Saturday, February 26, 2022

Kittens playing with a ball of wool

Are you old enough to remember those ‘interludes’ they had between TV programmes back in the 50s? I remember the one where a kitten was playing with a ball of wool. Or was it multiple kittens and balls of wool?

Whatever. Think of this post as a harmless interlude between thinking and reading and worrying about the war in Ukraine. We need to be informed. We need to help where we can. But perhaps it’s important to also have an occasional break. 

If you don’t feel like that, I understand. Perhaps come back another day.

Here is today’s poem. (I found an interesting commentary on it here.)

A Brief for the Defence

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Jack Gilbert

Here is the kittens interlude...

I still have nightmares about my A levels - yes, after 54 years - and I deserve to. I did not work hard and I was lucky to get the grades I needed to do the course at University that was top of my list: Psychology. I did work hard at that, so it all turned out OK in the end.

My problem is that apart from failing my driving test twice, I don’t remember failing any other tests, and that makes it hard to fail things now. Yesterday I had my third field test at the opticians because I did not do well on the previous two. I suppose you’d call it a resit. I know this is trivial, but I find the field test both difficult and extremely stressful. I’d almost rather resit my finals than take a field test. 

I have worn glasses since I was 3 and I was also a child who had to wear those horrible pink eye patches to correct my wandering eyes, so I am not inexperienced in the field of eye failure. I have had my cataracts ‘done’ (and long time blog readers will know about all the fuss I made) and now I am on the brink of some other kind of eye failure. The optician will ring me next week and tell me what it means. 

Look, I know I am a wuss, and there are people with terrible eye problems. There are three people close to me with serious difficulties. And maybe it’s just another sign of aging, and I just have to suck it up along with everything else, and be thankful the NHS is looking after me and my eyes. Hmm..I have almost convinced myself. 

That’s it.

This was flooded Monsal Dale on Monday:

here are my hellebores, finally flowering in our exposed and windy garden.

and here is Chione (RIP) as a kitten:

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Thoughts for the day

 Still in bed at 8.25, reading poems in the anthology BEING ALIVE, the sequel to STAYING ALIVE.

Here’s the poem for today:

That’s what I’m aiming to do - not taxing my life with forethought of grief.

I will get up and paint, and then go to Sheffield and do some errands, hoping there’ll be time to go to see an art exhibition as well.

Meanwhile in the back of my mind run thoughts of a Ukrainian friend and her son in Kyiv. 

And also the thought that nuclear weapons are not just obscene, they’re a waste of money. 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Things I found in my in tray

A couple of weeks ago I threw out old manuscripts from my filing cabinet and - with much pleasure - a clutch of rejection letters. And yesterday I actually got round to clearing my in tray. This has been on my to-do list for months.

There were some interesting finds in there: my mother's record of her 1939 stay at Bramham Park along with 25 nursery school children who had been evacuated from Leeds. The children were between two and a half and five years old, and my mother, a nursery school teacher, and the other scant staff, had to spend every hour of the day with them - asleep or awake, seven days a week. 

To begin with they were in charge of the cooking too and she includes weekly menus, and the quantities needed to make them. My poor mother! She hated cooking. Eventually a general cook came from Leeds to help out, but even so, my mother comments "Things never got beyond reproach."

I also found my social researcher's information/advertising leaflet from the late 1990s:

When you open it up this is a sample of what you see (though in dark green print)

I also found these newspaper clippings:

When I got round to binning stuff and filing the rest, I made room in the filing cabinet by throwing out the detailed plans for a novel entitled "The Pippin Family Nit-Comb"  and notes and plans for a brand new novel featuring Sally Howe, heroine of Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups. For some reason I couldn't bear to throw away my screenplay adaptation of But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You.

Then last night in bed, as I was writing my to-do list for today and emailing it to myself (a nightly habit) I felt sad about the unwritten Sally Howe novel, and added to the list "retrieve Sally Howe plans."

Don't hold your breath, though. I am a painter now, not a writer. 

Acrylics on canvas board. 42 x 59cms

It's odd, isn't it, what we can, and cannot bear to throw away?  I still have my mother's navy blue P.E. knickers from the 1920s and the 1950s Willis family nitcomb (labelled by her).

I wonder what my children will keep of things I leave behind.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

On being uncharitable

Yesterday morning we walked along Baslow Edge. There are nine edges in our part of the Peak District and Dave and I are trying to walk along one a week. The sunshine and the views were lovely.

In the afternoon I went to put a bunch of snowdrops on Mary’s bench. Who would have thought that seven years after she died I still miss her? Yes, I am used to missing her. It’s not like toothache, more, perhaps, like a badly darned hole in my favourite jumper. 

Unfortunately for me, there was a woman sitting on the adjacent bench who wanted to engage me in conversation. I was polite and friendly but I’d have preferred to be quiet. She told me about an old friend who died two years ago: how they had met once a week for thirty years and how the funeral was in the early days of Covid with only 12 people allowed at a funeral and so she could not go. And her friend’s husband was rather aloof and she had never asked him where her friend’s ashes were scattered. So I was lucky that Mary’s family had chosen a bench.

Then she asked me about Mary and I couldn’t speak. ‘I can’t talk about it,’ I said, my voice breaking. And I walked away thinking, utterly unreasonably, well she might have lost a friend but I lost Mary, a special friend, and mine was the bigger loss. 

How crazy is that? How can you measure or compare losses? And why would you want to? 

I think my unspoken uncharitable thought was a weird lashing out because she had intruded on my time of quiet remembrance. It’s a simple thing to pick snowdrops from our garden and arrange them with sprigs of ivy and drive to Sheffield to tie them on Mary’s bench with a ribbon, and to sit for a while and think about her. Only when the ritual is interrupted and spoiled is it clear how important it is to me.

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

The cure

I know that my posts have become infrequent, and I'm sorry.

I live such a quiet life these days which often begin like this:

and like this:

also by Mary Oliver

And I have spent too much time over the last two weeks looking online to find out if he has been booted out of office yet. But then it hit me that if Rishi Sunak took over, there would still be a million destitute families in the UK. So what is there to look forward to except a thunderbolt or a miracle?

And this is the reason why I don't post. I am appalled and ashamed of what this government has done to this country and I despair that there is nothing I can do about it. And I am sure that many of you feel the same and probably don't want to read about me wailing and gnashing my teeth.

Of all the things on my taking-myself-in-hand-agenda, the most helpful are the cold showers* and the deep breathing, and the reading of poetry to reset my mind after reading the news before I get out of bed. 

Here's an example:

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver

and another:


And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,

In September or October, when the wind

And the light are working off each other

So that the ocean on one side is wild

With foam and glitter, and inland among stones

The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit

By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,

Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads

Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.

Useless to think you’ll park and capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Seamus Heaney

The brother who likes my blog said to me the other day that he sometimes doesn't read the poems I put on the blog. I was dismayed, not that he doesn't like them, but that he doesn't even bother to read them.

I didn't like the poetry they taught us at school, because it all seemed so old and fusty and irrelevant. But now I have heaps of modern poetry books and as well as entertaining, challenging and stimulating me, they comfort me.

If you've never got into poetry, I recommend the anthology Staying Alive as a place to start. The two poems above are in this anthology.

There are, thankfully, other ways my day can start:

I hope your day is going well. 

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Letter from home

It has been a quiet week at Hepworth Towers, with three high spots and one low spot. 

First the low spot.

Most of my meals at home are vegetarian, but I am trying to make one vegan meal a week. Last week's was good, even though it had 53 ingredients, but this week's was a monstrous concoction of another plethora of ingredients that included aubergines, tofu and meso paste. I usually like aubergines, but this meal was horrid, and the leftovers have been accusing me every time since Tuesday night that I have opened the fridge door.

Yesterday I realised that it was making me miserable being faced with said leftovers every night when I was deciding what to make for tea. I didn't want to eat them, but it would be wasteful to throw them away. Reader, I did throw them away: the world did not cave in, but my conscience hurt. 

And the high spots of the week?

- a walk with Liz in Bradford Dale


Photo by Liz

- a walk with Dave along Curbar Edge

- and thirdly, the arrival of my new boiler suit.

Do you recall this piece I wrote about Dave and his clothes? our local agricultural suppliers he was seduced by a Dickies boiler suit in a subtle bottle green, for only £25. Here was a garment he could relate to. It was practical, comfortable, warm, commodious, cheap and had, joy of joy, 9 pockets, three of which were zipped.

But the boiler suit was so new, so comfortable, so smart, he refused to wear it for jobs such as mending the shed roof, because it might get dirty. Instead he would don it as soon as he got home from work, slipping into it as “smart leisure wear.” At the weekend he would wear nothing else, and I colluded with him, and bought him another one in navy blue.

I was on the point of persuading him that in fact they weren’t classy leisurewear, when, by some freak chance, he spotted a men’s fashion article in a colour supplement. This featured a boiler suit by Kenzo Homme, at ten times the price of his. He was trendily dressed – the only recorded time since student days.

I am a very messy painter. I get paint on my hands, my face, and my clothes, and my dungarees don't cover up everything, and I was fed up with wearing the same old T shirt and jumper underneath, so I decided to get a boiler suit, and Zoë suggested a white one, which is fun, because it will gradually colour up to look very individual.

Also, when I was ordering it online there was an option to have some wording embroidered near the pocket. Dave said I should have 'DANGER. SUE AT WORK' But I went for something else.

Have you read it yet?

And here is Larkin’s poem:


What are days for?

Days are where we live.   

They come, they wake us   

Time and time over.

They are to be happy in:   

Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question

Brings the priest and the doctor   

In their long coats

Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin 

The quiet view from the sofa, yesterday afternoon

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can't
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won't even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

William Stafford