Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Oh my God I feel happy!

For the first time since my book arrived at the end of April, 

I came into my study first thing and had a burst of joy.

This is what greeted me...

The new patchwork I started yesterday. 

I am so happy I can't even be bothered to haul up the curtains out of shot, so you can't see how when they shrank I never adjusted the hem of the linings.

You can see there isn't much room for writing, but colour and visuals are everything right now. (Don't exaggerate, Sue, that's patently not true or you wouldn't be writing the blog.)

Anyway...the surprising thing is that when I finished the cot quilt last week for a friend, I swore that it would be the last quilt I ever made and I told Dave to never, ever, let me start another, because I always get so frustrated. Getting the design to my liking drives me nuts, and the last large one I did was hard to assemble because of the way it was designed - the seams were on the bias. Ridiculous! 

That one was an abstract sunset quilt, and it was as painful to make as EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU  was to write. 

So why have I succumbed to a new one?

I have a drawer full of fabric already cut (and btw this is all cut from old clothes or fabric remnants from sewing projects because I am a purist about not buying new fabric for quilts, though I did once succumb to some fat quarters in Hobbycraft (a technical term omg a double bracket, you can see my brain is all over the place with happiness) but have never used them) and I was thinking I would give all the stuff away to some other patchwork nut. 

Then I thought, Actually, there are some fabulous colours in there, maybe I'll just play around with them for a bit. So I did. And I also resolved not to cut another piece, not one. I would use what I'd got already cut, and I would also be ruthless about rejecting fabrics I didn't like, and that includes the fat quarters. 

And this patchwork quilt is to please me and no-one else.

So here I am: engaged in a project I want to get stuck into as soon as I wake up - which is how I always feel when I am writing a comic novel like PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS.

I hope you can find something today that brings you joy.

Get a load of that symbolism

p.s. Have you ever read Happenstance by Carol Shields? It's one of my favourite Shields novels and happens to be about a professional quilter and her husband.

Monday, June 29, 2020


The other day I came across a helpful article on compassion fatigue. It's called An open letter to those who still give a damn and you can read it here. It was written two years ago.

I also came across this poem, written in the middle of the last century:

Having said I am never going to make another patchwork now the cot quilt is finished, I've changed my mind and am going to get out my drawer full of remaining patches and try to make an abstract design on my study floor. When I get frustrated and fed up with that, I'm going to paint. 

Here is another of my entries to the King Lear competition. It's called Solace.

Acrylics on board.

I wish you a week of resilience and solace.

Saturday, June 27, 2020


You know that King Lear arts competition for amateurs over 70 doing stuff in lockdown? I sent in 4 pieces of art, and this week (after the deadline) they sent an email encouraging us to show our work to friends and on social media while the judging was going on.

Here goes, and I make no claims of any kind except that painting is fun.

Title: Dave and me in lockdown.
Acrylic and pastel.

I painted it in April at the start of lockdown and it expressed how I felt back then. I'm sorry the photo does not do justice to the texture of the paint.

The next lockdown painting I completed was this:

Seven days in lockdown.
Felt tip and crayon.

It's about my mood swings from day to day.

Yesterday was a week of mood swings packed into one Friday.

I woke up feeling fine and full of purpose. There was a forecast of heavy rain and I'd decided I was going to paint. But the morning filled up with lengthy phone calls of various kinds, the content of which left me feeling weighed down with the hopelessness and difficulties of lockdown and despair at the state of our country. 

'What's the matter?' Dave said.

'I'm upset.'

'What are you upset about?'


Maybe I'm feeling down, I thought, because I've reached all the goals I set myself, the most recent being to make a patchwork cot quilt for Mary's first grandchild, expected next month.

Maybe it was because I'm a writer and writing the blog is the only writing I'm doing:

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. — Franz Kafka

I sat in the sun and wrote in my journal and that helped. 

Then I fetched a pile of poetry books and read those: Mary Oliver's collections Blue Horses and Wild Geese and A Thousand Mornings, and Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist.

That helped. The last poem I read was Wild Geese itself, always a comfort:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

Poetry: the magic cure.

I relaxed into the sunny afternoon and at teatime got in the car, wound the windows down, and drove to Sheffield listening to Willie Nelson at full blast. Zoe had invited me to tea in the garden. Woo-hoo! The first meal someone else had cooked for me in three months. It was delicious, naturellement, and so was seeing the family - Zoe and Brian, and the two teenagers I must not now name. 

That was my day. What was yours like?

This is my favourite photo taken on forays onto the Trail this week:

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Making the best of things

Sometimes when I talk to the family in Colorado on Facetime I get an injection of joy, and sometimes - like last Sunday - as soon as the call is ended, I ache. I know that being able to have a video call with just one person is an amazing privilege, but it sometimes serves to emphasize the geographical distance between us. 

It was lovely but also slightly weird when my big sister Kath came to lunch yesterday. She lives 50 miles away and we haven't seen each other for months, and although I got a comforting feeling when she got out of her car in the drive, I really, really wanted to give her a hug. We went for a walk and then had lunch in the garden, and because it was so fantastic to have her here, and yet I could not touch her, I had a weird urge to take her photograph. Maybe you do that all the time, but I don't.

Anyway, here she is:

At 11.30 a.m. every Sunday Bakewell Quakers have a Meeting Zoom call when we share reflections and news. At the beginning of the lockdown I loved to see everyone's faces, to remind myself of the terrific community I'm part of. Now, after so many weeks, I often feel dissatisfied and sad. I don't want to speak to the group. I want to talk to Friends after Meeting one at a time, face to face, in the same space.

My younger daughter-in-law, the lovely Jaine, 

introduced me to a saying this week which I liked:

'It'll be all right in the end, and if it isn't all right, it's not the end.'

It's very comforting.

And how lucky am I to be able to get on my bike and cycle to quiet places, to sit under the trees and soak up whatever it is that they give off that makes me feel calm and settled and happy.

This morning I went out very early to beat the heat. I cycled to the end of the Trail and walked down the hill to the river and took a video for you. The rushing sound is the river.

A few years ago Dave carved a post with a quote from Martial, and placed it in the lawn within sight of the kitchen window so when he came down in the morning for his first yoghurt, he would see it.

This morning he moved it to just inside the front gate, so people could see it from the road. 

The first side of the post says sera nimis, the second reads vita est, the third crastina and the fourth viva hodie.

The translation is:
Living tomorrow is too late: live today

Sunday, June 21, 2020


The bombing of Yemen

In June 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful. The UK government continues to fight the Court's judgment, but worse than this,they are continuing to supply arms, despite the judgment.

If you care about this issue, please will you sign the petition here.

The betrayal of student nurses

The government asked student nurses to join the frontline of the NHS and help tackle coronavirus, months before they were due to graduate. 

The posts were advertised as 6 month paid placements, but student nurses have now been told their contracts will be terminated in July.

The government promised to pay them for six months, until 31st October, and I think the government should honour that promise. Nurses need to complete their practical training. They bravely stepped up when they were needed. The government should do the honourable thing.
The Good Law Project has raised a petition to Matt Hancock on this issue. If you would like to sign it, here's the link.

Saturday, June 20, 2020


Today I'm going to start - not finish -  with the latest review of my latest book - DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE.  

It has been a quiet week at Hepworth Towers. Dave has been engaged in Kirigami; I have been struggling with the patchwork quilt. I always prick myself several times when assembling a quilt, and there is always blood.

Fortunately there is always Fairy Liquid.

Yes, it's been a quiet week, and one in which I haven't wanted to blog. I found this poem by Mary Oliver which sums things up: 

With the shops re-opening, the Trail has been quieter, thank goodness. Listen to the birds.

I'll see you next week. I might have something to say. I'm saving all my words today for the letter I'm going to write to my MP. There is so much to say to her.

Onwards and upwards, dear friends. And lots of patience.

Monday, June 15, 2020

A new week, a new day

Last evening Dave told me that I am always bad tempered these days.

I didn't argue, because he is probably right. When I say I worry I'll never see my Colorado girls again, Lux and Cece

and he says everyone has to accept that the world is different now, and air travel might never be what it was and we have to accept this, and there are lots of other people feeling upset, I do snap back like an angry crocodile.

But I need to be a sweeter person. I need to work harder at it in the place we are in right now, the new normal. While Dave has been even-tempered and patient for the last three months - Oh my God is it really three months we've been staying at home and avoiding the world? -  I have been swerving all over the place. Well, you know, because you've been reading the blog.

I apologised before bed, and promised to try to be a nicer person when we woke up. And Dave smiled because he is sweet and kind-hearted, and said:  'See you in the morning, if we're spared,' and I smiled, because even though he's said it a hundred times before, it still amuses me.

I slept well and woke up too early and picked up my iPad in the dark to see if there were any new episodes of my favourite programmes on BBC Sounds and found Poetry Please. Hooray! It hasn't been on since before the lockdown and I've needed it.

The first episode of the new series was hosted by Roger Robinson who wrote this poem, which I have permission to share with you, and have shared with you before:

A Portable Paradise 

And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.

Roger Robinson

© Roger Robinson, from A Portable Paradise, 2019. Used by permission of Peepal Tree Press.#

He chose some nourishing and thought provoking poems. My three favourites were:

Grace by Roger Robinson,  Fam by Caleb Femi - listen to it here  - and 
Eurofighter Typhoon by Fiona Benson.

I am trying to memorise the lines from Fam which go...

we mean we have to laugh, 
crying doesn't stop it from happening

Listening to poetry on the radio is a much nicer way to wake up than reading the news, so I was already feeling chipper when I checked my email and found this:

from the birthday girl. 

Love spans the miles. 

And here is the plate I painted at her Zoom pottery painting party on Saturday night:

Wishing you all a better week than the last one, and lots of love.

Saturday, June 13, 2020


My brother Jonty told me yesterday that dolphins shut off half their brain in order to be able to sleep without drowning.  

Do you ever want to escape your brain?

A long, long time ago at a time when I was very unhappy I can remember wanting to chop my head off and put it in a fridge for a while so I could have a rest from my swirling thoughts. 

These last two weeks I've needed a day off from them too, and I managed to escape for the afternoon on Wednesday by playing with my acrylic paints while listening to an ancient sitcom on the radio, Second Thoughts, which stars the wonderful Lynda Bellingham and James Bolam. (If you decide to listen to it, the person in charge of BBC Sounds has jumbled up the order of episodes, so check the broadcast dates to see which comes first.) That was a lovely afternoon and I produced a painting I am going to hang on the wall. It's called Solace.

Another way to escape yourself is to pretend to be someone else. When I first started painting in lockdown I dressed up in ripped and patched dungarees with my mother's oversized knitted waistcoat: I was channelling the aging hippie Frankie from Grace and Frankie, because so many of her paintings are ridiculous and she made me feel free to mess about with my paints, and not worry what other people thought about the results.

Dave's and my television tastes barely overlap, which means we watch the same things over and over. At present, at the end of our busy days mostly spent separately, we play Scrabble or do a cryptic crossword, and then watch two episodes of M*A*S*H.

I'm really enjoying Frank's paranoid dialogue. 

Franks walks into the swamp.

Trapper says: 'Hi Frank, how are you?' 

Frank: 'Do you think that scares me?'

Later, Frank leaves the swamp.

Trapper says in a friendly tone: 'See you, Frank.'

Frank: 'Threaten me all you want, bud.'

So I told Dave that the next morning I was going to channel Frank, just for fun. It would work well because I am (ahem) rather difficult when I first wake up.

I had my first response all  lined up...Dave would ask me how I was, as he always does, and I'd say 'As if you care!'

But Dave forgot the plan and brought me a mug of tea and I was completely disarmed. 

This week we've had two grandchildren's birthdays, but I am only allowed to mention one, so here she is - birthday girl Cece in Colorado, for all of you who remember her when she looked like this:

Now, she looks like this: aged 8, and in charge.

Cake with Harry Potter symbols

She's invited me to her pottery painting birthday party via Zoom. 

Woo-hoo!   Another chance to escape!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Think it possible you may be mistaken

I go on Twitter because it keeps me informed of news and opinion, as well as providing jokes and levity, and a place to publicise my writing.

Sometimes I can't stand it because it can be like a sewer, with insults and nastiness, intolerance, and much much worse. It makes me sad that people cannot be more respectful. 

I don't often mention my Quakersim on the blog, but this morning when I went on Twitter, I thought of these two points from our Advices and Queries, because  everyone on social media might benefit from considering them, whether or not they believe in God. (And just for the record, I don't.)

17.  Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

22.  Respect the wide diversity among us in our lives and relationships. Refrain from making prejudiced judgments about the life journeys of others. Do you foster the spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness which our discipleship asks of us? Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God.

And now you've read them, here's a photo I took from a recent excursion. I was going to say 'an irrelevant photo' but it's not, because the beauty of the natural world is never irrelevant.

I hope you have a good day, dear friends. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

It's wearing thin

Dave said yesterday that sometimes he feels like one of those zoo keepers who’s been looking after an animal for 30 years and one day goes into the cage and gets savaged.

After twelve weeks of lockdown I sometimes wish he would stop talking.

I also wish he would desist from opening the fridge door and peering in disconsolately and then shutting it. And then five minutes later doing the same thing again. It makes me jumpy.

Dave is much nicer than me in lockdown. But then he isn't really fed up with it. I have been asking people to rate how fed up they are on a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 is mildly irritated, and 10 is so fed up you feel like punching someone. The only thing bugging Dave is that he can't get DIY materials and he can't visit his sister. so he gives it a rating of 1.

Very occasionally I would have a rating of 2, but mostly it swerves between 4 and 7.

I spent yesterday morning trying to photograph my paintings in order to upload them for the King Lear competition. Two were not too tricky, but one has glitter on it, and no matter how we took the photo, we could not get the glitter to show up. Glitter shines when you view it from an angle, and of course, you have to photograph a painting directly from above. The glitter is an important feature of the painting, so I was stymied.

Dave said - "Well, you'll just have to treat it as a learning experience and know not to use glitter in future.”

Aaarggh. He is full of annoying teacherisms like that - comments that in no way  help with the problem in hand. 

“I’m not thinking about the future, I’m thinking about how to get this bloody thing uploaded now. I suppose I will have to post the thing. I shan’t get it back, but that doesn’t matter.”

Dave: “You can't do that! It's part of your portfolio - when you're the new Grandma Moses, it could be valuable.”

Oh, Dave. 

Yes, on the one hand this is sweetly supportive, but honestly! I'm a writer who has six published books under her belt and who still can't get an agent. Does he think I want to be a failed painter as well? Painting for me is an enjoyable break from reality. Nothing more.

I can’t show you any of the paintings just yet, so you can see these boots I drew instead.

Monday, June 08, 2020

The new plan

Last week I started having early morning nightmares again. And I spent this last weekend on the verge of tears. 

Why? The continuing police brutality in the USA, even while the world is watching; the realisation that the UK government doesn't care about our welfare and even if they did, they are not competent to look after us; the Brexit disaster; the frightening swing in world politics to right-wing populism; the continuing illness from Covid of my friend - after seven weeks; the death of a dear friend (already mentioned to you); the feeling of helplessness and inability to make a difference.

This morning I woke up after 8 hours sleep and no nightmares and am ready to tackle a new week, but I have a plan.

1. Only read the news in the morning. Never at night. And that includes Twitter. 

This is Mary Oliver's poem: 

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition

     is the best

for by evening you know that you at least 

     have lived through another day)

and let the disasters, the unbelievable

     yet approved decisions,

soak in.

I don't need to name the countries,

     ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces

     to the ground: ashamed, ashamed?

2.  Buy a copy of Why I am no longer talking to white people about race, and read it again. If you do not believe racism is endemic in the UK, I recommend you read this book. There's currently so much to read online about racism in the USA: this morning I found this piece interesting.

3.  Consider what I can do to support #BlackLivesMatter.

4.  Stop rushing to get as much as possible shoehorned into my days so that when I look back, these months of distance from ordinary life will not feel like a waste of time. I must calm down.  I will make a list in the morning of just three things I want to do before tea time, when I usually collapse.

6.  Find a new novel to read. I am enjoying Anna Karenina, but it is slow going. I go back to it in the evening because I think - Oh, I should read some more Anna Karenina (note the should) rather than looking forward to reading it in the same way I have looked forward to watching another episode of Call My Agent on Netflix.  I need a novel that enthrals me.  I don't want a whodunnit or a thriller or anything violent or harrowing. But I don't want slush, either. Do you have any suggestions, friends?

7.  Get my art submissions sent off to the King Lear competition for the over 70s.

Here, for your amusement, are two photos Liz took of me on a recent walk. The orange glove is so I can open gates without becoming infected. The other photo speaks for itself.

And here is my latest attempt at reading an extract from DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE. I've not read you this one before. Listen here.

I hope you all have a better week than the last one.