Monday, November 30, 2020

Holding it all together

How are you? 

I hope you're holding it all together in body and spirit. It's a marathon, isn't it?

I have a home and a pension and someone to talk to and hug, so I am one of the lucky ones. Even so, I miss my family. I really miss my family. 

Yesterday I was on a Quaker zoom call and someone unexpectedly played a dance tune and I couldn't resist getting up to dance, though one or two on the call might not have thought it appropriate. But out of sight of the camera I burst into tears. Out of nowhere. Why? There's obviously a deep sadness underneath this smiling Sue.   

Today is forecast as rainy, so I am going to finish the quilt I assembled in the summer and put away in the cupboard uncompleted:

I have to add the wadding and the backing and sew them together and then bind the edges. This entails spreading all three layers out on the floor and making sure each layer is perfectly smooth, then tacking through them - all over, from the centre outwards  - to fasten them securely, and then sew round the edges. I HATE this part of the process, but then I hate so many elements of quilting that with every single quilt, I wonder why I am doing it.  

It's the colour, of course. I am a sucker for colour. Painting is having fun with colour, without the intense irritation and the blood:

But you can't spread a painting on your bed to cheer you up when you wake to yet another dark and gloomy December morning in the middle of a pandemic.

The good news is that my HUGS art cards are selling fast - and all in aid of the charity Help Refugees. If you'd like some before they sell out, click here.

N.B. they are blank inside so multi-purpose.

Onward and upward friends - remember the mantra - stay healthy, stay cheerful, and try to be kind.

Here, for your delectation, is Friday's sunset along the lane:

Friday, November 27, 2020

The pink dawn

When Mary was dying I googled 'poems to read to the dying' and alighted on the blog of the poet Anthony Wilson - Lifesaving Poems. This was not what I'd been searching for, but it turned out to be a personal solace.

This week at Hepworth Towers we received some sad news about a friend, and the shock sent me whirling up and down and sideways all the week. I found my copy of the published collection Lifesaving Poems  which came out four months after Mary died, and which sat on my bedside table all that year. After dipping into that, I opened Staying Alive.

I don't know why I find poetry comforting when all else fails, but I do.

Here's one that I posted last November, but which seems particularly pertinent to our national news right now. I have permission from the publisher to to share it with you.

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.


This is the dawn light on the edge behind our house this morning:

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Just in case

I thought one of you might find this poem helpful today. Ellen Bass has given me her permission to share it with you.

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Ellen Bass

Last evening's sunset down the lane

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Christmas plans at Hepworth Towers

Have you decided yet what you'll be doing at Christmas?

At Hepworth Towers it is technically a year for an ON Christmas, but we'd already decided that no matter what the "government" (quotes intended) said, for us it would be OFF. I yearn to spend warm family time with all the chundies, but as most of them are out in the world of work and school, we don't think it would be wise. It looks as though Christmas cake in the garden will have to suffice. 

Dave knows what a loss it will be for me not having them all sitting round my Christmas table and later playing games, and he's determined to do what he can to cheer things along....

"We'll banish the virus and pack you full of fattening food and have you lying on the sofa surrounded by all kinds of Christmas gewgaws and Yuletide trinkets."

Er, thanks, Dave. Not quite what I...

He has also been making Christmas decorations from scraps he's found in the shed and hanging them up - already.

If you're new to the blog, you won't realise how revolutionary - or downright sweet - his behaviour is. This man LOATHES Christmas. 

Last night we heard Joan Bakewell talking about a family using a huge plastic sheet to throw over family members so they could have a hug and I said - "Ooh, ooh, that's what I want for Christmas - a shower curtain!"

Dave: "I think I've got some damp-proof membrane in the shed."

Me: "That thick blue stuff?"

Dave: "Yes, it's just the ticket."

Me: "I want to see them, you fool!"

Cece (8) Colorado techno queen has been deputed to set up a family zoom, and I need to persuade all the introverted Hepworths to join in - just for me.

Whatever happens, we'll be fine. The rigours of so many past OFF Christmases have taught me well. And there's a vaccine coming. Yippee!

Plus, we live in a beautiful place. 

Look at last evening's sky. 

I just want to point out that the HUGS cards I'm selling in aid of the charity Help Refugees are NOT Christmas cards. They are blank inside. 

If you'd like to buy some, follow this link.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Where the HUGS card came from

It's been wonderful this week to have a practical project to get my teeth into that is doing something positive for refugees. Folding and packing my Hugs cards while listening to Billie Holiday was just the ticket to combat the louring grey skies.

I first started drawing hugs in August:

I'd been missing my family and looking at photographs of them and finding myself homing in on the photos with hugs, such as this one:

and this one:

This is where I'd got to by September 2nd.

I carried on trying various hugs, different colours, and different arrangements, and then when I'd got the design to my liking, I tried various treatments e.g. having a colour wash behind the lines. I also tried altering the emphasis of the lines to introduce depth into the design, but I quickly realised that that wasn't what I wanted. I wanted a design in one plane. and this is where I ended up:

Everyone who is in it is in my family or extended family. I am in it twice, and so is my daughter-in-law, the lovely Jaine (with different hairstyles) not because we are more important, obviously, but because those specific hugs worked best.

So there you have it: Hugs.

If you'd like to buy some Hugs cards, follow this link.

Every penny you pay goes to the work of the charity, Help Refugees, because I am paying printing and postage costs.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Have a hug!

I'm so excited! 

My HUGS cards arrived from the printers yesterday. 

Here's me, folding them and putting them into packs of 5.

The envelopes to post them out arrive on Monday, but I can take orders now.

100% of what you pay goes to the charity Help Refugees.

They are only available in the UK, I'm afraid. And stocks are limited, so order soon if you want some, before they run out.

Here is the link to my fundraising page with full details of how to buy them: 

Monday, November 16, 2020


You know I said last week that I watch Neighbours "because the characters are familiar and there's the plot that drags you on?"

Well Friday's episode defied my expectations. I was blobbing on the sofa, soaking it all up, and Chloe, a central character in a current explosive plotline, started talking to her husband. The camera switched to her husband and it was a man we had never seen before! I thought she must be hallucinating - that the current plotline had side-swerved into something else - a mental health issue, perhaps. 

But then this guy was in other scenes with other people, so I realised he really was her husband and they had just changed the actor. It was weird, seriously weird. I am used to a character going away and coming back months or years later to be played by another actor, but never someone being switched mid plotline. The reason for this switch was Covid-related. 

Do looks matter?

I once told a conservative headteacher complaining about the hairstyle of one of my children that Dave and I had brought our children up to think that it doesn't matter what you look like: what matters is what you're like inside, and how you behave.

I am now having to suck up that little bit of wisdom. Big-time. As if the comments from my brother Pete and my friend Chrissie about what I look like on Facetime weren't bad enough, Lux (10) took a screenshot of me as we were Facetiming this week and the results were horrific. 

The last time I wrote a blog post about wrinkles was in September 2015. I am a firm believer that people don't age gradually, but in big leaps every few years. I aged in 2015 when Mary died, and now the pandemic has done for me. My face has collapsed so much in the last year that it looks like one of those old potatoes you find at the bottom of the veg rack, although so far it hasn’t sprouted. When next year I see faraway family members I don't usually Facetime they will be horrified.

I told Cece (8) yesterday that in future I'd be wearing a paper bag with two holes cut in for my eyes, but she said 'But I want to see my granny,' so personal vanity will have to go in the bin. 

Here is a Facetime screenshot of Cece:

I just looked back at the comments on my two September 2015 wrinkle posts and found this lovely comment from Marmee and I will leave you with that:

I can remember being 56 or 58 and thinking what a doddle ageing was...AND that i was ageing well...

Now I am 65 and sometimes get a real shock looking in the mirror with my reading glasses on and sunlight showing up each wrinkle and crater and I wonder that people don't run screaming from me! And I am ashamed that I am still so vain, still so wanting to look good.

Oh but one thinks back..all these years, all that has happened , that has been overcome, that has been gained and I think its fine. I have one grandchild, still a toddler, that I love beyond the telling of it and it is my very age ( the years under my belt and on my face) that allows me to love him so deeply, so much more effectively than I loved my own children.

Even so, it is painful becoming the crone.

Saturday, November 14, 2020


On Wednesday Lux told me on Facetime that I was the fittest granny she knows, and I felt ridiculously proud. 

Yesterday, however, I was a blob.

I woke up exhausted for no reason that I could think of. It was a bright and beautiful day, and yet I could not drag myself out for a bike ride or a walk. I have no idea why. Thinking about it now, it was like a refusal - like when a horse refuses a jump.

I emptied the dishwasher and put two doormats in the washing machine, and that is the extent of any kind of productivity for the whole day...unless you count emailing the printer to tell him which of the two Hugs cards I liked the best.

Hugs © Sue Hepworth

I planned to sit and read in a sunny window. In the morning! Shocker.

Then an unexpected parcel arrived, containing:

It was a present from Wendy. For no reason at all except that she loves me. What a dear girl. Her message made me cry. 

A jigsaw puzzle arriving on a blob day: perfect timing. 

So I sat in the sunny window and began a puzzle. I continued for much of the day, while listening to the audiobook of the new Victoria Wood biography. I didn't even have the motivation/energy to drag myself down to the village postbox, and Dave went instead.

Today I don't feel like a blob. It's raining and it's going to rain all day, but I'll be putting on my boots and mac and will venture out. Perhaps there'll be some gullies to clear. 

I'm trucking again.

I hope you have a good weekend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

What's on telly?

What are you watching on telly at the moment? 

2020 has been so dramatically dark I can't watch anything similar as entertainment. So the thought that the new series of The Crown is about Diana and Charles is not, for me, a turn on. I don't want to watch poor Diana being crushed by the royals. I'm already iffy about The Crown anyway, because while it is brilliant, I find it deeply depressing. (Also I'm a republican - small r! small r!)  

In these dark autumn days I don't even want to watch people being faintly miserable. Friends have recommended Us to me but after twenty minutes I switched it off. 

I need fiction not documentaries, and comedy, or comedy drama with a happy ending. And I need something I can tune into every night for an hour before I switch off the light. That way I usually get a good night's sleep. 

Here's what I've enjoyed over the last year: Grace and Frankie, Atypical, Call the Midwife, Virgin River, Call My Agent, The Kominsky Method, and I have a love/hate relationship with Gilmore Girls. All of these are on Netflix - the only streaming channel I have. I know Call the Midwife has serious stuff in it but the whole package is almost always uplifting.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I tried After Life and if the language hadn't been so crude I think I could have enjoyed it even though I find what's-his-name repellent. Yes, I'm picky, but please don't think I mind bad language - the odd fuck is just fine. But I'd welcome suggestions, because tonight I reach the last episode of Atypical series 3, second time of watching, and the next series of Virgin River doesn't start till the end of the month. 

Like Sally Howe in the Plotting books, i still watch Neighbours. Why? I can hear you all shouting (aghast)? Because the characters are familiar and there's the plot that drags you on. I know it's rubbish but it's reliable rubbish and as such it's very comforting. Yes, most of the characters are annoying. Jane is a ninny and Chloe needs a good slapping and sadly resident villain Paul Robinson has lost his evil edge since he married Therese. 

My younger sister feels the same. Every time we chat on the phone we spend ten minutes slagging off Neighbours and we both continue to watch it. Everyone needs a soap in their life, and especially these lockdown days when social life is pared to the bone. 

As for books, I'm rereading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the nth time. 

I wouldn't be able to watch it on screen because there's so much in it that's heartrending. 

What are you watching and reading? Do you have any suggestions?

Monday, November 09, 2020


I feel overwhelming relief that the USA has chosen a decent man as president.

Van Jones, an eminent, analytical and forensic journalist on CNN gave us a sense of what so many Americans felt on Saturday.

Follow this link to see what he said.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Gathering colours

I've finished reading Nella Last's War now. It was terrific, and surprisingly gripping. For those of you who have never heard of it, it's the diary of a woman who lived in the northwest shipbuilding town of Barrow-in-Furness during WW2. She began to write it in 1940 as part of the Mass Observation Project.

She was a good writer, and I have found it fascinating to learn how she lived, her daily habits, how she coped, all about her volunteer work and her family. I especially love the detail, such as what she cooked for dinner and for tea. It makes it so immediate. I'm wondering if I should tell you at the end of every blog post what I had for tea the night before.

This week my lovely friend Liz gave me a book I used to have before it got lost in the fire. It's called Frederick. I have always loved it. Having children with a ten year gap in the middle I can't remember which of them I used to read it to, but reading it again was heartening. 

Let me explain. Frederick is a field mouse living with his family. During the summertime they are all busy storing food for the winter ahead, but Frederick doesn't join in. He just sits there.

They ask him why he's not working too and he says: 'I do work. I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.'

They ask him again and he says: 'I gather colours. For winter is grey.'

When they ask him if he's dreaming, he says: 'Oh no. I am gathering words. For the winter days are long and many, and we'll run out of things to say.'

When winter comes and their supplies run out, and it's cold and no-one feels like chatting, they ask Frederick about his supplies. And he says they should shut their eyes while he tells them about the warm sun, and then about the colours.

And when he told them of the blue periwinkles, the red poppies in the yellow wheat, and the green leaves of the berry bush, they saw the colours as clearly as if they had been painted in their minds.

When my readership is relatively small, it's easy to get disheartened and feel I am wasting my time. 

But the story of Frederick makes me think it is all worthwhile, even if I never make it into the bestseller charts.

And I have started to gather words again, such as this conversation I had with Dave on a walk.

Me: 'What are you thinking about?'

Dave: 'Sphincters.'

Me (exploding in laughter): 'What kind of sphincters?'

Dave: 'Bodily sphincters.' 

Me: 'Yours? Mine?'

Dave: 'Mine. Anybody's. Do you think there's an evolutionary advantage in them getting looser as they age?' 

On Wednesday and Thursday nights I had green lentils with roast aubergine for tea, which was surprisingly tasty, and last night it was Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Steak Pie with baked potato and cabbage. Yum.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

A sea of darkness

I have a strong memory of the 2008 election in which Obama came to power. My mother had died the week before and I was staying in her house with four of my siblings arranging the funeral. 

I woke up far too early and went downstairs to find my younger sister, also unable to sleep, rekindling the fire. We got cosy and switched on the telly to see what was happening in America, and were just in time to see John McCain's concession speech. He was gracious and statesmanlike and very impressive. 

What has happened to America, that almost half of the voters want a president who has shown himself to be a racist, dishonest, cruel, and happy to sow division and encourage ordinary people to break the law?

What has happened to the UK? 

The world?

Where has this sea of darkness come from?

And how can we overcome it?

Here is a comment written on a mural on the remains of the Berlin wall:

"Many little people, in many little places, doing many little things, can change the world."

Let's do it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

How are you feeling?

'What's the matter? Are you depressed? I'm amazed how many people are depressed by lockdown,' Dave has been saying to me since Saturday night.

But I'm not depressed. Lockdown doesn't make an appreciable difference to me since Sheffield was put into Tier 3 and seeing my family there has been off the cards.

Also, my reading about WW2 is having the desired effect of making me see that things could be a hell of a lot worse. This year I've read The (unexpurgated) Diary of Anne Frank, All the Light We Cannot See (set in WW2), A Chelsea Concerto (about living through the Blitz) and now I'm in the middle of reading Nella Last's War, a housewife's account of living through WW2 in a shipbuilding town, which was subject to bombing. 

It's rather that I am upset. Yesterday Cece (8) in Colorado and I Facetimed and she showed me a short video that we used to watch together when she was 2, and I found I was crying. What's that about? 

Yes, I'm upset. If the situation is now so bad that even B.Johnson Esq thinks we need a lockdown then it must be absolutely dire. He has dithered since March, doing too little too late, every step of the way. 

I am upset that because of his dithering, employees who could now be getting furlough payments have already been made redundant. I am upset for all the care workers and NHS staff who are working under immense stress. I am upset for all the families who cannot pay their rent, who are having to turn to foodbanks, who are depending on Universal Credit and having to wait five weeks for payments. 

What this country needed in a time of national crisis was a firm and solid leader. I can't imagine Margaret Thatcher being so useless. Good grief! Things must be bad if I'm coming out with stuff like that.

Let's change the subject. 

Here, for your delectation, is a view of our village which I took on my bike ride this morning.

Keep well, friends, keep cheerful, and be kind.