Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What I miss

It's good to be home. 

Cece always says very sadly: "Why do you have to go home? I don't want you to leave," and she hugs me tightly, and I say "But I miss Dave."

There are other things I miss when I'm in Colorado:

my other 'kids' and grandkids

my own bed

the view from the bedroom window

Dave's oatcakes

the taste of tea made at home

sitting in the sunshine in our bay window reading the Saturday paper

my garden

the Monsal Trail

cox apples

Bramley apples

shop-bought puddings that aren't drowning in corn syrup

wholemeal bread not containing sugar

playing Scrabble with Dave

talking to Dave

my friends

my study

my laptop - Isaac always kindly lends me one of his while I'm there, but the environment is so different and I don't have easy ordered access to my files and my emails so my writing life feels hampered

my sax

(what I don't miss is the slug that's taken up residence in our porch)

There are definitely things I miss about Colorado when I'm here:

the family, of course

Wendy's bike

which is so different from mine and such fun to ride, with its upright riding position and cruiser handlebars, but which would not be fun on these Peak District hills

the multi-use trails in Boulder that go in every direction

the bike lanes, and the courteous attitude of drivers towards cyclists

the vast open spaces

the views of the Rockies

the Flatirons

the sunshine

the blue skies

cycling to lunch with the family and eating outside in the sunshine

the Boulder Bookstore

being able to go into any cafe and find at least three kinds of salad on the menu

being able to order just about anything on the menu in any combination at any time of day in any cafe, and not being told stuff like "we don't serve lunch after 2" or "you can't have a full breakfast after 12" or "you can't have coffee while you're waiting for your lunch" or other British restrictive eating-out nonsense; 

American bacon and burgers, separately or together

the girls' cuddles

going out to breakfast with Wendy

watching Seinfeld with Isaac

and last but not least - margaritas!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Random thoughts on a bloodshot Friday in Boulder

"You have red spots in your eyes," Cece said to me this morning when we were cleaning our teeth. I taught her the word 'bloodshot.'

Some noo-nah whose number I don't recognise woke me up at 11.30 p.m. last night by trying to Facetime me. I couldn't get back to sleep and at 2 a.m. I gave up and went downstairs to make a cuppa and do the Flatirons jigsaw that Isaac and Wendy and I have been working on in random moments since Saturday.

It's made by Liberty Puzzles in Boulder. I and W have several. Every piece is unique. They are the hardest jigsaws I've ever done. It was very soothing.

I was also soothed by a message from a talented photographer friend I've met through Twitter. She responded to my sad post of yesterday by sending me a helpful article by the ex photo editor of The Times in which he says:

Photography for me is purely about connecting with my subject, not just recording it, or trying to please other people. I’ve ceased trying to be other photographers and visiting those well-known places where the tripod feet have left bare patches in the soil. I shoot purely for myself. Some might say it’s self-indulgent, but if spending time alone in the places that resonate with me is self-indulgent, then yes, I am. And I love it.

You can read the entire article here.

And later in my Twitter feed I came across this:

At breakfast time this morning we saw a fox in the garden. The list of wild animals spotted in the garden here now looks like this:

mountain lion

This morning as I walked the girls to catch the school bus, I was trying to recall the words of that A A Milne verse Lines and Squares:

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I'm ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, "Bears,
Just look how I'm walking in all the squares!

...and then realised it's probably not an appropriate verse to recite to a 6 year old Boulder girl for whom bears are a reality.

Here's a photo I took after the bus had come. No bears, no foxes. Just me and the leaves and the blue sky.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


I was greatly encouraged this week to read that one of my favourite writers - Kent Haruf - was rejected the first time he applied for a place at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. And I was further cheered to read that it took him six years to write his prize-winning novel Plainsong, which I'm currently rereading. 

I've been working on my latest novel for 18 months and have still not got it the way I want it, the way it needs to be, the best it can be, and in order to help me definitively sort it out, I sought the advice of a sympathetic literary agent who thinks I write well (and who, btw, told me that seven years on, she still remembers the character Sol in But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You.) She suggested I apply to a top notch creative writing course, and told me the best five. So I did. I applied to a highly esteemed three month online novel-writing course. I worked on the application for the whole of September, and yesterday I got the result:

We’ve had huge interest in this course, and a great many applications. We enjoyed reading your material, but unfortunately, we can only offer 15 spots and we’re sorry to say that we don’t have a place for you on this occasion. 
Blah blah blah.

The night before I got this email I had a terrible night of sleeplessness and a nightmare in which I was wrestling with a rat, so the rejection arrived when I was not at my most robust. I was too wasted to think beyond hazy reactions like 'Well in that case I'll succumb to old age. I'll spend all my time doing jigsaw puzzles and watching reruns of Call the Midwife. I'll be thankful that I had all those pieces in The Times, one book that sold well - Plotting for Beginners - and one book I am really proud of - But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You. I will rest on my meagre laurels. And I'll give up the blog.'

This morning I'm thinking about it some more. The course I applied to is interested in writers who will write books that sell. They're interested in the marketplace. Applicants had to send the first 3000 words of the novel they were working on along with a synopsis, so I'm thinking that the marketability of the applicant's work in progress could be a deciding factor if two applicants wrote equally well. But who knows? I could be kidding myself. I might just be crap.

Just lately, even before this happened, I've been thinking that what I should actually be doing (instead of writing quiet unmarketable novels) is working to make the world a better place. Perhaps I should go back to volunteer advice work, or spend time every week helping refugees and asylum seekers. The trouble is that if you're a writer, you're a writer, even if you're a crap writer. There is no escape.

So I'm flummoxed. Flummoxed and disappointed.  

At least I'm an ace grandma.

Since I wrote this post, I've been sitting in the Boulder Bookstore, searching for solace, and I happened upon this poem in a Bukowski anthology:

Monday, October 22, 2018

Quiet musings from Boulder

The first time that Wendy came to visit us at Hepworth Towers, years ago, she carried a re-usable water bottle with her everywhere. "I'm a Colorado girl" she said in explanation, but I did not get it.

Now I know Colorado a little better I know that water is a precious resource here, and they have strict rules about it. Until two years ago it was illegal to collect rainwater. It had to be left to run off onto the ground and thence the water table. Now householders are allowed to have two barrels of a limited size to collect rainwater, and then to use it for outside purposes only.

But then there's the other thing, which is probably what Wendy was talking about. Boulder is a mile high and the air is thin and if you don't drink twice as much water as you would at sea level, you get altitude sickness. My first morning here I had forgotten and I woke with a stinking headache... since when I've asked Lux and Cece to keep reminding me to drink more water. 

You do see people here carrying single-use water bottles, but more often they're carrying reusable ones. I read in the Guardian this morning that cotton buds and plastic straws and stirrers are going to be illegal in the UK before long. What about abolishing single-use plastic water bottles? Re-usable ones make so much sense. I admit it's a bit of a faff at the airport to remember to empty out my bottle before security and then to fill it up again afterwards. But it's just a new habit to acquire.

There are other differences here. On Saturday we went to Boulder Books, the super indy bookstore, where I bought three paperbacks from their secondhand shelf. Two of them were by British authors - Nick Hornby and Kate Atkinson. I bought them here because American paperbacks are so much nicer than British ones. The paper is better quality, the type is always large enough to be readable, and they feel nicer. Admittedly they are more expensive new, but if you know you will read them again, they're worth it. 

In the children's section I saw these action figures:

RBJ stands for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the second woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, and probably the first justice to become a pop-cultural phenomenon. 

Can you imagine a British bookshop having political action figures for sale? Mind-blowing. I've come across a Jeremy Corbyn cardboard doll with cut out clothes and accessories, but that was on the net, and somehow I don't think it was for kids.

But then when you look at the current political scene in Britain who else would warrant being modelled as an action figure doll? A doll in which to stick pins, maybe...

Jeremy is certainly a disappointment in his attitude to the EU, but at least you know where you are with him. He sticks to his principles, and he has always  been committed to ending this appalling austerity programme that is leading to such awful suffering for ordinary British people.

I was sorry not to be on the March last Saturday for the People's Vote but wasn't the turnout terrific? My favourite placard is this one:

You know I hadn't intended this post to be serious. I was going to tell you about Cece's letter to the tooth fairy, and about my new phone (yes - I have a smart one now!) with which I took this photo of the park and the Flatirons on the way back from the school bus stop.

And here's one of the Rockies from my bike ride last week:

And one from today, seen outside a Boulder house:

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Anarchic weather

I've told you before about the anarchic weather in Boulder... and it's business as usual. 

On my first day here it was warm and sunny and we went on a bike ride to lunch where I had my first margarita of the trip,

photo by Wendy

...in a cafe where the more observant amongst you will notice that the spelling is somewhat unusual. But the view was lovely, the food delicious and the margarita excellent, which goes to show that orthodox spelling is not essential for a happy life.

The next day was sunny too. Here's Cece playing in the leaves in the park.

photo by Isaac

But then we had four inches of snow and it stuck around for a couple of days. This is me walking the girls to the school bus stop.

photo by Isaac

The great thing about Boulder City is that they clear the multi-use paths even before they clear the roads, so I managed a long bike ride yesterday that included a great view of the Rockies.

Today the snow has gone and it will be T shirt weather this afternoon.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Leaving an Aspie at home

The day before I flew to Boulder - which is where I am now - Dave and I had the conversation we always have before I leave the country. (For strangers to this blog, Dave and I have been married for 48 years.)

Dave: If I die while you're at Isaac's, you mustn't think of cutting short your holiday and coming home. You must stay there. There would be nothing to come home to - just a cadaver, which will go in the fridge. Though I don't know why they would bother when it's going to be burned anyway.

Me: You're crazy. Do we have to go through this again?

Dave: It's important. I don't want your trip to be spoiled if I die. There really is no reason. 

Me: I will do what I think, Dave. You'll be dead. It'll be up to me. 
(Thinks: there is absolutely no point in trying to explain AGAIN how upset I'll be.)

Dave: But I don't want you to come home before you need to.

Me: Fine, fine. Now, can we talk about something else?

The next day when I was waiting at Heathrow for my flight to Denver, we had a chat on the phone.

Me: What have you been doing? Been out for a bike ride?

Dave: No. I've been cutting up that wood and stacking it.

Me: Great. Which woodstore did you put it in? Was there room for it?

Dave: It's in the wheelbarrow in the sitting room.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

When someone understands

I sent a heartfelt message to the Aging Hippie in California this morning (my breakfast time and her bedtime) about how I couldn't bear to read the news any more, and how I was dreading the long journey to Boulder alone - even though I am dying to see them all. I didn't expect an immediate response to my misery  but she was still awake and we 'chatted' for half an hour. Here are some snippets. I am the one in blue:

I felt better afterwards. It's so comforting when someone understands exactly how you feel.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The world, the universe, and trees

Dave does not do indifferent. He is either outraged - as in this morning's justified rant against Trump's latest unspeakable behaviour - or he is euphoric - such as about new discoveries in astrophysics. 

In the latter case, he erupts into the room and waves his arms about in febrile excitement, and hyberbolic sentences pour out of his mouth. Unfortunately my brain goes into meltdown when I hear phrases like 'billions of light years.' I cannot imagine what such humungous numbers mean, nor do I understand how they relate to me. When I tell him this, he explains that the immensity of the universe is a comfort. It makes him realise his troubles and his life are insignificant.

Everywhere there is trouble - here, in America, Syria, Gaza, Indonesia, Eritrea, and more and more and more, and the politicians in so many places make things worse. Life would still go on if there were no politicians, no government. The trees, the rivers, the clouds would still be here if there were no governments. Increasingly with the world like this:

by Banksy 

.....I want to be outside in the warm, cold, breezy, whatever air, and to see the trees. Trees are such a comfort. 

Liz and I went for a replenishing walk along Bradford Dale yesterday.

Before we climbed the hill and left the dale, Liz introduced me to one of her favourite trees, a sycamore. It is old and has a wide and sturdy trunk and leans asymmetrically over the water. It is not a perfect shape, I mean in terms of the platonic ideal of a sycamore tree. But it's beautiful - really beautiful. And it has ferns growing in its bark. I don't mean at the base, I mean 6 feet up, and again at 12 feet up. It's a nurturing tree. You'd feel safe if this tree was your home.

Here it is in March:

photo: Liz McGregor

In June:

photo: Liz McGregor

and in July, with Liz:

photo: Liz McGregor

I have started to grow some trees at home. Currently they're seedlings. I have a pine, a holly, a beech and an oak. When they're robust enough I'm going to plant them alongside the Trail. It's some kind of contribution. Perhaps one of them will be a comfort to someone in the long long future.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018


Guess what?  I dreamed about Robert Peston. He was staying at our house and he wanted to print out part of his work-in-progress on our printer, so I warned him about the state of Dave's study (which is more like an indoor shed) and when we went in the room, Dave had tidied it up. 

Do you hear that tone?
It's chipper again. 

I'm obviously happy, despite everything that's happening out there. I'm going to stop fretting: the time will come when I want to write serious stuff on the blog, and until then it's going to be happy fluff. 

Here is my favourite recent photo of my granddaughter Cecilia. That's her jelly fish hat, which she designed and made herself:

I'm going to stay with them all next week and she suggested I buy another whoopee cushion because she and I broke the last two through over-enthusiastic whoopee-ing. She's my girl.

Monday, October 01, 2018


I've just been reading my blog for September and I've come out the other end feeling rather queasy. The world is falling apart and I've been writing all these chipper lightweight posts and now I'm wondering why. 

It could be that there is too much bad stuff out there to cope with - Trump and his disgusting shenanigans, May and her incompetent Brexit manoeuvrings, the state of the UK after 6 years of needless austerity, the explosion of the need for food banks, the sidelining of the sick, disabled and unemployed, the new form of worker exploitation in the form of the gig economy. And I haven't even mentioned Israel and their continued oppression of the Palestinian people - murdering people in Gaza, and demolishing homes in the occupied territories to make way for their illegal settlements; and the way the world lets them get away with it.

It's the most beautiful autumn day outside my window - blue and gold. How does the autumn make you feel? It makes me melancholy. I don't know why. Is it the angle of the sun, the intense but fading beauty, the sense of time passing? 

Aysgarth trees by Rosemary Mann