Monday, January 31, 2022


How have you been? Are you pleased we've got to the end of January?

The sun is shining here as I write, thank goodness.

I wrote you a post this morning about my progress on the taking-myself-in-hand agenda but it was so dull I deleted it. I will just say that I'm still having the 30 second cold showers before the hot one; and that the next best thing on the list has been reading a poem before I get out of bed, because it resets my brain after reading the unremittingly awful news.

Enough of that  - my New Year apathy has gone and I've even got round to replacing the terrible pots that were on the doorstep with these.

Have you ever heard it said that an author will keep returning to the same topic over and over? That it's a thread running through all of their books?

Well, I've realised that there are three topics I return to in my novels: relationships, grief, and how to get published.

And I think I have a similar problem with painting. I am obsessed with grasses and with patchwork quilts.

I've done two large paintings of my latest quilt and I am considering one of all three, viz:

As for grasses, I've painted the following:

'and life slips by like a field mouse not shaking the grass'

Colorado colours

And for the last two weeks I've been working on a new large painting of grass. It's not finished yet, but I thought I'd show you anyway. It's hard, though, to decide which photo of it to show you. The light makes such a difference.

In real life the sky on the canvas is a sickly sweet blue and I intend to change it. I am also wondering whether or not to add some different flowers in the lower left hand section. They'd be these orange ones. Are they coltsfoot? Or something else? Does anyone know? They grow on the verges of the Trail.

I'll leave you with the concluding sentence of a piece in our village newspaper from a young farmer whose father died a month ago and who has been getting to grips with all the jobs on the farm without him:

'Nature is a great source of certainty and comfort.'

Thursday, January 27, 2022

It's not about the cake


It's not about the cake. It's about the lies, and the corruption and the resulting lack of trust, and the fact that 70% of the population wants him to resign and yet he is 'fighting on.'

It is unseemly.

He is fighting for himself and no-one else, and the Tories' continuing support makes them complicit.

        But now for the good news.

Jack Monroe, food poverty campaigner has persuaded the Office of National Statistics to recognise the fact that the inflation of food prices hits the poorer much harder than the comfortably off.

She explained here in the Guardian:

The Smart Price, Basics and Value range products offered as lower-cost alternatives are stealthily being extinguished from the shelves...

... In 2012, 10 stock cubes from Sainsbury’s Basics range were 10p. In 2022, those same stock cubes are 39p, but only available in chicken or beef. The cheapest vegetable stock cubes are, inexplicably, £1 for 10. Last year the Smart Price pasta in my local Asda was 29p for 500g. Today, it is unavailable, so the cheapest bag is 70p; a 141% price rise for the same product in more colourful packaging. A few years ago, there were more than 400 products in the Smart Price range; today there are 87, and counting down.

Jack Monroe's success, of course, does not solve the problem of food poverty itself, which is set to get worse this year with the fuel price increase and the increase in National Insurance.

We will only solve the problem of food poverty when we elect a government that cares about social justice.

Meanwhile, à propos of nothing, it's coming round to 7 years since Mary died and I miss her. This excerpt from my novel EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU expresses it well.

"I think of you so often, every day, I miss you...wanting to an unfettered way, in a way where I can say what I think and won't be judged for being critical because all I am doing is observing and commenting, and you would understand that I am not being unkind, I'm just noticing, and giving reactions, and trying to find out how I fit into the world, and what matters, and what does not."

Friday, January 21, 2022

so sweet and so cold

I've been sitting in bed not wanting to get out because the next step would be  going to the bathroom and having the 30 second cold shower (before the hot one) that is on my taking-myself-in-hand agenda. See the last post.

So here I am blogging, as a delaying tactic.

Do I feel better as a direct result of following my new agenda? or do I feel better because I have something else to focus on besides feeling fed up? Who knows? It's been working anyway. 

I began on Monday and have been doing well. I've managed all the daily things on the list, including the cold shower. Yesterday I nearly chickened out of that, but managed to push through. 

The biggest challenge has been not being rude to rude motorists. I barely managed this on Monday: I said something charming in a sarcastic voice. They never hear me either way, but I suspect that shouting rude things is not very Quakerly.

The best idea has been to read a poem in bed first thing, partly because it helps to counteract the news, but then, when is it not a good idea to read a poem?  I have a shelf full of poetry books in the bedroom but hadn't picked one up since Christmas. This week I've been reading from Billy Collins' collection Sailing Alone Around the Room. Check this poem out as an example.

Going outside within an hour of getting up is also good. I saw the sun shining on the clump of snowdrops that come up first every year. They are along the lane and back onto a wall that faces east. 

They're the snowdrops that make a guest appearance in Even When They Know You.

And talking of poems, and Even When They Know You, do you remember this snippet of conversation between Joe and Jane?

‘I’m sorry, I’ve crushed the marsh marigolds. Forgive me, they were so-’

‘This is just to say I have crushed the marsh marigolds that were by the spring, and which you were probably saving for dinner. Forgive me, they were delightful, so bright and so jaune.’


‘Well, you think of a word for yellow that has one syllable!’

Did you realise it was an allusion to this poem by William Carlos Williams?

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

The format of this poem is often copied and used in parodies, and this week a writer called Tom Sutcliffe put this on Twitter:

It is not for me to say whether I ate the plums that were in the icebox. As you know Sue Grey is investigating this matter We await her conclusions so sweet and so cold

(note to non-Brits - this is a reference to our disgraced and disgraceful Prime Minister, his Party, and his parties.)

And now I need to get upstairs and persuade myself to take the cold shower. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Taking myself in hand

How are you feeling as we go forwards into another difficult year?

Do you remember 18 months or so ago I came up with a pandemic motto for myself:  'Stay healthy, stay cheerful, and try to be kind'?

I'm still managing to stay healthy by keeping fit, and I'm trying to be kind, but the cheerfulness bit has gone out of the window. 

This could be for several reasons -

1/  general pandemic malaise:

2/   impotent rage about Johnson and his cronies

3/   plain old January blues

Whatever the cause, I've decided to take myself in hand. 

I'm going to take steps.

A couple of weeks ago I read a piece in the Guardian called A hundred ways to slightly improve your life without really trying, which sounded understated and realistic and helpful without being so challenging as to be offputting (e.g. training for a marathon.)

And yesterday in he Times there was a similar piece called How to get a happy fix: 27 easiest ways to lift your mood. 

I already do many of the things they suggest, but I've chosen some items from both of the lists and added some of my own and come up with a cunning plan. 

Starting tomorrow, I will:

1/     Take a cold shower for 30 seconds before my hot one. (Cold showers were suggested in both of the lists.) They are supposed to be good for one's physical and mental health. 

2/     Clear out my in-tray and desk drawers and filing cabinet, and throw away (i.e. recycle) all old manuscripts.

3/     Read a poem every morning before I get up.

4/      Send postcards even when I'm not on holiday.

5/      Phone old friends I haven't seen for over a year.

6/      Always return my keys to the hook, when I come home.

7/      Do that one thing I've been putting off.

8/      Cook one new recipe a month, or an old one I haven't done for at least a year. This may sound pathetic but for one who is uber-bored with cooking it is still a challenge.

9/      Listen to the albums I loved as a teenager.

10/    If I'm going less than a mile, walk or cycle, whatever the weather.

11/    Go outside every morning within an hour of getting up. Apparently, David Ray,  Professor of Endocrinology, says that 'even the daylight on a cloudy day in winter has a powerful effect on re-establishing the rhythms that help to improve mood and energy levels.I did this yesterday, a dull, grey morning and snapped these beauties:

12/    Stretch for at least five minutes daily.

13/    Stop swearing at rude motorists when I'm on my bike, and say something charming instead, even though they never hear me, either way.

14/    Spend a few minutes every day breathing deeply: in through the nose, out through the mouth, making the exhale longer than the inhale.   

15/    List three things every night that I am thankful for. Try to make them different every day.

I'll leave you with two ideas which have recently spoken to my condition. The first is from The Wind in the Willows, and the second is from The Boy, the mole, the fox and the horse.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Could do better

The title of the post refers to me, not to our rancid government.

How are you? 

I'm not sleeping well. 

And I'm drowning in apathy. 

January 1st was the first New Year morning in 20 years that Dave and I did not go out early to feed the ducks or walk on the Trail. Neither of us could be bothered.

This is the first New Year I did not sit down and consider some resolutions, aims, or plans for the coming year. All I could come up with was a word - love - and a poem - A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson.

And all I can muster the energy for, day to day, is forcing myself out to take some exercise, and painting.

Every spring I have pots of tete-a-tetes on the doorstep. Every summer it's geraniums. And in the winter I bring the pots of cyclamen from under the tree and put those on the step. This year one was flowering and one was not and it's been like that for two months. Terrible feng shui. Usually I would have gone out to the garden centre and replaced the non-flowering one, but I can't be bothered. 

This advice from Neil Gaiman is my solace:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.

So I am trying my best with my painting. I made good progress yesterday and I'm no longer discouraged.

And since I started writing this post the sky has cleared and the sun has come out on a frosty morning.

This is the view over our garden wall right now. 

There is one other thing I have enthusiasm for, besides painting, and that's Wordle.

Have you tried it yet?

I heartily recommend it. But beware...the designer is American so American spellings are used. Today it mattered. So if you're a newbie, I recommend you start tomorrow.

OK, it's 9.38 and Dave has been rebuilding the back wall for an hour while I've been sitting here in my pyjamas talking to you. It's time I had a shower and put on my dungarees and my mother's waistcoat and started painting.


Saturday, January 08, 2022

Letter from home

I'm sorry not to have written, but it has been a bad week, apart from Tuesday which was wonderful, because I went for a New Year's picnic on Stanton Moor with Liz 

and we had hot cheesey-veggie flan, crisps, mince pies, chocolate brownies, satsumas,  Christmas serviettes (get us!) 

mulled wine out of a flask, and crackers.

"What did the beaver say to the Christmas tree?"

(answer below)

The rest of the time has been - as my daughter says - pants. 

And I have not blogged about it because I know that there are millions of people worse off than me and it didn't seem right to complain. But then a friend said to me yesterday that everyone is fed up, so I guess I am telling you now because sharing is good.

I am fed up with the smallness and sameness of my life in a pandemic that goes on and on. 

And out there, always in the deep dark background - down there in London - the architects of our national debasement and resulting crapness go on and on. This tweet I came across today sums it up:

And trying not to read the news and to focus entirely on my painting has not brought me joy. I am painting my much-loved quilt again, trying this time to get the colours right and failing. This is the work in progress. There is shading to be done on some of the colours and there are some flowers to add, and the pale yellow at the top has yet to be painted. There are some good bits, but overall I am sick of it. I am going to plow on and then do something big and impressionistic to cheer myself up.

Anyway...I don't know how many of you read the comments section on the blog, but a new blog reader asked under the last post, which of my books she should start with. Please will you tell her what you think? Either in the comments section below, or under the last post. There are quite a few there now.

Thank you.  

* Cracker joke answer - It's been nice gnawing you.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Thinking things over

When I was staying with the family in Boulder in November, Isaac took me out walking in the countryside where I was wowed by the grasses. I’d been painting grasses at home so it was natural to notice them over there.

Photo by Isaac

The landscape was golden. We commented on the restricted palette, and 

I tried to capture it in my painting

Colorado colours
Acrylics on canvas board. 25 by 37 cms

I pointed out the dried leaves to Isaac at the time - they were hard and crispy like the best kind of potato crisps.

and not like the leaves back home in Derbyshire:

You will have read about the dreadful fire in Boulder County.  It raged across grasslands and could not be stopped because the winds were so fierce. Those towns damaged by it - Louisville and Broomfield - are just ten miles south of Boulder and we drive past them on the way to Denver. 

I know what it's like to lose all one's possessions in a fire because it happened to us. We did not lose a house, though. We had sold our house and our things were in storage while we looked for another. It felt devastating at the time. But how does someone feel whose home has burned down? How does someone feel who has lost everything  - house and home? 

‘Each house is not just a house. It’s a home. It’s a sanctuary of comfort and a reservoir of memories,’ said Jared Polis, the Governor of Colorado. 

Isaac and family were away on holiday when the fire was raging. The 100 mph winds brought down a 60 foot tree in their front garden. It fell on their car and their Vespa. 

When I spoke to Isaac on the phone he was sanguine. He said they were counting their blessings. Not just about the fact that the fire didn't touch Boulder itself, where they live, but that the tree had not fallen on the house, or worse, on a neighbour. And he spoke of the sad, sad stories he'd read about the people who had lost everything.

This tragedy so close to Isaac’s home makes my heart ache not just for the people of Louisville and Broomfield, but for people everywhere who have lost their homes because of floods or hurricanes or landslides or earthquakes or war. And following on from that it aches for refugees who have had to flee their homes. 

I have always felt an affinity with refugees, perhaps because my home means so much to me. Seeing refugees in Bosnia in the 1990s inspired me to write this poem:

Knitted Blanket

Before this week we shared a pattern for our lives,

The texture, yarn and colours of a kind,

But war has wrenched the needles from your hands –

And stitches dropped, your world unravels and unwinds.

To see you there with every line cut off, and torn

From home and husband, warmth, support and friends,

Stranded hopeless on a brutal border,

I feel there’s paltry comfort in the threads I send.


This soft white wool is from our son’s first baby coat,

The 4-ply’s from a v-neck made for school,

The chunky red is from his sledging scarf,

The black a teenage sack he wanted to look cool.


All you had is lost. How can you pick your stitches

Up, begin again on your design?

I long to lend you my security until

Your future, present, past, are re-aligned.

Sue Hepworth