Friday, May 27, 2022

Remembering that May, twenty years ago

Do certain types of weather bring particular memories to mind for you?

They do for me.

Sitting outside on warm summer afternoons with the sun shining on the copper beeches and the wood pigeons calling reminds me of my childhood on the farm.

Whatever the weather, I always think of my father in the last week of May because that is when he died, 20 years ago. But this week, with the cold winds and the rain echoing that very particular week, the memories have been stronger than ever.

In my journal at that time I described the day that we buried him:

'All week there has been a succession of sunshine and showers, and a gusty wind. It was the same this morning. We kept looking at the sky to see if there was enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers and there never was....

...The dale was looking lovely, and the river running a full pot. The rain on the new May leaves made their freshness glisten. There was cow parsley and sweet cicely billowing on the verges all of the way, and the may blossom coated the hawthorns with cream. Lady Hill looked its best, in his honour, with the trees silhouetted against the misty, rainy distance. On the green at Bainbridge the leaves on the big copper beech were fully out, but still new enough to be at their richest intensity. Pa would have commented on the tree.' 

Today, in his honour, I'm sharing with you again this piece I had in The Times about losing him:

Voyage around my father

My 85 year old father died this year. The private family burial was a beautiful occasion, the day so special that the first thing I wanted to do when I got home was to write to my father and describe it, tell him what had happened, how we had been and behaved, what everyone had said. So I wrote him a letter and sent a copy to my brothers and sisters and my mother. It makes us cry but captures the day on paper. I don’t know why that is a comfort but it is.

But then my mother asked me to write my father’s obituary for the local paper. This task hung over me like a dreaded piece of homework. I did not want to be writing my father’s obituary, because I did not want my father to be dead.

Once begun it was soon completed, but not to my satisfaction. The paragraphs about his schooling, his work, his successes and his triumphs described the public man. He sounded like a thoroughly accomplished chap (as he was) but I hated that obituary. The required formal style, and the sensitivity to my mother’s feelings, constrained me. I could say that he was brought up a Quaker, but not that for the last ten years of his life he would lie on the sofa every afternoon watching the racing on telly. I could say that he was a keen hockey player but not that he had a passion for Stilton cheese and Craster kippers and home grown raspberries. I could say that he was a successful freelance writer, but make no mention of his sometimes less than happy use of words - that his criticism could be scorching, his rudeness outrageous, or that his acerbic tongue could reduce a sensitive grandchild to a pulp.

Neither could I say how fervently he loved his family, how sure they were of this, how much they valued his wit, intelligence, knowledge and affection, and how much they will miss him sitting smoking in the corner being crabby, and then at the end of the evening asking for a goodbye cuddle. The last time I visited him at home I knew he was ill because it was the first time he did not say “I had a shave especially, so I could give you a kiss.” This could not go in the obituary either: so much for obituaries.

I don’t think I ever described him as “a wonderful father” but so what? He was my father and I loved him. All my life I have felt as though I sailed in a sturdy ship, my family, looking down on other mortals whose ships were not so handsome and fine as mine. When he died it was as though someone had blown a hole in the side of our craft.

I am surprised that at 52 I am so shaken by his death. I am not a child. I have a large and loving family. And dying at 85 he was not robbed – he had a good innings is the clichéBut I am sad for me, not for him.

As children we would roll our eyes when he told us, yet again, about his great-grandfather’s heifer which won first prize in the London Show, and then “was roasted whole for the poor of Chelsea.” Now he is gone I see all the dog-eared stories of his farming forebears as weighty anchors to our family history.

Searching for written records of them in his desk I found a photograph of his mother: it could have been me in Edwardian dress. I used to hate being likened to someone else, but this photograph has been a strange comfort. I now feel like a link in a long chain stretching back into the past, and forward through my children into the future. My father may be gone, but he is still a valid link. He may no longer sit at the head of the table repeating his catch-phrase “As good a Stilton as I’ve tasted in years,” but at future family gatherings one of us can say it for him. “Only if the cheese merits it,” says my brother. Ah, that critical gene again.

©        Sue Hepworth/Times newspapers  2022   published here with kind permission of Times newspapers

Someone mentioned his hat yesterday, that the grandchildren used to dress up in, but now they're adolescent, it's clear-out time. 

"it's a long time to have a hat hanging around," they said. 

It's a long time to be without a father.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A life of pleasure

What do you know? No one has commented on the change of blog title which has been there for some weeks. It used to say Fragments of a Writer's Life. (I was dictating this and the blog interpreted it as 'Fragments of a Righteous Life.' Some hope.)

When I was so miserable before I went to London and got my mojo back - thank you so much, dear Het - a fellow Quaker and friend said I should shed my puritan outlook and live for pleasure, and that is what I'm currently doing.

So what gives me pleasure as well as hosting refugee hospitality days (see last post)?

I'll tell you: trees.

This is our back garden. We planted all the trees in it except for the beech, top right. There's a rowan tree on the left, a silver birch taking centre stage, two silver birches, a blue spruce and two hollies behind, a pine tree at the back you can just make out to the right of the silver birch, and a a plum tree, centre right.  I am especially proud of the pine tree because I grew it from a seed from a cone I picked up in Center Parcs in 2001. That tree is now twenty five feet high.

In the front garden there are two copper beeches (we didn't plant) and across the road in the field a row of stately limes. 

I love to watch these blowing in the breeze with the sun on them, as I lie on the sofa in the evening, exhausted from my life of pleasure.

Last Saturday night

And on the other side of the front garden is our laburnum tree which my brother Jonty gave me as a 6 inch high seedling, 20 odd years ago.

And we have a new generation of baby trees. These are either ones I have grown from seed, or self seeded trees I have found in the garden:

There are two beeches, a sycamore, a hawthorn, a birch, and a field maple. Oh, and an oak that a friend gave me. The field maple is my favourite but don't tell the others. 

And in the interests of honesty, here is a tree I want to pull up and Dave refuses to give up on. It's a spruce we bought as a Christmas tree about fifteen years ago and it has been suffering ever since we planted it out. I think perhaps in those days I didn't cushion the blow of the winter weather by putting my Christmas trees in the shed for a week before planting them out. Dave gave me permission to get rid of it, but then before I did the deed, the tree put out some fresh buds and I hadn't the heart.

But I don't want to leave on a sad note, so here is a self seeded larch I found in the garden two years ago that we have just planted out:

I love my trees.

What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!

– Bertolt Brecht, ‘To Those Who Follow in Our Wake‘, 1939

Sunday, May 22, 2022

My dream life

I’ve had a week of very poor sleep that included three bad nights and two nightmares. Admittedly I did have one lovely dream where 24 small and delightful children with special needs jumped off the minibus with no adult in charge and had a very happy day with us.

The reason?

Worrying about our Bakewell churches asylum seeker and refugee hospitality day, planned for yesterday, Saturday. In 2017, 2018 and 2019 we had three of these in the summer months each year. We had planned one for April 2020 but then of course Covid arrived.

That meant that the one we held yesterday was the first we'd done for three years, so we were all three years older and rather battered by the Covid years, and when you get into your 60s and 70s (as most of our volunteers are) that makes a difference. It took us some time to get into our stride again in terms of the organising, but finally we got there. 

There are three of us on the planning committee: two of us like to have everything listed and buttoned up at the very least a week ahead of the event, and the third is laid back. She is always smiling, because she knows everything will be all right in the end. (To give you some idea, last night I dreamed she was happily cycling over a motorway on a 3 foot wide bridge with no guard rails while doing tai chi movements with her arms. She is 74.)

Our hospitality days take a lot of planning in terms of transport, premises, volunteers, activities and the lovely lunch that we provide. We aim to make it a warm and welcoming day, a feast and a special occasion, and the craft activities we provide are all things that our guests can make on the day and then take home.

We knew they would be a mixture of nationalities but we didn’t know how many men, women and children would be coming, nor what age any children would be,  which made the planning of the activities nerve-racking. The Bakewell weather also adds an air of uncertainty. If it's fine, there is the park for football, the Meeting House garden for badminton and, for the children, bubbles and a treasure hunt, toy trikes and chalking. And Bakewell has a lovely riverside with picturesque local walks. But what if it rains? What do young men from Afghanistan, for example, like doing on a rainy day out?

But back to the planning. Finally on Thursday night we found out that only two children were coming and they would be 10 year old girls, so I knew I didn’t have to go up in the attic and bring down all the toddler toys. They would probably enjoy doing the crafts, so it was down to hawking out the boxes from under the bed containing the beads and fixings for jewellery, the picture frames and the boxes to decorate, and the fabric shopping bags and fabric paints. I also had to wash a lot of jam jars, both for decorating

and for posies for the lunch tables

I wish I could show you pictures of the day and our happy guests and volunteers. But we don't take photographs in order to protect their privacy. I can show you the delicious jewellery table, though:

They loved the crafts and the lunch and everything else. It was a fine day and I led a sunny walk in the afternoon along the river and through the water meadows. Bakewell was, as always at the weekend, full of tourists and just as we arrived at the love-lock bridge a group of Morris Dancers and clog dancers from Sheffield began a performance. The timing was so perfect, it might have been planned.

There were hugs and smiles as we said goodbye at the end of the day, and as well as the things they had made, they wanted to take the posies. I don't think the flowers will have survived too well on the journey home, but who knows what drab premises they were going home to?

On our walk by the river, two women from Iran picked dandelion clocks and blew them and wished. I thought they must have learned that in England but they said that they did it back home in Iran. How I wish that Priti Patel and all her heartless cronies could see that everyone who seeks refuge here, however they get here,  are just like us, just like people everywhere, special and unique, and worthy of respect and compassion.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Fed up country mouse goes to town (2022)

 I'm home again after a fabulous holiday with Het in London, the theme of which could be captured in this sign I snapped through the bus window:

My week had begun well with this news item. Please do follow the link and watch the video. These young people made my day and inspired me to do this when we walked through Trafalgar Square.

photo by Het

photo by Het

Well, there was a man offering chalk for a donation so what was a Sue supposed to do? BTW when he saw the slogan he smiled and gave me a thumbs up and refused to take a donation. (Also BTW, Het pointed out that anyone else would have squatted down, but I explained that if I'd done that, I wouldn't have been able to get up again.)

That day we walked 10 miles. Not bad for a couple of septuagenerarians. We went to The Woman in White exhibition at the Royal Academy, had lunch at the Wolseley, I bought a new poetry book in Piccadilly, new sandals in Covent Garden, and in the evening we went to the theatre.

We had tickets to see the worthy play The Corn is Green with Nicola Walker. The first line of the ad for this play says 'One person can make all the difference' so you can see why we were keen. Unfortunately the performance was cancelled that day because of Covid, so we had  to make a quick decision as to what to see instead. We toyed with the idea of My Fair Lady - safe, but not the same without Audrey Hepburn - so we plumped for &Juliet.

We were so glad we did. This review says it all. We were probably the oldest people there but had as good a time as all the people at the front of the stalls, waving their arms through the songs. It's bonkers and funny with a less than inspiring script but with terrific singing and dancing and wild stage effects. I was so wired when we came out that I couldn't get to sleep that night. 

photo by Het

The next day was a quiet and sedate trip out to the Dulwich Picture Gallery for their current exhibition The Woman in the Window. It was interesting and stimulating and I thoroughly recommend it. Actually, I'd go and see it again if I was in the vicinity.

Dinner at Legare that night was mega delicious.

On Thursday we rounded off my trip with a visit to the London Garden Museum in Lambeth and a quick dip into the permanent collection at Tate Britain where i chose my favourite painting (it's by Patrick Heron):

I did catch a glimpse from Lambeth of the source of most of my troubles 


but I was feeling so chipper by that point that it had no power to spoil anything. So much intellectual and visual stimulation had restored me. 

But the best thing of all was the talking. We talked for three days and still had things to say.

Here's to friendship, art, literature, music, dancing, wonderful food, coffee stops, clothes and fun!

And here's to packing in joy.

As Het said, quoting Marvell, 

"I prefer to 'tear our pleasures with rough strife, through the iron gates of life!'"

Thank you, Het. 


Sunday, May 08, 2022

Confession time at Hepworth Towers

What has happened to the blog?

Why so few posts, and why such skimpy ones?

Why so many poems?

It's been hard to write because I've been feeling very blue. 

I've been missing living with lots of family after being in Colorado, but mostly it's all the stuff OUT THERE. 

But the overwhelming things are this shoddy, shocking government led by a lying slob, no decent opposition so no hope of change, the war and the ramping up of donations of military hardware instead of an urgent focus on negotiations,and finally the appalling right wing swing in America and so many other places. There seemed to be no hope.

Then there's the whole aging thing: at 72 and a half, what am I for?

I tried various methods to feel better, but the one that seems to have worked well enough for me to admit openly how I have been feeling is not reading the news for a week.

The other thing has been looking forward to going to stay with Het in London. I go tomorrow and I cannot tell you how happy I am about it.  This is what happened the last time.

The third thing is that we have been planning another refugee hospitality day in Bakewell. We haven't hosted one since Covid arrived. Now we feel we can and I am so chuffed about it. Please wish us well. 

I had been wondering if it was time to give up the blog because it's hard to write when your brain is in a black cloud, and I tried to find the place in the blog last spring when I was considering doing that. So I read some of March 2021 and (can I admit it? yes, I can to you, dear readers) I enjoyed it. There I was telling you about my daily struggles and tiny triumphs and then there was  Dave's post - An Aspie's take on lockdown - and I thought "Yes, I can tell them how I've been feeling lately."

From reading past years on the blog I've realised I am subject to bouts of feeling very low. Not so much clinical depression, more serious sadness and hopelessness. And I've told you about it. Sometimes when I look back at the blog I think How could I share all that so openly on here? and I've told you that at times and you've said you like my honesty. So. Here we are now.

By the way, I have also decided that I am going to make the blog book free as an ebook for a few days some time soon. I'll let you know when and then perhaps you would tell friends personally and on social media?

Here is the view from the bedroom window. Isn't the greening of the spring incredible? And look at that sky...

Friday, May 06, 2022

Beginning again


Tuesday, May 03, 2022

The blackbird

It has been a quiet week at Hepworth Towers. I’ve been painting and Dave’s been digging, and yesterday, family came to visit. The elder fabulous grandson is taller now than Dave, and Dave is 6 foot tall. Amazing. How time passes. Soon he’ll be off to Uni. 

It feels different seeing a grandchild grow from birth to adulthood, from seeing one’s own child do the same. I think it’s the distance from the everyday struggles that makes for a diffferent perspective. I say this because I don’t recall looking at my own near-adult children about to leave home and thinking back to their babyhood and thinking ‘Where did it go?’ because the struggles and worries were still so immediate, and also there was another much younger fledgling needing everything, so there was no space to detach and consider. 

I hadn’t planned on writing the above, I’d planned on telling you about our blackbird.

He woke me up at 4.52 this morning. Had it been a person or a pet waking me up at that time I’d have been cross, seriously bad tempered. But the blackbird makes me smile. I listen, and usually I drop back into sleep.

When I’m watering plants in the garden after tea and he sings from the chimney I talk to him, because when he sings he brings me joy.

He doesn’t think ‘I’ll cheer Sue up,’ he just sits and sings because that’s who he is. He is himself, and in just being himself, he spreads happiness.

I’m having a break from trying. I’m having a break from the world. I’m relaxing and just being me, having a holiday from caring so much about everything that’s wrong out there. 

I started a huge painting yesterday. It’s yellow. I don’t know where it’s going but today I might find out.

I hope you have a good day, being yourself.

And here are a few of our tulips.