Tuesday, September 27, 2022

On being 'retired'

Let's leave the obscenity of the current government's policies on one side for now and think about other things.

I've been thinking about retirement, and how I've never liked the word. That might be because I've had a patchwork life in which only 6 years was spent working full time in an office outside the house. There has been plenty of work done in other venues and in other forms, some of it well paid, some of it not paid. I've just not had that day after day, year after year, monthly pay cheque for 'going out to work' which ends for a lot of people in retirement. 

Anyway, the word retirement has always conjured up the picture in my head of someone who has become a blob. So it follows I have never wanted to think of myself as retired, even though I am 72 and have a pension and no paid work. Until 2 years ago I called myself a writer. Now I call myself a painter. I realised recently that I actually think of painting as 'my work,' which is exceedingly strange. 

On Monday I was sitting in bed keeping warm at 7.30 in the morning not wanting to read the news and depress myself, and I decided to do the mending instead. And as I was mending it occurred to me that this is what retirement is all about - the liberty to do what you like when you like. And what's so bad about that? 

The other thing I've been thinking about is my obsession with grass in my paintings. This is the latest. 

Acrylic on canvas board 50 x 74 cms

My brother thinks it is finished. I am not so sure. But that's beside the point. Why do I like grass so much?

I like the lines. I like the way it catches the light. I like the variety and the delicacy of the seedheads. 

And it's everywhere, at least where I live. So many of my paintings are about the everyday. I love the everyday, in art, in fiction, in drama.

I watched the latest version of Little Women again the other day, smiled again in recognition at Jo running down the street in joy after having her first story accepted for publication, cried again when Amy says she has been second best to Jo all her life. (Wasn't Florence Pugh fantastic as Amy?)  And then there is this quote which Jo reads to Amy:

“We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it, if it were not the earth where the same flowers come up again every spring that we used to gather with our tiny fingers as we sat lisping to ourselves on the grass, the same hips and haws on the autumn hedgerows.... What novelty is worth that sweet monotony where everything is known and loved because it is known?”

One advantage of getting older is having the time to appreciate the beautiful details of our immediate surroundings. 

And now I need to get to work on my new painting, which is of grass and corn and bright red poppies.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Random thoughts

After 10 oppressive days when there was nothing on the news except stuff about the Royal death and funeral, I read the paper today. Now I’m in the depths of depression and despair. This government and its actions is antipathetic to everything that I believe in. What can we do about it? I have no idea.

Someone I follow on Twitter said yesterday that all she wanted to do was sit on the beach and look at the sea forever. I understand how she feels. Yesterday at teatime I rode up the quiet Trail to my favourite thinking spot, climbed over the fence and sat and looked at the view. It was so peaceful and so perfect amongst the dried grasses. I could have stayed forever.

But feeling defeated and opting out does nobody any good. I just have to find a path for me.

Dave works hard all day every day. He is either helping other people with their DIY or he is doing domestic jobs. His main occupations this week are 

1/ going out early and bringing home firewood from roadside verges, as we have still not bought any domestic heating oil because of the price 

This week's haul

2/ processing plums. Yes, the plums are still with us. The ones currently in the Hepworth towers food preparation factory are inedible raw, so he is washing them, stoning them and stewing them and then he eats them with his yoghurt. We’ve also frozen as many as will fit in the freezer. I can’t eat them now: these last ones far too bitter for me.

He does occasionally break off from his manic activity to give treats to the cat next door. He is also trying to make friends with a cat from down the lane. This cat is called Alan. Yesterday Dave rushed down the drive shouting “Alan let me stroke him!”  I don't think he should let anyone overhear him saying stuff like that.

Meanwhile...in the studio (i.e. sitting room) ...There are two painters who I follow on Instagram whose techniques are very unusual and result in stunning paintings. I’ve been trying to work out how they actually put the paint on the canvas and I can’t. So I wrote to them both. Neither was helpful. Basically, it boils down to their being protective of what they had learned after years of experimenting and not wanting to share it with anyone else. I’ve not come across this attitude before in other spheres. I’m wondering if it’s something different about the art world, or whether it’s because they’re both men. Or whether it’s for some other reason. Do they really think that I’m going to be able to produce works of art in competition to them? Do they think that if I do that I’m going to reduce their market?  There’s a lot to learn.

My cosmos are still flowering and bringing me so much pleasure 

I also want to say that I was feeling very low when I started this post but while I've been writing it I've been having a text conversation with Het and it's really cheered me up. I was telling her about Dave's exploits and she said "He's a dude." She's right.

So please raise a cup of coffee to friendship and to dudes!

Sunday, September 18, 2022

This last week

Living out in the sticks as we do, I usually just see one or two friends a week, but this last week has been strangely and madly sociable, seeing a different friend each day from Monday to Friday, plus one day having an extended FaceTime with Het.

I also finished two paintings. Here's one, which is for my friend who recently died:

'For Chris' 
42 x 59 cms. Acrylic and collage.

And I started another, produced a report with two friends, began knitting a baby jumper for the expected new grandchild, and had two long walks and three bike rides. See what you can get done when you’re not in a queue?

(For the record - I respect the Queen’s dutiful life, while finding the idea of a hereditary monarchy with a divine right to rule outdated and utterly preposterous.)

The weather here has been beautifully September - chilly starts, bright sunshine, long shadows, slightly melancholy, and my cosmos is flowering beautifully.

I've recently finished the last of the five Cazalet Chronicles, none of which I have read before. They’ve been great holiday reading. When someone offered me the first one earlier in the year I tried it and thought “Ooh no, this isn’t for me! What a waste of time.” 

But then my daughter lent me hers at the start of the summer and I gave it another go and was hooked. I loved the way the author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, lists exactly what is eaten at every meal, and I like the fact that she tells you how people are dressed. I could have done with less time spent on the children’s activities and conversations. They were an unwelcome distraction from the main events i.e. the relationships dramas of the adults. I love spending time with children but not reading about them in an adult book. I’m not sure why that is, because I do like children’s books. Maybe I just don’t like EJH’s children. 

The last few days I’ve been thinking about the fabulous elder grandson, who this week gave me permission to use his name on here. It's Tate. I used to mention both of my grandsons on the blog and when they reached adolescence they asked me to remove them from all my posts. This was a tedious process, but I did it. 

Tate left home for Uni yesterday and it feels huge in a way it didn’t when my children went. As I write this I realise that this is just not true. When our daughter first left home (before Uni) I dropped her off at her new place and came home and felt as though my arm had been chopped off; and when Isaac went to Uni I was similarly bereft. The-family-member-who-declines-to-be-named has always been within easy reach and I’ve never had to miss him.

But as for grandchildren, the hold they have on me, and the love I feel for them, continues to surprise me. Tate has also given me permission to have a (pre-approved) photo of him on here, so for all of you who have been reading the blog since he was tiny, and remember my posts mentioning him, here he is, my eldest grandchild:

Have fun, Tate, and work hard. You already make us proud.

I won’t embarrass him by saying anything else. 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Who knows where the time goes?

Yesterday I went with the lovely Jaine and the-family-member-who-declines-to-be-named to a baby shop, to look for prams/pushchairs/buggies/car seats - the whole caboodle. It was exciting and fun. It was also jaw dropping to see what all that stuff costs these days.  

I found myself remembering when our daughter was born and Dave and I were students and how the height of luxury was a brand new carry cot his mother bought us for £5. I think my parents must have bought us the cot and the baby bath, because we didn't have the money. We lived in a flat with no hot water, no bathroom and a loo at the end of the garden. The rent was £2 5s a week and we were happy. Last month an ice cream cost me £3.50.

So when the-family-member-who-declines-to-be-named asked me how it was for us when we had our babies and I replied, I sounded like one of those old men who had a handful of gravel for breakfast - you know the schtick - "We could buy a roast dinner for half a crown and still had enough change for a bottle of whisky." 

By the time the-family-member-who-declines-to-be-named arrived we were grown-ups and bought a new Moses basket and a very smart second hand pram. He was 6 weeks premature and so tiny that when we took him out in the pram, Dave had to pop in 2 bags of sugar as ballast.

On the way home from the shop we called at our daughter’s house for a cuppa and to say goodbye to the fabulous elder grandson, who is leaving for Uni on Saturday. Gosh, I can't believe it. I remember so well the joy he brought us when he was born, and the fun we've had through subsequent years. It makes me wistful. 

Meanwhile Dave and I get older and older. Dave is up in Leeds today doing DIY for a friend, and I am home in a quiet house, working my way through a list of chores and also lovely things like riding my bike on the Trail, and trying to finish a collage I've been working on.

As you know, I'm not allowed to show pics of the fabulous grandsons, so here are two from my tiny historic collection. We lost all our pictures of daughter and Isaac in the fire and these are two my mother gave me from her collection.

Daughter (4 months) and me (21)

Dave (eat your heart out Jimi Hendrix), daughter and my Gran

Here's Sandy Denny singing Who Knows where the time goes?  


a song that would definitely be one of my Desert Island Discs. 

Wishing you a happy Monday. Live today: tomorrow is too late.

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Love letter from home

We watched Have I Got News For You the other night; it was the special edition about our last “Prime Minister,” Johnson. I also saw a clip of Joe Lycett mocking Liz Truss on another show. Both progs were supposed to be funny, but you know what?  I can’t laugh, even at satire, at what’s been going on and what we’re heading for. Isaac said on the phone yesterday ( from Colorado) something droll about Truss, and I explained I just can’t laugh about any of it. I asked him if he could laugh about Trump when he was in power. 

‘No,’ he said.

In other news…I’ve been ill and I’m still recovering and Dave has been wonderful - like he always is when I’m ill. I just thanked him yet again for being so sweet and caring and for keeping the show on the road, thinking of all the plums he processed while I’ve been out of action.

This is just some of them:

There are hundreds more on the tree.

He said ‘It’s all so easy when you’re in bed and not being untidy and leaving stuff around everywhere.’ 

I laughed. ‘That’s how you see it, is it? That I’m the untidy one?’

‘Certainly,’ he said.

Imagine a NO COMMENT that fills the whole screen here.

Having said that, he really is the sweetest man I know. 

Now, if HE were the new Prime Minister the U.K. would be run with honesty, competence, justice and compassion, and we could all relax.

Thursday, September 01, 2022


 I have woken up to silence and a sweet note from Dave.

He’d told me he’d be leaving soon after 5 a.m. to spend a day - and possibly a day and a half - helping a friend in the West Midlands with some DIY. 

Before I say anything else….I would not like to live alone, and I know how lucky I am to have a partner of 52 years whom I get along with.

But the bliss of waking up to a silent and empty house is something rare and special.

I go away four or five times a year, and Dave has the freedom to have the radio blaring out or is able to play his electric guitar at 6 in the morning if he wants to. He can leave the back door open without my complaining about the draught. He can sit in the kitchen playing his acoustic guitar with Radio 4 on loud without my wincing and asking him to choose just one.

So although he can enjoy the house without me, he never goes away, and I am rarely here alone for more than three hours at a time.

It’s not just the silence I relish, it’s the absence of any kind of demands, or need to engage with anything beyond my own thoughts and activities. The freedom to go out and not say when I’ll be back. The liberty to live my life without sharing a timetable or itinerary beforehand. I can just be. I can be led by whim without explanation. I can decide that actually I don’t want to go out on my bike this morning as I’d planned, I’ll do it at teatime. Yes! A simple thing like that. 

Don’t misunderstand me: I am always free to do what I want, it’s the always explaining beforehand that can feel like a bind. 

I am also free today to make chicken soup. When Isaac and the family were staying I cooked roast chicken, but because Dave can’t bear the smell of boiling stock I stuck the carcase in the freezer until a day when he was out. Ooh, and I can have a kipper for lunch if I like! 

Enough, I’m not going to start telling YOU what I’m going to do with my day.

On a separate matter, I have learned a lesson this week with my painting. I sometimes paint pictures from photographs I’ve taken, and they work out fine. e.g the washing line painting.

That’s why I thought I could paint this fabulous picture that Isaac took when he was here, of some honesty seeds along the lane.

I’ve tried and so far failed to paint a successful copy. Or rather, I have successfully painted it, but it doesn’t work because the composition is not strong enough, and there are other problems too - depth of field, and what the camera does to sources of reflected light. So I’m going to develop it into something else, perhaps an abstract. Watch this space. 

Actually, now seeing them together, I see that the purple is far too dark. Hmm…time to reconsider….

Have a terrific day!