Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The coming chill

We lit the fire last evening: autumn is here.

It will soon be too chilly to entertain outside, and with Covid infections rising there'll be friction at Hepworth Towers as to what is safe and what is not. 

I'm not looking forward to the winter, and am about to launch into list mode...a list of what I can do at home over the next six months besides paint.

And the days are not full enough

And the nights are not full enough

And life slips by like a field mouse

                      Not shaking the grass.

Ezra Pound

Card by Elizabeth Forrest RBSA - Lettering Artist

Here is a small section of my current work in progress: 

Love to all my readers - those whose names I know, and also the silent lurkers.


Sunday, August 29, 2021

A serious thing

I'm sorry but I have no words of my own today. Long time readers know that the plight of refugees tears at my heart - Afghan refugees are just the latest group. Perhaps it's because I love my home and family so much that if I were to pick a cause over all the other worthy causes (and there are so many) it would be to support refugees and asylum seekers. 

If you want to do something to help refugees arriving from Afghanistan, there is a helpful article with suggestions here.

Care4Calais is a charity supporting all refugees, including those from Afghanistan.

You can donate money here.

If you have suitable items of clothing you wish to donate to support refugees, there are drop off points all over the country. You can find the drop off map here.

The Red Cross is helping refugees from Afghanistan and people in desperate need who will not be leaving the country. You can donate here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

What a difference a day makes

I got up early today because I wanted to go on my bike on the Trail before the tourists arrived.  I thought it would be quiet and balmy at 8 a.m. and I could soak up the loveliness and look for grasses I had not already spotted and bring a couple home, because I am still drawing grasses, and working on a Trailside painting.

But although the forecast had been fine, it was chilly out there, and spitting with rain and horrid. And I dithered at the end of the lane, and then turned round and came home. I will go out later when it's warmed up a bit but it will have to be up the hill because the Trail will be packed by mid-morning. Weather, eh?

We took a friend on one of my favourite walks on Monday - along the Derwent from Curbar to Froggatt, and back on the other side. 

There were plenty of walkers out and about but it wasn't crowded. Usually when we're out walking, some people give us a hearty hello and some just walk on by. But on Monday everyone we met said 'Hello.' And I mean everyone. And they didn't just say hello, they smiled and said what a lovely day it was, or they made a joke. It was most odd.

You know that scene in The Railway Children near the end? Where Bobbie goes down to the station and everyone on the way is greeting her and congratulating her and pointing to their newspapers and saying what great news it is, and Perks gives her a kiss, and she is completely bemused as to why? It was just like that.

And I was puzzling about it. All I came up with was that it must be because the weekend had been so full of rain, whereas Monday was such a lovely sunny day with the countryside fresh after the rain and the air so balmy. 

Why are we so affected by the weather? 

I went into Sheffield last evening to see Zoë and we walked down Ecclesall Road, which was very exciting for this country mouse - all those people! All those people out and about at a time when usually Dave and I slumped on the sofa, thinking the day is done!

I spotted these lovely weeds on a side street:

and took a photo because I love the combo of the yellow dots, the green leaves and the white seedheads.

I'll leave you with this quote from Northern Farm by Henry Beston, which i came across on the wonderful Brainpickings website.

When this twentieth century of ours became obsessed with a passion for mere size, what was lost sight of was the ancient wisdom that the emotions have their own standards of judgment and their own sense of scale. In the emotional world a small thing can touch the heart and the imagination every bit as much as something impressively gigantic; a fine phrase is as good as an epic, and a small brook in the quiet of a wood can have its say with a voice more profound than the thunder of any cataract. Who would live happily in the country must be wisely prepared to take great pleasure in little things.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Another difficult subject

Bukowski wrote a poem I like that's entitled 'so you want to be a writer' (lower case intended) and it begins like this:

so you want to be a writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it....

I need to tell you this: what I am thinking about is grasses, and how to paint them. 

I can draw them just fine:

but painting them is another matter, because of their delicacy and the kind of painting I do. 
This is my first attempt 
Acrylic on canvas 35.5 x 25.5 cms

and I am fond of it, despite the fact that the canvas had been used before and lines from the painting underneath show through. For some reason, that's fine with me, because I'm thinking that grasses you see out there in the wild grow any which way, stuffed beside other plants, growing out of walls and between cracks in the pavement, so if there are imperfections in the background of my painting it feels OK. No-one else might like it but in this particular case I don't care.  And you're looking at a perfectionist here.
I am such a perfectionist that I am frequently dissatisfied when I have finished a painting which other people say they really like. Dave is shocked by how critical I am of my paintings and said the other day that in future, as soon as I have finished a painting he is going to make it a ward of court to protect it, so I can't paint over it. 
I talked to a professional artist about this and she said she often felt dissatisfied and that that is why painting is addictive: you will try again and next time you will get it right.
My painter brother Pete, asks me why I have to choose such difficult subjects every time, and the reason is this - I want to paint something that has struck me by its beauty: that's the reason I choose it. And right now I am entranced by the beauty of wild grasses.
It's possible that ferns might be next.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Letter from home

Right. I am going to say two more things about reading and then I promise to shut up about books for two weeks.

The first is this: I know I am a difficult reading customer so I thought I'd show you a heap of novels from my shelves that I have liked unequivocally and all but two of which I have read twice. In some cases I've read them three times.

Here's a list, in case you can't read the titles - Plainsong, Olive Kitteridge, Happenstance, 84 Charing Cross Road, Our Souls at Night, The Enchanted April, Heartburn, A Patchwork Planet, The Secret Garden, The Unstrung Harp (a minority taste, probably), Leaving Home, A Tree grows in Brooklyn, In a Father's Place, The Brontes went to Woolworths, All the light we cannot see, Homestead, The Lie, The Essex Serpent, Unless.

The second thing to say is that I am now reading a book which blog reader Sally recommended - The Heart's Invisible Furies -  which I was enjoying even though the title would have deterred me from even taking it off the shelf. Then at page 152 I stopped enjoying it because an insufferable teenage boy was going on and on about sex and it was ineffably tedious. I turned to much later in the book to see if that character was there throughout the whole book and found that he wasn't, but that someone else was going on and on about sex. Now...you know how I said I liked nature but I am not fond of nature writing? Well, the same goes for sex - I like sex, but not writing about it. And this boy was not even DOING it, he was TALKING about it. Yawn!

But I am still reading the book because it is so well written, it's pacey, and it's very entertaining. 

So what is the news from Hepworth Towers?

1/   The big news is that yesterday Isaac 

became an American citizen. He went to live in the States in 2003 but now he has become a citizen (at 48) it feels as though he has really left home. So while I am genuinely happy for him and for Wendy and the girls, there is a certain wistfulness about the event from my side of the Atlantic.

2/   I decided to stop belly-aching about the state of the garden and spend an hour every day sorting it out. Then Dave mowed all the lawns and strimmed the edges and it looks so much better that I have fresh courage and I'm going to keep at it.

3/   I wrote three separate emails to my MP and have had one response - about funding care. The two emails about the Home Office's dire treatment of refugees and the shocking deportation of people to Jamaica remain unanswered. This is not surprising, as she is a new and loyal Tory. Next up, an email asking her to support the move to keep the £20 rise in Universal Benefit. I urge you to write to your MP about this too. There is some Tory support for this measure, so it might not be ignored. Here is a link to get you started.

4/   I finished another painting:

'The colours of love and hope' 
Acrylic on canvas 35 x 29 cms

5/   Reading the news every morning is so depressing but now I have two ways of cheering myself up afterwards. The first is to take a peek inside DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE. This week I opened it at something that made me chuckle:

'I lead a sheltered life. I hardly see a packet of pork scratchings from one year’s end to the next. And now I have finished the last of the packets I bought in Wrenbury, my life is drab.'

The other way is to remind myself how lucky I am that I did not escape the Irish famine and emigrate to America to find myself living in a room with no sanitation with a husband and four children, to work in a cotton factory for 12 hours a day, to have three children die in infancy and to die myself at the age of 35. This is what happened to someone's ancestor in Who do you think you are? but there are still people now whose lives are desperate.

6/   I've been thinking about my father a lot this week 

and it made me take out a clutch of letters he wrote to my mother in 1968 when he was 50 and travelling in America on a Churchill fellowship looking at specific aspects of dairy farming over there. I have so enjoyed reading them.

Here's a taster:

'I'm in a palatial guestroom in an annexe adjoining the house. I only wish you were here, my darling. Two king sized beds, electric sheets [sic], sumptuous panelling, arm chairs, private bathroom with glass walled shower - everything I could want, in fact, except you and a mug for my teeth.'

and another:

'In general I find it impossible to discuss the national and racist issues with most people - I can usually tell pretty quickly how they stand and it is almost invariably at the opposite pole of opinion so I keep my big mouth shut (believe it or not!) Last night was an exception when I spent the evening with X who claims to be regarded by most people as a 'screaming liberal.' I found I had so much in common with him and his wife that we talked till nearly midnight although I had been up at 5 a.m.'

And here is one of his touching sign-offs:

'All my love darling to you and those pestilential ankle-biters I miss so much. Fred.'  

7/   The last thing to say is that I am becoming so interested in (wild) grasses that I'm going to buy a book about them so I can name them when I see them, and learn to spot rare ones.

Look at these beauties I found on the Trail:

These last are my favourites so far. They're called quaking grass, and look like this before they dry up:

Photo from The Wildlife Trust website

The beads are so delicate that they quiver in the breeze. 

That's it, friends. I hope you're having a good weekend. I'll leave you with two corners of our garden.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The long read

I finished reading EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU and I enjoyed the second half very much. There's some cracking dialogue in there, even if I do say so myself. Anyway, the book is now rehabilitated inside my head. It was such a difficult book to write that whenever I've thought about it since it was published, it's made me shudder. Now I might be able to read it again in the future.

I have no idea whether other writers reread their own books. Perhaps it's a shameful thing, but I've told you before that I sometimes re-read Plotting for Grown-ups when I'm ill or sad.

Anyway, the other book of mine I have mixed feelings about is Zuzu's Petals - the book with the dreadful, inappropriate cover for which I will never forgive the publisher. 

But an old writing friend told me this week how much she had liked a particular section of it. So I just picked it up this morning and read it from there to the end, and I enjoyed it. I liked the final chapter so much I have taken out the spoilers and am going to post it on here today. It's what broadsheets call 'a long read.'

The last chapter of Zuzu's Petals

Chapter 20


The leaves are out on the copper beech in Bingham Park, new and pink and tender, and the sweet cicely is frothing up in Whiteley Woods. It’s May, and I’ve been thinking about Pa.

This time last year he was in hospital and I was visiting him. He missed May, the loveliest month of all - the fresh bright green of the spring - because he was stuck in hospital. And I missed it last year because although I noticed it on the day he was buried, the rest of the month leading up to that was lost in thinking about him, visiting him, watching him disappear.

It has all come back to me with the beauty of the season and the birds singing at half past five in the morning. I have been feeling sad again. But this time, although I am missing Pa, I no longer have the questions swilling round my head about the rest of my life and about how I want to spend it.

I was going up to Wensleydale for Pa’s anniversary and managed to order some sweet peas from the flower shop in Broomhill for his grave. When I couldn't get any last year for his burial, I was upset and somehow getting some this year seemed to set that right. Last week when I rang the shop the man thought they would be £1 a stem and I dithered. He knew that was expensive and he said “It just depends how extravagant you want to be.” As it turned out, they were half the price he quoted.

On the way up the dale from the A1 I called in at the burial ground. I walked up to the grave, and the stone was still stark and new and horrid. And the black paint in the lettering was nasty. The bunch of sweet peas felt small. The grass was long, and there was still a long coffin-shaped mark in it.

I didn't stand there and talk to Pa. Partly, it’s the off-putting thought of the people who live in the old Meeting House behind, and partly it’s because I don't think he is still around. He isn’t there. He isn’t anywhere. I don’t believe in life after death, in spirits hanging around waiting to be talked to. The only life after death is in what the person has left in memories. And then there’s his deeds, his creations, his influence on his children and his genetic heritage. I see both of the latter in traits and physical characteristics in Megan and Steve, and I expect they see it in me. That is where the comfort is. There’s no comfort in going to the grave.

I didn’t know what Ma wanted to do for Pa’s anniversary. She never mentioned Pa, she was quiet all day. We did a bit of paperwork in the morning when I got there – sorting out her bills. She had an annual electricity statement which was impenetrable, so we took her off direct debit and put her back on quarterly payments.

I asked her if there were any consolations in being old.

“Having you children come and look after me,” she said. But that was all she could think of.

Megan and Ed arrived after lunch. I was pleased to see them. After drinking a cuppa and munching through a bowl of cherries that Megan had bought on Bristol market, we walked up to see Pa’s tree. It was showery and there was a cold wind.

In the evening Steve and Martine came over and we had roast beef and raspberry trifle. Ma had ordered a big piece of beef. She told me she had asked the butcher to her house especially to give him her order, not just rung up the shop.

Pa was not mentioned, apart from when Megan opened a bottle of pink champagne in the kitchen while she was cooking, and poured us all a glass, and I said “To Pa.”

Megan and Ed and Steve and Martine said “Yes, to Pa.”

Ma nodded, and said “Yes,” and took a sip.

Steve sharpened the carving knife and prepared to carve the joint.

“I’d better get this right or I’ll be in trouble.”

“Don't worry,” I said. “Now Pa’s not here, no-one’s going to complain about how you carve.”

Steve looked meaningfully at Megan’s back as she drained the potatoes at the sink.

She turned round and laughed and said “He lives on!”

After dinner she and I walked up to the gate on the Thoralby road, the one we walked up to on the same night last year, on the day he died. Then we walked down to the hotel, and back across the fields. I don't think Pa was mentioned.

At the cottage there is a tiny red stapler which lives in the two inch square box it came in, and on it Pa had written STAPLER in his fine strong capitals. Since he died, every time I’ve used the stapler, I have found it a comfort to see his writing. This time I was up at Hollycroft I went to get the stapler and Ma had scrawled Stapler over his writing in inky rollerball, completely obscuring that winning remnant of Pa - his writing. It was a trivial sentimental thing, but I showed it to Megan, and she understood.

I drove all the way up the Thornton Rust road to the nursing home to see the sweet cicely and the cow parsley along the roadside and to see if any lambs were playing on the road as they were last year.

There were no lambs. And the verges had less sweet cicely than the country lanes down here in the Mayfield Valley. On the way back I stopped at Pa’s tree. Then I drove to say goodbye to the Falls. I slowed the car down on Church Bank and wound down the van window and smelled the wild garlic in the woods. I could see the river without getting out of the car – it was a lovely colour – dark peaty brown with a creamy head of foam. Pa always commented on the colour of the river, and if there’d been a lot of rain he’d say, “It’s running a full pot.”

When I got home, I talked to Viv about Pa, and the gravestone, and about the fact that Ma didn’t mention Pa the entire time I was there, yet she seemed so pleased that Megan and I went up. She mentioned it so many times. She wanted to mark the day, yet didn’t talk about Pa, or about anything that wasn’t mundane. If Megan had not been there no-one would have mentioned Pa, and I would have found that hard.

Megan just rang me to tell me that there’s a jar on the top shelf in the cloakroom at Hollycroft with a label on, written by Pa - SALTPETRE. He bought it when he was planning to cure his own bacon. She said she had hidden the jar at the back of the shelf so that it wouldn’t catch Ma’s eye.

I’m sitting in the sunshine just now. I’m drinking tea, and eating parkin. I remember sitting here last summer on my steamer chair, feeling utterly wretched about Pa.

Now I am happy. And I think that Pa would be pleased.


Saturday, August 07, 2021

lower case musings

You know how some people are described as 'picky eaters'? I have realised that I am a picky reader.

I just read 100 pages of The Russian Gentleman and then gave up. It had been recommended to me by two people in two separate book groups who said "Everyone in my book group loved this!" 

I just read The Offing - another book that people have made a fuss of - but I was not convinced. 

Liz has just lent me All among the barley and I've read a few pages from the middle and it looks promising. We'll see. People seem to think that because I go on about the wildflowers on the Trail, etc etc, and that I love being out in nature, that I like books awash with nature writing. I don't really. I love nature, but not nature writing. Give me action and dialogue - lots and lots of dialogue. Two sentences of description of anything is quite enough for me.

I just gave up on a book half way through because it was far too quiet for my taste and I was having to force myself to read it, and I turned to EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU, which I have not reread since it was published two years ago,  and thought Hmm...is this too quiet too? I admit there is a lot of nature writing in it but that was for a particular reason - to demonstrate its healing power - but still, would I have kept reading the book if it had been written by someone else and been lent to me?

I am still reading it and skipping some of the nature (!!!) and now I'm thinking that Joe is creepy and that I should have made him attractive with no downsides apart from his infuriating refusal to talk about his past.

I can't find a photo of the book cover and I am feeling lazy so here is my study where I wrote the book(!)

I'm still troubled by our garden and what to do with it now I don't have the energy to make it all look neat and tidy and beautiful. I told Dave I'd seen a pretty painted sign on a garden gate near here reading "This is a bee-friendly garden" and suggested that we should have one too. If you tell people you care more about bees and insects than tidiness, they might be less judgmental.

"No,"  Dave said, "we should have a sign saying Garden owned by two old codgers who can't afford a gardener."

I think that might be the way to go.

I have seen some very funny things on Twitter this week, but I have a weird sense of humour so instead of sharing them with you and you going "What?!" I want to share this, because it is how I feel when I read the news every morning:

Having said that, I came across a lovely article this week called

Love, courage and solidarity: 20 essential lessons young athletes taught us this summer

You can read it here.

And now to paint. I've been struggling with an abstract painting all week and it is still not to my liking, so I am going to put it on one side, and start a painting of some limes and a margarita, or a jam jar full of nasturtiums. Both bring me joy.

I wish you a lovely weekend.

Our crocosmia lucifer

Monday, August 02, 2021

What brings you joy?

It's been far too easy lately to sink into a low level depression after reading the morning's news  - the climate crisis, the political state of the world, the shocking treatment of people in all kinds of distress, the corruption and inadequacies (now there's a mild word) of our disgusting government.

But this last week I found a way out. Dave and I have been watching an episode every night of Who do you think you are? - the programme that traces people's ancestors and their life stories. Many of these stories are moving and tragic, and I am left at the end of the programme thinking how fortunate I am to be here, now, to have my own particular life.

And there are other cheering things - both large and small.

1/  the 3000% raise in donations to the RNLI after criticism by an unpleasant former politician because the RNLI are rescuing asylum seekers and refugees in distress, those trying to cross the channel from France in inadequate boats. How wonderful to see such tangible evidence that there are many,  many people in the UK who want to help people fleeing war and persecution. 

2/  the huge success of the women's BMX riders at the Olympics. It makes me happy, not because they are team GB, but because they are daring and skilful and determined young women executing amazing feats on their bikes. Watching Bethany Shriever - who had to fund herself by crowdfunding - win her race was fabulous, but watching Charlotte Worthington's performance in the BMX freestyle brought tears to my eyes - Here.

3/  nearer to home by a few thousand miles - having a 30 minute facetime with Lux in Colorado who was 11 last week. What a joy she is.

4/   nearer still, the wildflowers on the Trail in the video I took from my bike, but I don't know why it's blurry...

5/   my sweet peas 

6/   the latest and last series of Atypical on Netflix, which is one of my favourite TV programmes. I thought it was finished and complete at the end of Series 3 but this final series has concluded the story perfectly. Atypical is a comedy drama (my favourite genre) and combines so many excellent characteristics I am going to have to think hard to list them all. Here are some: quirkiness, humour, sadness, insight, compassion, warmth, morality, challenge, love.


7/   making chocolate brownies and licking out the mixing bowl. Yum.

What brings you joy?