Friday, January 29, 2021

Being annoying

Those of you who have been reading the blog for some time will know that I often complain on here. Sometimes the post is as short as this one:

"Sometimes the only person you want to talk to isn’t there and never will be there. And the violet dawn and the wind-tossed auburn copper beech can’t compensate."  October 29th 2015

I have tried to be upbeat on here lately, for various reasons, but I came across something in a magazine at the weekend that made me wonder if my posts about what I'm doing - patchwork, painting - are annoying.

This was one of the examples they gave:

God forbid you should ever see pictures of my meals on the blog, but I do show you paintings and other stuff I've 'made.'

Is it annoying?

At the moment I am engrossed in my latest painting, and concentrating on something that blocks out everything else is wonderful, but it doesn't mean I am immune from negative feelings the rest of the time. 

When I am not painting, I  can be overwhelmed by this feeling (check out the small print):

Also...Dave and I argue over petty household niggles, and I waste far too much time deciding whether to walk or cycle, which usually depends on which of the local routes will be swamped by mud and/or water.  Plus, of course, the overarching issue: the world is bleak and I cannot bear to read below the headlines.

So... I completely understand and sympathise with those of you who wake up every morning thinking - bleurrgh.  

Here are some quotes for you:

And here's one from my book du jour, Maggie Smith's Keep Moving:

With love from me, the woman who last night watched the last episode of Call My Agent and is wondering if there's another high-class, dramatic, fast-moving, comedic soap that will brighten up her evenings as well as Call My Agent did. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Strangely cheerful

I had an early morning messaging chat with the Aging Hippie in California today. It was good. 

I haven't spoken to her since January 6th when she messaged me to ask if I was watching the news. What a relief for America and the world that two weeks later  Biden was installed. Now they have hope. Here we have none, but let's not go into that, because I am actually, strangely, feeling quite chipper today. 

And this is despite my thinking that although I was hoping to visit the family in Colorado this September, it now looks unlikely.

I am not a knick-knack person - not at all - but I have a little Boulder shrine on the top of the bedroom bookcase:

Lux and Cece made the fimo pots and I bought them in their shop. The jigsaw pieces came free from the amazing Liberty Puzzles shop on Pearl Street. They make the most intricate and attractive jigsaws I've ever encountered, and you have to go on a waiting list these days to buy them. There's always one out on a board downstairs at Boulder Hepworth Towers. 

Bar Taco is where Griffin the barman told me his margarita recipe, and Brasserie Ten Ten is where Isaac took me for lunch one day - white tablecloths and Croque Monsieurs, an ex-pat's taste of Europe. 

The dried husk back left has an incredibly silky interior and I cannot for the life of me remember what the plant is called, dammit. (Lux has now told me it's a milkweed pod.)

I'm digressing.

Why am I feeling so upbeat on this icy grey morning? It's because I'm in the middle of another painting, and it's so wonderful to wake up to a project I can't wait to get stuck into. Last winter I had DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE on the go. The winter before that it was EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU.   

Now I am painting.

Dave made the easel out of his old beech desk top. He had replaced it some years ago with a desktop made of parquet flooring tiles that a friend had rescued from her office floor when the building was being demolished:

He's one clever dude. He’s currently in the shed making an Archimedes Trammel.

Now it's light, and I'm going to start painting. I'll leave you with these two quotes from the Maggie Smith book, Keep Moving. They seem quite apposite today.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Letter from home/ Scrapbook

It's less a letter from home today and more of a weekend scrapbook.

Here goes.

I mentioned a book the other day - Keep Moving, Notes on Loss, Creativity and Change, by Maggie Smith. When it arrived, I golloped it down. It's very short, but very thought provoking. You could read just one page a day and it would make sense. Now I am reading it again, much more slowly, and finding gems on every page.

It is full of thoughts to ponder, such as this one:

and this one:

I have already bought it for a friend and am wondering who else might find it helpful. In these dark times, probably a lot of people. You're likely to see a lot of these quotes on the blog in the coming days.

Liz and I had a sunshine walk yesterday, between Bakewell and Rowsley. We have floods in Derbyshire, as we did, two winters ago:

Dave came out with some corkers this week.

First, on a day when it was obvious to him that I wanted some alone-time, though i had not said so:

"I sometimes feel as if you think of me as a rather unsatisfactory butler who you would like to fire but can’t quite work out how to do it"

Secondly, after he said in his blog post that he wasn't an anxious person, I challenged him and said I thought he was. 

Me: "When I go out for a walk and I'm longer than you expect me to be, you're always anxious."

Dave: "Only because I've been worrying how far I'm going to have to carry the cadaver back."

I finished the painting of my patchwork quilt this week and I'm right chuffed with it. It's called The Landscape of my Bed - thank you to my friend Het for suggesting the title.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

An Aspie's take on lockdown

Today I have a guest blogger - my aspie husband Dave.


Tell me how does it feel to be on your own …

 You know those notices in the back of cars ? ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ ? Well, ASD is a bit like that. If you have autism spectrum disorder, it’s important to make friends with it. It is going to be there every time you wake up, and stay with you whether you are cleaning your teeth, fixing your bike, clearing out the shed, or trying make sense of Wittgenstein.

I get on pretty well with ASD. I mean, OK, I am odd. But that’s fine. Lots of people are a bit odd. It’s just that I am consistently odd. I understand being odd. It’s ordinary people that mystify me. The stuff they find obvious is the same stuff I have to work hard to learn, figure out, think about how to apply. And that’s the problem. I might get to understand what it is to be normal: I can never hope to feel it.

The pandemic and extended lockdowns, even the only-faintly-lunatic tier system, have all taught me about what it must feel like to be normal. It’s rather like a tourist poring over a map of some place s/he is never going to visit.

Full disclosure. Lockdown has been a doddle for me, I could keep it up forever. It has not been a strain or a challenge. It has posed a new set of problems to solve, but not much more than that. This isn’t a cruel and insensitive boast, and it is certainly not a skill, talent or even virtue. It’s simply that my genetic quirk which disqualifies me from living a normal everyday life, equips me perfectly for the rare and extra-ordinary circumstances of an unimagined lockdown.

This aspergery insouciance is not because I don’t care: it is rather because what normal people have experienced in lockdown has been more or less my daily experience since I first fell out of a high chair. It’s just that neurotypical people have not realised that the pandemic has gifted them a perfect insight into the fairground mirror which is ASD.

In lockdown, normal people have been depressed in an undulating sort of way. A kind of tidal surge of feeling OK and sad. As far as I can make out, reasons for this saudade sort them into categories (ASD alert: categories do it for me):

  • Those whose activities are hampered (swimmers, table -tennis freaks, ballroom dancers, tourists and travellers)
  • Those whose jobs have become tricky (all those forced to work in lousy conditions without PPE, shopworkers, unappreciated postal staff)
  • Those whose chief delight is social activity (party-goers, pub quiz afficionados, those who like clubs, gatherings, meetings, random acquaintance)
  • Social specialists (who miss mainly family, intimate friends, confidantes, grandchildren)
  • Transgressives of all stripes (Like the unfortunate married fireman driving forty miles to visit his mistress, both of whom were taken to task for not wearing masks in the car. Think of that.) Amongst the transgressives, internet scammers seem to have found lockdown to be a rich vein of opportunity. Their tide had been permanently in.

What has been helpful is that people in one, some or all of these groups have been explaining explicitly what the problem for them is. They tell me why they are missing grandchildren, or why it is frustrating to contact people only through zoom. They miss so much that for them is normal. And mainly what they find normal is connection. This has flicked on a light-switch for me.

Apart from the obvious oddness, the serial obsessions, the strange compulsion to make 23 of everything, from omelettes to macrame pet beds, from obscure Japanese carpentry to proliferating coffee tables, yes, apart from those, we ASD crew are odd because we don’t make the kind of connections with others that you do. We live behind a sort of glass screen. We see connections others make, but can’t feel them.

For some weird inexplicable reason, just occasionally in a lifetime there is a sudden connection that ASD people do feel, but it isn’t the picking-up-friends-like-fluff-on-a-coat experience of normal people. Usually, we hover uneasily between wondering whether someone is a friend or merely an acquaintance. And we have no way of knowing. Our wiring doesn’t pick up the signals. It is like trying get Radio 4 on a toaster. You can twiddle the browning knob all you like, but you will never hear Melvyn Bragg pop out.

This is why the brain cell committees are so active, permanently trying to assess the data to figure out if person X might be a friend, or what you might be expected to feel about a favourite aunt.

I think I love researching family trees because it is a sort of Facebook for dead people, and there is no chance of being sucked into Facetime[i].

Like a cat, I tend to live in a permanent now. When Sue goes away, I eat what is in the house until it’s gone, then don’t think too much about getting more. If it’s there, fine. If it’s not, also fine. This is the same for almost everything. My brain cells tend to focus on the immediate environment, and do not worry their little heads about what might or might not be out there beyond it.

And come lockdown, there is no discernible difference, of course. For normal people, lockdown stops their sense of connection, just as a pillow over their face would stop their breathing rather than be merely inconvenient in a sotto voce way. For me, lockdown is a great leveller. Now nobody feels connected, and I feel unexpectedly normal. It’s weird to find everyone in the same boat, my boat that is usually deserted.

ASD is a social disease (in the nicest way possible, naturally). Clubs, gatherings, parties (aaarrrggghhh, PARTIES) fill me with alarm. Social interaction is both exhausting and unfulfilling. It leaves me with a committee of brain cells working day and night for weeks on end trying to figure out what this meant, or why that person did this.

The absence of social quandaries is almost tangible relief. But now I can suddenly see that normal people actually do derive some sort of pleasure from ‘doing social’, and the degree of pleasure is more or less commensurate with the sense of loss. Ah, now I get it.

The pandemic is a chance for every normal person and ASDer to trade experiences in the interest of enhanced mutual understanding. Thanks to lockdown, I understand a little better how you feel, and maybe, all unawares, you really feel how I feel. A gift. Who knew ?


[i] No ASD person could have come up with the idea of Facetime. It is terror in your hand, an inexplicable confrontation with the failure of intimacy. It is certainly not connection magic. I feel more bewildered and distant after a bout of Facetime than before. Yes, I did say ‘bout’.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Keep Moving

I just bought an inspirational book called Keep Moving by the poet Maggie Smith. You may have come across her powerful poem Good Bones, which you can find here.

All I want to do today is share two pages from Keep Moving with you:

Onward and upward. 

The mantra remains the same - stay healthy, stay cheerful (or work hard at it) and try to be kind.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

A good week

Last week was a bad week. This week, following on from a helpful Zoom Quaker Meeting on Sunday, has been good.

1/    I've been making progress with my painting;

2/    Cece (8) FaceTimed me when I was painting on Monday and asked if I'd like her to read me a story while I was painting and I said Yes! and she read me two and it was simply heavenly. I can't express how heavenly.

3/    My sister sent me some old photos she'd found while clearing out, including this one of me (right) painting her nails in the bath when we were teenagers:

4/    I had a lovely sunny walk with Liz on Tuesday;

Close to Caudwell Mill

Photo by Liz: an entrance to Stanton Moor

View towards Haddon Hall

5/    I watched the version of Jane Eyre that was shot at Haddon Hall (near Bakewell) on BBCiPlayer. It's one of my favourite versions, despite the fact that it skimps on the development of the relationship between Jane and Rochester and misses out some of my favourite scenes. The two principals - Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender - are so right for the parts; and the scene where Jane says 

“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! - I have as much soul as you, - and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”

is so moving.

6/    On Tuesday evening Chrissie and I had a hilarious margarita FaceTime, in which we played Subjective Guess Who, as described in my last novel Even When They Know You. (BTW, is there anyone out there who has read it and liked it and not reviewed it yet?)

7/    Dave washed the kitchen and bathroom floors, thereby elevating his status to demi-god.

8/    I had a lovely and such a welcome FaceTime with my friend Het.

9/    Zoë sent me this, which really made me laugh:

Last week I was 9.

This week I am somewhere between 4 and 6, and I don't mean 5.

Which one are you?

Monday, January 11, 2021

Fresh nuancing - a long read

 As I sat in bed this morning, quietly enjoying my quilt, which I like so much I am painting a picture of it:

and munching my two oatcakes (home made by Dave) spread with lemon curd (home made by me) the breakfast which has to last me till lunchtime (and which I'd like to relish in peace - aren't you supposed to think about the food when you're eating it so your body knows it's been fed?) Dave came in to deliver yet another harangue, this time not about Trump, but about our own crappy counterpart.

("It wasn't a harangue. I was simply airing my views."

"The same as you do every morning."

"They're fresh everyday."

"No they're not."

"Freshly nuanced, then.") made me think of that passage in Plotting for Grown-ups... 

"I get out of bed and stumble to the kitchen to get myself tea, and to my study to collect my laptop, with the intention of coming straight back to bed without engaging in any kind of conversation. I am  semi-comatose, thick-headed, unable to bear noise or animation of any kind, and in the perfect state for writing fiction, being still in some demimonde of consciousness.

Unfortunately, Richard is in the kitchen in his boiler suit munching muesli, while looking at furniture-making videos on YouTube on his laptop, while listening to John Humphries grilling an unfortunate MP on the Today programme. I try to sneak in and out of the kitchen with only a minimal good-morning, but he leaps upon me and subjects me to a barrage of talk that I am too weak to withstand. As I wait for the teabag to impart some decent colour to the boiling water in my mug, I lean against the worktop and stare at Richard, saying nothing. I do not respond. I am rubbing my eyes and yawning, and giving (without faking) every non-verbal signal known to man that says I am deeply dozy and unavailable for social intercourse.

He is oblivious. He goes on about some geek in Canada who posts on YouTube, who makes amazing wooden jigs for every kind of purpose (what is a jig?) and who has decided that milk bottle crates are the perfect storage device for a workshop and yet it is illegal to take them as they are the property of the dairy and so he has designed and made his own replicas in wood, using a special jig that he designed for the purpose. I, meanwhile, am glassy-eyed and silent, and thinking SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.

As soon as he pauses for breath, I retreat to bed and open my laptop and resume my writing. I have just got into a tasty bit of dialogue, when Richard knocks and comes in and says “Are you writing?” and I say “Yes,” and he carries on anyway: “Because I want tell you something REALLY EXCITING I heard on the news. There is a woman in the North of Scotland with the exact same DNA as the Queen of Sheba.” OH MY GOD."

I had also been thinking about the journalist Katharine Whitehorn, who died last week. My father, who was an agricultural adviser and freelance journalist, introduced me to her writing back in the 60s when I was a teenager and she was writing a column in The Observer. I have a published collection of her writing here which I brought home from my parents' house, after my father died. KW's dedication in the front of the book reads 

With love and thanks to my parents who provide so much copy

Like the great, late Nora Ephron, she mined her family for copy. As do I - see above.

When I went through my fathers' papers in 2008 I found a poem he had written in praise of Katharine Whitehorn. The poem was fun, and I thought she would enjoy it,so I sent it to her and she wrote back:

She was probably one of my influences, though I have only just thought about it now, as I didn't start writing first person pieces that appeared in The  Times until I was in my 50s.

And here I am now, posting a badly constructed piece which ends in the middle of nowhere, except that...yesterday in a break out room after Zoom Quaker Meeting, a Friend told me she was reading DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE, and how much she was enjoying it. You have no idea - unless you're a writer - how cheering it is to hear such things. As KW says above:

I am humbled and touched by people who not only like what I write but have the generosity to write and say so - such as you.

This goes for you, dear blog readers who comment on the blog, or who write reviews online. Thank you. 

Friday, January 08, 2021


It's been a difficult few days. 

Yesterday - all day - felt like the morning after the night before, except that the night before was spent not having fun, but watching CNN Live to see what was unfolding in Washington. I am not surprised at the mob storming the Capitol after being incited to do just that; what amazes me is that the police were not more in evidence, and that that there were so few arrests. And yes, I am contrasting it, like so many others, with what happened with the Black Lives Matter demo. Yesterday a professor from Yale said on Channel 4 News that Trumpism is ALL about race. It made me think.

Dave is constantly surprised by what Trump does, even though he has read all these books:

I have not read them, but know their contents, thanks to Dave. I refer you to a previous post - here.

But what I really want to write about is not about America making itself great again. 

I have been trying to watch a film on Netflix called Wild Rose. It's a fine film. It's about a young Glaswegian woman just released from prison who wants to go to Nashville and be a country singer. She is very talented. But she has two young children, no partner, and not much money. She has not been a good mother but is now trying to rectify that. 

I empathise with her because I know how hard it is to succeed creatively and get people to notice you, even without encumbrances. But I cannot get through the film: every time a new challenge or obstacle occurs and life is getting sticky for her, I have to stop watching, because I'm too upset. It's pretty pathetic. 

I turned to Casablanca, an old favourite of mine, but then I found myself crying when all the French in Rick's cafe got up to sing the Marseillaise. I have never cried at Casablanca before.

This made me think. I've decided that the reason that I am so emotional is because I don't feel safe. And I don't feel safe because I have zero faith in the way the government is 'handling' the pandemic. There's all the stuff you already know and I'm not going to rehearse it here, but now there's the vaccination programme to worry about. I should get mine in February and was initially very happy, but now I am worrying about whether it will it be worth anything if the manufacturer's recommendations are ignored.  (And why are not all health workers being vaccinated before me? And teachers and other key workers?)

I don't feel safe, deep down, because this government - which is supposed to run the country as if ordinary people matter - actually behave like neglectful, feckless, incompetent parents. If they were parents they would have their children taken away.

I'm lucky because it's the first time in my life that I don't feel safe. Millions of black people in America, and over here, have always lived with that feeling.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Dave and the Padlock

 You might need something to cheer you up today, so here is a children's book I wrote a few years ago.


Dave and the Padlock


Sue Hepworth



Once upon a time there was a grandpa called Dave.

He had curly grey hair and round gold glasses, and he was very friendly. But he didn’t look friendly on photographs, because he found it really hard to smile when people asked him to, unless he had a friendly dog sitting next to him, like this...

Or this...



If Dave was stroking a dog he would always smile.

Several things made Dave happy.

He liked making things in his shed.

He liked playing table tennis.

He liked basking in the sun.


He liked riding his bike on sunny days.

He liked yoghurt. 

He liked yoghurt VERY MUCH.


He liked playing his guitar.


But the thing that Dave liked best was being on a narrowboat.

A narrowboat is a special kind of boat that sails on canals and rivers.  You can live on a narrowboat, or you can have a holiday on one, because a narrowboat  has a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room.

When Dave was on a narrowboat he was always happy.

Here he is, first thing in the morning, leaning out of the side hatch of the narrowboat, breathing in the cool quiet air, and watching the ducks on the water.

 Here he is, sitting on the back of a narrowboat, steering it along the canal.


Here he is, sailing the narrowboat with a friend.

Here he is, looking for the rope to tie up the narrowboat so he can go inside and have some yoghurt.

One day, when Dave and Sue were on holiday with some friends on a narrowboat, Sue found Dave lying on the back deck, poking around in the water with a long stick.

“What on earth are you doing?” she said.

“I’m looking for the padlock,” said Dave.

“The padlock?”

“When I got back to the boat and unlocked the door,” Dave said, “the padlock slipped out of my hand and fell in the canal. Now that you’re here, I’m going to put on my shorts and jump in the water and look on the bottom of the canal for it.”

“You’re crazy!” said Sue. “There’s no way you’ll find it in there! The water is muddy and dark and you can’t reach the bottom without going under the water.”

“I know,” Dave said. “I’m going to wear just one sandal and stand on one leg, and feel around for the padlock with my other foot – my bare foot.”

“But it’s dirty in there,” said Sue. “And it’s cold. I don’t want you going in the water. You might cut your foot on broken glass on the bottom of the canal. There are lots of germs in dirty water like that. You might catch an infection. It could make you ill!”

“Oh, rubbish,” said Dave. “Don’t be a spoilsport. I’m going in.”

“Please don’t go in the water, Dave. We can buy a new padlock.”

Unfortunately, once Dave got an idea that he thought was a good idea, no-one – not even Sue  -  could make him forget it. He was determined and he was stubborn. And there are two other things you should know. Dave hated spending money, so he didn’t want to buy a new padlock. And the other thing you should know is that he was embarrassed about dropping the padlock in the water. He felt foolish, and if he knew that if he found the padlock again, he would no longer feel foolish.

So he put on his shorts and T shirt and just one sandal, and he jumped in the water.

And he laughed. “Now I’m going to find it!”

First he searched with his bare foot. He moved his foot across the bottom of the canal very carefully, to see if he could FEEL the padlock with his toes.

That didn’t work. He couldn’t find the padlock.

So then he got a colander from the narrowboat kitchen and scooped up stuff from the bottom of the canal, hoping the padlock would be one of the things he scooped up.

That didn’t work either.

He couldn’t find the padlock.

Sue was worried that he would hurt himself and worried that he was getting too cold – because it was evening, and the sun was going down. She begged  him to come out of the water and to try again in the morning. He was getting tired, so he did.

 When Sue woke up in the morning, Dave had made a giant contraption to search for the padlock.


The contraption was made of a long pole with lots of bits and pieces attached to it, that you can’t see here, because it’s under the water.

Dave poked about with the contraption while everyone else on the narrowboat was still in bed, drinking tea.

He poked about while everyone else got out of bed and had their showers.

He poked about while everyone else got dressed.

He poked about while everyone else was trying to find the frying pan to cook their breakfast. 

Where on earth was the frying pan?

Sue went outside to ask Dave if HE had seen the frying pan, Dave said “Look! I’ve found the padlock!”


“Amazing!” said Sue. “Well done! Good for you! Now. Have you seen the frying pan?”