Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Love and fun and paradise

I had the most wonderful Christmas Day at Zoë's house with her and Brian and my grandsons. There were a lot of laughs and much cavorting  and it pains me that now the boys are teenagers I can't show you what they look like and I am not even free to describe them or tell you what we did. I understand and accept it completely, but they are a part of my life, and I talk about most other parts of my life (don't I?) so it's hard.

I will say that it was two years since I spent a reasonable amount of time with them, because I have not been inside their house since the arrival of Covid, and when I have met up with Zoë outside, the boys have usually been out or in bed. 

This has made me worry that I was no longer relevant or a part of their lives, but the hug that one of them gave me on arrival was as warm and heartfelt as the one I received from the girls in Colorado last month. I was moved at the time, and it moves me now, as I tell you.

The girls greeting me at Denver airport

I came home on Boxing Day, and Dave is so anxious that I have brought Covid home that I am keeping my distance and wearing a mask until the weekend. 

It was worth it. Don't tell Dave but it would still be worth it if the 'isolation' was for a fortnight.

My life for the last two years has felt impoverished by a dearth of adventure and variety and fun and hugs, with only occasional oases.  I was brought up on hugs and I need them now, which is why I drew that picture last year.

The other thing I want to share is a link to a moving piece in the Guardian: The best photographs of 2021 and the stories behind them.

It is not just about the photographs themselves but the picture they paint of our world in 2021 made up of personal experiences from around the globe - the  humanity.

I just read Simon Parke's blog post in which he says his word for the coming year is courage.

I'm wondering what mine is. 

Is it grit? 


I think it has to be Love.

And also the message in Roger Robinson's poem:

A Portable Paradise

And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.

Roger Robinson

© Roger Robinson, from A Portable Paradise, 2019. Used by permission of Peepal Tree Press.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Your NHS needs You

It seems a shame to be blogging about politics in the Christmas break, but I am sure you care about keeping the NHS as much as I do.

Have you heard of the Health and Care Bill 2021/2022 that is currently being pushed through Parliament? 

It entrenches privatisation within the NHS, harms patients and doctors, and increases profits for private healthcare corporations, especially from the United States.

My Aging Hippie friend Karen 

The Aging Hippie and me in California

Face-timed me on Christmas Eve. She was going to dinner at a friend's house and was going to take a lateral flow test before she went. I asked her how you get tests in the USA. She said you buy them from the pharmacist  - a pack of 2 tests costs $26.  That is £19.34 GBP.

Can you imagine?

In September 2015 when I arrived in Colorado, my always healthy heart felt weird, and Isaac took me to the Emergency room to get checked out. I was there for a couple of hours having tests. I got the all clear but the bill came to $12,000.*

Can you imagine?

We must not let our NHS be destroyed by the government.

There is a campaigning group called Your NHS Needs You which wants to renationalise the NHS.  In order to counter the Health and Care Bill they have gathered together research from some of the country’s leading experts on the NHS, which taken together, shows that the Bill:

  • Reduces access to medical services and emergency services

  • Enables closures of services, pushing those who can afford to do so into paying for their healthcare.

  • Enables more public money to be diverted from patient care to private corporations and their shareholders.

  • Enables private companies to make decisions on allocating public healthcare budgets.

  • Completes the legal framework underpinning the transition of public healthcare assets into the private sector.

  • Moves us towards the United States model of privatised healthcare.

  • Abolishes the universal care guarantee long enshrined in the NHS.

You can find more specific research findings here which appear under the ones I have listed.

Please find time to write to your MP, and a Lord, and tell your friends about what is happening.

Don't assume that if you have a Labour MP you don't need to write. The Labour Party leadership has failed to make the arguments the public need to hear, or to come out in favour of renationalising the NHS. Added to this, Keir Starmer recently stated his support for ‘partnering with the private sector to deliver healthcare.

Please - do something this week. It's urgent. 

*My travel insurance paid the bill

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Eve

Covid or no-Covid, lockdown or no lockdown, ON Christmas or OFF Christmas, there is something magical about Christmas Eve: I always wake up feeling happy.

That's pretty much all I have to say. 

Except.. I'd like to know why people write in their Christmas cards that they hope I'll "have a peaceful Christmas."

Don't they know me?

Don't they know that what I want is a noisy, busy Christmas with the house stuffed full of family, eating and drinking and laughing and joking and playing games?

Well I've just checked, and all the people who wished me a peaceful Christmas are all younger than me, by one or even two generations. Have I reached that decrepit age where people think I want to sit in my chair by the fire and sink into a reverie of happy memories, rather than being out there, swigging champagne and enjoying the action? More fool them.

Last evening on Facetime a friend's young adult daughter popped onto the screen for a moment to say hello, and I told Dave afterwards: "She's even more beautiful than last time I saw her."

"Of course she is," he said. "All young people are. Their muscles still work, their sphincters are in good order..."

He WILL be sitting by the fire tomorrow - probably watching re-runs of Who do you think you are? - but I shall be at Zoë's house, cavorting, and absolutely not having a peaceful Christmas. 

Happy Christmas, dear readers. Wishing you whatever kind you long for. And as Chrissie said yesterday - May all of your test results be negative.

The sitting room side of my painting table

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Thinking about something else

Although I suffered a bout of despair last Thursday afternoon, when I threw myself down on the bed and covered my head with the pillow for half an hour, this week I'm strangely not brought down by the utter crapness of the people "in charge."  Yes, they're beyond the very worst word you can come up with; but I've been thinking about other things, such as reading memoirs from the home front in WW2, and painting.

I've just finished this one of the Colorado landscape:

Colorado colours
Acrylics on canvas board. 25 by 37 cms

and decided that next I want to paint a snapshot of something around the house. Technically it would be a still life, but I have a personal horror of posed, artificial still-life paintings, however exquisite the painting. I was mulling this over and decided I should look again at one of my favourite paintings which oddly, happens to be a still life. It's called The Red Chair and it's by Cadell.

And I realised that it must be posed, because no-one would leave a tablecloth draped over a table like that with a lemon and a book resting on it, so I should get over my 'horror'...unless perhaps they were in the middle of clearing up and the phone rang...

Anyway...every morning when I sit in bed eating breakfast, I think how much I love my patchwork quilt that I made last year, so yesterday I spent half an hour taking photographs of the tray on the quilt to see if I could come up with a composition I liked.

I must have taken 30 photographs in all, and in the end I decided I didn't like any of them. Here are 20.

Then I realised that I love the quilt itself, so why not just paint that? I did one of the quilt in January:

The landscape of my bed.
Acrylics on canvas board. 37 by 55 cms

but why not paint another? This one could be in a different style. So that's what I'm up to.

In between times I am seeing no-one but Dave, and I'm hoping that 
Zoë and family don't test positive before Christmas Day when I am due to be with them.

Fingers crossed for you all, too - that your Christmas is as happy as possible in these deep dark times.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Looking for joy

I'm wondering if this feeling of weariness and apathy was shared by people in the run up to the second Christmas of WW2. Somehow I can't imagine it. I'm going to check my home-front-lit and find out.

This is the first Christmas in forty odd years I have NOT made a Christmas cake.

It is the first Christmas ever I have bought mince pies. 

It's the first time I've reached December 15th without making some myself. But I do have a small jar of mincemeat left over from last year and I will be using it next time I make some pastry. 

See what I mean? - "next time I make some pastry" - not "I must do it today!"

My son-in-law Brian gave me some holly on Sunday - which I was delighted with - but then instead of dealing with it, I left it on the bench by the front door and the thing that prompted me to bring it in was seeing a blackbird eating the berries. Now I have this lovely wreath. 

In an effort to kick myself out my lacklustre mood I made a flask of coffee and set off for the river on my bike.

This was the river yesterday - a gushing torrent:

This was the same stretch of river in May, just downstream a little:

I loved the bike ride, and the river, and came home and set to work on a painting that I started two weeks ago and I've made little progress with. This is mainly because the daylight is so scarce and so poor in December, but it's also been about my mood. Once I got started of course I loved the activity of painting.

In another effort to break up the apathy I made myself a new soup for lunch, and it was good.

Last evening we had a power cut and the only thing giving any light was this year's 'Christmas card' from Dave to me:

It's a collection of stars fashioned out of copper wire and it's one of my favourite Dave cards. 

He's such a talented and generous dude, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. He has done so many DIY jobs and made so many things for Zoë and Brian that Brian (another talented dude) made Dave a non-Christmas advent calendar. Inside every door there is a tiny photo of some job that Dave has done for them, something he has fixed for them, or something he has made for them.

It is beautifully made and utterly delightful, and every morning brings a new surprise - a reminder to Dave of things he'd forgotten he'd fixed - the dishwasher, the light switch; things that he's made - the crokinole board, the wooden heart, the garden coffee table, the guitar stand; hard work he's put in - moving the gatepost, breaking up the old path.

Looking behind the door every morning is the most fun we're having in this run-up to anther Covid Christmas. It is such a joy, and so, so heart warming. Bless you, Brian.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Christmas spirit, anyone?

How is the Christmas spirit in your house right now?

Long time blog reader Jenetta left this comment on a recent post:

...I got THE boxes down from the loft, wore a silly hat for our church table top sale today and now I want to put it all back up in the loft and skip the decorating and all the fuss this year and fast forward to Christmas Day, have family together, eat too much and move on....And I usually love the decorating bit.

I share her feelings. Hepworth Towers is awash with apathy, although I have dug up and potted the tree to bring in from the garden next weekend. And Dave's home-made wooden tree and the lighted bottles are in the kitchen, but that is only because I had to find some stuff in the attic to take to the Meeting House yesterday, and I thought - oh, I might as well.

Christmas has certainly become less sparkly for me as I get older. All I want is to be with family and to have a tree. 

Also, it's harder to get into the Christmas spirit when I'm not buying presents. I left the girls' presents in Colorado, and my local teenage grandchildren want money, of course. The rest of the family want donations to charity, and Dave doesn't do Christmas - as well you know. So I just have one present left to buy and wrap. 

Then there is Covid. Things relaxed a little after we had our boosters, but now Omicron has arrived, Dave is on high alert, so our Christmas is not looking very different from last Christmas.*

What is different is that since last December we have had one more year of lies, corruption and mayhem and I am spending too much time checking the news online to see if the Tories have given him his marching orders yet. As the Observer said this morning: 


I have had my SAD light on for an hour first thing every morning, and I'm getting out under the sky when possible. I don't have the winter blues. Maybe I should bring in the tree a week early. Maybe I should try harder to think of things to blog about, because having been writing this for half an hour I'm already feeling more cheerful. 

Thank you for being there, dear friends. 

Let me know how you are.

*Zoe has invited me for Christmas Day and I have told Dave that I am determined to go, even if  he makes me self-isolate for ten days when I get back to Hepworth Towers.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Things that matter

Perhaps you are hoping I'll be writing a cheery/funny/seasonal post today. I'm sorry. I have serious things on my mind.

Yes, I care about the parties at Number 10 breaking Covid lockdown rules, and the lies about them. But it is only to be expected, as Boris Johnson cares for no-one and nothing but himself: he only has to open his mouth for a lie to come out, and his toadies back him up.

What I am even more upset about this morning is that yesterday Parliament passed the third reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which does many evil things, including cracking down on the right to protest. 

But it also punishes refugees and asylum seekers. This Bill has been extensively criticised by virtually all those who are authoritative on asylum matters – the UN High Commission for Refugees, the Refugee Council, some 450 immigration scholars at British universities and various organisations representing refugee women. 

*see below

This Bill will particularly harm women seeking asylum because of their specific vulnerabilities, and their particular experiences of violence.

One huge shortcoming of the Bill is that it requires judges to give ‘minimal weight’ to evidence produced later in an asylum seeker’s time in the UK ‘unless there is good reason’. But there are many reasons why women who are fleeing sexual or gender-based violence will not share relevant evidence at the initial stage. These include trauma, guilt, shame and fear of family members, or of traffickers.  

I know how vulnerable refugee women are, how traumatised they are, and how hard it is to have to put their case with supporting evidence, because revisiting their experiences to give this evidence is deeply upsetting. I also know that many staff in the Home Office are not sympathetic to these difficulties, and many refugee women don't feel able to talk about their experiences at the first interview. Many women need mental health support and legal advice before they can open up about their suffering. 

Another problem with the Bill is that it introduces a new two-tier system under which those who come by irregular routes could be prosecuted and imprisoned for up to four years. Such detention or imprisonment would be traumatic for refugee women.  The Home Office would also seek to remove the woman, regardless of her needs, to a country it considers safe. Women for Refugee Women comments:

‘Contrary to Home Office claims, women are often compelled to take irregular routes to reach safety. Even if new safe routes were created by the government, they would simply not be available to all those in need of protection. Many women would not be able to safely reach an embassy to apply for a humanitarian visa or cross a border to access a resettlement programme, if those routes did indeed exist. Others would only be able to disclose their stories once they reach a country they consider safe.

The Government has ignored Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention which specifically requires contracting countries not to penalise people for ‘illegal entry’.

The Bill makes asylum seekers’ claims ‘inadmissible’ if they could have applied for asylum in the first safe country they entered. But the Refugee Convention does not state that asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first safe country they come to. 

Lastly, the Bill enables the Home Office to remove asylum seekers while their claim or appeal is proceeding. 

This is unjust.

As for 'off-shore processing' this would pose a serious risk to women and children of sexual abuse and re-traumatisation.’  Holding women in isolated centres where they cannot access community support is particularly unfortunate for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence including rape, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation and domestic abuse. Some may have been victims of trafficking or compelled to work in garment factories.  It will force them to relive traumatic memories of confinement and abuse.

Lastly, the Bill re-interprets the UN Refugee Convention, which is, in effect, the UK Parliament attempting to change international law. This is hugely  damaging to the international system of protection and to the UK’s international standing.

The only small strand of hope is that the House of Lords might make some changes when the Bill is passed back to them. Some members of our local refugee support network have each written to ten Conservative members of the House of Lords about the Bill and asking them to speak out. I did it too. And you could, if you're so minded.

What is morally wrong, cannot be politically right.  

John Bright (Victorian MP)

*We have hosted refugees and asylum seekers in Bakewell at our hospitality days and I wish I could post a photo of these happy times on here, but we need to protect the privacy of survivors of human trafficking, so I had to use the photo above that I found online. 

Monday, December 06, 2021

Letter from home

It's a dreary day here and we're expecting sleet, but the SAD light was too glaring to have on when I first woke up. It's 9 a.m. and it's not yet light enough to paint, so here I am blogging, and then I'm going to write to my MP.*

Since I got home from Colorado I've struggled to find a novel I want to read so turned to my bookshelves, and am now on my third re-read of books I last read 20 years ago. It's amazing how much I have forgotten. I remember the setting and the general thrust and tone of the books but not the plot, so it's been a worthwhile venture.

I have read and enjoyed again: 

How I live Now by Meg Rosoff

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly

And I am currently halfway through 

The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve.

Do you read books again?

I often reread my favourite novels, of course - read this post to see what they are - but the books above are not favourites - just ones I kept because I enjoyed them and might want to read them again. I certainly don't keep every book I buy.  I give many away, usually to charity shops.

I've been practising for a carol performance at a charity event last Saturday afternoon. It was dark and rainy at 3.50 p.m. when I set off to drive to Chesterfield for the performance, and two miles into the journey I was thinking how foul the weather was, and was it really going to happen? Were we really going to be standing under a gazebo in the freezing cold? So I stopped the car to check my phone and there was a message from Mel - they couldn't erect the gazebo and there as nowhere else that was safe enough and dry enough for us to play. We were cancelled. 

You know what, though? I have enjoyed practising the carols, and I enjoyed practising with the other players. It was good fun. Mel is talking about having a flash mob but I'm not sure I want to be part of a flash mob in a shopping centre in Covid times.

*And now I'm going to write to my MP. They are debating the Nationalities and Borders Bill tomorrow in Parliament, and people who care about the welfare of refugees are writing to their MP today to demand we open safe routes for refugees so there is no need for them to cross the Channel in small boats.

Here is a link to the Safe Passage website which has a suggested text for the email. Safe Passage is a charity that works for the safety of unaccompanied child refugees. Please read what the email says, and then consider sending it. Here are two excerpts:

In the last year, the Government closed safe routes, ending the Dubs relocation scheme for unaccompanied refugee children in Europe and refusing to replace the EU’s Dublin III Regulation which allowed for family reunion. The closure of these safe routes has forced even more children and families to risk their lives to reach sanctuary. 


Right now, there are 11,000 unaccompanied and separated child refugees in Europe. Having fled war and persecution, children are stuck on the streets of Calais or in refugee camps on Greek islands – nobody can call that safe for a child. 

Please raise your voice.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Out of it

I am playing carols on my sax in a combo on Saturday in aid of the local hospice, and when I went for a practice yesterday, my teacher Mel said 'Are you ready for Christmas?' and I said 'I don't get ready for that until December,' and she said 'But it is December.'

I have been out of it.

This time, jet lag lasted a week - so much longer than usual. I'd been puzzling why, when Chrissie pointed out that the lack of daylight in late November was probably to blame.

During this last comatose week I have been listening to an audiobook and watching television to a degree that a non-comatose Sue Hepworth would be ashamed of. But I must just tell you that Eleanor Bron reads The Enchanted April so superbly that when the book was finished and I wanted to choose another, I searched for books read by her, rather than by author or title. That's how good she is.

And I discovered that the 2019 version of Little Women is now on Netflix - oh joy! - so I watched it twice and fell in love with the clothes all over again.

Why can't I find any like them to buy? I want that waistcoat Jo wears and that deep blue blouse with the very full sleeves she wears under it. 

I want her knitted waistcoat and her brightly coloured pantaloons! And I want this jacket!

With the exception of Kettlewell, the catalogues arriving in the post are full of dreary clothes in muted tones. Yukh. And they're boring.

That's all I have to say. My brain is empty. 

But now I am awake again I need to get back into my painting, cycling and I think I'll look on Ravelry to find a knitting pattern for a waistcoat. I might start thinking about Christmas...but don't ask me if it is ON or OFF this year because after the ravages of the last two years I have absolutely no idea.