Friday, February 26, 2021

Guest post

Today I am delighted to begin a series of guest blog posts. These guest posts will all be from blog readers who live far away from here (the Derbyshire Peak District) and will focus on the reader's life during the pandemic.

First up here's Het, writing from Cornwall.

Well, it turned out to be a year we’d all rather look back on than look forward to. For me, it has been a tale of two halves, feeling imprisoned by living in London, then liberated by moving to Cornwall. Throughout, I have never been more grateful for the constants which frame my world – a partner who is a pal, and pals who have been partners in extending a virtual hand.

For the first half of the year, we pulled up the drawbridge and hung out in our London flat. By all normal measures, a fantastic place – spacious, light, central - and blessed with balconies to take in the wonderful view down the river. Those balconies were our saviour – as we hung over the ledge, watching the birdlife carrying on as normal. Canada geese nesting on an upturned boat became an early focus - who knew that standing on one leg is all about heat conservation?


New habits in lockdown formed, such as getting showered and changed for the evening, to break up the day. And making sure weekends felt different. A young local restaurant which had only been open for a few weeks when lockdown started, began a weekend delivery service. It rapidly became a welcome treat to look forward to – delicious food made by someone else!



While my husband monopolised the study and worked on getting a bad back at my desk, I took over the lounge: moved by the lack of scrubs for frontline NHS staff I became a manic seamstress in my sweatshop of machinery and ironing board permanently set up. Rolls of colourful polycotton arrived every week to be cut out, sewn up and despatched to different hospitals across south London. I had become one of the thousands of home sewers who collectively made over 1.5m sets of protective clothing during the early months of lockdown. The young nurse who initiated and led the effort was rightly recognised in the New Year’s Honours list, while the personal rewards of being part of it all were acknowledged by many. They are hard to describe – I absolutely loved feeling useful and increasingly capable.



Moving to Cornwall in August was a liberation of body and soul. At 70, it may feel a little late to be buying my first shortie wetsuit and making efforts to get into the sea at every opportunity – but it redeemed the summer and created lasting memories of joy. Going out for walks without fear of meeting too many people along the coastal path, taking a picnic lunch to the beach even when the sun didn’t shine – we realised anew what pleasure there is in simple things.



Since the autumn, I have been busy again – this time, doing an online course in Psychology & Neuroscience of Mental Health, at King's College London. For a non-scientist, this has taxed my little grey cells to bursting point – but I now have a smattering of knowledge: yes, a dangerous thing! I didn’t previously know just how much genetics affect who we are and how we think. Or that the proteins produced by our 26,000 human genes are not ‘fixed’ but respond to influences such as diet, exercise, stress levels etc. A recent study of 100 healthy individuals showed that only 49% of individual ‘proteomes’ remained stable over the course of a year. So, it is well worth investing in activities which offset the many ‘insults’ (I love that technical term!) we all endure. Overall, my new knowledge has given me new respect for the intricacies of human biology - and the wonders of the brain.


So, I will be treasuring the onset of spring, starting out in Cornwall and eventually leading us back to London. I will also be looking forward – to everything.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Daily life

The header shows the view through our front door window.

These three shots from the bedroom window show the changing sky this morning.

7.05 a.m.

7.32 a.m.

7.35 a.m.

Its been a quiet week at Hepworth Towers. Weeks in a February lockdown are quiet, aren't they? Nothing changes but the sky.

I've been taking exercise outside and painting inside. I am not convinced that my clematis abstract 'right' or finished, but just so I can't be accused of only showing my best paintings on here, here it is in its current state:

Here is my painting table, all cleared up and ready for action once I'm up. It never usually looks like this. I had a tidying spree yesterday. The painting on the easel is the result of my using up mixed paint I could't bear to waste, brushed onto a piece of card. Call it Seaside Sunset. 

This is what I want to paint next:

Yes, it will be monstrously hard, but fun to try!

Below are just a few of my sweet peas. It took me 5 days to build up the motivation to plant them. One of the reasons is that I hate having the windowsills cluttered up. The other is that everyday jobs are so easy to put off when there is little urgency.

Hey ho.

My friend in NZ emailed on Sunday:

Did you get your vaccination? Has it made any difference to your life?

I answered her:

Yes and no.

This is the soup I cooked yesterday:

It's my favourite winter soup, and I don't exactly double the quantity of water because I like it thick like porridge. I also use twice as much garlic. It's from Gail Duff's Vegetarian Cookbook.

You can see how I am struggling for news, how desperate things are: I actually have a recipe on here. The last recipe on here was Dave's bread last year, and that was only because a blog reader (Marmee?)  had requested it. Before that it was parkin in November 2008.

There is no news. 

There is so little news that it was thrilling to hear at the weekend that a relation-in-law likes her new blinds.

There is no news. 

It reminds me of that bit from Plotting for Grown-ups where Sally writes:

At teatime, Daniel rang for his weekly chat. He told me his news and asked me what was going on at Goose Lane and I racked my brains. I said, “Next door’s cat came in and was sick on the carpet twice. Two great gobs of it.” Is this the woman who once had a flurry of pieces in The Recorder – a national broadsheet, no less?

today’s tweet from @sallystoneymoor

Have you ever wished you were someone else, somewhere else, doing something different?

Perhaps this summer I will be able to hug my Sheffield kids and grandkids.

Perhaps this time next year I will be in Colorado with my beloved girls:


Friday, February 19, 2021

Yesterday I was too tired to do anything but sit and paint, and then at half past four drive up Longstone Edge with a flask of decaff Yorkshire tea and sit in the car, look at the view, and read and write for a bit. I have no idea why I was so tired.

I am still obsessed with the lines of the clematis by our front door: I took these photos yesterday:

I am working on an abstract clematis painting, but I'm not ready for anyone but Dave to see it yet.

Here, instead is one page of my palette book from yesterday, when I was painting something else:

And here are two more pages from Keep Moving by Maggie Smith that I read in the car, and which spoke to my condition:

Today's header is a photo by Rosemary Mann, of Wensleydale.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Tears before bedtime

52 years ago this month, Dave and I got engaged after knowing each other for two weeks. When I told my unromantic mother I was in love, she said 'Don't trip up.'

Last week I was on a ridiculous high and if she were still here, she might well have been thinking the same.

When I sat in a field of snow above the village and drank my coffee I felt so happy I was smiling inside. Then came the cat lawyer video which kept me on a lunatic thread till the weekend. 

Then came the weekend. 

First, I saw a young friend on her doorstep who is utterly miserable for a triad of reasons. It upset me because there was nothing I could do to help.

That day was the anniversary of Mary's death. It was so cold that the snowdrops were not yet out in our garden and ivy was all I had, so I went to lay a tiny wreath on her bench.

It was crowded by the pond. City people had escaped from their homes into the icy greyness outside, seeking coffee and conversation. Two women were sitting on Mary's bench, chatting and happy. They saw me fumbling to take off my gloves and put on my mask, while trying not to drop the flimsy wreath and they said kindly, 'Sorry, do you want us to move?'

I explained what I wanted to do but they had already moved away, engrossed in their conversation.

My fingers were so cold that I couldn't tie the ribbon nicely, and that upset me. I didn't take this photo. Someone else did and sent it to me, asking  'Did you leave this?'

I walked away and the women sat down again, and a wave of grief hit me.

It's been six years, and I'm fine. But then it catches me.

The next day I heard the full sad story about another young friend, a nurse who began her career last March and who caught Covid in April and has been ill with long Covid ever since. 

In her first week at work, she was in full PPE. Then it became apparent that the NHS had insufficient PPE for everyone who needed it (thanks to Tory scrimping, specifically ignoring expert advice and failing to stockpile essential items) so NHS England decided that only those staff in ICU wards needed the full PPE. My friend was nursing Covid patients with an ill-fitting basic mask. 

It's almost a year now, and she is too unwell to go back to work. Because of this, she may lose her job. She desperately wants to nurse. She desperately wants her life back.

Please...sign this petition, calling on the government to recognise long Covid in health workers and other key workers as an occupational disease.

Today, thanks to my dear friends and to Dave, I'm back on track, remembering my lockdown mantra - stay healthy, stay cheerful and try to be kind. I have such a lot to be thankful for.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Picture post

There have been two major themes to my week: beauty and flippancy.

This has been the best February weather I can remember: it's been uplifting. Having bright blue skies and snow-dusted fields that are crunchy to walk on has been SO MUCH NICER than the February dross that the Peak District usually has to offer. i.e. grey skies, dingy landscape and ubiquitous mud.

The dawns have been stunning:

Through the bedroom window

Leaning out of the front bedroom window

It has been perishingly cold but I have wrapped up warm and been out every day but one, and even took a flask of coffee with me on a circular walk round the village.

Inside the house I've been painting. I finished the clematis painting. 

Covid February

The flippancy angle I mentioned at the beginning was sparked off by watching the cat lawyer video ten times over and counting, because it creases me up every single time. It's something to do with the combination of the eyes flicking, the whites of the eyes, and the voice of the unfortunate lawyer saying 'Aaahh.' I have laughed so much it's made my chest hurt. I have laughed so much I even changed my profile pic on Twitter to this:

We occasionally watch Channel 4 News for ten minutes or so in the evening, but I have not been able to bear reading the news online this week, because the incompetence and corruption of this government so incenses me. And apart from signing an endless stream of petitions and writing fruitless letters to my MP there appears to be nothing I can do about it. 

Turning to flippancy has been a welcome release, so last night as we watched the serious interviews on zoom with Krishnan Guru-Murthy - even though these were serious, worthy experts who were NOT politicians, and who were definitely worth listening to -  Dave and I did a running flippant commentary. The unfortunate lighting on one of them made his moustache look green, prompting Dave to say "Now HE would benefit from a cat filter." 

Our commentary went on for some time and amused us both.

This is what being locked up for a year has brought us to: folie a deux. It's better than uxoricide or mariticide. Oh yes. Thanks to Dave, the Latin at Hepworth Towers stretches well beyond Carpe Diem and Vive Hodie.

I hope the sun is shining for you this weekend.


Wednesday, February 10, 2021


This is Dave:

Dave has a thing about serviceable clothing. The other night when we were watching an old Law and Order (one of the few telly progs that we both like) and this lapdancer was being interviewed

he said "That looks as if it shrugs off stains."

Dave also loves teeth. Here, below, is a post from his extinct blog, which tragically he cannot be persuaded to resurrect, so please don't even try.


Dentist tremens


I like teeth.

So sue me.

You will see this is serious if I tell you that watching The Dukes of Hazzard with my kids when they were little, it was her amazing teeth which were Catherine Bach's chief attraction for me. Maybe I should get out more.

My father had no teeth. He had had them all removed as a birthday present. Wow. That guy really knew how to party. 


My mum had no teeth either. No idea what happened to hers. 


She would not be seen out without her dentures, whereas he was seen only twice a year or so with his. They lived in the dark in the sock drawer for the rest of the time. And this was a good thing as they were rather too large, and made him look like a hamster in urgent need of Ritalin. Like all our clothes, they probably came as a job-lot from Blanchards. They must have had an offer on teeth.


Anyway, my father's ill-fitting teeth seemed to be dynamically alive in his mouth, and possibly trying to swap places. They tapped out messages in a kind of sotto voce morse, and he clearly felt enormously uncomfortable in them. They could have been plotting escape.

My grandfather had no teeth. It must have been genetic. He was forever collecting his teeth from the lost property department at the bus depot. They travelled more than he did. Coming home yet again, a quick rinse in Steradent and order was restored.

My grandmother had.... but you know by now. Apparently Hepworths have been dentally challenged since first coming gingerly down from the trees.

I, however, do have teeth. Hah ! And almost a full set. In spite of our family dentist. At the time, it never occurred to me that he was the reason for the toothless generations of Hepworths.

Like so many adults in my childhood, our dentist was one of my dad's wartime contacts. He (the dentist) had had a bad war and appeared to be hellbent on a mission to avenge himself through dentistry. His waiting room was crowded and faintly malodorous, but it was when he called you in that you got the full theatrical effect. His surgery was filled with smoke. Thick smoke. It was as if he had anaesthetised the last patient with a stun grenade. Or perhaps he had been burning something in the waste basket.

No, he was a smoker, and was single-handedly keeping my father's shop in profit. I never saw him without a cigarette dangling from his lower lip. He treated me with a cigarette dangling from his lower lip, and it waggled alarmingly when he talked. The smoke alone, the stench and the fog, made it like walking into the jaws of hell.

And that was just the start.

The dentist had been a bit shattered by the war, and he had very visible shakes. Seated in the chair, you could see this as he lurched towards you, cigarette waggling. After a cursory look around, he might need a probe, a scraper, a needle.... As his trembling hand came towards you, he would invariably bark out "Steady my hand, lad". I was quite eager to cooperate with this command, and would grab his wrist with both my hands, which would allow him to be steady enough to get into your mouth without incident. With a needle in his hand he was just this side of terrifying.

The dentist had two settings. Look around and declare everything fine, and extract. Hence the toothless Hepworths. In my teens I did lose two teeth unnecessarily to him, and that was the turning point, the sudden epiphany that this man was someone who hated teeth, and was on a private mission to eliminate them. By then "Steady my hand, lad" was a family catchphrase which would make us all laugh, most of us toothlessly. After the extractions I could not eat for a week, and it was obvious that while I was out for the count nobody had been guiding his hand.

In spite of his dental depredations I have always enjoyed dentists, and have been very lucky. The two teeth extracted as a lad led to a domino effect of collapsing teeth until I was rescued by a Leonardo of teeth, a tooth-artist so consummate that you almost expected him to sign his work, or maybe send off a few patients to hang in the Tate. He seemed incapable of anything less than brilliant. He did some gold bridgework for me which is as sound today as it was thirty years ago. It always draws gasps of admiration from current dentists, though these days they may be sizing me up for scrap value.


Now old "Steady my hand, lad" seems a zillion years away, and my modern (NHS) dentist has equipment that would have blown SMHL away.

Somehow I have escaped so far my parents' toothlessness, and may avoid it altogether, if I am spared.



Monday, February 08, 2021

Catch up


I'm back.

I attacked the sinus head jelly on several fronts and by Friday I could no longer be mistaken for Julie Walters in the Two Soups sketch.

So I went for a walk above Chatsworth with Liz.

Photo by Liz

It was lovely.

Then in the afternoon I went to Bakewell for my vaccination. That night I got just two hours sleep before I woke up with chills. Two hours later I had a fever which lasted hours. Then came panting, and I was thinking 'If this is what you get from the vaccination I really don't want Covid.' 

Dave looked at me in the morning light and said "It's times like this when I wish we'd bought the coffins."

Fit for nothing I stayed in bed all day, thinking - Why do I have to always be the wuss? But my friend Het, who'd also had the jab on Friday down in Cornwall, and who at that time seemed OK, said "I think your reaction is probably the healthier one." So I did some research and found that older people with high levels of physical exercise or physical activity are more likely to have greater antibody responses to a vaccination. Yes! Kudos to me! 

(Het developed symptoms later and had a day when she was fit to do nothing but sit on the sofa.)

I'm OK now, I think. I'm going to vacuum and then get on with my current painting. 

As Jenetta (blog reader) wanted to see pictures of food we make at Hepworth Towers, here is Dave making oatcakes:

I hope you have a good week, dear friends, snow or no snow.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Jelly brain

I'm sorry I haven't posted in 6 days, but I've had a head full of jelly. My sinus trouble returned. It makes me sway about when I'm walking because of dizziness, and clogs up my thinking too. It's slightly clearer today, but I'm still not steady enough on my feet to stack the logs that Dave has brought home and cut up, which is a shame because it's a chore I enjoy.

Such news as there is at Hepworth Towers is this:

I'm watching Atypical on Netflix again, and I'm half way through Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichi. I recommend them both. Next I'm going to read The Offing, as recommended by blog reader, Kristine.

I've finished another painting I'm pleased with and have moved on to painting this: the clematis by our front door. I love the stark clarity and smoothness of the stems, their arrangement, and the teardrops of rain.

I'm beginning by painting it realistically (which is hard!) but I had thought that as it was symbolic of lockdown maybe I'd also do an abstract, with all the things I am missing in lockdown written beyond the stems. I started to list them but it made me too miserable so I stopped.

What doesn't make me miserable is looking at all the photographs on my iPad, like this one of the girls and me in Boulder, as i'm setting off on a zipwire:


And these two, taken the last time they visited:

There are so many lovely memories I can scroll through any time I want:

One day it will no longer be the February of the soul. And because of that I am ordering my cosmos and sweet pea seeds today.


One day people will touch and talk perhaps easily,

And loving be natural as breathing and warm as sunlight

And people will untie themselves, as a string is unknotted

Unfold and yawn and stretch and spread their fingers

Unfurl, uncurl like seaweed returned to the sea

And work will be simple and swift as a seagull flying

And play will be casual and quiet as a seagull settling

And the clocks will stop, and no one will wonder

or care or notice,

And people will smile without reason, even in the winter,

even in the rain.