Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ma Bailey

I was rootling in my desk drawer for something yesterday and came across a photo Isaac took of me C 1998.

And I had no wrinkles! 

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Later, I was cutting my fringe in front of the mirror, and the strong low sun shining in through the window lit up two hearty and horrendous* whiskers - one each side of my mouth. 

*mid 17th century: from Latin horrendus (gerundive of horrere ‘(of hair) stand on end’) 

This is what comes of never seeing female relatives close to. One of them would have told me about the whiskers. When I lambasted Dave for letting me walk around like that, he said insouciantly 'I never like to comment on your appearance.' He will however, tell me about the Latin roots of words.

The one comfort is that whenever I've seen strangers I've been wearing a mask. But still, it make me wonder what I will look like to the world when all of this lurking at home is over. 

You know George Bailey's mother in It's a Wonderful Life?

Remember how she looked in George's nightmare experience of seeing the world as if he had never lived?

That'll be me by the end of this horrible winter.

Yes, I'm fed up. Aren't you?

Come, come, Sue, let's be positive.

These were the clothes I adopted for painting back in April, channeling aging-hippie Frankie from Grace and Frankie:

I'm still wearing them, except that now I have some snazzy silk-and-merino long johns underneath:

The trouble is that it's what I feel like wearing ALL the time, even when I'm not painting. Why bother dressing up when Dave doesn't care if I am the bearded lady and I never see anyone else?

I did, however, dress up for the Christmas zoom with the family, and for a Facetime with Het yesterday. And she noticed, bless her.

It's snowing here this morning, and settling. 

I'm not complaining, After all, it changes the view, and as I said to I
saac on the phone last night - 'It's the samey-sameness that is getting me down.' He groaned in recognition.

Right....now I'm going to get out a large canvas and a palette knife and splash some paint around. That might cheer me up.

Also, I came across a piece on the BBC News website yesterday and I'm going to try to follow it's advice. It's called 

Covid-19: Five ways to stay positive through the winter

I hope you're making a better job of staying cheerful than I am, friends. (Although I have to say that now I've had a hearty moan I am feeling a whole lot perkier.)

Wishing you a day that contains some fun.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Pick of the year

In these quiet days between Christmas and New Year I often read through my blog to remind myself of the year I've had. 

In doing so this morning I've decided that this is my favourite post of the year, written early on, in lockdown:

The Saga of the Carrot Cake

I am no longer enamoured of cooking, but I still like to bake, and on Sunday I decided I wanted to make a carrot cake for a friend who is recovering from a nasty bout of Covid19. 

So I looked in my ancient recipe box for my carrot cake recipe. My big sister gave me this recipe box when I was first married, 50 years ago, 

and it survived the fire because I didn't send it into storage. 

Inside the lid it says this:

Many of the index cards in the box are recycled ones from the time in my life when I was a researcher, working on this book:

(OMG) which means they have things like this written on the back:

What a hoot.

However, I could not find the recipe. I had all the cards out and threw away some rubbish, but kept various dubious items, in this case below because my mother wrote it:

And this, below, because Zoë wrote it as a child before she became a vegetarian, and it reminds me of the era when she and Isaac were young:

I do not recall actually making the bacon roll.

I've kept this one below because Mary was going to give me the recipe. You can see it is ludicrously incomplete - I don't know why. At the time, I liked cooking and she didn't, and I remember she and John making this one evening for guests who were coming and I called round to see her and insisted she witness my will, NOW! because I couldn't wait, because that's the kind of person I am, and she was really annoyed with me. And now - more than 25 years later, it's morphed into a happy memory.

Who me? Sentimental? 

The point is, though, that I could not find the recipe I was looking for - a terrific carrot cake recipe unlike any I have seen anywhere else. I didn't look for it in my hand written recipe book which I got a few years ago, because I could see the recipe in my mind's eye on a card (though obvs not in useful detail). 

So I texted Zoë, and she emailed me her friend's recipe that she said is the most amazing carrot cake she's ever tasted. I doubted this, because mine is the best. 

Anyway, I made the cake and tasted the raw mixture from the bowl, which tasted disgusting, because of the baking soda, I hoped. All mixtures with baking soda in taste horrid, don't they?

The cake looked fine when it came out of the oven, but as I only ever intended to give half the massive cake to my friend (because of her tiny post-virus appetite) I cut a sliver and tasted it. It was still warm. I was dubious. There was still that baking soda taint.

So I thought I might make another one, and I asked Dave to go through the recipe box for me and to see if he could find it. This was a vain hope, because he is lousy at finding things, but the fact that I asked him is a measure of my desperation. He couldn't find it, but he said 'Have you looked in that book that you write recipes in?' 

'No,' I said. 'It's not there, because I haven't made it since I got that book.'

'Look anyway,' he said.

So I did. And it was the first recipe in the book. I must have written it out and then thrown the card away.

This morning I woke up and cut a tiny bit of the cake and it tasted fine. Not as nice as my recipe, but good enough. 

The recipe said 'ice with cream cheese, icing sugar and almond essence,' but I had no cream cheese and no hope of getting any. There was a tub of mascarpone in the depths of the freezer with a best before date of 2012.  I opened it. Hmm.

It smelled fine.

I rang my little sister - a talented cook - and she said 'Sure! If it smells OK, it is OK. Use icing sugar and grated orange rind but not orange juice.'

I asked on Twitter. One person said - 'Yes, use it.'

I texted my friend, Het:

Dave agreed with Het but I thought they were being namby-pamby.

So I sieved in icing sugar and added finely grated orange rind and as it tasted of nothing, I added orange juice.

It was far too sloppy, so I rang my sister. She said 'I told you not to add juice!'

'Well, I have no memory these days,' I said. 'If I don't write it down, I forget.'

'You'll have to give it separately, as a sauce.'

'I can't do that. I want to put it on the cake and package it up and leave it on her doorstep.'

'Well, use butter and icing sugar and the grated rind of an orange.'

I did that. It looks fine. It tastes good, too.

I just updated Dave on the state of play, and he was relieved: he had been horrified at the idea of my using the ancient mascarpone.

'But it was fine. It didn't smell of anything!' I said. 

'Neither does death, but it's quite important.'

The next day, I posted this on the blog:

I have three further things to say about the carrot cake.

Firstly, the person for whom I made it (who is recovering very slowly from Covid19) thinks it's yummy.

Secondly, I agree that on the third day it's delicious and it might even supplant my own recipe. I just need to ditch the baking soda.

Thirdly, although my sisters had no problem with the idea of my using mascarpone that was 8 years past it's sell by date when I hawked it out of the freezer, a younger member of the family read my blog post and responded thus:

Such a person did not have outside earth closets at their village primary school, and did not have no bathroom, no hot water and a loo at the bottom of the garden when they first got married. More importantly, they weren't brought up by my mother.

Anyway....I did not use the fossilised mascarpone, so we can all rest easy, and you can be assured that this was the oldest foodstuff in the house by 7 years, so if you ever come here, you won't need to worry about food poisoning.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Letter from home on Christmas Eve

I've just got home from an early bike ride on the Trail where I suffered the ultimate indignity: a runner overtook me. 

I wanted to shout out  - "Look! I'm 71 and my knees are really creaky this week and my winter biorhythm doesn't wake up till 11 a.m. on winter mornings! I'm only out this early to beat the crowds!" I didn't, of course. I'm just telling you.

I went to collect Chione's ashes from the vet on Tuesday. They are in a cardboard canister decorated tastefully with a photo of a bluebell wood, and it's now sitting on the kitchen table, the hub of our joint communing during the day. We'll scatter them in the garden, perhaps in the spring.

The vet nurse who came outside to hand them to me was wearing a humungous mask, but surprisingly she managed to express sympathy with her eyes. She said "I expect it's nice to have her home for Christmas,"  and I tried to mumble agreement, while thinking What?  But she meant well. And actually, it is better having Chione on the kitchen table than nowhere we know.

Thinking of mortality, Dave is kicking himself he hasn't bought a coffin yet. "What happens if one of us dies over the Christmas period? Do you imagine we'll be able to get hold of one? Of course not."

This reminds me of a conversation I put on the blog a couple of years ago, entitled Leaving an Aspie at Home...

The day before I flew to Boulder - which is where I am now - Dave and I had the conversation we always have before I leave the country. (For strangers to this blog, Dave and I have been married for 48 years.)

Dave: 'If I die while you're at Isaac's, you mustn't think of cutting short your holiday and coming home. You must stay there. There would be nothing to come home to - just a cadaver, which will go in the fridge. Though I don't know why they would bother when it's going to be burned anyway.'

Me: 'You're crazy. Do we have to go through this again?'

Dave: 'It's important. I don't want your trip to be spoiled if I die. There really is no reason.' 

Me: 'I will do what I think, Dave. You'll be dead. It'll be up to me.' 
(Thinks: there is absolutely no point in trying to explain AGAIN how upset I'll be.)

The blog is taking a peculiar turn this morning, but while we're on the subject of sadness, and helping others who are sad, I'd like to share a post (plus video) with you that I found on the fantastic Brainpickings blog, here.

And now, some Christmas photos -

First Liz, sitting under one of her favourite trees in May, because walks in the sunshine with Liz have really helped me get through this difficult year:

The Colorado family, because I don't know when it will be safe for me to visit them again:

Chione keeping me company last summer while I was writing a blog post:

And my Christmas tree angel, that my sister gave me a few years ago because it reminded her of the funny little dolls our mother used to make, so it reminds me of family, and of this line from Wendy Cope's poem

Bring in your memories of Christmas past.

Bring in your tears for all that you have lost.

I recently had to write something about Christmas. This is a section from it:

The elements that make a perfect Christmas for me are these, not in a particular order:

My children and grandchildren sitting around the dinner table;

The afternoon of Christmas Eve, cooking alone, and with the phone off the hook, while listening to the festival of nine lessons and carols from King’s College, Cambridge;

A real, growing tree;


This year I have three out of the four, and I plan to see all of the family on Zoom tomorrow, so all in all, I'm pretty lucky.

I wish you a happy Christmas, and solace for all that you are missing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Update from Hepworth Towers

How are you? 

Have you recovered from Saturday's shock news? Have you managed to readjust your Christmas plans?

Despite the fact that nothing has changed for us, the air was blue here all Saturday night, and well into Sunday. How did we get landed with the most shambolic and inadequate UK government in living memory? Don't get me wrong: I think that there should have been severe restrictions on Christmas mixing. I just think that it should all have been decided weeks ago. I feel so sorry for those people whose hopes have been dashed at this late stage.

The faux OFF Christmas is progressing nicely here. We brought in the tree from the garden at the weekend. It's really grown in 4 years and is looking very perky.

On Sunday I was bemoaning the fact that we have no cheesy Christmas albums to listen to while I decorated the tree, so Dave moved Alexa from the kitchen to the sitting room and then he stayed and kept me company. This is revolutionary behaviour on two counts. One, he detests Alexa and has her switched off when I am not using her, and two, usually on hearing Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas, he would mutter expletives and rush to his study upstairs. 

This year he has been pursuing his cheer-Sue-up-for-Christmas agenda faultlessly. When I'd finished the tree and stopped using Alexa, he tried to get her to read him some Catullus. When she didn't know what he was talking about he was not impressed.

Today we are promised sunshine so I am going for a walk up high with Liz. 

Here's a photo of Stanton Moor I took last week, late in the afternoon. I love the delicate tracery of the silver birches against the sky:

Yesterday I came across this 2 minute video on the BBC news website on how to look after your physical and emotional well being during the pandemic. I found the bit about Control very helpful.

I wish you a good day - we have to take them one at a time, don't we?

'Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.'

How true that is right now.

Friday, December 18, 2020


I am sad not to be hosting the family this year for what should be an ON Christmas, but the rigours of the last 20 years in which we have alternated ON Christmases with OFF Christmases has meant I am used to doing without.

Even so, Dave, the man who hates Christmas, has taken it upon himself to be chief-cheerer-upper. He has been making Christmas decorations since November, almost all of them made with scraps from the shed.

Note, for example, the copper piping ring at the top of this one:

And the old bicycle rim he used for this one:

Then there are the two giant snowflakes, 18 inches across, one on the mirror:

And one on the stairs:

and lastly, here's my 'Christmas card' on the left hand side of the bedroom windowsill, sitting next to last year's 'card':

He's a large Christmas elf, who every time I meet him en route from the shed to the yoghurt, says: "I hope you've noticed that my celebratory circuits are pumped up to thermo-nuclear!"

He's a sweetie, you can't get away from it.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Sun amongst the gloom

Liz and I have been going for socially distanced walks since the first lockdown ended. Was that May? It's all a blur.

We've been up on Stanton Moor more than once, and visited the Nine Ladies Stone Circle. This was on our May visit:

This is what it looked like on Tuesday afternoon when the sun was going down:

We were up on the moor for a Christmas picnic. Usually we go to Hassop Station for Christmas lunch - just the two of us. We have crackers and wear paper hats and eat too much. This year we didn't fancy the crowds at Hassop Station, even if they were outside. 

We had delicious warm flan, Christmas cake, satsumas and mulled wine, kept warm in a flask. Here's Liz:

And me, holding out a cracker to be pulled:

and reading the joke:

We were SO lucky to have sunshine, and we enjoyed it so much we're going to do it next year, as well as going to Hassop Station.

There's fun to be had, despite everything. But sunshine certainly helps.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The crush

I keep asking friends and family for recommendations of what to watch on telly. And they suggest series based on crime, or dark, unhappy relationship dramas, or gentle and interesting documentaries. None of these work for me right now. My way of coping with the pandemic is to read serious fiction and memoirs of the Blitz, but to watch comedy or easy drama with manageable levels of darkness. 

Virgin River on Netflix ticks that last box, but I am sheepish about recommending it to anyone, because it has serious weaknesses. 

This doesn't stop me watching. Nor does it stop me having a crush on Jack. I don't mean the actor, I mean the character. 

He's kind, gentle, practical, patient, respectful, loyal and sexy, and his voice goes low and husky when he's making passionate declarations to Mel, that would make me fall over if I wasn't lying in bed watching the prog on my iPad. He is utterly gorgeous. Oh my goodness. 

I like Mel, too. She's sensible, mature, feisty, intelligent and committed to her patients. And I like her style - she's beautiful, yes, but with a realistically rounded figure. She's not a stick thin bimbo. And she wears quiet, tasteful clothes that are stylish, yet suitable for the rugged terrain in and around Virgin River

When I first found this romantic drama in the spring I golloped it down and then went straight back and watched it all again. Now I'm doing the same with series 2. 

It's based on a series of books which I checked out, hoping I might want to read them. But no. I'd describe them as pulp fiction. Not good. The screenwriting in the drama is much better, but even so there are big holes in the plotting which whispered to me the first time I watched it and scream at me second time around. Still I watch it. The scenery is beautiful, I forgot to mention that. 

And there are a couple of other main characters who are attractive. I just wonder how anyone in Virgin River can tolerate Hope, who takes rudeness and interfering and selfishness to a new intolerable level. And yet the lovely older doctor is devoted to her. It makes no sense.

Enough of this. I think the reason I can overlook the weaknesses and find it so watchable is the attractiveness of the three main characters - Jack, Mel and the fabulous scenery. It's what I need before I settle down and switch off the light.
One night I might be lucky: Jack might join me in my dreams.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Letter from home

Here I am again, sitting in bed blogging at 6.52 a.m. 

But Chione should be here too, sitting beside me, wanting me to stroke her so I have to do one-hand typing.

I am surprised at how much I miss her. Every time I walk in the kitchen I glance at the window, expecting to see her sitting on the sill outside, waiting to be let in. I just went downstairs for tea and she wasn't pestering me to be fed as I switched the kettle on, and getting under my feet as I walked to the porch with her food. 

Poor Chione. They found an inoperable tumour in her mouth on Thursday, which explained why she was so miserable and couldn't eat. We didn't hesitate when the vet rang up, even though it made us sad. The vet put her to sleep, and Covid social distancing regulations meant I couldn't hold her and talk to her while they gave her the injection. The vet said she would stroke her and talk to her, but Chione didn't know the vet. If only we could explain things to animals and know they understood.  

We're going to scatter her ashes in her favourite sunny spot on the south side of the hawthorn tree at the front.

This is her on Thursday morning, fed up, 15 years old and still as pretty as when she arrived:

This is her when she arrived and in her early years at Hepworth towers:

R.I.P. Chione


Thursday, December 10, 2020


Yesterday I had no enthusiasm for anything except sitting on my bed on my new patchwork quilt, looking at the grey sky. 

I did do other things - various admin tasks, making an ivy and jasmine wreath for the front door, and taking our poorly 15 year old cat to see the vet. I just couldn't make myself brave the cold and go out for exercise. Nor could I paint. 

Chione (pronounce Key-oany) is here on the bed with me now, wondering why I'm not feeding her. I dreamed a lot about her last night and woke up sad. Today she is going to the vet for an examination under anaesthetic to see if her ailment is curable. It looks doubtful. The vet said yesterday that if we decided today to put her to sleep, I couldn't hold her while she had the injection, because of social distancing. So I shall have to say my goodbyes before I drop her off, just in case.

None of this is why I couldn't get going yesterday. I think it's seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which hits me in the first half of every December. I know this because I got out my copy of DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE

and looked up all the December entries in the last ten years. Here's the beginning of one from December 2014

When you’re a person who loves Christmas, but it takes you two days to decorate your three foot high tree and you hear yourself saying “Fuck off” to a bauble, you know you’re feeling blue. The short days, the cloudy skies, the rain…they’re all conspiring to make me want to hibernate.

(that was the only time I've used the f word on the blog btw)

I also know it's SAD because all I feel like doing is stuffing myself full of carbohydrates. I mean! That lunch I had yesterday - a bacon sandwich followed by a piece of failed vegan Christmas cake. Yes - I failed at that task last year too, One year I will be able to make a lovely vegan Christmas cake for someone without having to have two goes at it.

This morning, I had no enthusiasm for writing the blog, I just knew that I had to sit here and do it because you are long overdue a post. When I feel like that, I usually feel better afterwards. 

Anyway...today on the agenda is my sax lesson, and starting my art homework - painting a sunset.

I am also going to write some cards to prisoners of conscience.

Every Christmas, Amnesty International has an annual Write for Rights campaign. In previous years a fellow Quaker has brought cards for Friends to sign after Meeting for Worship to show solidarity to prisoners of conscience or to request authorities responsible to recognise and cease injustices. 

This year Amnesty is not able to organise greeting cards events but the campaign is still happening. Amnesty international has selected ten cases this year with instructions and sample letters. If you use the link below to download information you can find out more. Every letter or card makes a vital difference to victims and their families. Think about it.