Monday, September 28, 2020

The quiet life

I live such a quiet life these days, that I worry about premature aging and also having nothing to talk about.

But I am learning to take the days one at a time, and wringing as much enjoyment out of them as I possibly can.

On Friday I had tea (evening meal to you southerners) with Chrissie in her garden. My garden is always windy and last time she came here, Dave upended the table tennis table to see if it would work as a windbreak. It didn't. 

Chrissie's garden is sheltered, but it was cold on Friday, so I wore two jumpers, jeans, a scarf and my winter coat. I also took a blanket to drape over my knees. We were warm, and we had an excellent evening. We had such a good time we didn't even notice it getting dark. 

We can do it again, and as Chrissie said, after the clocks change and it's dark at 6, we can do lunch instead.

Nothing much has changed for Dave and me since April - the last six months have been spent at home and I've had a tiny social circle.

I've not been away, 

I've had solo bike rides and walks,

walks with Dave, 

walks with one friend at a time, 

I've sat and chatted in friends' and families gardens (no more than two friends at a time),

I've not been in other peoples' houses, supermarkets, cinemas, pubs, cafes, restaurants, or anywhere crowded.

And this is a tally of the shops I've been to:

once to art supplies, the post office, and the jeweller to get a new watch battery; 

twice to the village shop; three times to the petrol station. 

I've been to Quaker Meeting three times, where there were less than 12 people (because that's all we can fit in with social distancing) and everyone was wearing masks.

We've been getting deliveries from the milkman, the greengrocer and latterly from Sainsbury's and it's worked OK, but I have got sick of not being able to choose my own fruit and veg. 

And when this month the new Cox apple season arrived I was desperate to sink my gnashers into a cox. Eating the first cox of the season is almost orgasmic. Two weeks ago the greengrocer assured me he had coxes in stock but the delivery guy brought Worcester Permains. Oh the disappointment!

Last week he raised my hopes again but no coxes arrived, and the village shop had only red delicious and golden delicious. Why growers are still bothering with golden delicious baffles me. You'd think that with all the extinct species there are these days that golden delicious apples could be one of them. I'd rather eat a raw potato.

I was so gutted I went online and found a fruit farm in Essex selling new season coxes. I ordered two boxes and with delivery, the price of each apple works out at about 40 pence. Three days later the apples arrived and they are beyond my imaginings in terms of taste, juiciness and crunchiness. 

They are disappearing at an indecent rate because they're fabulous. They are so fabulous I'm going to tell you the name of the fruit farm: 

G.E.Elsworth and Son, Park Fruit Farm, Pork Lane, Great Holland, Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, CO13 0ES 

The only other news I have is that I have just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See and it's been wonderful - beautifully written, serious, gripping and moving, and I will probably read it again. 

What have you been reading that you'd recommend?

Oh yes, and here's my latest painting. It's called Margaritas.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

On the brink

Did you ever see the 1980s Anne of Green Gables adaptation with Megan Follows in the title role? I loved it so much I haven't been able to warm to the Netflix Anne with an E. Anyway...there's a scene near the end, where Gil and Anne meet near a bridge in the late afternoon and Gil (I think) asks Anne if she'd like to go for a walk, saying it could be the last sunny evening there is. I love that scene. It's so evocative of a lovely September evening.

Here on Wednesday, the weather was forecast to change, so Tuesday afternoon felt like the last warm sunny day we'd have until 2021. It also coincided with the official recognition of a second wave of Covid, so the last day of summer felt even sadder than usual, bearing in mind the lack of socialising there'll be in the coming months.

I felt I needed to do something to mark the occasion, so I made myself a large margarita and got Dave (a non-drinker) to come and sit in the garden with me for company. And I have to tell you that margaritas are so magical that even if you have a teetotaller companion, you can still have fun. 

I asked Dave to take a photo with my phone to mark the occasion, though he has still not mastered the art of taking photos on a phone. No matter how many times I explain to him that the lightest, shortest touch is required, he keeps his finger on the 'button' so long it sounds as if the paparazzi are there, and we get a burst of eighteen photos instead of one. I explain again, but he never gets it and it always creases me up. 

The man has a brain the size of a planet, and skills to match, so his photo-taking-disability is a mystery. (Even with a camera he's a doofus. And I'm not being cruel: he would agree with me.)

But as I said, his skills are legion, and he is still carving mottos and injunctions and scattering them around the house. I showed you the first ones, didn't I?

and yet more:

Although they are lovely carvings, they drive me nuts because I already try to squeeze as much into my days as I can, and Dave's mottoes just add to my self-imposed pressure. 

I told him this, but it hasn't stopped him.

Here are the latest two to arrive on the dresser.

First this one:

and then the baldest:

Aaaargh! The pressure, the pressure!

I complained about it to my sax teacher, a woman who is ridiculously fond of Dave, and she said: "You should make your own sign - 'Eff off!' "

He laughed.

We were chatting in the garden about how lucky we are in the current situation (pensions, house, etc) - how there are so many people with jobs and homes at risk, and people under all kinds of other pressures. 

So on the brink of six months of short days, dark nights, and long periods between seeing loved ones, I've decided my remit is to stay healthy and cheerful and to try to be kind. 

(I could add 'not become an alcoholic' to that, but as I only have one glass of wine a day and a margarita, on average, once every two months, I don't think I need to worry.)

I am also working on an art project with which I'm hoping to raise money for the charity Help Refugees.

This is the work in progress:

I'll tell you more about it when I am past the next stage.

In the meantime, here's something to think about - a video I've lifted from the charity's website:

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Three generations

Last week, my 10 year old granddaughter Lux 

did an exercise at school where she was given a list of sentences to complete, each beginning with an 'I' and a verb.

Isaac (her dad and my son) shared it with Dave and me (and the world, too, actually.)

I said to Isaac (47) 

that it would be interesting to think what he might have written when he was 10, and what he'd write now. So he sent me his own completion of the sentences:

I am a father, husband, and provider.

I wonder what's going to happen with everything.

I hear the news and it's awful everywhere.

I see the world and it looks like end times.

I want respite. Long for it.

I am a father, husband, and provider.


I imagine a great future for my kids.

I feel optimistic, in spite of everything.

I touch the world through a screen.

I worry that humans aren't equipped to be connected like this.

I cry very rarely indeed.

I am a father, husband, and provider.


I understand people only barely.

I say one should do one's best.

I dream fretfully.

I try always to remember how fortunate I am.

I hope we can figure this out as a species.

I am a father, husband, and provider.


I am Isaac.

And then I sent him mine, which I wrote straight off, without prior thought. I am 70.

Here it is:

I am a grandmother and a little-known writer.

I wonder if I’ll ever get a publisher.

I hear too much awful news.

I see beauty all around me.

I want a kind, just and honest government.

I am a Quaker.

I imagine things will just get worse and worse.

I feel sad and outraged that people are not kinder to refugees.

I touch my cosmos and tell them how nice they are.

I worry I’ll never see my American grandchildren again.

I cry when people I love are suffering.

I am doing my best.

I understand what is important in life now I’m old.

I say I will never write another book and then I do.

I dream about my parents.

I try to be kind.

I hope things will get better soon.

I am tired of waking up and reading bad news.

I am Sue.

My cosmos

Tuesday, September 15, 2020



I had a wonderful day yesterday.

I cycled to the end of a quiet Monday morning Trail and took a video for you but although it is only 19 seconds long, it's apparently too large to upload without using YouTube. It consisted of sunlight on lovely trees and shimmering water. I'm afraid you'll have to imagine it.

Here is today's dawn instead:

And in the afternoon, I sat in the sunshine and drew.

One day I will fit a drawing onto the paper. You'd think A3 would be big enough.

The cat moved after I'd drawn in her outline, which is why she isn't completed.

This drawing took me one and a half hours and I had to stop to make tea before I could do the fringes on the blanket. I'm sure van Gogh never had this problem. (No, Sue. He had others.)

A friend sent me a video this morning which I want to share with you. It's on Facebook (which I don't have) but you can see it anyway. 

Here in red is the title and the link:

Four minutes of eye contact brings people together better than everything else. Arthur Aron, psychologist.

In case you cannot read French, refugees were paired with ordinary people in Berlin whom they had never met before: some Germans, Italians, Polish, British and Belgian.

I found it moving and heartwarming. After watching it and thinking about it, the psychologist in me pointed out that the Europeans engaged here must have already been sympathetic people in order to agree to join in. But still. It's a wonderful video. And they WERE strangers. Look at the connections. 

“Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Brene Brown

It's why I write this blog.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Not everything is pants

I don't know about you, but I feel as if I am on a train hurtling inexorably towards a cliff with a thousand foot drop. The train is 'manned' by incompetents with dubious motivations and everyone onboard is powerless to stop the drivers or the train. 

This could be why I had another deep dark blip a week ago and Dave had to give me a good talking to. This is why I haven't blogged for six days. I've been concentrating on the day to day, and soaking up every bit of September sunshine I can. 

Dawn on the bedroom wall

And it's been good. I've not been thinking about the dark days to come when the garden is too cold for entertaining. I've been living in the moment.

It's been especially good because I had some stonking bike rides, and three visitors to the garden on three subsequent days, drinking tea, eating plums, chatting, and looking at the view over the garden wall.

I had another helpful art lesson on Wednesday.

This is what I'm working on:

Acrylic and pastel
Acrylic and pastel

It's inspired by this photo I took in Boulder in March:

I'm enjoying drawing and painting but I don't think I'll ever be consumed by it, the way I have been by writing. It could be to do with confidence, though. 

On Thursday I came back to the real world and wrote to my MP twice, both times about refugees. The second letter was to ask her to support Lord Alf Dubs who has written to Priti Patel in the wake of the catastrophic fire on Lesbos. 

The refugee camp on Moria which housed more than 12,000 refugees (though it was built for a quarter of that number) burned down this week. The fire took everything: tents, bedding, clothing, photos, vital documents. 

Everyone is now sleeping out in the open, and this includes 4,000 children, 407 of whom are unaccompanied and vulnerable. Lord Alf Dubs has urged the Home Secretary to relocate and welcome some of these children to the UK. Other countries are doing their bit. We should do  too. Perhaps you'd like to write to Priti Patel and your MP about it? Or donate to the relief effort here?

In the afternoon I helped arrange a room at Bakewell Meeting House so the children at Meeting have a base there. All soft furnishings removed. Everything that could not be moved, covered up. So there are now just tables and chairs and nothing else. They will each have a tray with paper and felt tips and other stationery, but there won't be books, or the big colourful floor cushions they use to make dens while the adults are having coffee and chat after Meeting. Except of course, the adults won't be having coffee and chat after Meeting, because of COVID restrictions. 

I was telling a young person about it all later and she said: 'It's pants, isn't it?' I like that expression: it's such a neat, understated way of summing things up right now.

How are you keeping your spirits up? What are you reading? What are you watching?

I've just worked my way through all 9 series of Call the Midwife, watching an episode a night, last thing before I go to sleep. It's been perfect. Now I'm going to try A Suitable Boy, but after that I'm open to offers. Please, can someone suggest a series or serial that consists of story, that is serious but not dark?

I like Call the Midwife because it combines serious issues with comedy and whimsy and underneath it all is a bedrock of kindness and morality. Plus, of course, there are all those moving births. 

Enough. I'm going to stop bubling on and leave you with a lovely new review of EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU

and also a link to a post on a blog called Clothes in Books, where the blogger reads and comments on my most recent book DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE.

Here is the link.

Have a good weekend, friends. Not everything is pants. 

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Letter from home

Did you see those lifestyle articles in the papers early on in lockdown where women said that as they were never going out, they were giving up wearing bras because they wanted to be comfortable?

Well, six months of dealing with the pandemic has led me to cross my own line. For the first time ever I had a social engagement wearing my elephant trousers. which I mean someone other than Dave saw me in them. On Thursday I had been in need of some self-cosseting (brought on by the dystopia out there I can do nothing to make any better)  and Liz came to sit in the garden for coffee and chat, and I did not change before she arrived. 

If the elephant trousers (bought circa 1983)  were in a clothing catalogue, they'd be described as soft grey fleecy track pants with drawstring waist and pale turquoise trim down the side, or in the case of a pair currently available from Wrap I've been wondering about

These relaxed and cool trousers are chic and comfortable. Trimmed with velvet on the outside leg, they're more luxe than lounge.

Enough of the descriptions, the point is that not only has my hair not been cut since February, but as I can go days without seeing anyone but Dave and the occasional delivery man, I have given up dressing for style. 

There is a long cold winter with little social contact ahead, and I am currently ogling another pair of fleecy track pants. I worry that when the world gets back to normal my standards will have slipped so far I'll even have ditched my dungarees, and I'll have nothing in the wardrobe apart from warm and cosy trousers with elasticated waists. 

The other line I crossed is that I read and enjoyed a Booker winner: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. I've read and enjoyed winners of the Orange Prize, the Pulitzer and the Costa before but never the Booker. What's going on? Did the judges make some mistake? It's SO ACCESSIBLE. It's very good. Have you read it?

In other news, I've been having some art lessons on zoom. They've been educative, interesting and stimulating. Unfortunately I've been hit by a hard truth.

I had thought that painting would be nothing but fun, unlike writing a novel, where although I might have in my head some appealing characters, entertaining dialogue and interesting themes, it needs a plot to bring it all together. And plotting for me is difficult.

It turns out that although I might be OK at drawing, have a good eye for colour, and be able to translate energy to the canvas, it needs prior hard thinking as to composition to make it all come together. Bugger. 

It's the same old lesson: apart from a minute number of incredibly talented and rare individuals, achieving creative success requires hours and hours of hard work.

But the highlight of the past week was going to Quaker meeting in our meeting house in Bakewell. It has been closed since the end of March and last Sunday we had our first Meeting under new restrictions: two metres apart and everyone wearing masks. Our Meeting room could only accommodate 12 under those conditions, with all other Friends joining us from home via zoom. But it worked for everyone. 

When I first went in and sat down I was so delighted to be there I was moved to tears, at the same time as wanting to stand up and shout 'Whoop-whoop!'

The river Wye in Bakewell 

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Where we are

The berries on our hawthorn tree are turning red, the sweet pea stalks are now too short for picking, the autumn sunsets have begun

We've arrived. It's arrived.

The caterpillars have eaten my nasturtiums:

so I'll have to give up drawing them;

the fabulous grandsons are going back to school so seeing them will feel perilous, when it never did before;

and Dave says his work shirt has lost it's (his word) "cachet." 

I told him it never had cachet, but...his ideas about clothes do not align with mine.

Have you bought my new book DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE yet?

Here's a taster which appears in the book  - a piece I had in the Times some years ago about Dave's clothes, when he could still have been described as middle aged:

Marks and Spencer’s U turn: succour for the middle aged male

 This may be the era of the grey pound when trendy fifty-somethings refuse to grow old, and avidly scan the fashion pages for what is hip. But there is a sartorially disreputable underbelly of middle aged men who are unmoved  by new styles, and who wish it was still the 1950’s when custard was custard, and middle aged men were middle aged men, in cardigans and slippers. These are the men whose wives buy all their clothes for them, who would like to wear the same thing year in and year out, and who don’t care whether black is the new black, or if bottoms are the new bust, as long as M&S still stock the same trousers as they did three years ago.

Since M&S moved away from “classically stylish” clothes, and began trying to keep up with the competition, wives who could formerly swoop in and rekit their husbands in half an hour, have been traipsing the high street looking for the middle aged look that doesn’t exist any more.

Granted, Oxfam is a godsend: I recently found four M&S (as new) shirts in my local branch for £2.99 each. And in the past few years my husband has bought three perfectly respectable jackets there.

This is the university educated, middle class professional who reached the age of forty without owning a suit, and who took Richard Branson as his role model in dispensing with ties. Some years ago he had an important job interview coming up, and he temporarily put aside his favourite Thoreau dictum that you should beware of all enterprises that require new clothes: I was dispatched to buy him a suit. Still reeling from the idea that my husband would not be visiting the shop, the shop assistant offered me something as “the most up to date style,” and was horrified when I explained that I needed a classic design that wouldn’t date, as the item would be worn for interviews only, and would be the only suit my spouse would ever own.

Having finally acquired a suit from M&S, we realised that he had no black shoes to go with it. We found some old beige ones in the back of the wardrobe and transformed them with a bottle of instant shoe colour. But during the interview, my husband was disconcerted to see the panel chairman staring at my husband’s shoes, transfixed. The black dye was flaking off the shoes, and revealing the old colour underneath. (No, he didn’t get the job.)

Whilst M&S have been chasing hot fashion, there has been an increasing danger of these middle-aged men - children in the market place - losing their way. For the past few years, two pairs of old patched jeans have been sufficient garb for my husband’s favourite pastime of DIY. But these got to the stage of being knee deep in three layers of patches, with new rips appearing just above the patch zone. One day I heard pathetic whimpering coming from my husband’s deep litter clothes storage system in the bedroom: it was the said jeans begging to be given sanctuary in the fabric recycling bin.

He let them go, and in our local agricultural suppliers he was seduced by a Dickies boiler suit in a subtle bottle green, for only £25. Here was a garment he could relate to. It was practical, comfortable, warm, commodious, cheap and had, joy of joy, 9 pockets, three of which were zipped.

But the boiler suit was so new, so comfortable, so smart, he refused to wear it for jobs such as mending the shed roof, because it might get dirty. Instead he would don it as soon as he got home from work, slipping into it as “smart leisure wear.” At the weekend he would wear nothing else, and I colluded with him, and bought him another one in navy blue.

I was on the point of persuading him that in fact they weren’t classy leisurewear, when, by some freak chance, he spotted a men’s fashion article in a colour supplement. This featured a boiler suit by Kenzo Homme, at ten times the price of his. He was trendily dressed – the only recorded time since student days.

Last week, something similar happened. The family had at last convinced him that his battered sixties white leather belt (with the white cracking off ) was past it, and I was off to M&S for a new black one. Then the photo appeared in the paper: Bob Dylan clutching a Golden Globe award and wearing a black suit with a white leather belt. Apparently, “If it’s good enough for Bob Dylan, it’s good enough for me.”

            So, come on M&S. Take the weight from our shoulders, and get back to what you do well: providing clothes for middle aged men who want to dress as they’ve always done. They can be boring and respectable, and we can have the biggest bit of the clothing budget.

Copyright: Sue Hepworth/Times newspapers