Friday, July 26, 2019

Friday round-up

It's been an up-and-down week.

On Monday I went to Bakewell market and smiled and said hello to a woman who looked familiar, but I still don't know who she was. She looked like a plumper, blonder version of someone I rarely see these days. I'm wondering if she only smiled and said hello because I smiled first. Or do we actually know one another??

On Tuesday I cycled early, setting off at 7.20 to beat the crowds and the heat but it didn't suit my body clock. I struggled to get back home and then when I did, I felt dead.

Later, Chrissie came over to eat lunch outside in the shade and it was very pleasant because we never once touched on the current political fix we're in. I had zoned out of the news about our new PM, until the aging hippie woke up in Redwood City, read the news and messaged me with this. (Thanks, Karen):

In the evening, Dave and I could manage to watch only 3 minutes of the news before switching it off in disgust at the "election" of a man promising tax cuts to the rich when millions of people in Britain depend on foodbanks. (Please note my focus on policy and my abstention from indulging in a string of insults about the man himself.) 

Then there was the lightning storm which woke me at 2.30 a.m. and I couldn't sleep after that, overwhelmed with despair about the plight of our country and what the future holds for the most vulnerable in society now a right-wing coup has taken place - the people on inadequate welfare benefits, the people with multiple poorly paid jobs who still can't afford to pay the rent and buy enough food for their families, the asylum seekers in vile substandard rat-infested accommodation or banged up in indefinite detention, the special needs kids not getting the help they need in school, etc etc etc, I am sure you could add more to this list. I know I can.

So I chatted with Isaac in Colorado on Facetime. He was putting the kids to bed. After that, I managed to get back to sleep.

On Wednesday morning, I tried to play the glad game but all I could come up with was feeling pleased that people I love who have died are not here to witness what's going on.

Later, a friend came over and told me all about her work for ASSIST,  a Sheffield based charity that supports destitute asylum seekers. We agreed how lucky we are, how sheltered, how fortunate, how privileged.

Dave came home at teatime with a present for me from his sister, which made me feel even more fortunate:

I opened the foil packet inside and the truffles were liquid. I ate some with a spoon, and they were delicious.

Later, I found a review of my new book, EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU, hidden away on Goodreads as a response to someone else's:

That cheered me up for a while.

Thursday was sax lesson and then 'looking after' my teenage grandsons. They are fabulous. 

Today, Friday, I woke again and thought about who the PM had chosen for his new cabinet, and decided the way to cheer myself up was to pick sweet peas very early in my pyjamas... a favourite summer activity. But it didn't make me feel any better until I asked Dave to take a photo of me in action, so I could put it on the blog.

It's well known in our family that Dave is better than me at 80% of practical activities, but one thing he is totally crap at is taking photographs. I handed him my phone, nevertheless, and told him yet again -'You only have to touch the button. You don't need to press it.'  Was the instruction effective? Was it buffalo. I could hear click click click click as he took burst after burst of multiple photographs, so much so that I couldn't stop laughing.

Now I've had a bike ride, written this, had two mugs of great coffee, ate some more truffles which after being in the fridge have formed a solid lump of deliciousness, and I'm feeling pretty OK. I hope that you are more than OK, and that you have a really great weekend. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Letter from home

'It has been a quiet week in Lake Woebegon' and also at Hepworth Towers.

I've made gooseberry jam, and blackcurrant jam

photo by Liz McGregor

realised that if you top and tail gooseberries while watching Grace and Frankie it kills the boredom;

discussed with Dave the idea of updating the kitchen; 


sat in the garden and planned the next novel;

Relished the latest review of my new book EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU

Picked sweet peas:

I have two patches of sweet peas. Same amount of sunshine and rain, same batch of home-grown seedlings, different soil. These pictures could be sent as an illustration to the new Minister of Education about the development of children.

And lastly, I tried out a new 'craft' activity with Zoe for our next refugee hospitality day...decorating chrome barrettes (hair clips) with various kinds of bling, because that's what a lot of the punters like. (It amuses me hugely that Quakers and bling seem to be such a contradictory conjunction.)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Heavenly delights

I shook off the glooms at the weekend, when the young people from my Quaker meeting had a bike ride to our house and a shared picnic in the garden. The adults sat outside and chatted in the fresh air, and the children played inside, building massive structures with our hundreds of yoghurt cartons. They co-opted me to help, and it was fun!

Here's a picture of one of my granddaughters on another occasion to illustrate:

Since then I've been enjoying the Monsal Trail again. The wildflowers this year are stupendous. Look at this lovely meadowsweet on a wide verge at Miller's Dale station:

On two mornings I cycled for half and hour and then locked up the bike and walked by the river Wye in Cheedale. 

These are the cottages at Blackwell Mill, at the end of the Trail:

It was heavenly. Here's a video I recorded for you:

A word about book reviews...

If you've read my new book, EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU, I would be really grateful if you'd you review it online. Amazon are rationing how many reviews a book can have, but if they won't let you review it on their site, you can always go to Goodreads and review it there. 

It's not just me. Every author would like you to review their books because it not only helps sales, it lets the author know they've not written into the void. And by a review, I don't mean a lengthy synopsis and literary critique, I mean a rating, and a couple of sentences saying what you thought of the book. Simples.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What I couldn't include

Jenetta, a long-time reader of the blog, commented about my new book EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW in the comments section of my last blog post (Clinging on). She was talking about the poetry in the book and how she couldn't relate to Jane and Joe quoting poetry and connecting through it, and I responded there.

It brought back for me the whole issue of not being able to include the poems the characters refer to in the text of my novel. The poems were certainly in the draft, but the cost of including them all was prohibitive, and when publication loomed I had to choose which were the most important, and therefore worth paying for. And then, whether or not I could afford the price quoted.  I don't begrudge the poets (or the beneficiaries of their estates) the fees, it's just that I could not afford them. Two people were very generous and allowed me to quote poems without paying for them.

There was one poem I really wanted but there was not even a price. It's called Home and is by Warsan Shire. It is the most powerful poem I've seen on the subject of refugees and I commend it to you. I wrote to the poet's agent for permission to include it but the response was that they were not giving permission to anyone to use it. If you look for it online you will find it. Indeed, here is a link to the text of the poem and the poet herself reading it on Youtube.

The other three poems I would have liked to have included in the text of my novel, are

This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams

which is the one parodied by Joe when Jane falls and crushes some marigolds.

Late Fragment by Raymond Carver


Wild Geese  by Mary Oliver read here by the poet

Both of the latter are referred to by Jane in her journal.

Lastly, there was a verse from a Bob Dylan song, Mama You've Been on my Mind, I didn't even try to get permission for, because I thought it would waste time and energy and result in a blank:

Perhaps it’s the colour of the sun cut flat
And coverin' the crossroads I'm standing at
Or maybe it's the weather or something like that
But mama you've been on my mind.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Clinging on

Chrissie Poulson had me as a guest on her blog this week. Here. She asked me some questions, including 'What is your comfort reading?' and I found myself not just naming one book, but a list. And I was faced yet again with the fact that I am a wimp. I can't cope with the world as it is. I am in danger of becoming like Ratty in Wind in the Willows (my current comfort reading) when he says to Mole: 

'Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World. And that's something that doesn't matter either to you or me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all. Don't ever refer to it again, please.'

Dave keeps asking me 'What's the matter?' and I say 'Politics, the state of the country, how it's going to get worse and worse. A scoundrel about to become PM, the Labour party failing to put up a coherent, united, powerful opposition, and intolerant, right-wing views taking over the public discourse.' Well actually, I usually just say 'How can anyone even consider voting for Boris bloody Johnson?' but I thought I'd flesh it out for you.

Shoot me now. 

I've blogged about hopelessness before, quoting Andrew Boyd, 

'You are faced with a stark choice: do you dedicate yourself to an impossible cause? or do you look after your own, making do as best you can?
The choice is clear: You must dedicate yourself to an impossible cause. Why? Because we are all incurable. Because solidarity is a form of tenderness. Because the simple act of caring for the world is itself a victory. Take a stand – not because it will lead to anything, but because it is the right thing to do. We never know what can or can’t be done; only what must be done. Let us do it.'

and about the idea of thinking global and acting local

but this week I can't make even a pretence at cheerfulness. 

I am clinging on to what Helen Care, a clinical psychologist, wrote in her letter to the Guardian this week. Her topic was wanting to change the usual rhetoric about teenagers. Here's an excerpt: 

I have struggled recently with breakfast-table rage – flicking through news headlines and being by turns disgusted, annoyed, frustrated, saddened or even grief-stricken by what seems to be happening in the world. But I have felt paralysed. I have gone on marches and signed online petitions, but at no point have I truly believed I was going to have a significant impact.
Young people look at the world and think “yep, we can change that”. Social media has given them a sense of connectedness and power. You just have to look at what is happening with Greta Thunberg and the climate change protests or the protests after the Stoneman Douglas high school shooting in the US to see their capacity to make things happen.
Thank goodness for a generation that don’t feel my paralysis in the face of what seems like overwhelming stress. Let’s start telling each other, and young people themselves, stories about what they can achieve, what they care about, what they can change and just how utterly fabulous they are.
Dr Helen Care
Witney, Oxfordshire

Yes, young people are fabulous. And because my fabulous teenage grandsons will no longer allow me to post pictures of them online, here are my fabulous granddaughters: 

When I look at their smiling faces I can't but feel better.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Boob talk

I've been reminded of my mastectomy this week through a conversation with someone on Twitter, and it made me dig out this piece I had in The Times in a different lifetime. 

“The worst thing about your mastectomy, as far as I’m concerned” said my husband, “is forever finding your falsie in the fruit bowl.” OK, I admit it, sometimes when it’s itching a bit I do take it out and leave it in the receptacle closest to hand. And while I’m not upset by finding such a good friend in unexpected places, other members of the family are not so keen on reaching into the magazine rack for the Radio Times and getting a handful of pink blancmange instead.
We wouldn’t have this problem if I’d had a reconstruction after the mastectomy. It was five years ago and feel I got off lightly because I had no other treatment. And although I’ve had occasional cysts, which do cause a bout of the jitters until they are diagnosed and dealt with, I’ve had no recurrence of cancer.
I did originally discuss reconstructive surgery with my breast care nurse, a fellow mastectomee and someone who also shared my sense of humour. She entertained me with the trials of colour matching fake nipples, and with stories of swimming on holiday and being startled at the sight of her freedom-loving prosthesis, having escaped the confines of her cossie and approaching her atop a wave.
Yesterday at my annual check up the doctor asked me if I’d ever thought of having a reconstruction, something no-one had mentioned since the mastectomy. I explained that I wasn’t keen on having alien bodies implanted into my own body, which with advancing middle age looks alien enough (on those occasions when I’m feeling robust enough to look at myself in the mirror with no clothes on.)
The truth is that I have adjusted to being an Amazon. The only real drag is having my falsie escape at inopportune moments. Like the time I was painting the gloss in our new house while the builder and plumber were in the adjoining room. I was on my knees doing the skirting board when my falsie slipped out and was threatening to fall out of the bottom of my rugby shirt. How could I grab it and hide it before anyone came in, when I had paint all over my hands and there was nothing in the room but a tin of paint, a bottle of white spirit and a grotty old duster?
I don’t feel the need for a reconstruction. I always used to be proud not of my bust measurement but my flat stomach, and I yearned to be like Audrey Hepburn, not Dolly Parton. Also, I am 51 and have been married forever, and my husband has never been a boob man. Before the operation and since, he has been everything I could have wanted a husband to be. The surgeon was tactful and skilled and all the nursing staff were sensitive, but it did take time to accept my new …well, lopsidedness. Now I am used to being asymmetrical, and having a scar instead of a breast, if neither I nor my husband care, why should I want a reconstruction?
When I asked him about it again today he said “Reconstruction? Isn’t that something on Crimewatch where they make a passing resemblance to a former reality and hope viewers’ imaginations will supply vital missing details?” Then he asked how they would make the new boob sag incrementally over time to keep pace with the old one. He pictured me at sixty as part Lolita and part Nora Batty.
The doctor did talk about alternatives to having bits inserted. It was possible to take fat from the belly, she said, and use that to reconstruct a breast. Now she was talking. I could return to the lost era of the flat stomach. But was a reconstruction operation a price worth paying?
Then I had the idea. Women who have had breast surgery are offered free counselling and plastic surgery on the NHS, on the grounds of helping their adjustment and speedy recovery. If some kind of plastic surgery is going to make them feel better, does it matter what it is? Maybe they should be offered a voucher for non-specific surgery after a mastectomy, so they can have liposuction, or a new nose, if that is going to improve their body image and boost their self esteem. Maybe I’ll write to the Health Minister about it. If the scheme is adopted, I’ll keep the falsie and go for the tummy tuck.

 Published here with kind permission of Times Newspapers
 ©  Sue Hepworth 2019

Saturday, July 06, 2019


I didn't realise how fond I was of my keys until I lost them. 

Before I continue, I need to explain that apart from an incident last August which is documented here, I am not known as a key-losing person: that has always been Dave's province.

However, when I got home from my recent holiday in Cornwall, I couldn't find my house keys.They had no identifying label on them so it wasn't a security worry. It was annoying and inconvenient, and it made me worry about the soundness of my mind. 

But I also felt sad. My writing is not sentimental, but I am a sentimental person. My mother died in 2008 and we sold her cottage in 2010, 

and yet I kept the cottage key on the keyring. 

Then there was the fob. It looks like chunky red plastic, but it's claim to fame is that Isaac made it for me in CDT at school when he was a teenager. 

He is now 46.

My friend Het, with whom I'd been staying in Cornwall, scoured her house and came up with nothing. She rang the local post office and Land's End to enquire if anyone had handed in the keys, which I thought I might possibly have lost while walking along the coastal path. I rang the lost property offices of the trains I'd been on. All came to nought.

Dave said he remembered my saying before I went away that I had put them in a drawer to keep them safe. I didn't recall saying that. Was his memory playing tricks on him too? Whether or no, I looked in every drawer in the house: nothing. I searched all the bags I had taken to Cornwall several times: nothing. I was resigned to not seeing the keys again. And then yesterday Dave borrowed my rucksack and emptied it out at the end of the day and there they were.

I am ridiculously happy to have them back. I feel hugely relieved that I am not the sort of person who loses house keys outside the house. But I am also faintly disturbed, because this kind of thing is just going to get worse, isn't it? I have just now realised that my blouse - which I wore to go to Bakewell this morning - is inside out. 

Dave says we need a checklist to work through before we leave the house, and I think he might be right.

Top and bottom covered in clothing

All clothes the right way out

Hair brushed

No smears of toothpaste round mouth

Facial hair plucked

Shopping list in pocket

Note left to absent partner as to intended destination and time of departure

Windows shut and locked

All doors locked

Keys safe

Hey ho. We were young once.

This is us with my younger sister, 50 years ago 

And now, because I can, I am going to put the latest review of my new book - EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU - on here.

Friday, July 05, 2019


Blogger has always been a recalcitrant blogging package and I've put up with it because it's free.

There is currently a problem with the formatting on my blog that I cannot fix. If you read the blog on a phone you won't be aware of it. If you read it on an iPad it will look horribly skewed to one side, and if you read it on a laptop/desktop, the header will be skewiff.

I have no idea how to fix it, and my main techie man - Isaac - is on holiday. Update: I've fixed it myself!

Another peculiar tech glitch this week is that one of the reviews for my book on Amazon has mysteriously disappeared.

Added to that, a friend has been told by Amazon that they are not accepting reviews on this product (my book) from his account. What?????  He has emailed to ask them why not.

And now I remember that in May, a blog reader, Kristine, was told by Amazon she could not post a review.

Life is hard enough for the ancient author. It would be much easier to surrender forever and become a little old lady pottering around her garden watering her agapanthus, and sitting in her blue adirondack chair with a nice cup of tea and a book.

You know what I'll be doing, though, don't you?

Thursday, July 04, 2019

The news and views form Hepworth Towers

I've had some nice times this week. I played Grand Turismo (racing cars) with my younger grandson on his Playstation; visited the family member who declines to be named - and his lovely wife - and admired their pumpkin patio which last year was just scrub:

played Pooh sticks with Liz; had fish and chips with Chrissie;

photographed the local pop-up poppy field from a different aspect, i.e. from the place described in EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU:

They walked steadily up the steep lane, their strides matching, past the water station with the circular drystone wall that was falling away in disrepair. They crossed the cattle grid and walked up to where the lane levelled off and they could see below a vast sweep of rolling fields and trees. Chatsworth House lay in one direction, and Bakewell in another, hidden by a fold in the landscape.

rode up the Trail, naturellement:

saw an orchid on the Trail and photographed it:

but I have not changed my mind about these wild orchids. Yes they are rare countrywide and thrive on the soil here, and yes, their markings are beautiful, but they grow in ones and twos, and they are tiny - with the flower head two inches tall - and they just don't lift my spirits the way a bank of moonpennies does, or a cluster of cowslips, or a verge of cow parsley. It's clear I respond to abundance as well as to delicacy when I'm cycling. And while we're talking flowers, just look at my lovely astrantia, which I am SO enjoying this year:

I also sold a book on Twitter.

Someone had tweeted that they were going to be 60 

The conversation progressed to Plotting for Grownups 

(which my Twitter friend decided to buy - yay!) and thence to a comparison between turning 60 and turning 70. 

I found turning 60 hard. There was lots of personal stuff going on as well as the whole age thing and the feeling that life was going downhill from there. But it was all psychological.

Turning 70 for me is more about physical frailty, about random aches and pains, about being aware of losing my keys short term memory.

Any thoughts on this, dear readers?