Saturday, March 30, 2019

Working it out

I am still wrestling with the idea that I am going to be 70 this year, and wondering what it means for me and my life. Perhaps it doesn't mean very much, just as passing from December 31st to January 1st means little, though people mark it as the start of a new year, with new aims and purposes.

When I was about to turn 60 I felt the same, and asked various friends who were already that great age how they felt and if they were approaching their lives any differently. That resulted in my taking up the sax, and having a slackline in the garden.

So far I've only asked one wise friend about being a 70-something - someone who happens to be in his 80s and is still active politically, socially and physically. I explained I wanted to do something 'useful' to help people, and he said I should start by considering what brought me joy. Then think about what are my main concerns, and see if I could bring the two together. 

I don't think it's going to work. What brings me joy is being outside in the countryside, either walking or cycling or gardening, and being with friends and family, while my main concerns are refugees and food poverty.

I asked a member of the family who is in his thirties about what I should do, now that I will not be writing another novel, and he said "Have fun." When friends are seriously ill, and others have already died, there is an argument for seizing the day and packing in as much fun as possible before I too become infirm.

Yesterday I told Dave that when I got back from an early morning errand I was going to drive into Sheffield to buy some knitting wool, but when I got home from the errand the sky was so blue and the sun so bright and I knew it was the last day before the Sheffield school holidays began and the Trail would for two weeks be full of visitors, so I went out for a long bike ride instead of going to town. I didn't regret it. But I was knackered,and couldn't do much for the rest of the day but sit around in the sunshine.

Old age feels like a balancing act - between enjoying what your savings can buy, and keeping enough for possibly decades of rainy days; between having fun, and helping other people; between taking it easier because you're older, and pushing yourself everyday to keep fit.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: old age ain't for cissies.

p.s. I just had a lovely Mother's Day card saying - 
"Hope you can rest on your laurels a bit after 48 busy years!"

Thursday, March 28, 2019

It's not me!

My proofreader knows me well, and amongst the typos and queries about my grammar and the inappropriate register of one of my adjectives (i.e. rectilinear) he commented on some of the responses and behaviour of the main character. 

'You wouldn't do that,' he said.

'But it isn't me!' I said.

You may as well know that the book is about a woman grieving for her best friend, and I have used my own experience in writing it.  I wanted to explore the themes of grief, friendship, aging, and the healing power of nature, so of course I'm going to use my own experience. But the woman does all kinds of things that I wouldn't do, because I have tried my hardest to make her different from me in as many ways as I could. I needed a plot to hang it all on, and that has got nothing to do with me or my life. So I hope you'll bear that in mind when you read it.

I'm still waiting to hear from two publishers if they'll grant me permission to include 'their' poems in the novel - how long does it take, for goodness sakes? -  but I had the loveliest response from an Irish poet yesterday. The three Irish people I've approached for permission have been so generous, friendly and charming, I've decided that in my next life I shall marry an Irishman. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

This is now a B****t-free zone

For the upcoming week, the B word is banned from the blog. 

Yesterday morning as I drove down to Bakewell in the sharp spring sunshine, I was hit by a seasonal melancholy. The light was clear and unforgiving, the daffodils on the verges were searingly lovely and the world was saying 'In your face, it's spring!' I don't know what it is about daffodils in this particular angle of sunlight, with mistiness on the far horizon, but it makes me feel sad. I came home and told Dave and he knew just what I meant. So did T S Eliot - 

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Yes, I know it's not April, but it feels like April. 

Later, in the afternoon, I was pottering in the front garden sorting out the raggedy pots of tête-à-têtes, when a local farmer drove past in his Land Rover, with his window down and his Jack Russell terrier on his knee and the spring felt human again, friendly.

I'm free today. Tomorrow I'll hear what my proofreader says about my novel and I'll make the corrections. I'm on the way.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Letter from home

When Isaac and the girls waved me off through security at Denver airport on Wednesday, I had an ache in my chest. I don't remember it being that bad before.

But then I arrived home to Dave, the green grass of spring, and the leaf buds on the hawthorn tree. It was wonderful. There was also the blessed silence after the hellish travel.

(Brexit never left my consciousness while I was in Boulder so there's no difference there. Nuff said. Here's a link to the Revoke Article 50 and remain in the UK petition, in case you want to sign it and haven't yet done so.)

There were surprises at home. I knew Dave had installed a cupboard in the back porch, but I didn't know he'd made a new boot rack in there and moved his bike to the shed. This latter may sound minimal to you, but it's huge to me. Now the porch looks orderly rather than a jumble, and hanging washing on the airing rack is a pleasure instead of an awkward struggle.

But the biggest surprise was in the sitting room: a telly!

After doing without one for 10 years, and then deciding to get one, but rowing on the day we had planned to go and buy it, I thought it would never happen. I LOVE surprises! Yay for Dave!

But I don't feel I finished recounting my adventures in Boulder so here goes...

I had a fun trip out with Wendy last Monday.

Breakfast out:

a pedicure, and then a drive into the mountains. A woman on Goodreads reviewed Plotting for Beginners scathingly some years ago, saying it was unrealistic that a woman of 50-something should behave as Sally Howe does. I have long wanted to tell her that it was based on how I felt at that age and she was entirely mistaken, but it's infra-dig for authors to respond to 'reviewers' about stuff like that. If she'd seen Wendy (42) and me (69) last Monday, driving in the Beetle with the top down and loud rock music blaring from the radio, Wendy and I singing along, and waving to people as we passed, that reader would no doubt have needed smelling salts. 

We eventually came down into the foothills, parked, and went for a hike.

And last week I went for a hugely enjoyable 18 mile bike ride with Isaac. (I was VERY impressed with myself - do I owe it to the magic pills?) 

Here are some shots from the trip:

photo by Isaac

Aye, but it's good to be home for the spring. In Boulder the grass is brown and dead and there aren't any blackbirds. 

Wendy said excitedly last week "I saw a hock in the garden!" and I said, puzzled, "What's a hock?" 

"You know," she said. "A bird of prey."

"Oh, we don't have hocks in the UK."

And Isaac said: "She means a hawk."

Monday, March 18, 2019

Early Morning Blues

"Alexa! What's the weather today?"
"There will be lows in the early morning, giving way to bright sunshine that will last until bedtime."

I woke up too early this morning from a dream that John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, had died. It was the last straw. I turned to BBC iPlayer and Ed Reardon’s Week because the sardonic humour always cheers me up. 

Then I made a cuppa and brought it back to bed and looked on the iPad at the headlines in the Guardian and had my usual reaction: “Oh my God. Dystopia,” and closed the page.

No one had emailed me anything interesting so I looked at Twitter and came across Garrison Keillor’s latest tweet which took me to his website, where I read a couple of his columns. Meh. Too sweet for how I was feeling.

What else could I read? I was flummoxed, and decided I should write something that I would like to read. Hence this dreadful. I am dictating this and the iPad doesn’t recognise the word drivel. Ah, it got it that time.

It is 6:50 in the morning and the girls will be down at 7 to get into bed with me and have a chat before their breakfast. That will cheer me up.

Brexit rumbles on and Dave told me on the phone yesterday that he was going to go out and buy some more supplies for the looming apocalypse. People here in Boulder ask me what I think of Brexit and I wish they wouldn’t, because although I do check up every day on the news I really don’t like to think about it in the in-between times. I tell them that the very idea of Brexit was ridiculous and the way that it has been handled has been catastrophic and that everyone in Britain is despairing, whatever their view on whether or not Brexit was a good idea. They then tell me that people in America feel as desperate about Trump. How is it that we have such incompetent disastrous leadership? How is it that right wing extremism is on the rise? It feels like the end of the world. Did it feel like this at the beginning of the Second World War?

Added to this, I am feeling lost. It feels as if my writing career is coming to an end and I don’t know what I am going to do instead. I need a long-term project which is intellectually stimulating and feels worthwhile. Does anyone have any suggestions? The only thing I have thought of is to go back to volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau. I shall have to retrain, and I don’t know if my memory is up to the job. 

Hurrah! Footsteps! Here come the girls!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Letter from Boulder

I'm not sure whether I like or hate the internet this week. Would it be easier if I couldn't follow every tortuous twist and turn of the crumbling UK Parliament? Would I be feeling more at ease? Happier? More hopeful for the future? I despair.

But in London as I write, young people are off school, striking for climate change:

I went to the Boulder Museum yesterday with Isaac. It's small and spanking new. The temporary exhibition is about wolves and the campaign to re-introduce them to Colorado for the sake of the environment. Isaac supports it. I am not sure I welcome the possibility of more wild animals visiting the family garden (sorry - backyard) when the girls could be out there, playing. It's bad enough they've had bears, raccoons, a bobcat and a mountain lion. And Lux wants to camp out this summer.

The permanent exhibition at the museum is on the history of Boulder. I learned a lot....

Boulder was the first US city to introduce sales taxes to support the preservation of open space purchases, the management and conservation of native habitats, and the support of recreational opportunities.

Boulder was a dry city (except for 3.2% beer) until 1967.

Boulder was the first place in the USA to issue same-sex marriage licenses (1975).

The median age of Boulderites is 28.7 

The first schoolhouse was opened in 1860 and Colorado University opened in the 1870s. Pretty fast going! 

There are a lot of people who oppose mandatory vaccination. Boulder Valley School District Kindergartens have the lowest percentage of vaccinated children in the whole of the USA. Most of the parents who oppose it are highly educated.

Here are some slides from the exhibition (captured on my phone so forgive the wonkiness).

One day every year, Boulderites leave their bikes at home and travel to work by tube on Boulder Creek:

Yes, folks, this is the city where you can go into a restaurant and be offered massaged kale.


Isaac has lived in the States for 16 years and now has a slight American accent but this sometimes slips into English when I'm visiting, and the girls always laugh. We often discuss the language differences.

There is one American pronunciation he doesn't use and when Wendy says it, it always that makes me flinch - "herb." Americans don't pronounce the "h" and I always think "Why do they pronounce this the French way when usually their French pronunciations are way off beam?" Traditionally Brits have learned French as a second language which is why we pronounce "croissant" the French way, and Americans learn Spanish as a second language so they probably excel at stuff I know nothing about.

In conversation over breakfast we were talking about recycling and Wendy and I suggested to the girls they could write to the State governor and ask him to introduce bottle deposits.  I used the word "scheme" and Wendy laughed. She would have used the word "programme." She says that when she hears me use the word "scheme" she interprets it as an evil plan.

Well, this is sufficient rambling for today. It's bright sunshne outside and freezing cold and the cycle paths are calling.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

All I can do today

I'm holding onto the 8th line....

Saturday, March 09, 2019

What is a poem worth?

I may be over here in the States, playing Bad Piggies, watching Paw Patrol and reading The Worst Witch but my work-in-progress is still on my mind. A kind person is currently proofreading it for me, while I am trying to decide how much I want to spend on including poems that are quoted in the book.

I've mentioned to you that I've been seeking permissions from publishers and agents to include several poems in the text, because even though most of them can be found on the internet, it's important (as well as being the law) that artists are paid for their work. 

It's a complicated process. For one of the poems one publisher holds the electronic rights, another publisher holds the hard copy rights for the UK and Commonwealth and yet another for the US and other countries. If I have the book on sale via the internet as a print-on-demand title, that means I'll need world rights. 

But it's more complicated than that. The publisher who holds the electronic rights has asked me what my print run is. How can you say what your print run is when it's an ebook? How can you say how many you're going to sell? The price of the permission will increase with the number sold. The estimate is 100 GBP (there is no pound sign on this keyboard) for 500 copies, and it will go up from there.

But for another poem there was a flat fee of 50 Euros (no euro key), and another more famous poem was free.

I've been puzzling over this. Is one poem worth more than another? They are all terrific poems. I couldn't say that one is 'better' than another, so what's going on? Is it that one publisher is better represented by his agent? Is it that one publisher is more powerful than another? Is one more generous? Is the smaller publisher more aware that I am unlikely to have a bestseller on my hands and there is no way I am going to make a killing? 

Of course writers should be paid for their work. When several years ago I found someone offering free downloads of Plotting for Beginners I was furious. Every spring I receive a small sum from the Authors Licensing and Copying Service in payment for copies academics have made of my past research publications. Now I have to decide what I am willing to pay to use someone else's poems. I am not rich, nor can I judge how much money I will make from sales of the book. 

A friend asked me how crucial the poem was to the text.  The book is a mixture  of thoughts, feelings, plot, characters, settings and themes. How do I judge whether pulling one thread from the tapestry will make it weaker? How much is a poem worth?

I've been checking out the paving stones on 13th Street but have so far not found an answer.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The journey

It was a good trip from London Heathrow to Colorado:

The guy who checked me in at the bag drop asked if I was happy with my seat, offering to move me to one with three vacant seats beside it - naturally I said 'Yes, please.'

I came through security faster than ever before. This means a lot to me as I have an artificial knee so have to be patted down on every single trip.

I had a pleasant chat in the bookshop with an American woman travelling to Atlanta in which we swapped book recommendations, and then later she offered me the hardback she'd just finished reading that looked really good (but I thought she should give it to a friend back home and not to me. Now I regret that I said this.)

The plane left on time.

I stretched out on the empty seats and had a two hour nap.

I read a gripping memoir called Someone I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell, which I also recommend. (And I am someone who usually steers clear of memoirs.) Wendy was diagnosed with early onset dementia when she was 58 and she describes what it's like to live with dementia, her ingenious coping mechanisms, and her exploits as an ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society, the talks she gives and the research she's involved with. The book is sobering rather than depressing, but it's also inspiring. I learned for the first time what it's like - from the inside - to live with dementia. She describes her foggy episodes, and how she emerges from them, and all the special tactics she uses to travel around and lead as normal a life as possible. Here is a link to her blog.

I watched two good films - Can You Ever Forgive Me? about a literary forger; and Sometimes Always Never which now ranks amongst my favourite films of the past twelve months. I really recommend it.

The air hostess on my flight was so warm, friendly and genuine that I went on the BA site later and filled in a compliments form about her. 

And lastly, my darling granddaughters met me at the airport carrying beautiful home-made WELCOME signs: 

Sue Robot

Aren't I lucky?

Sunday, March 03, 2019


I'm flying to Colorado on Tuesday to see the girls and their parents.... yesterday, in preparation, aspie Dave said the thing he always says before I fly away: 'If I die while you're away, don't cut short your holiday, will you? Stay there and enjoy yourself. The next door neighbours know how to deal with a cadaver.'

No comment.

If I get the time while I'm away, I'll be blogging. Ta-ra!

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Letter from home

I'm feeling more optimistic than I have for a while because I went to see the doctor about a number of things that have been bothering me and I'm hopeful that the prescription he's given me (informed by tests) will make me bouncy in body and soul, clear-thinking, and able to eat more cake. Fingers crossed.

Other happenings this week...

I went to the hairdresser, the same one I've been going to for 28 years, so we can avoid inanities and talk about real things, such as what to expect from the menopause and her first mammogram (because she is now of an age), and how cervical smear technology has changed - this last subject engendering much hilarity.

On Tuesday I decided that, as part of my seventieth year adventures, I'm going to do one brand new walk every week. We live up a lane and there are footpaths across fields in several directions within half a mile, so we often do the same old walks. When I put Dave on the spot, he admitted he doesn't actually like walking: he only does it for the exercise. This explains why he prefers to stay on hard surfaces, and doesn't want to explore. I am going to do it on my own, therefore, if a friend is not available.

I bought a brand new ordnance survey of the White Peak (where we live) to replace the old one that was printed before the whole of the Monsal Trail was opened up. And I bought a couple of pocket sized waterproof beauties of local footpaths. Here's the one of footpaths near the Monsal Trail. It's double-sided. The watch is to show you the scale - how dinky and practical the map is. It fits in my pocket and I love it! 

On our last sunny day, I began the new regime. I took the map with me for a bike ride up the Trail, stopped by a gate to a pre-chosen footpath, locked my bike to a tree, and climbed the steep incline to the top of the hill. What the picture below doesn't show is the huge drop behind the shrubs which leads back to the Trail. I spent an hour walking in all, circling back to the Trail on another footpath. Then cycled home. I've invented the Hepworth Di-Athlon. 

In summer I'll go up it again, when the fields are green and the leaves are out.

Here are some shots I took on the walk back down the hill:

The next day I went to the funeral of a friend. She wasn't a close friend but she was someone I liked and respected. She was much-loved by a lot of people. It was a beautiful occasion. She'd chosen Morning has Broken and Lord of the Dance as two of the hymns. The thing I was left with at the end was how fully she had embraced life, what a kind, true person she was, and how much she was loved, because she herself was loving and generous and constant. It made me think of that Larkin line - What will survive of us is love.