Friday, February 28, 2020

Bad weather at Hepworth Towers

There have been persistent bouts of bad temper and snarling at Hepworth Towers this week and it's not been from Dave or the cat. Wrapping up in three layers top and bottom and braving the cold and the slush for an hour or so on my bike, or for a walk, usually stops it for a while. But the next day it pops up again. It's the 28th of a 29 day month and I'm breaking my resolution. I hate this weather! I hate February!

Phew, I feel better now. Maybe next year when the month is shorter I might manage to stay calm and pleasant and be a true Pollyanna figure until the spring comes. 

Having said all that, I did have a fabulous walk with Liz on Tuesday, on which i discovered that she gets as much joy from clearing gullies as I do.

This is me.

photo by Liz McGregor

The weather looks balmy, doesn't it? Don't be fooled. The wind was fierce and harsh.

We walked up through Rowland to the top of the lane where Jane and Joe walked in EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU. There we met the Highland cattle.

photo by Liz McGregor

When the weather's been too savage to face, I haven't been writing, and this is partly to blame for the snarling. I'm waiting for feedback on my new book, coming out in the summer. 

This all means I've had more time inside, free for creative projects, so...I got out the paints I packed away and have been having fun sloshing colours around. I've done several things I'm pleased with, but this large greetings card is the only one I'm prepared to show the world. I'm really pleased with it.

Today is a new day and it's snowing and set to continue. I'll be painting again, and trying to be nice. 

Monday, February 24, 2020


We're into the home straight now and I haven't moaned about the weather this February, have I? Can I have a gold star?

I'm going to keep it up until the floods have subsided, even though we've had gales and rain here for three solid weeks. We are so, so lucky not to have been flooded. 

Our usual route into Bakewell was closed due to flooding yesterday, and I cycled down the Monsal Trail to go to Quaker Meeting. The Trail itself was awash in places but not impassable on a bike, or if you were wearing boots.

In Bakewell the river was threatening to flood the adjacent houses, and the meadows above the bridge looked like this:

I have lived here for 25 years and never seen it like this before. Nor had other locals I spoke to.

On the way home, cycling back up the lane, I noticed my favourite gully was chucking out more water than it was consuming. 

I've told the council more than once, but they have bigger problems. One day they'll unblock it underground and I'll be able to do my bit at road level. Still, there are plenty of other gullies still available for fun. 

Next week I am going to Colorado to see the chundies - yay! -

and there may be snow there, but there will also be warm days, and times when we can eat outside and drink margaritas in the sunshine. 

And there'll also be plenty of sunny days for cycling:

March in Colorado

Taken altogether....bliss.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Letter from home

First of all, before I forget, I want to ask you something. What's your forename? I have a new book coming out this year (whoop! whoop!) and I am going to dedicate it to regular readers of my blog. 

A lot of people remain anonymous and that's fine. Those whose names I do know are here - in alphabetical order:

Chris G
Chris O
Chris S
the family member who declines to be named

If I have missed you out, I'm sorry. Please tell me who you are.

Now onto business: 

Letter from home

The Aging Hippie in California asked me this week if we were affected by the floods. The answer is a thankful no. The only damage to Hepworth Towers is a leak in the bay window roof, and rain being flung at the bay window so hard by the gale that it found its way through the seals round the double glazing. As our dear old builder friend used to say - The rain has very thin shoulders.

I've had a good week. Two days were spent with the fabulous teenage grandsons. And on Thursday evening I was honoured to be invited to the pub quiz night at the regular of the family-member-who-declines-to-be-named and his wife, the lovely Jaine. I love pub quizzes, despite never knowing any of the answers, focussing as they do on sport, popular telly programmes, celebrities and general knowledge.

This pub quiz was rather different. It had questions on current affairs, questions with anagrams, one about Roman numbers, other recherche stuff, and five about fictional policemen - three of which I knew. And despite our team being seven strong, I knew stuff that the others didn't. Yay! I'll have to wangle another invitation: that pub quiz was not only fun, it was good for my self esteem. And we won.

The trouble with being my age is that two glasses of wine and a late night means I am wasted all the next day. Another problem is wrestling to grasp new words and phrases. This week I had to look up what 'queer' means these days; and I found myself explaining to my older brother what 'woke' means and then looking it up and finding I hadn't got it quite right.

I don't care: I can still cycle ten miles and feel better for it, which is what I just did. And I heard my first thrush of the spring. 

It has not been photogenic weather here, so this is one from last February:

Have a happy weekend. 
And tell me your name! You can sign on as 'Anonymous' and tell me in the text.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Making my mark

A week ago I went to an art workshop where the artist used a technique to get us into painting through using our imagination. She gave us a blank piece of A3 paper and a piece of charcoal and our first exercise was to follow her instructions without trying to make sense of what we drew on the paper. 

It was all about mark making. Nothing else. For ten minutes she said things like 'make circular marks, make straight bold marks, make thin marks that go off the edge of the paper, make pale marks, dark thick marks, shade in an area' etc, etc. At the end of this exercise we laid out our papers on the floor and each of us had to say what we saw in the marks we'd made, and also what we saw in the other students' work. She then told us to take our paper home and develop it into a painting. I was excited about this. This is my random mark making and  what I brought home:

I liked it. there was a lot of movement in it, and I could see a field of wild flowers, or a hedgerow, as a theme for an abstract painting. I was definitely going to get out some colours and work on it! I laid it carefully on the sofa in my study where I could see it every time I went in there to write or to email. I left my pile of art materials on the tiny coffee table in there - some bought especially for the exercise with big expectations for my new creative endeavour. 

I've been very busy since then with other things, although I saw the paper full of marks every time I went in that room, and I'm in and out all day. I'd look at it and think - Yes, it does look promising, but whatever I do to it, even if I'm successful in painting an OK composition, it's not going to be good enough or attractive enough for me to want it on the wall, not like that photo of the dawn up our lane with the golden reflections of the sun in the puddles.

Then I would recall what the artist said to us - Don't let fear of spoiling it put you off. Get stuck in!

Five days after the art workshop the untidiness of my room was getting me down, and so was the accusing paper full of inspiring charcoal marks. And I recalled my bold plans to make a collage of Calgary Bay last May when I got back from Mull. I had fabrics assembled and arranged, and I was trying to work out how to attach the seaweed and shells I'd brought home. Then the publication of Even When They Know You took precedence and the 'collage' was rolled up and put away in the sewing drawer, and the seaweed and other beach finds were laid under the study shelves in a protective bag where they still are today.

Yesterday I put away the paints and brushes and the promising piece of paper. I've admitted to myself that no matter how much I enjoy going to art workshops, whether printing, painting or collage, I simply do not have the motivation to make myself work on those projects at home, because there are so many other things I want to do. 

Currently I have an engrossing writing project, a jumper I've almost finished knitting and a new one to start, a patchwork cot quilt to design and make for Mary's first grandchild expected in the summer, my sax to play, my bike to ride, and today in the post my sweet pea seed order is arriving. My life is full. And whereas I can play my sax simply for my own enjoyment with no interest in public exposure, I am not willing to commit time and diminishing energy to sustained work on art, just for the sake of doing it. The materials won't be wasted, though. Dave and I both have the need for them from time to time for occasional random projects - including, for my part, other future art workshops that look too enticing to miss!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Small pleasures

I've said it before on the blog: there is something mystical and wondrous about a decent margarita. As soon as I've had two sips, I feel happy. It's not the same with any other drink, and my writer friend Chrissie agrees. The trouble is that we have been unable to find one out here in the sticks.

But last week Chrissie emailed excitedly to say she'd been having tapas in a refurbished pub halfway between her village and mine and discovered they now serve cocktails, including margaritas. She hadn't had one because she was driving, but she'd checked the listed ingredients on the cocktail menu and they looked OK. 

'How are we going to get there and back without driving? You know what they're like...and what if we want to have two? We'll be too drunk to drive home,' we chuntered. Those of you who aren't country-dwellers might not know that daytime buses out here are scant, and buses after 6 p.m. are virtually extinct. Luckily Dave and Chrissie's daughter agreed to act as taxis.

We ordered our margaritas and sat down to peruse the food menu, like two kids waiting for our ice cream sundaes to arrive. 

Yes! Not bad! Not bad at all. We might have preferred a tall one with ice, but these were OK. A quarter of the way in we were not feeling that magical uplift, however. Hmmm...why?

Halfway through, a little better, but in the end we gave it 3.5 stars. Nice enough, a small pleasure, but not nice enough to shell out another £7.50 for. When it was time to go home we realised we would probably have been fit enough to drive, which meant there probably was not enough tequila in the mix. The search continues.

But last night I had a lovely dream. I was 15 and being walked home from somewhere by a gorgeous boy with floppy brown hair. He was wheeling his bike, and when we got to my house he leaned it against the wall and we had an excellent snog on the doorstep. 

And this morning I have snowdrops on my breakfast tray: another small pleasure.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

An example

It's five years today that my dear friend Mary died. It's just occurred to me that the last lines of the poem on yesterday's blog post apply to her:

Leave something of sweetness
and substance
in the mouth of the world.

That's what she did.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


One of the great things about living up our lane is that when there's a fabulous dawn and you want to take a picture of it, it's just fine to slip on your long winter coat over your pyjamas and put on your wellies and stride down the lane to capture a moment that won't be there in five minutes time.

Yesterday I did just that and met my next door neighbour walking the dog and no explanation was necessary. 

Here is the result, which I love:

It makes me feel so happy.

Someone else's photographs make thousands of people happy on Twitter everyday - Mick Oxley  aka @SeaSkyCraster, who treats the world to a daily photograph of the sea and sky at dawn, that he takes from his window in Craster. Last week the photos were all so stunning and so different, and he kindly gave me permission to share a few of them here:

Photo by Mick Oxley, 5th February 2020

Photo by Mick Oxley, 6th February 2020

Photo by Mick Oxley, 7th February 2020

Photo by Mick Oxley, 8th February 2020

After feeling so desperate a couple of weeks ago I've been holding the news at arm's length and trying to build up my resilience by focusing on the good and the beautiful in everyday life.

Yesterday I went to an art workshop with a friend, plus lunch afterwards, and I came back so uplifted that when I played my current practise pieces on the sax, that have lately been feeling stale, the improvisation went so well I wished my teacher had been there to hear.   (I was going to say 'I played my current pieces and totally smashed them' and then I looked up 'smashed' in the urban dictionary and decided perhaps I'd better not. It would been far more pithy, however.)

I read of some research recently that happiness rubs off on other people. So being happy and sharing happiness is another arrow in the quiver of people who want to make the world a better place.

Lastly, I want to share this poem with you which fits into the theme of this post...


When my mother died,
one of her honey cakes remained in the freezer.
I couldn’t bear to see it vanish,
so it waited, pardoned,
in its ice cave behind the metal trays
for two more years.
On my forty-first birthday
I chipped it out,
a rectangular resurrection,
hefted the dead weight in my palm.
Before it thawed,
I sawed, with serrated knife,
the thinnest of slices —
Jewish Eucharist.
The amber squares
with their translucent panes of walnuts
tasted — even toasted — of freezer,
of frost,
a raisined delicacy delivered up
from a deli in the underworld.
I yearned to recall life, not death —
the still body in her pink nightgown on the bed,
how I lay in the shallow cradle of the scattered sheets
after they took it away,
inhaling her scent one last time.
I close my eyes, savor a wafer of
sacred cake on my tongue and
try to taste my mother, to discern
the message she baked in these loaves
when she was too ill to eat them:
I love you.
It will end.
Leave something of sweetness
and substance
in the mouth of the world.
Anna Belle Kaufman

(I have been unable to contact the poet for permission, but the search for her contact details continues.)

Monday, February 10, 2020


I went to my first ever fashion show on Friday evening. How glam is that? No, I wasn't wearing sunglasses and legs and sitting on the front row.  

The show was put on by the Bakewell Oxfam group as a fund raiser, and the clothes were new and all from high street shops. 

It's a great way to raise money for a charity. All you do is hire a hall and sell tickets and do all the usual stuff like have a raffle and sell drinks, and a clothing company swoops in with a thousand new but cut-price items of clothing they want to sell. 

The clothes were modelled by local women while a compere told us what they were wearing and how much it cost. It was huge fun. The models were not stick thin and looking mardy, but had ordinary figures and big smiles. And the audience were there to have a good time. 

After the show, we were invited to check out the rails and buy some clothes. The fact that 95% of the clothes were ones I would never think of buying didn't spoil my enjoyment. It was such a fun way to spend a wet Friday evening in February with friends when you live out in the sticks. 

There was one item I liked but someone else had nabbed it. And there was something else I'd have bought if I'd been 17 and not 70:

But you know me, I can never resist a pair of dungarees.

This is me with Isaac 40 years ago:

And this is me last year.

Dungarees rock. The last time I wore legs was when I looked like this:

You think I should be a bit more dressy? Look. I live with a man who has five pairs of smart dungarees, and who's just been standing in the bedroom door interrupting my writing this by telling me about some woman he's been watching doing carpentry on Youtube.

'What does she look like?' I said.

'She's got very small hands.'

'What does she look like, Dave? Is she blonde?'

'She's got a massive table saw.'

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

A modest pleasure (updated)

Yesterday we woke to gales of 37 kmh and rain and the bad weather was set to continue all day so I decided I'd write all morning and then go on the train to Sheffield to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, the new Tom Hanks film. The film has got good reviews and it sounded as if it was just up my street, as it's based on a true story of kindness overcoming cynicism.

The problem was that when it was time to set off, the wind had dropped and the sun was out. Shouldn't I grab the fine weather and go outside instead of sitting in the cinema? If this was the last day of my life, which would I choose? The fresh air of course. I only ever go to the cinema in the daytime in winter, when the weather is bad.

Dither, dither, I had to decide or I'd miss the train. So I checked the weather forecast for today, Wednesday: it was good, so I could get a bike ride in. I was still undecided, and Dave wasn't there to offer his two pennyworth so I grabbed the Magic 8 ball. 

I've never done this before to make a decision. I bought it for research purposes when Jane and I decided that Iain, a character in Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-upsshould be in the habit of consulting a Magic 8 ball when he couldn't decide about something. 

'Shall I go to see the film?' I asked.

'Yes, definitely' was the answer.  

The film was OK. Yes, it was good, I suppose, but it did not move me, and I did not emerge from the cinema enthused. Mr Rogers was obviously doing valuable work with children via his TV show, in teaching them how to manage their feelings, and with his message that everyone is valuable and special. 

However, at times I found the character slightly creepy, and there was one scene where he was so annoying I actually wanted to punch him in the face. The journalist is asking him questions and Mr R doesn't answer. Instead, he takes out his glove puppets and gets them to ask personal questions of the journalist. The journalist walks out, and good for him. Was this what really happened? I'll have to ask the Aging Hippie if the real Mr Rogers of American TV was really like the character in the film.

I actually enjoyed my evening at home by the fire much more, fielding a new set of questions about the cat's cognition that Dave comes out with every night and which drive me demented. 

'I suppose cats are completely unaware of death?'


'Do you think she plans her week at all?'

I've just drawn the blinds and it looks like this:

Not exactly promising. If the sun doesn't come out I shall feel even more like punching Mr Rogers in the face. 


Saturday, February 01, 2020

How to feel better

There is plenty to feel bad about quite apart from B***** and the heartlessness of this government. There's  the "Peace plan" for Israel and Palestine cooked up by Trump's son-in-law and Nethanyahu. As if it's possible to have a peace plan when only one side of the conflict has been consulted. 🙄. In any case it isn't a peace plan, it's merely a legitimisation of the theft of Palestinian land. 

But it wasn't this that caused me to sink into a very dark place last weekend. Before I go on, I want to say that I am nervous about this post. So be nice to me. You know that quote I often have on here from Barry Magid?

"We don’t have to hate ourselves for our own vulnerability. We don’t have to hate ourselves for what life has done to us. We don’t have to hate ourselves because hurt or loss or longing has gotten to us. Our desires will always be with us in some form, keeping us firmly attached to a world that will hurt us. We must come to love ourselves, love our life, in its vulnerability, in its impermanence, not in spite of all its flaws, but because of them. Because the vulnerability, the changes, the flaws make us who we are."               

I am trying to bear this in mind as I write.

So what was upsetting me?

I was devastated when the government voted against including in the EU withdrawal agreement the right of refugee children abroad to be reunited here with family members who were not their parents. I wasn't just upset that the amendment failed, I was upset at the thought that all those MPs could be so downright mean.

And there was another thing: the case of a teenage boy called Samet. When Samet was 11, his drunken father forced him to beg on the streets of Tirana in Albania to support his family. At 15 he was taken to Brussels and what happened to him there traumatised Samet so much that he still can’t talk about it.

Samet was then trafficked into England where he was given asylum and fostered by a kind man called John Stokes. Samet settled well, and learned English fast and is now training at college to become a carpenter. But as soon as he turned 18 the Home Office wanted to deport him.  His foster father launched a campaign to overturn this decision. He took a petition signed by 400,000 people to the Home Office last week. The Home Office refused to change the decision. The fight for Samet's future continues, but there are many many young people in a similar situation who are living underground and have no-one to fight their corner.

It's hard to explain how very desperate I felt about all this last weekend, and always in the background for me these days are the dire results of the UK governments's austerity policies.  

This quote is relevant...

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”

Andrew Boyd from Daily Afflictions

But on Sunday after Quaker Meeting, I had a chat with an 80-something friend, who listened to why I was upset and said three helpful things:

1/ I need to protect myself from other people's sadnesses while still trying to help, otherwise I'll sink and be no help at all.

2/ There are many, many good people in the world who are doing wonderful things to help others. He gave me specifics.

3/ I too am contributing in the things that I do.

I think that as well as his unquestioning acceptance of my feelings, it was the second point that was the clincher. Somehow, and I know it's unreasonable, I was irrationally feeling it was my job to fix everything that is wrong with the world.

Of course, I just need to do my bit. I just need to be kind, and that includes being kind to myself. And I need to remember this quote I got from some ancient bint who has a blog called Fragments of a Writer's Life.

We never know what effect we have on other people and thus on the wider world. That's why we need to keep going, following our path, being ourselves, doing our best, even if our efforts seem small and insignificant.

And you really won't believe what has just happened! Just this minute! The post arrived and with it, this postcard from my dear friend Het, who told me this week she'd been to hear Richard Layard (86) the Happiness guru, talking about how to be happy. I leave it with you.