we did not find the keys. 

It was 6.45 by now and we'd arrived at the car park outside the doctor, optician, physio, dentist and gym. The keys were not in sight, and I went in the gym to leave Dave's name and phone number in case someone handed them in. Then we drove home and I scanned the roadside again for eleven miles. No keys.

After breakfast I phoned the optician, doctor, etc, and left name and number and details of the keys. Then I shopped and baked a lemon drizzle cake because Zoe was coming over for the day with the boys (the fabulous grandsons I am no longer allowed to picture on the blog, let alone name). Half an hour before they were due, Dave set off on his bike to the optician's, to retrace his journey one last time, to make absolutely sure the keys were not to be found. I thought this was a waste of time. Hadn't I already looked on the road twice? Didn't he trust me?

I carried on faffing in the kitchen and opened the dresser drawer to get out a clean tea towel and guess what? There were the keys. WTF were the keys doing in the tea towel drawer? There is a hook for the keys. Why would ANYONE put the keys in the drawer that contains tea towels and dishcloths and nothing else except a secret stash of barley sugars (ahem)? The keys have never ever seen the inside of that drawer before. Believe me, it is as strange a place to put the keys as the cat's litter tray.

Zoe and the boys arrived and I told them the tale. The fabulous grandsons were amused. Zoe's expression was more complex as she contemplated the implications. I asked the younger FB if he thought Dave would be cross or relieved. He said 'I have never seen Dave angry. Does Dave get angry? If Dave gets angry I'll have to change my view of him.'

'Yes, he gets angry,' I said, 'but not very often. I think he'll be relieved. Also, he got in another bike ride today and he didn't think he would because you were coming.' 

Dave arrived home, and his only obvious emotion was relief. It wasn't just expressed relief about the keys, it was silent relief that he was not responsible, because we both knew - without even saying it - who had absentmindedly put the keys in the drawer and it wasn't him and it wasn't the cat. We knew it was me, because I am the only one who is tidy and PUTS THINGS AWAY.

This, dear readers, is the future.

As a special bonus, Dave has given his account of the saga. Hold onto your hats...

There is always something a bit cock-eyed about Thursdays.

No real surprise then to find us out just after dawn yesterday, Sue in pyjamas clutching a cup of tea, and me at the wheel, furrowed but determined, both with eyes glued to the kerb between here and the opticians where things went wrong.

Things had not begun well. I got up around 0400 as usual, messed about a bit, and then set out to feed the zoo next door while its owners are basking in Wales. I could not get out of the house. My keys were nowhere to be found, and I am the world’s-worst looker-for-lost-items. But no, they were not there: not on the hooks marked “keys” where they occasionally live. And not in any recent pockets. Not in any piles of washing, or tossed into the porch. They were not there, and the large green can’t-lose-me lanyard was not there either.

I roused Sue, who camps on the borders of coma most of the morning, ready to slip across at a moment’s notice. Nothing short of a cattle prod gets her going before 1030 at the earliest, and she isn’t even interested in the latest astronomical news until late morning. In short, she is virtually dead before noon.

But she recognised the keyless panic, and boldly got up in the faint light to hunt for the keys. It did not take long to decide that the keys were not there. I mean, really not there, as in lost, and not as in ‘you will have left them in your pockets’.

Cut to Wednesday. I had an appointment at the opticians, 10 miles away, but Paul at the garage suddenly needed the car to ease it gently towards scraping through its MOT, which it failed last week. So I set off on the bike in the sunshine, with bag full of useful things like keys and bike locks slung over one shoulder.

All good. A bit of a palaver at the opticians, and I came out after a couple of hours slightly dazed and pre-occupied. I unlocked the bike (so the keys were there) and cycled off. I had meant to go the long way home to get a decent ride, but it was late and I headed for home, making a short detour to add a few miles.

That was the last known sighting of the keys.

So back to Thursday and the pyjamas. We retraced my exact route, all eagle-eyed and keen as mustard. Sue was even awake. Nothing. Zilch. No keys.

The family was coming on Thursday, and I was detailed to construct more medieval weaponry with grandson minor. But before they arrived, I felt that speeding in the car had not done the job, and I needed to ride the route on the bike to get a slower and closer view. I set off, and did the trip, but disappointingly, no keys leapt from the verge or anything else.

On the last hill before home, I was surprised to be overtaken by my car, with S at the wheel, and grandson minor bellowing something out of the window with his usual grin.

Meeting them on the drive minutes later I began to explain the abject failure, but was interrupted by Sue who said that the keys had turned up. Calloo, callay. The keys had turned up.

But where had they been hiding ? In the tea-towel drawer.

What you need to know here is that only tea-towels live in the tea-towel drawer, and over a period of 22 years living here, no key has ever seen the inside of that drawer. And I go into the drawer only when I have made oatcakes and need a clean tea-towel to drape professionally over the cooling batch. No, I have no clue why I do it.

Later, much later, with no intervening accusations as this is a no-blame zone at least in theory, S wondered aloud why and how she had put them in the drawer as she would not usually do that.

And it remains, dear reader, a mystery. And for the moment, the keys remain safely on the hooks. I feel like patting them smilingly every time I go past.

Is this what the future will look like ?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

When the shine comes off

I should be writing, but I am temporarily dismayed. This might be because I have just spent half an hour on a helpline and had a most unsatisfactory outcome; or it could be because I've been reading Robert McKee's Story and I've realised that there is not enough jeopardy in my novel. What I can do is tell you about the art workshop I went to on Sunday. 

It was at a small local gallery:

I've been wanting to mess around with shape and colour for some time and the workshop provided an opportunity, as well as some minimal and helpful guidance on how to get started.

The first thing we did was rip up (or cut up) a piece of primary coloured paper and stick it on a sheet of plain white cartridge paper. We had ten such pieces of cartridge paper and did this same action ten times. Then we went back to the first one and made a single mark on it with paint or pastel or charcoal or ink - our choice. We did this with each piece of paper. Then we went back to the beginning and worked on each piece some more in whatever way we liked. It was a good way to get going, and ideas came as we went along.

There was no expectation that we would have a finished piece of work at the end of the day, but that we might have got some ideas as to how to progress and work on our own. This was good, because although I brought four pieces home, there is only one I still like, and it's as basic as you can get:

I have no pretensions and no pride about my 'art' work which is why I am happy to show it here.

The workshop was absorbing and fun and also strangely tiring, so that when we were given another task an hour before the end, I wasn't up to it. We had to paint on an A2 sheet with a long handled brush held in the hand we don't usually use. I did this and loved the way the wet paint glistened in the studio light. I though it was fabulous and brought it home to work on it some more. Now I realise how deluded I was. It does not look enticing now that the paint is dry. It looks like someone trying to get some turquoise paint off their brush. And there are even drips!

I am going back to my writing. I can't imagine wanting to do art work on my own. Being in a room with other people playing was encouraging and fun. Doing it on my own when I have little confidence will feel pointless. I'd rather be doing patchwork, which is also playing with shape and colour. I know I can achieve something lovely with that, even if I do hate the sewing part.

The last thing to say is to Ana - about a book I mentioned in the comments section. I said I was engrossed in Meet Me at the Museum. I was engrossed, but two thirds of the way through I got bogged down, skipped to the end, and I never went back. I'm waiting for The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve to arrive in the post. From the details online it looks as though it's brimming with jeopardy. Perhaps it will help.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Characters and icebergs

What does he think he wants?
What does he really want?
What is his dream?
What does he dread?
What would he do if he won a lot of money? 
What is his guilty secret?
What is his recurrent nightmare?
Who or what would he die for?

The questionnaires I've been filling in about my characters in order to get to know them better have been a bit tedious because they've been repeating a lot of stuff I already know. is paying off. I discovered some surprising things. I found out that my main character's favourite possession is a scarlet china mug bearing the motto 'Home is where the heart is,' which her husband gave her on returning home from a conference. This woman dislikes household items bearing cheesy mottoes, but this was of deep significance at the time. 

I learned that another character's mother was Moroccan, and that he met his wife at an Art in the Park event at Sheffield's Botanical Gardens, when they wanted to buy the same picture. 

And I learned that although the third main character tells people his favourite motto is 'Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence' - Colin Powell - this is a lie. Really, his favourite motto is  'Think outside the box' because it's helpful in his work. He won't admit to this motto, however, because he's very brainy and it's such a hackneyed cliche.

Although the mug will definitely feature in the next draft, the other stuff might not. Writers are supposed to know lots and lots of details about their characters that never appear on the page, but which inform their depiction of the character's actions and responses. You know how 90% of an iceberg's volume is beneath the water? It's the same principle with fictional characters.

This is getting technical. And I'm actually wondering whether all the preparatory exercises writers are encouraged to do are really to make them so bored they can't wait to get down to actual writing. It's certainly having that effect on me.

As a bit of light relief, here's another storyteller, Lux, at age 3, telling Isaac the contents of an imaginary phone call with Froggy. 

You might not be able to make it all out, so I'm going to tell you that after she says Froggy is OK, she says 'He has a hose. And he's upstairs with his Mommy making quiches.'  It's a wonderful bit of creative detail: I could do with her on my team.

Over and out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Working hard, and my hat

I woke up to a silent house at 5.45. Bliss. Dave will be back at teatime which is also good.

I need silence and preferably a completely empty house in order to concentrate, and to slip into another world. 

I have been working on my novel rewrite since then, and now I've got up and showered and put the washing on and am taking a break to talk to you.

I decided I needed to get to know my characters better and found a nine page questionnaire online to help me. It's on the site Here's a sample section taken from the middle:

I need to fill in a questionnaire for several of my characters. You can see it will take some time. This is before I start the rewrite itself. I have a month before anything else happens to interrupt me (D.V.) - apart from Dave, of course - and I'm going to be busy thinking and writing, so forgive me if I don't blog so much.

Just to go back to the wedding... Isaac took a lovely shot of me in my hat. I love the way the brim falls.

I bought this hat for my own wedding 48 years ago. It was from C & A and cost less than £1. For some reason before the wedding (probably a comment from my mother) I changed my mind and put my hair up in a bun and the hat wouldn't fit. I've been puzzling about why I still have it, because we lost 98% of our things in 1996 when the warehouse storing our stuff burned down. I cannot think how I came to bring the hat with me to Derbyshire in 1994, which meant it escaped the fire. Was it because I was very attached to it? Or because I couldn't think how to pack it without crushing it? I mean...I do like it a lot, but it's still a mystery. We also brought Dave's boater.

Did we think we were beginning a new era of our lives in which there'd be permanent sunshine forever and ever amen? Two innocents.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Letter from home

Usually I have a topic in mind when I open my laptop in bed to blog. Today I don't. That's because in the last two days I've been consumed by two things - the novel a literary agent gave me as a present, and how to rewrite my own work in progress.

I went to stay with my good friend in London this week. As well as the catch-up and fun, I met a literary agent, I saw two compelling photograph exhibitions and the BP Portrait awards at the National Portrait Gallery. Stonking. I love the BP Portrait Awards. The exhibition is on till September 23rd and it's free. Go and see it and tell me which is your favourite. Mine is Bruce Robinson by Alastair Adams. You can see all the portraits here

The photograph exhibitions were also powerful. One was Tish Murtha's documentary photography at the Photographers Gallery. It's gritty. One part of it features photographs of children and young people in a depressed area of west Newcastle in 1981. There's also a typed copy of a submission that Murtha sent to parliament about the tragedy of unemployment and the appalling "opportunities" offered to young people on leaving school to make up for the fact that there was no work. At exactly the same time as the letter was written, I was working for the Manpower Services Commission doing evaluation research on their programmes, though I was looking at services for disabled people, not the euphemistically titled  'Youth Opportunities Programme.'

The second exhibition was also documentary photography but in a different country at a different time: Dorothea Lange's work in America in the 1930s. She documented the plight of migrant workers, particularly those escaping the dust bowl. She was the photographer's answer to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. You'll have seen at least one of the photographs, as it's iconic. 'Migrant mother' by Dorothea Lange can be found on the net if you Google it.

I didn't have enough time to spend on this exhibition. I had forgotten it was on until my friend mentioned it, and we slipped it in at the last minute.* There was so much to see I have even thought of going back on a day trip. Dorothea Lange also photographed the internment of Japanese Americans in the second world war and these pictures were on display. At the time, many of them were seized by the army because they were so obviously critical of what was happening.

So that leaves the meeting with the literary agent to tell you about. It was a friendly chat. She offered advice. I knew she didn't want to take me on. I'm going to act on her advice, and when I'm ready I'll tell you what it was. Oooh, I'm getting so cagey  - first I withhold details of the Croatian wedding, and now I won't tell you about my writing life. This blog is disappearing.

*The Dorothea Lange exhibition is on at The Barbican until September 2nd. I urge you to see it. It's huge, and covers far more than I have mentioned.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Choose love

It's been such a hectic two months with so many responsibilities and now it's over and life is returning to normal, and I'm wondering what to tell you about. 

One thing that's happened is that I received some hefty criticism of the latest draft of the novel from a friend of a friend. At first when I read what she said in her email I mentally reared back and felt pretty pissed off. But then I thought about it some more and we had a meaty correspondence in which we explored her reservations and I did a lot of thinking. It's been very helpful, and now I'm considering a radical rewrite. So watch this space. This book is going to be good. I'm going to make it irresistible to literary agents who so far as a bunch have been resisting it. I'm determined with this one. It's going to happen. You're just going to have to wait a little bit longer.

Amongst other busy-ness, there have been two refugee hospitality days which have required a lot of planning and heaps more energy.  A couple of years ago Bakewell churches had a joint meeting to decide how we could help refugees and asylum seekers, when we don't actually have any in Bakewell, and we decided that as well as going into the nearby city of Sheffield to volunteer, we could offer Bakewell itself. It's such an attractive place with the river running through it, a lovely park, and beautiful Peak District surroundings. These pictures below were taken in winter, but you can get my drift.

Photo by Isaac Hepworth

Photo by Isaac Hepworth

So we pay for transport for refugees and asylum seekers in Sheffield to come out for the day. They never get out of the city because on £37 a week (which is what asylum seekers get as benefit) they can't afford it. It's a one day treat, which of course does nothing for their long term plight, but we figure it's valid as a kind of respite. It's also a demonstration of warmth and care and friendship in a world that's becoming increasingly hostile to people in need. We provide craft activities where our visitors make lovely things they can take home, 

games for the children, and a delicious home cooked lunch - and I'm not talking soup and rolls, I'm talking about the kind of food you'd provide for honoured guests. This year our guests have been survivors of human trafficking.

They are happy days, and for the volunteers they're also exhausting: only two of them are under 60, and many are over 70. Playing with toddlers who require constant hands-on attention, or playing football and cricket in the park with a bunch of primary age kids takes a lot of energy. We will carry on for as long as we can. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Bits and bobs

I have just read again the comments on my post 'Dithering' in which I asked you whether or not I should get a smart phone. Thank you Marmee, Phoebe, Jenetta and Anonymous (but I know who you are). Your comments are especially welcome because I know you're all in a similar age bracket as me. Watch this space.

The other thing to say is that if it's your youngest son's wedding and you're in a foreign country and you're hot and sweaty day and night and you're so nervous you can't face breakfast, Wendy has the answer. There we were sitting in the hotel lobby lapping up the aircon, waiting to check into our rooms so we could change, and she ordered champagne and tea. Two flutesful and a cuppa later and I was a new woman.

Of course, one way to keep cool is to get your grandson to push you around the pool on a giant flamingo. But that was the morning after.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Out of the heat

In my future, the memory of this summer will not be of my country falling yet further into an abyss of maladministration, racism, insularity and poverty, or of the world on fire, it will be of the wedding of Jaine and the family member who declines to be named.

In the EU. Hoorah! Specifically, in Croatia.

photo by Chris Oxley

photo by Chris Oxley

photo by Chris Oxley

It was a small family wedding - 17 people including the bride and groom - and it was perfect. Beautiful and perfect. Forgive me for not giving you all the feels too personal.

The only thing that made the end of a week spent with all my kids and grandkids bearable is the cool of England. It was too hot for me in Croatia. Jaine kept coming up to me and saying "Are you feeling a bit cooler now, Sue?" and I kept saying "No." Thank God for Wendy and her fans, which she passed around most generously.  

But I would have gone to Timbuktu and survived the heat of the Sahara to see them get married. It was so special in so many ways.

With the showing of the F-M-W-D-T-B-N if not his name, comes an injunction from my two grandsons that not only are there to be no photographs of them on the blog, I am to go back through the last twelve years and delete all posts which mention them. Hey ho. That means I can't post a photo from the wedding which features them. But here is one of me and my kids, plus Jaine. Yes, we really were this happy.

photo by Chris Oxley