Monday, November 28, 2022


For family reasons I have not been paying close attention to the news and now the family has gone and the brand new baby has settled on her twig, I have no excuse. I’m back to the news, but I really can’t take it. Everything in Britain is broken. 

I have backed away in despair and this week I’m focusing on trying to make changes at home - somewhere I actually have some influence and can make things better if I put some effort in. 

My easel and table and painting table have been taking up half of our sitting room for over two years 

and it’s only been moved out when people come for a substantial visit. The family left on Thursday and the stuff is still cleared away and I’m loving our civilised tidy sitting room and don’t want to clutter it up again. (Dave cares not a whit. He likes having creative stuff around the house, and he just doesn’t register clutter.) 

But I do, and I want to rearrange things. I have a large desk in my study on which sits the laptop: this is where I wrote my six books. Nowadays the laptop is only used for blogging, editing our bi-monthly Quaker Meeting newsletter, and business stuff too complex to do on the iPad. Oh, and meetings on zoom. But it’s a laptop. So do I really need a dedicated desk?

If I got rid of the desk and moved stuff around, I’d have room to paint in there. I’d have to put plastic floor covering down to protect the carpet, and I’d have to take the curtains down on the side where I’m going to paint because I am an unbelievably messy painter. You wouldn’t believe how messy. That’s why I bought the boiler suit.

When I first thought of getting rid of the desk I panicked: where would I store the clutter that’s in the drawers? Where would I put all the family photographs that sit on the  desk?  But how mad is that? Still, I like my photographs. They’re a comfort. They vibrate love. 

And the crazy cards Wendy sends me: where would I put those?  

However, I am writing this in bed on the iPad and looking at the fig tree which takes over far too much of the room. How bonkers is that?

I just came across this on Instagram:

It's a photo of the artist Louise Bourgeois at her desk at home on 20th Street in New York City in 2000, photographed by Jean-Francois Jaussard. 

Bourgeois once told a visitor: "I'm using the house, the house is not using me."

So...if I got rid of the fig tree I could put a little desk in that corner. I have just the thing: an under-used bureau that I inherited from my father and his grandfather before. But who wants a bushy six foot high, six feet wide fig tree and how would they transport it home?  It’s an amazing tree and I do keep pruning it but it makes no difference. It will keep getting bigger. Do any of you want it? 

Ok. I just looked up how to radically prune a weeping fig, and my tree doesn’t know what’s about to hit it. 

Phew. I feel better already.

I can prune the fig, have a small desk in the corner, get rid of the large desk in the study and move my painting in there and the study can become a studio. 

Hmm. I still don’t know what to do with the photographs. 

Saturday, November 26, 2022


I began to write this blog post yesterday morning...

I am bereft.

Our American family are en route to the airport for their journey home. It's been such a wonderful week with them, and this morning feels flat. Thank goodness the sun is shining in a clear sky so I can go and seek solace on the Monsal Trail.

When they arrived last Saturday I was done in. The new Hepworth baby had only just arrived after a long labour, and grandparents do tend to fret. Life events are exhausting, even when you're on the sidelines. 

But I had to break off from the blog so I'm continuing today...

But seeing the Coloradans perked me up, and despite the almost constant rain we've had a lot of fun. We played Pucket, Downfall, Guess Who, darts, Stay Alive and naturally the yoghurt cartons made an appearance.

There was a visit to meet the new baby cousin (the-baby-of-the-family-member-who-declines-to-be-named)

And the baby lovingly nursed:

Tantalising, isn't it? 

Hey ho.

Snoopy came to visit for the day by special request:

It was difficult to judge who was the most pleased to see him:

Cece loves cooking so we made an Eton mess and a chocolate cake. 

We attempted chocolate curls for the decoration but only managed flakes. 

The American family are huge cat fans so we booked a visit to the excellently run Sheffield cat cafe.

photo by Isaac

Olaf and Cece
photo by Isaac

But before you voice misgivings...I was utterly convinced that the cats' welfare comes first. There are plenty of places that cats can rest out of reach of humans plus they have an escape room. The numbers of visitors is strictly limited, and the opening hours short, with a lunch hour. Olaf - above - was perfectly happy to rest in his bed while humans went to pay homage.

But now it's all over. They are back in Boulder.

And this morning I was thinking about Cece, who is designing a banner to show what brings her joy: cats and nature. The best banners in her class will be hung on the main shopping street in Boulder. 

And I've been thinking about what brings me joy - cycling and walking in the countryside, trees, and painting, but above all else - grandchildren.

The dedication in Plotting for Grown-ups

And now I have another one. I held her for the second time last evening and oh,  there is something magical about newborn babies. 

Born Yesterday
by Philip Larkin

For Sally Amis

Tightly-folded bud,
I have wished you something
None of the others would:
Not the usual stuff
About being beautiful,
Or running off a spring
Of innocence and love —
They will all wish you that,
And should it prove possible,
Well, you’re a lucky girl.

But if it shouldn’t, then
May you be ordinary;
Have, like other women,
An average of talents:
Not ugly, not good-looking,
Nothing uncustomary
To pull you off your balance,
That, unworkable itself,
Stops all the rest from working.
In fact, may you be dull —
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.

from Collected Poems by Philip Larkin, published by Farrar, Straus and Girroux, 2003


Saturday, November 19, 2022


There is a new baby Hepworth in the world and I am so happy! 

I am so thankful that mother and baby are well.

And that is all I am prepared to say at the moment, because yesterday her father (the family member who declines to be named) called me “the family bugle.” 

There may be more details forthcoming or the new baby may remain in the blog shadows, along with her father. I am awaiting clearance. 

But I can tell you that the baby is a cutie.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Reviews and thanks

So there I was walking down the main street in our village at 7:30 in the morning wearing pyjamas and wrapped in a blanket, with various cars passing with their drivers no doubt looking at me and thinking I was some kind of weirdo, and I thought to myself “This is an interesting situation. I ought to blog about it.”

And then I woke up. I was dreaming, but you can see how the search for a blog post even invades my sleep.

Today I don’t have a problem, though. I’ve been thinking about how every interaction on the internet seems to involve a request for a review. Does it annoy you? It does me.

If you could just give a star rating, I could put up with it. But they want you to write and say WHY you gave that star rating. Several times I’ve been asked to sign in and use a password - what? -  and then I have to agree to their terms and conditions. I’m doing THEM a favour. They should be agreeing to MY terms and conditions if they want a comment.

Then there are the times you’re asked to review a purchase when you haven’t yet received the item you’ve ordered. How does that make sense?

Recently I bought some bulbs online and was asked to review those. I shan’t be able to do that until they come up in the spring, will I?

And then there are the times you want to return an item and there is a perfectly legitimate reason but you don't want to give it e.g. I bought these beautiful corduroy trousers in this lovely colour because I was seduced by the pictures on your website and now they’re here, I am ashamed of my extravagance because I don’t need them and really should not be buying them. 

And then there are the reviews that add your name without asking you. Outrageous!

Rant over.

Friends have been recommending The Repair Shop on BBC TV for ages and Dave has refused to watch it. Dave is someone who is always repairing things for people - taps, bikes, chairs, lights, rocking horses, toddler toys, you name it and  he will have a go and he almost always succeeds. But he refused to watch the programme with me because he said that he's seen an episode on Youtube and it was very upsetting, because the punters were just not appreciative enough of all the difficult and delicate work put in by the craftspeople. 

But he has finally been persuaded and now we are watching an episode a night. Having seen half a dozen episodes, I have to agree with him. There are some people who are visibly moved by the beautiful repair done to their cherished object and yet they don't say more than one quiet throwaway 'Thank you.' Yes, they're delighted with the repair, but they don't look the craftsperson in the eye and give heartfelt thanks.

Dave thinks there should be a trapdoor outside the repair shed and if they haven't been thankful enough when they leave they should drop through it into the pit of ingratitude, along with their beloved object. 

As an alternative, I suggested we rate them on thankfulness when they leave. Last night there were two punters with 3 out of 10, one with 8, and one with 10. It's just not good enough.

Dave just finished eating an apple crumble I made for him and he said he'd like to live on nothing but apple crumble. 

"Do you think it would be possible?"

"Yes," I said, "but would it be healthy?"

"I wonder if somewhere there's a bunch of cavemen who discovered apple crumble by chance and live on it."

Last up - my painting this week. I have finished the quiet harebell painting. It's called Trapped.

Acrylic on canvas board  42 x 57 cms

Our new grandchild is due tomorrow, and Isaac and co are arriving from Boulder on Saturday. It's busy here.

Saturday, November 12, 2022


First, before posting, I want to apologise to blog reader 'Rowantree' because she wrote a comment which I accidentally deleted and I cannot retrieve. I was on my phone and my fat finger caught the delete button instead of the publish button. I shall never again try to publish comments using my phone. I am VERY sorry, Rowantree.

Now, to blog. 

I find November a difficult month. In the first week we have to adjust to the changing of the clocks.  Added to this, the days are becoming noticeably shorter and now begin earlier, so it's light at 7 a.m. (again) but too dark to paint by 4. For me, a person whose two favourite pastimes require daylight - painting, and being outside in nature, either walking or cycling - this is frustrating. 

Then there is the landscape. There are more leaves on the ground than on the trees, and although on sunny days that doesn't matter, 

Our patio

on no-sun days I find I am fighting the melancholy of the dying year. 

The Monsal Trail

Behind all of this there is the news. It gets worse and worse. You know what I mean, and if you don't, then read Dave's Grand Remonstrance.

I have made some resolutions to cope:

Be up and dressed and breakfasted by 8 a.m. to make sure I don't waste any precious daylight. 

Actually, I don't have any other resolutions...that's it! But it's a fine resolution.

Jenetta commented on the last post that  "I confess to deep gloom when contemplating the future of the planet, climate change, politics etc. It is so good when there are those, such as your remonstrator who can express it so well. Living with the duality of deep concern and living in the moment is so very difficult."

That last sentence expresses how I feel. But painting and being submerged in nature help me to be in the moment. And children do too. Which is why I am so happy that we're expecting a new baby grandchild who will live just half an hour away, and that this time next week, my Colorado family are coming to stay. 

We can be mindful of others' suffering and do what we can do to help, while also being thankful for our blessings. 

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Letter from home

When people ask me these days “Do you have any news?” I find it hard to answer. It’s been quiet at Hepworth Towers. 

It’s been a struggle to get up smiling some days, after reading the news in bed, but Dave’s grand remonstrance was cathartic.

So what's been going on?

I’ve been knitting for the new grandchild we're waiting to arrive.

I’ve been looking at the garden and thinking it needs a tidy up and then not doing it. But I’m still picking cosmos and nasturtiums and marigolds and loving them.

I’m still reading a novel about modern Chinese history: Do Not Say We Have Nothing 

It’s not the kind of thing I would normally read. It’s an education, and slow going, and I don’t understand a lot of the musical references, but it’s still managing to keep my frothy brain engaged. I'm not sure why.

I had a birthday in the last few weeks, and have been treated to two lovely lunches by two lovely friends. And two of my children also gave me lunch. I feel very blessed. 

Last Saturday an Indian friend brought two of her sisters to visit. They live in India and have very little spoken English and she said after the visit that it was nice to show them a ‘typically English home.’ 

I’m not sure typically English homes have stacks of yoghurt cartons in the corner of the kitchen, or mottoes carved in wood everywhere, or paintings jostling for space on every wall, or half the living room taken over with painting equipment 

or a man who makes stained glass in his study, 

but there you go.

The painting went well last week: I was very pleased with this. 

Actually, between you and me, I love it! Though now I’m thinking the daisies should be bigger. 

This week, however, has been bad  a learning experience. I wanted to paint this photo I took on a local bike ride:

I liked the delicate harebells set amongst the scrubby autumn grass, against the heavy wall, and behind the wonky wire fence But I was dubious about the dull colours. I don’t like dull colours. So my brother suggested I try painting it in a fauvist style (bright unrealistic colours). Hmmm…interesting, I thought. 

I gave it a go.

The start: pink grass and purple wall.

The next stage:

But yesterday when I was painting, I was not enjoying myself and realised it's because I hate these unrealistic colours. I loathe them. And I hated the painting. I washed my brushes and went for a walk to decide what to do about it. The point of painting is to bring me joy.  And this painting made me ashamed. Yes. That's how I felt. I hated it that much. So I painted a white wash all over it, and boy was it cathartic. 

I'm not sure where to go from here. I thought the white wash would cover it but it's just toned it down. 

I'm going to put it to one side and start something new. Would that we could do the same with this shameful government.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Grand Remonstrance 2022

Do you remember that Oliver Cromwell quote I put on the blog a month ago? Truss may have gone but I still feel lower than low about this government and the trashing of the country over the 12 years since the Tories came into power. And this week I am shocked and saddened and sickened even further by the revelations about the treatment of asylum seekers in Kent - as the Times put it -  "the disease and despair at Manston migrant site that left chief inspector speechless."

Dave and I liked that Cromwell film starring Richard Harris that was released the year we were married (1970)  and we watched it recently more than once, because it is so invigorating to see a rancid parliament chucked out by an honest man.

Yesterday Dave said he was going to write a grand remonstrance to our MP, not because he thought it would do any good, but because she had to be told, and it would make him feel a little better to know he had told her.

He said it was fine to share the letter here, so here it is. I agree with it all.

Dear Sarah Dines

The reason for writing this letter is simply to let you know, as my representative, about my worries about the direction of travel taken by this and recent Tory governments.

It is twenty years this month since Theresa May stunned the Tory Party Conference by recognising that in opposition the Tories were thought of as the ‘nasty party’.

The majority of the intervening years since then have seen several Conservative governments, and sadly, the comment is as true today as then: the nasty party has embraced the label and is energetically pursuing policies of division, inhumanity, contempt for the poor, and injustice.

Policies are determinedly punitive and the concept of a ‘hostile environment’ seems to apply to an ever-widening number of fellow citizens, whose rights have been systematically kettled and deracinated. The government’s policies, and often its ministers, appear to lack common decency. Indeed, so hostile is the environment that the government too often feels like the enemy of the people.

It does not have to be like this. It is about choice, and the choice is about who we wish to be as a people; what kind of country we wish to be; and what our values actually are (if any).

I agree whole-heartedly with John Bright’s view that what is morally wrong cannot be politically right. The Conservative governments of recent years have steadfastly ignored moral considerations as inconvenient obstacles to policy.

All of us live in a society, not in an economy. We hope that a buoyant economy will support the way we live and benefit all, but the aching and ever-increasing gap between the rich elites and the numerous poor makes it clear that under the Tories, government aims to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor: an uncomfortably Dickensian picture.

Our country, we are told, is one of the richest on the planet. That remains the case even in times of global financial difficulties.

If we have such a wealthy country, how can it be right that:

The NHS has been starved of cash over many years and is clearly unable to provide even satisfactory care for all out citizens, who face intolerable conditions in hospitals everywhere, a useless ambulance service, poor social care, and unthinkable waiting lists. Recruiting and retaining high quality staff remains a problem, and despite vocational dedication, doctors, nurses and others cannot deliver the service they want, and that we all need.

Food banks are an endemic feature of towns and villages everywhere, and are frequently used by people currently in work. Too many children (children !) live in poverty and undernourishment is common.

Our system of coercive education internment throughout childhood signally fails to meet the needs of young people, causes them intense stress and rewards them unevenly and shabbily for their efforts. The narrow standards on which schools are judged warp the curriculum, and render invisible the teeming numbers of artists, dancers, musicians and eccentrics who lurk in every school without prospect of encouragement. What kind of balanced curriculum devotes almost half its time to English and maths, and half to everything else?

Benefits are punitive and inadequate, and are necessary for many who are in work as a result of precarious employment at rates which you and I would not even consider. The benefits system, far from helping people to live decent, fulfilling lives, seems instead to be positively abusive.

Civil rights – the right to protest being the latest casualty – have been eroded, and the unions are subject to an existential threat when they alone appear to be on the side of working people. Government dislikes any scrutiny or opposition and seeks to smother any sign of public dissent, however small and however justified.

The government has no concern at all for the welfare of the poorest groups who are hardest hit by rising prices – energy being an egregious example. It is reported this morning that those with pre-payment meters are the last to receive vouchers to off-set their bills. Surely a government with any concern for its citizens would ensure that the poorest were paid first, and that no payments could be made to the general population until the poorest had received theirs in full.

Our national reputation has been damaged by a consistently hostile approach to refugees and asylum seekers – an approach I feel sure that the government would be delighted to take with its own citizens if it could get away with it. Patel and Braverman are but two examples of individuals who seem to take a cruel and almost sadistic approach to some of the neediest people imaginable. The contrast between the population’s generous approach to providing for these people is in stark contrast to the government’s own favoured tack of cutting spending, trafficking people to Rwanda and behaving less like a good Samaritan and more like cheap thugs. There is here an absolutely chilling lack of humanity and decency.

Supporting Ukraine is clearly vital. But pouring weapons into the region is courting disaster, and begs the question of whether, had we invested similar amounts in the search for peace, there would have been no need to export death, to the obscene and profitable delight of the arms industry. The West squandered the changes in the former Soviet Union, and governments of all colours have preferred to profit from arms sales than to take a moral view of the quest for peace.

Climate change is so low on the agenda, despite being a serious threat to the planet that endangers the global population. Mr Sunak prefers to stay home rather than go to COP 27 and ignore the simple fact that domestic pressures pale into insignificance when compared with the destruction of the planet on which we all live.

The long-term reduction of support to local authorities has massively reduced public services. Examples are legion, and local authorities are no longer able to afford key services which were there to support the most needy. Properly funded social care would relieve pressure on hospitals to the benefit of all those hoping for better than third-world provision for their community.

Pensions are already among the lowest in the developed world, and the failure to commit to the triple lock to protect incomes of the elderly, whose life savings have been greatly diminished in the interests of the economy through rising prices, stinging interest rates, and the magic money tree itself: quantitative easing. In this country, what kind of retirement do pensioners have to look forward to under the Tories ?

The government seems entirely content if our rivers and seas are polluted without surcease with sewage and chemical effluents. Large companies simply continue to destroy the environment while the government turns a Nelsonian eye and reaches for Nero’s fiddle.

Really the list of dissatisfaction is endless. I am known as a relentlessly, often annoyingly positive person, but my grim dismay at the quality of our political direction is just unbounded. Every time a new rock bottom is achieved, the government starts to blast: a metaphor which is very apt.

Sadly the trend is for governments to govern for a minority of the population, and not for the whole. Too much is grotesquely dysfunctional, too much of our lives is broken, and we have successive governments which lack empathy, understanding, or even the willingness to listen.

We are all – every single one of us – citizens. We all have needs, we all ought to have rights. We just need governance that recognises that and acts accordingly. Tory governments since Cameron have stood for sustained austerity for the many, and opulence for the few. The ‘levelling up’ slogan (‘agenda’ would flatter it) is devoid of meaning, and unsupported by any effective action. It is government by soundbite, government by gaslighting.

I cannot expect any useful action from you or any of your colleagues, and there is no Cromwell to rid us of the plague of our government, which is characterised by a lack of humanity.

There is cold comfort in the hope that politicians in the permacrisis they are creating will suffer a Damascene explosion of unexpected decency and begin to govern as if people matter. People do matter. They matter now.