Thursday, December 29, 2022

It's finally over

You can have too much of The Repair Shop. You can have too much of people saying their auntie gifted them the doll in 1953.



Gift is a noun, not a verb. The verb is 'give' past tense 'gave.’

You can hear too many people saying their beloved Granny sadly passed in 1991.



The word is 'died.' If you must - 'passed away.'

Even the bloody Guardian is at it. Their weekly email containing their good news stories was obviously written by the office junior's American penfriend.

Otherwise, why would the Christmas Day email say 'I hope you have all gotten the presents you wanted'? GOTTEN? 

The very fact that I was reading an email from the Guardian on Christmas morning will give you a tiny clue about my Covid Christmas. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

This Christmas I finally understood in my gut one reason why Dave hates Christmas, namely, the injunction to be jolly, no matter how you are really feeling. 

One night we switched on the Christmas episode of The Repair Shop, where the workshop was festooned to the rafters with Christmas decorations and everyone was eating mince pies, wearing Santa hats and being silly. But in the outside camera shots of the workshops we could see that the surrounding trees were wearing their summer leaves - full and green - and this emphasised the fakery. I’m not stupid: I know that Christmas episodes of regular programmes are almost never shot at Christmas, but still… 

…neither of us could bear the 'jolliness' and we turned it off. The next night we watched something more bracing - the very last very bleak episode of Kavanagh.

Thank goodness they're over - Christmas and Covid. Yesterday, December 28th  (day 15) I finally tested negative. This means that although I still have blocked sinuses I am not infectious and can see all the family on Friday for food and games. Whooppee!

My social highlight this Christmas was Facetime margaritas with Chrissie last evening. 

My cultural highlight has been listening to an audiobook of The Secret Garden read to absolute perfection by Carrie Hope Fletcher.

Painting-wise I'm working on two paintings - one of cow parsley seedheads in frost, and one called Still life with Covid. I tried painting this:

But it was too hard so I drew it 

and now I am painting it again.

It's finally stopped raining so Dave and I might potter down the Trail to Hassop Station for a coffee.

Life begins again.

Monday, December 26, 2022

A line is a line is a line

When I first got Covid I was telling people how lucky it was that it had never been planned for family to come here for Christmas, but that the-family-member-who-declines-to-be-named and the lovely Jaine and their brand new baby had invited me to go to them on Boxing Day. How lucky was I?

And ZoΓ« had invited me to her house at the end of Christmas week for a gathering (which included the new baby.) Double the luck.

But yesterday, Christmas Day, was day 13 of Covid and I was still feeling well below par. I had planned a nice Christmas dinner (for one, as Dave was having yoghurt, though he'd offered to sit with me) but I had not had the energy/motivation to iron the tablecloth, nor find a more suitably festive centrepiece.

But maybe, I thought,  the test would prove negative today, Boxing Day, and I could go to Sheffield and cuddle my newest grandchild. 

But there's a line. A faint line. A very faint line. But a line is a line is a line when the health of a newborn is at stake. So I'm here, sitting at my new desk, writing to you. 

And by the way, I’ve realised that the way to have a clear desk is to have such a small one that you have to action things and then throw them away or file them because there is nowhere to pile them.  But there is still enough room for my parents' last Christmas cards, which I bring out every year.

I woke up feeling rough, and then there was the disappointment of the line, but I sat in bed and read this year's blog posts from winter into spring, and they cheered me up. Gosh I do feel blue so often about the state of the world, but I get through, and there is plenty of joy to be had.

from Maggie Smith's book Keep Moving

Line or no line, the sun is shining and I can go out for a local, gentle walk. I'm what my mother-in-law used to call 'a lucky jigger.'

Happy Boxing Day to you, dear friends.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The dark and the light

The dark

Two of my Christmas messages…

"Dear Sue

I hope you are coping well with the end of civilisation and managing to keep warm."

"Happy Christmas to you and Dave.  You have to believe 2023 will be better but the rational man or woman would have their doubts!


I've been reading some of my blog posts from the beginning of the pandemic and how cheerful they are! Of course, it was springtime and sunny then. But I was making a determined effort for the sake of readers to make my posts upbeat. I'm sorry that's a struggle right now, but I can do dark and light (the light is lower down, which you can scroll to now if you like.) 

In a FaceTime chat with the aging hippie in California this week she said she’d been reading dire things about our current state in the U.K. - that one third of the population are on food relief. I said that certainly a third of children are living in poverty, and many people - including those in work - have to choose between heating and eating; that we are short of 30,000 nurses; and short of doctors, yet the government restricted the number of university places in medical schools this year; that I know someone who waited 9 hours for an ambulance for her son, and that a friend of mine waited 14 hours in A and E last week.

Last night I watched the first half hour of Dr Zhivago where the cavalry with unsheathed sabres ride into a peaceful hunger march and mow the marchers down. It reminded me of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester in 1819 when a peaceful crowd of 60,000 people had assembled to demonstrate for parliamentary reform, and the cavalry rode into them, killing 15 people.

It feels as though this government - with MPs who have received a 28% pay rise since 2010 and who are refusing fair pay and conditions to so many, many workers - are carrying out a passive massacre, of people and of services that serve the public, of which the NHS is just one. This government's 12 years of heartless intransigence is just as bad as the brutality of those men on horseback.

The light

First it's the Winter Solstice, which English Heritage filmed live from Stonehenge this year, and I just watched. The concept was more magical than the experience, because there were so many people swarming around with their phone torches on, but the fact remains - it's getting lighter everyday from today.

Dave and I are watching back episodes of The Repair Shop every night and I've realised that just one of its attractions is that it is very healing to watch a skilled and dedicated craftsperson mend something, whatever it is, when the country out there appears to be broken. 

Dave brought in the tree yesterday which seems to have grown 15 inches in a year. Amazing. I think we’re going to have to buy it a bigger pot, but if we do I don’t know how we'll manage to carry it into the house next year. I bought it 6 years ago for £25 when it was knee high to a grasshopper and now it’s taller than me. What joy.

Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,
Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold....

...Bring in the shepherd boy, the ox and ass,
Bring in the stillness of an icy night,
Bring in the birth, of hope and love and light.
Bring the Christmas life into this house.

This is my favourite Christmas poem. You can find it complete, here.

Dave gave me my home made Christmas card last evening:

...which I love, love love!

other nice news...

Lux asked me to give her Christmas money to a charity planting trees, and Cece asked for an e-voucher to spend on the Choose Love site, which means buying gifts for refugees. 

And Tate, my grandson, is raising money for the homelessness charity Crisis, by asking people to sponsor him doing 2023 chin-ups in January. 

Here is his JustGiving page. 

I'm still getting over Covid, but I'm so looking forward to seeing my local family in the coming days.

I wish you all a warm and loving Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

It got us in the end

I am definitely on the mend because this morning I was composing a blog post in my head, even before I switched on the light.

Dave did not have flu, he had Covid. And he gave it to me. After 2 years and 9 months of being careful and avoiding it, wearing masks long after most other people had given up, and even with both of us vaccinated up to the eyeballs, it got us in the end. And it’s ironic that it was Dave the recluse who brought it home, though it really was not his fault.

He is better now and looking after me.

Some friends have told me breezily since vaccination arrived - “Oh, it’s just like having a bad cold” but that’s not what it’s been like at Hepworth Towers.  Neither of us can remember feeling as awful. Perhaps this latest strain is particularly nasty.

The first sleepless night it felt as though I had two brains - one if I turned on my left side and one for my right side; the second sleepless night it felt as though my throat which had been stuffed full of razor blades in the day time was now in danger of closing up altogether. Dave said he was lying awake at the same stage planning to get a plastic tube from the shed and shoving it down his throat as a DIY tracheotomy.

It feels unseemly to complain about how horrid it has been when so many people are in the middle of a winter of privation, but I have found it very comforting to tell Dave precisely how I’m feeling and for him to understand and sympathise. And to have our three ‘children’ ring up and listen to complaints and be sympathetic has also been a solace. Reciting symptoms and complaining is not in the least bit admirable. But you know me.

Dave and story have got me through. A Quaker friend, an emeritus professor of HRD, told me that when he was ill and unable to sleep he would read my books. My story solution has been watching reruns of Downton Abbey on my iPad in bed. I have now watched so many that I hate Lady Mary even more than I did originally, I am wondering what on earth Anna saw in Bates (still - la coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas)


and I am even sick of the Downton Abbey incidental music - the dark scenes and the hopeful. Most of all though, I am sick of the fact that no one ever laughs.

Yesterday I was sick of everything - I even turned over my beautiful pandemic patchwork quilt because I couldn’t stand the bright colours. πŸ™„πŸ™„πŸ™„

But last night I ate a proper tea, and then I had a good night's sleep, so although my head is still full of snot and I am very deaf because of it, I might get up and get dressed and see if I can paint.

That French quote above made me get out my copy of Men Women and Dogs by James Thurber and leafing through the cartoons has made me laugh. I should remember this and get it off the shelf the next time I’m ill. Here for your enjoyment are a few more. Please forgive the quality of the images: the paper in the book is thin and cartoons show through from the other side.

If those don't amuse you, try this Gary Larsson one my brother sent me this week:

Onward and upward. Perhaps by Monday I will feel strong enough to think about  the tree.

p.s.  if you find out about my new blog posts on Twitter, you need to now I may soon be moving to Mastodon. I will keep you informed.


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The house of flu

Dear faithful readers, your comments on the last post cheered me hugely because of their sympathy and empathy and because of your own stories of aging. Thank you.

I am feeling a bit better than last week, but poor Dave has the flu, and I am trying not to catch it.  

Dave has a characteristic way of behaving when he is ill and it is best illustrated in the following old blog posts from 11 years ago.

October 17th 2011

A certain symptom

There’s a story in my favourite book - Garrison Keillor’s Leaving Home - where the whole town of Lake Wobegon gets the Swedish flu -

It’s the usual flu with chills, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, achiness and personal guilt, but it’s accompanied by an overpowering urge to put things in order. Before you collapse into bed, you iron the sheets. Before you vomit, you plan your family’s meals for the upcoming week.

Dave had a flu-like cold at the weekend.  Usually when he’s ill, he doesn’t go to bed. He scorns the very mention of bed. This is his usual mantra: “I’m going out on my bike to teach this cold a lesson.”

But this time he was so ill he did go to bed. I wanted to look after him. I like looking after poorly people (at least I do until it gets boring.) I wanted to make him drinks, fluff up his pillow, bring him treats and a nice cold flannel for his fevered brow, but he spurned all my offers.

Dave: “Do you think I’m going to die?” 

Sue: “No, Dave. You’ve just got a nasty cold. Would you like me to make you a drink?”

Dave: “Are you being a bit impatient with me today?”

He said this three times on Saturday and three times on Sunday, and I kept answering – patiently, of course  - “No. I’m not being impatient. I think you’re ultra-sensitive because you’re feeling so rough. I’m actually being extremely sweet to you. Don’t I keep offering to do things for you?”

Could paranoia be one of his symptoms?

This morning he was his usual self again, and even though he was coughing, and his head was aching. and his chest felt as if someone was sticking a loo brush down it, he went out on his bike.

I, however, started sniffing, and then worrying that I was getting his cold, and then manically swallowing aconite every two hours as a prophylactic. And no-one was being very nice to me: Zoe sounded unfriendly on the phone, and the man in the cafe was rather off. Didn’t they like me?

Now Dave is sleeping in the other room so as not to disturb me with his coughing. Or is it because he doesn’t like me? And I am sitting here at midnight unable to sleep, two hours past my bedtime, because my nose is running and my face hurts, and now my eyes are sore.

7 a.m. the next morning. I have got it. And Dave just came in and brought me a mug of sweet tea, without my asking. He always looks after me beautifully when I’m under par.


October 19th 2011

Bulletin from the house of doom, formerly known as Hepworth Towers

I spent a feverish night but have managed to eat some porridge for breakfast.


Dave felt better from his killer bug, went outside to work on the new fence, and cracked a rib.


This morning he says he has flashing lights in both eyes.



October 21st 2011

Choosing the right verb

Dave: ‘Well, you look a tad less corpse-like this morning. You look as if you might be climbing out of the pit of illness, not cavorting in the bottom.’

Sue: ‘People don’t cavort when they’re ill.’

Dave: ‘No. It sounds like cavorting, it’s only when you look down that you see they’re wrestling with death.’

Our village in winter

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Downhill all the way

It's been a challenging week. 

On two early mornings I tried and failed to make a transaction on telephone banking. This involves holding on for 15 minutes and then going through a series of annoying questions that on both occasions ended in failure. It made me feel old and useless and incredibly frustrated.

I have felt old and useless a lot of this week. My memory is hopeless and I keep leaving things in strange places. Last week I posted an urgent item to Zoe and forgot to write her postal code on the letter, and this week I wrote out her address again and realised I'd put 'avenue' when it should be 'road.' I was hugely upset but Dave gave me a rare unsolicited hug and told me not to worry. "This is what getting old is like, and it happens to everyone."

One bright spot of the week was Monday in Bakewell when we held a craft, coffee and cake morning for Ukrainian refugees. We didn't have as many guests as we'd hoped for but the ones who came thoroughly enjoyed it and asked us to run another one in the Christmas holidays for their children. 

I was at a meeting on Tuesday and then I was hit by a strange fatigue.

Wednesday morning I dropped my phone in the loo. 

"Quick, Dave! Google what to do when you drop your phone in water!"

He thought I was joking and ignored me so I found my iPad and did it myself. I've had the phone for 4 years (I think) and this was the first major mishap. It seems to have survived.

Wednesday afternoon, a long-time friend came to visit and we walked in the sunshine and then sat by the fire in my studio drinking tea and eating sub-standard stollen and laughing a lot. It was life enhancing.

Thursday, I stayed in bed until 10.a.m. writing Christmas cards.

Friday, I found out I'd offended a friend and was mortified and miserable.

Friday, I sat in my new studio and could not think of a single thing I wanted to paint and thought what an irony it was that I now had a studio and could not paint. Was there such a thing as painter's block? I was miserable about upsetting my friend: that was a major reason. 

I made myself choose a canvas (actually a piece of board from an old wardrobe) and painted it all over in pale violet. I always paint a support (that's what artists call the thing they paint on - pretentious? moi?) all over before I start a picture, and then scrolled through my photos and could not find a single thing that inspired me. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Misery prevailed. Should I do a still life? e.g. paint my old blue boots? I considered it and decided against. Nothing appealed.

I made myself go out for a walk in the cold grey countryside.

When I got back Chrissie had emailed to ask me for news and I responded with  my misery and she was so lovely and sympathetic, and thank you, Chrissie.

One undilutedly happy thing happened this week: Dave made me a writing table to go in the corner of the bedroom. It's to give me a space now my study no longer exists, and I'm writing at it now. It was done precisely to my measurements and spec with a shelf underneath to put away the laptop when not in use. He made it from an old door. 

Isn't he great?

He has probably made more tables in his life than anything else. 

I am so happy with the table! I've been telling him every half hour. You wouldn't put me in the pit of ingratitude.

The backdrop to my challenging week of aging and seasonal affective disorder has been an underlying despair about this rotten government and their unwillingness (or inability?) to see and care that millions of ordinary people are leading desperately miserable lives; their refusal to engage with unions; and a vilification of nurses - good luck with that. The public are behind the nurses. 

I don't want a fancy dinner at Christmas. I don't want presents. Seeing my family is all I want. That and a warm fire. I am so fortunate to be married to Dave, who is a firewood-gathering-machine. 

And before you ask, it's an OFF Christmas this year, but it's off for so many people, through no choice at all. So from now on, I'd like to bury the concept of the ON-OFF Christmas.

Despite everything, I'm going to try to be cheerful today: I've made up my mind.

Auch der Hass gegen die Niedrigkeit
Verzerrt die ZΓΌge.
Auch der Zorn ΓΌber das Unrecht
Macht die Stimme heiser.

Even hatred of deprivation

Twists the face

Even anger about injustice

Makes the voice hoarse.


But I'm leaving you, myself and this post with this thought from Maggie Smith (the poet) in her book Keep Moving.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Leaving the past behind

This week in pursuit of turning my writing study into a painting studio I have been clearing out my desk and sorting through papers. I came across all kinds of things, including a dozen abstracts of my one and only research paper published in an academic journal.

I saved two copies. It's hard to let go of my former lives. I've been trying to give away my old academic books and have only managed to whittle them down by half because I'm oddly attached to them. I have a general rule that if I'm not going to read a book again I take it to the charity shop. But although I doubt I will ever read again Experiment, Design and Statistics in Psychology by Colin Robson, I am too fond of it to let it go. I think it's because in a world of mangled jargon and abstruse ideas I loved it for being simply written as well as downright useful. 

I also found a cache of old letters. 

Some were tiny things I had written to my gran when I was very young, that she had saved and then when she died my mother  had saved. There was one I'd written at 14 when I was on a French exchange, and another when I was 17 and working as a chambermaid for the summer in Guernsey.

Some were from my children to my mother (their gran) when they were teenagers and students; some were ones I had written to my mother and gran when Isaac and Zoe were teenagers and the-family-member-who-declines-to-be-named was a toddler. Those are tough times for various reasons and the letters reminded me of the struggle, and sometimes unhappiness, and because of this they were upsetting to read. 

I discussed this with my dear friend Het, who said "Don’t keep old papers unless they’re celebratory," which I think is good advice.  

You could argue that family letters form an important historical archive. For example, I have letters from my grandfather to my grandmother (over 100 years ago) when they were engaged, that I once told you about on the blog years ago. When I first came across the letters and read them, I fell in love with my grandfather, whom I had never met because he died before I was born. I also have letters my father wrote to my mother when he was on a travelling scholarship in America in the 1960s. They’re fascinating and amusing because he was such a good correspondent. Go to this old blog post and scroll down and you'll find some excerpts.

What I've decided to do is acquire a sturdy box to contain ALL the old family papers so they are there for future generations who are interested in social history and our family in particular.

The other papers I've been reducing have related to my writing, so for example the proof of But I Told You Last Year That I loved You is now in the box of scrap paper we mine for all kinds of odd uses.

Yesterday Dave helped me determine the best position for my table in the small square room that as of today is officially the studio. Liz came for the official opening this afternoon. I lured her - not with champagne - but with good coffee and one of Dave's homemade oatcakes topped with my homemade lemon curd.

She cut the ribbon with panache. Bless you, Liz, for being so supportive and encouraging of my change from writing to painting. And thanks to my other friends too.

And here it is:

Yes, yes, I know the flowery dust sheet looks naff, and it's going to be replaced with something more fitting. I have to have something down because the carpet is fairly new and I am impossibly messy.