Saturday, October 31, 2020

Letter from home

You know those whodunnits where the cop asks a suspect 'What were you doing on the night of October 19th?' 

Do you ever think 'How can they possibly expect to remember that without checking their diary?' And if there was nothing in their diary, what then? 

Currently the only things in my diary are a vet appointment for Chione at 10 a.m. next Monday, and the boiler man coming at 3 p.m. the same day. Oh, and I suppose my zoom sax lesson every Thursday morning. That's it. Blank diary. It's technically an ON Christmas at Hepworth Towers this time, but who knows what that means this year? The world could have ended by December 25th.

But back to the diary, do you find the days all run together and you have no idea what the day of the week is, let alone the date?

This week I have done some stuff, but who knows when? This is a jumbled sample:

Had various Facetime conversations with friends and family, though currently I'm thinking of paring that down to the Coloradans, because the first Sunday my brother ever facetimed me (two weeks ago) he exclaimed 'You've got a double chin! That doesn't show on the photo on your blog!' The following Sunday he said 'Oh that's a better picture. I can see your wrinkles now.'

Even my good friend Chrissie came out with something like 'You know, Sue, Facetime can be rather cruel. You look much better in real life.'

The family in America are never rude. They are lovely.

Here are the girls in their Halloween costumes, which Wendy made for them.

Medusa, looking threatening, and Hermione from Harry Potter.

One afternoon I missed my dear friend Mary very badly. It swept in out of nowhere when I was painting. 

Other days, I've been on the phone so much it did my head in, trying to find an affordable quote to get my Hugs picture printed onto greetings cards, to raise money for Help Refugees

I think I've found a printer now: I am just waiting to check a sample of his work.

I've been cycling, walking, and I've been painting, as I said. Isaac takes beautiful photographs and I'm working on a painting based on this one he took recently when the family went on their annual trip to buy pumpkins.

On Thursday afternoon the postman brought my order of bare-rooted wallflowers, but nothing but heavy rain was forecast, and anyway, before I could plant them I had to pull up the last flowering cosmos, dig over the bed and plant tulip bulbs. The wallflowers are to share the bed with the tulips. 

On Friday morning at 8.30 the rain had not arrived so I spent a feverish hour doing all of the above, trying to beat the rain, and knackered myself for the rest of the day. This is what being 71 looks like. Oh yes, and add in the double chin (from sagging, not from fat) and the wrinkles. 

Which leads me into this poem by Mary Oliver, 

Lines written in the days of growing darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don't say
it's easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Chione the cat

I need to begin this vignette by telling you that our cat has been with us for 15 years and is the longest lived, by far, of any of our cats, but only lately has she begun to show us any kind of affection. And that is always on her terms, of course.

She has always hidden when we've had visitors, but in the last six months, she is very happy to cosy up to them because they all stay in the garden. Is that because she has an easy escape?

She is called Chione (pronounced key-ony, which is Greek for's an allusion to an ancient Roman prostitute - oh, ask Dave!), and this is what she looked like when she first came to live with us:

She is still as pretty, though rather bigger:

I am not sentimental about her because she has always been so touchy. The vet himself described her as 'full of character.' 

I have even been known to say in her hearing that Zoe's beloved late cat Chui was the nicest cat I have ever met.

Chione has become friendlier in the last few years. Maybe she's forgiven Dave for calling her after a prostitute.

Anyway, I have always been as kind to her as if were sentimental about her. Of course.

So when she was off-colour it was me who first noticed, well before her face was swollen. I took her to the vet and they diagnosed an abscess in her mouth. She needed that dealing with and a tooth taking out.

On Monday morning I left her at the vet's. You're not allowed in the building now. You have to phone them from the car park and they come out and take your pet from you. In case of bad weather, there's a gazebo with a metal topped table underneath.

When I went to collect her at teatime, it was dark and damp and a bright moon was flitting in and out of the clouds. It felt strange waiting outside for them to bring her out to me. Did I subconsciously feel as though I was collecting a child from school? I don't know, but I'd been waiting some time, and when the veterinary nurse had finished talking to someone else, I heard myself say "Hello. My name is Sue Hepworth and I've come to collect Chione Hepworth."

What? Chione Hepworth?  

I cringed. There was a woman standing 6 feet away from me, waiting for her pet, and I was so embarrassed to think she might have heard me, that I hastily told her what I'd said and what a fool I felt, and did she think it was the weird, unfamiliar scenario?  She seemed sympathetic, and said - 'Yes, it's all very strange, isn't it?' 

But now I'm thinking she might have been one of those pet owners who give their surname to their pets on the pet's gravestone. Does your pet share your surname?

I'm delighted to say that Chione is doing well, and almost back to her old self again.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Nature rarely disappoints

When I read the review of The Weekend by Charlotte Wood in the paper earlier this year, I was so excited I emailed two friends about it. In my last post I called it 'dreary.'  Yesterday I tried to finish it but ended up skim reading the last third. 

Since then I have been puzzling as to why a novel which I was so looking forward to reading, turned out to be so disappointing. 

I think I've worked it out. You would think that a novel about three women, old friends, spending a weekend together, would be rich in dialogue, wouldn't you? It isn't.

I'd say The Weekend is 35% description and action, 60% characters' introspection, and 5% dialogue - actually no, 2% dialogue. There is as much said to the dog-who-should-have-been-put-down-years-ago as there is to any of the 'friends.' And actually, the dialogue isn't even dialogue: it's speech.

It's often isolated statements with no response, such as:

'I've got a list.'

'I hope you don't get hydatids.'

'I charmed them.'

Whatever... Charlotte Wood is a best selling author, and a lot of people enjoyed this book. I am not saying it was not a good book: I'm just saying it wasn't for me. 

I have this one last niggling thought, though - if Charlotte Wood (55) was the same age as her characters (who are in their seventies), would there have been more dialogue? Is there none because she doesn't know what they would say?

My recent walks and the autumn colours have not been disappointing.

p.s. if I ever write a book about three women friends sharing living space you can be sure it will be packed with dialogue. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Books that made me

Every Saturday there's a column in the Guardian Review where a famous author is asked a series of questions about the books in their life.  Today it was Jeffery Deaver.

I am unlikely ever to appear in this column so I decided I'd do it myself on my blog...

1/ The book I am currently reading.

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood. It's about three old friends in their 70s who are spending a weekend together, clearing out the holiday cottage of a friend who has died. It was well reviewed and I was excited when I got it, but now I'm struggling. It's dreary.

2/ The book that changed my life. 

Plotting for Beginners, because it helped me make the move from being someone who just writes funny pieces in The Times to being a novelist.

3/ The book I wish I'd written. 

There isn't one. There are so many books I love, and so many I admire, but none that I wish I'd written. Actually, I find this an odd question. We write what's inside of us, don't we? Fantasy wise, perhaps I wish I'd written a small collection of poems that touched people's hearts. The book itself would be a thing of beauty, with an aesthetically pleasing cover, lovely fonts and delicious endpapers.

4/ The book that had the biggest influence on my writing.

This is a hard question. And the answer varies from time to time. This morning the book that springs to mind is Nora Ephron's Heartburn, because of just one sentence:

" 'Now you can sing these songs to Sam' was part of the disgusting inscription and I can't begin to tell you how it sent me up the wall, the idea of my two-year-old child, my baby, involved in some dopey inscriptive way in this affair between my husband, a fairly short person, and Thelma Rice, a fairly tall person with a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb and you should see her legs, never mind her feet, which are sort of splayed.”

This showed me you can do anything you like with a sentence, and how funny you can be while breaking the rules of grammar that I learned at school.

5/ The book I think is most underrated.

I don't know. But I do think that as a genre, well-written children's books are underrated. It is is very hard to write a good children's book, and many people  do not appreciate this.

6/ The book that changed my mind.

Perhaps All the Light We Cannot See, because it made me realise that there are some books set in WW2 that I could enjoy.

7/ The last book that made me cry.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I am currently boring everyone to death telling them how good this novel is. It's interesting, educative, well-written, gripping and very moving.

8/ The last book that made me laugh.

Heartburn, which I just opened in order to check on that sentence. I don't read many funny books, even though I do listen to comedy on the radio, and watch lots of it on screen.

9/ The book I couldn't finish.

Stacks and stacks. I don't believe in continuing to read something I am not enjoying. There are so many fantastic books out there and life is short. That's why I have never wanted to join a bookclub. It smacks too much of homework. This year I gave up on Anna Karenina 40 pages from the end. It looks as though The Weekend might be the next fatality, but it's fairly short, so I will probably buckle down and finish it.

10/ The book I am most ashamed not to have read. 

I think this is a silly question.

11/ The book I give as a gift. 

When I first came across Homestead by Rosina Lippi, I gave a copy to all my close friends. Now I don't give books. Books are so personal: I find it difficult when people give me books as gifts because I feel I have to read them, even if they are not my taste.

12/ My comfort read.

I have a lot of books I class as comfort reads, including Mary Oliver collections,  and (dare I say it?) both the Plotting books, which I dip into for my favourite bits. The last comfort read I turned to was Mary Wesley's Part of the Furniture, which is the only Wesley book I like. Top of my comfort reading is Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor.

13/ The book I'd most like to be remembered for.

Days Are Where We Live. Have you read it yet? Follow the link and read the reviews.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Monsal Trail in autumn

Oh the joy of a warm, damp October morning when the forecast says there's a 65% chance of rain and tourists stay away from the Monsal Trail.

Oh the joy of cycling up it and meeting just a handful of other people. I love the quiet Trail.

Monday, October 19, 2020

My Covid life in Tier 1

Every few days I think to myself 'I really ought to write another blog post' and then I sigh. What is there to say in the situation I'm in - that many of us are in - right now?

I lead such a small life because of Covid, in the attempt to stay safe and not bring the virus home. It's not objectively an unpleasant life - I live in a lovely place with a garden where there is always a job calling out to be done; I have a good stock of art materials; I have my sax; I have books; I am fit enough to walk and cycle, and the surrounding countryside is beautiful; my three 'children' and their families keep in touch by phone; Dave is here.

Yes, Dave is here, sending me emails like this:

I think these are pretty good. I’d definitely like one of these. They are not cheap, but at near the bottom end of the scale. I don’t think they are extravagant, and it would go on the roof-rack if it isn’t raining. You’d need help to get it up there.

Despite all his Carpe Diem-ing, Dave's obsession with preparing us for death is ever present. Do you remember Richard in Plotting for Beginners? Yes, of course he was based on Dave.

Exhibit A:

Richard’s mind is still on funerals.

This morning he said: “I thought it would save money if I built coffins for you and me and Gus. It could be my next project.”

“We’re in our fifties, Richard, not our eighties.”

“Forward planning.”

“Where would we store them? In the shed?”

“Yes, but it would be even better to design them with a dual purpose. I could make them double as bookcases until we needed them.”

“Mmmm,” I said, munching on my toast and wanting him to shut up so I could get back to reading Janina Lemon’s column.

“Or better still,” he said, “have them on castors under the bed, use them as storage for blankets or whatever, and then when the person dies you could pull out the coffin, empty it and then just roll the corpse off the side of the bed—plop—into the coffin.”

Dave is wonderful company, but you could be excused for thinking I would like someone else to talk to as well as Dave. But I go nowhere except occasionally to sit in a friend's garden for coffee or - thank you, Chrissie - a long lunch, and then every two weeks to a weird version of Quaker Meeting in which only twelve of us can attend because of social distancing, and we all wear masks, and the rest of the Meeting joins us on zoom.

This lack of social stimulation is not good for a Sue. 

I have not seen my local grandchildren since the start of school term. I was going to go for fish and chips in their garden last week but then Zoë rang to say she thought she was coming down with something and we decided to cancel, just in case.

As I was in town to drop off a birthday present for a friend, I swung by Zoë's house and talked to them all on the doorstep briefly, from 6 feet away. That was nice, but strangely, not enough...

Last night the Colorado family called on Facetime. Cece played me a tune on her ukelele. She was bubbling with excitement. She was literally jumping up and down (and yes I mean literally...I ask you, what is a writer supposed to say now that the  word literally has been debased?) as she told me that she's going back to school in person this week!!!!!!!!! 

(and that is the only time ever you will see a superfluity of exclamation marks in anything I have written.)

(Blimey, this post is becoming way too self-referential.)

And then I had an intimate, quarter-of-an-hour conversation with 10 year old Lux. That was the highlight of my day, probably of my week.

The grandchildren lift my heart when no-one else can. 

I am, I realise, very lucky.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Make good art

It's a whole week since I posted. I'm sorry my posts are so few and far between these days.

This was the lovely light through the bedroom window when Dave drew the blind this morning.

I haven't been too miserable to post, and I haven't been writing, I've been trying to make 'good art.'

I know I've shared this quote from Neil Gaiman before, but it still holds good.

I've been attempting to make a perfect copy of a design because I want to have it printed on greetings cards - multi purpose greetings cards - and then sell them in aid of one of my favourite charities - HELP REFUGEES.

This is the latest draft:

Hugs       © Sue Hepworth

I am happy with the design itself, it's the getting-it-perfect-enough-to-print bit that I'm struggling with. Onward and upward: I'll get there.

The Monsal Trail is looking lovely these days, with the leaves turning, and I really should have taken some photos for you yesterday when I was out on my bike ride. Instead I was thinking about the light at the end of the tunnel. 

It's there, even if we can't always see it. Or even imagine it. 
These difficult times won't last forever.

Thursday, October 08, 2020


I wrote this post in my notebook, at Monsal Head, in the same place where Sol and Frances sat on page 296 of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU.

"They got mugs of coffee from the café, and walked away from the ice cream van and the benches full of tourists with their glasses of beer and their cameras, along the path below the car park between the waving grasses and delicate blue cranesbill and the tall creamy chervil. They sat on the wooden bench at the end, in amongst the nettles, under a rowan tree. They sat quietly and looked at the view. The river in the valley below was dark, but its surface glittered in the sunlight."

But the sun wasn't shining, the meadow cranesbill was long dead, and it was cold and damp. It suited my mood.

What do you do if you've had six months of a pandemic with its restrictions and losses, but you've not had a loved one die, or your wedding cancelled, or your job or house taken away, nor are you in imminent danger of either/both - basically, you're one of the lucky ones - and yet you're so fed up that when someone asks you why, you say 'I can give you twenty reasons, straight up, without even stopping to think'?

Do you write your blog? Or do you think it more seemly to shut up until you can write a more cheerful post?

Today a friend who had printed a piece of art for me called to deliver it, and we stood in the hall wearing masks for five minutes while I paid him and thanked him and he gave me some much needed advice on how to proceed with the art in question. Then after Dave and I had admired his new bike rack, he left.

In normal circumstances I would have invited him into the kitchen for a coffee and a piece of cake and a half hour chat about this and that.

Because of 'staying safe' I didn't, and after he'd gone I felt desperate. It is so unnatural not to be hospitable, not to invite people into your home. I hate this half-life, stripped of hugs and easy camaraderie, of variety, and trips, touching without thinking and events to look forward to.

There. I said it. And there was I, thinking that reading a memoir of the Blitz would toughen me up.

What is worse? Having to make do with one ounce of cheese a week, and being under constant air raids and the risk of losing your house and everything in it, which includes you and your family?

Or doing without easy socialising, physical closeness and hugs?

It's so obvious, isn't it?

Sue Hepworth > niminy piminy whinging wuss.

This video about Covid, however, always cheers me up

Cece made it all on her own with no advice or assistance or previous discussion.

When I texted her and told her I loved it and could we Facetime? She texted back 'Let's do Google meet. I will email you a link.' She is 8. 

Friday, October 02, 2020

It will pass

"Are you all right?" Dave said first thing.

"Yes, yes. I woke myself up too early to get out of an annoying dream. I was having a date with a science teacher from Macclesfield who I'd met online, and we were in the kitchen and I was offering him a drink, going through all the varieties I had and it made me sound as if I'm a heavy drinker, and the kids were there - but they were children - and you were in the sitting room, and-"

"Enough! Please don't tell me any more."


"Are you all right?" Dave said.

I had got up and dressed and gone downstairs and not found the motivation to play the sax or paint or draw or do anything useful and I was back in bed (with all my clothes on) reading the Blitz book.

"What's up?" he said.

"The news. This government. Their vile ideas for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers. It was the final straw."


"What's up?" Dave said.

"I've told you. I'm feeling low. It will pass. I've been fine for a few weeks and I've suddenly slumped. Lots of people are having mental health problems in the pandemic, you know."

"I'm not."

"I know. And I'm just feeling low.  And it will pass."

Dave went out on his bike and I dithered for twenty minutes as to whether to ride my bike or go for a walk. I decided to walk, and to do my favourite local one because it reminds me of Wensleydale. Sometimes when I'm on it, I pretend it IS Wensleydale. It was grey and blowy but wonderful anyway, and I took some photographs. 

I love this bit because the fact that the path runs between two walls shows how ancient it is.

Now I'm going to try to paint a dry stone wall with lichen on it.

I hope your spirits are up, and you have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Learning about hardship

"I've decided to read some eye witness accounts of life in the UK during the war and see if I can absorb some wisdom and stoicism and learn how to get on with it and stop moaning."

That was me writing on the blog in August. Well I have finally got round to it: I'm  reading a war memoir to inject some mettle into my soul. I've started with A Chelsea Concerto, a vividly written memoir of living through the Blitz. I've never read much about WW2 and this is illuminating. It was written by an artist who lived in Chelsea. She was well enough off to have her own housekeeper but when war was declared she seems to have spent most of her time volunteering -  in nursing, communications, teaching English, and translating for refugees.

She describes the huge influx of refugees from the continent, and her work with them. Locals were asked to donate unwanted clothes and household items, and the results reminded me of the first drive for clothes for refugees in 2016-17. In 1940, people donated evening gowns and top hats, just as in our time, unthinking people donated wedding dresses.

But the thing that has challenged me most so far is the willingness of parents to send their children off to unknown destinations on evacuation trains. I have never been able to imagine myself doing that with my three children. I was discussing it with an old friend in the garden the other day and she said her mother's East End house had been bombed in the Blitz, and maybe if mine had been too, I would have been happy to send my kids to safety.

Personal experience is so powerful isn't it?

I wonder if all those people complaining about 'restrictions to their civil liberties' in being asked to wear masks have had friends or relatives who have died of Covid, or who are suffering from long Covid, or who, like Michael Rosen, have had their health permanently damaged by the virus.