Monday, January 30, 2023

Being us

Zoë gave me this for Christmas

It's an unusual kind of 5 year journal.

Each page is divided into 5 sections. Each section is devoted to one day in one year. You write the year on the top left of the section and answer the question in the section allotted. The next day you answer the question on the next page. The following year you go through it day by day answering the questions again. 

Some of the questions are heavy duty and some are lightweight:

I think it will be interesting to see how my answers change to the same question through the years. if indeed they do.

Someone I don't know well asked me recently if my husband was going to a gathering I’d recently signed up to and I said “No. He’s not a social animal.”
“Well he should be,” came the swift reply.
"No, he shouldn’t," I said, "he should just be himself."
The person - a good hearted sort - then apologised.

For Dave, lately, being himself has been about gathering firewood. Last week he went the whole hog and gathered a tree. 

There was a dead ash tree, still standing, in the field along the lane and he asked the farmer if he could buy the tree and chop it down for the firewood. They agreed a price and Dave put on his boiler suit and grabbed his kit and off he went. Sadly I was not there when he made the definitive cut, but here he is soon after. We had no idea the tree was hollow, but we felt we’d got a good deal anyway.

The tree was in the middle of a large field which meant barrowing all the wood to the road where Dave loaded it onto the trailer and then went back for more.

This is the bulk of the wood in front of our house:

And here is some of the kindling:

It's been a lot of hard work, and now he has to clear the useless dregs of rotten wood.

And then, of course, chop up the wood and find somewhere to stack it.

Dave thrives on projects and works very hard and that's just part of who he is.

Thursday, January 26, 2023


I’ve had a love hate relationship with London over the years. If someone I love lives there and I can visit them, I love the place: I have a companion and I feel safe. Being accompanied overcomes my country mouse nerves and any loneliness and alienation the place might engender. There was a time around the turn of the century when both Zoë and Isaac lived there and I would visit quite often. They would take me to the new ‘in’ places and indulge me. It was huge fun.

I was writing pieces for the Times, and my visits made guest appearances in some of my articles, such as this one:

...For several years my eldest two children have lived in London, thus providing me with comfortable bolt-holes from which they could take me out to sample the delights of young urban chic entertainment.

How else would I - a country bumpkin who has led a sheltered life - have the chance to sample tequila slammers in an ex-engineering-workshop bar in Hoxton, with décor so uncompromisingly industrial I expected the ladies loos to consist of a row of galvanised buckets? My last exciting foray into their lives led to cocktails in a private bar with a secret Soho location, which, when I entered the blacked out frontage, made me feel as if I was time travelling back to the prohibition...

Then they both moved out - one to Sheffield and one to the USA - and my visits to London became less frequent. They centred on protest demonstrations, such as this one against the bombing of Gaza in 2014 

and on major exhibitions, such as the wonderful Hockney one in 2012, which I went to with my siblings. The poster still hangs on the bedroom wall.

Then I began to visit Het. She invited me to stay when I was grieving for Mary and it was so lovely it’s since been hard to keep away. I’ve had so many restorative and stimulating visits since 2016 that I feel as though her spare bedroom is my personal fiefdom. 

We talk and look at art, and eat nice things, occasionally have a glass of bubbly, and talk. We’ve been to the theatre and the ballet several times. One visit inspired this painting:

My last visit was last week. I went on blue Monday for two days and it broke the spell of black January. We saw the Cezanne exhibition and I tried to get to grips with why/how he revolutionised the genre of still life. Comments on the gallery wall like this one below did not help. Ahem.

Admittedly Rilke was a poet, but really…Why do art exhibition curators put such unintelligible crap on the walls?

We also visited the Courtauld and discovered what a nasty man Wyndham Lewis was. He was short of a canvas one time so he painted over the most acclaimed painting done by an ex-lover. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it was to paint a portrait of his latest squeeze. 

The last thing Het and I did was walk the 5 miles from her flat to Tate Britain. It was a bright cold day and was invigorating walking along the Thames. We passed parliament and I was delighted to see the veteran anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray, on a traffic island with his banners and his ghetto blaster. It was a highlight of my trip.

Steve Bray used to protest on College Green but had an injunction taken out against him. You have to admire his pluck, determination and inventiveness.

Steve Bray (wearing a hat) is holding the placard to the right of the picture

Now Het is leaving London to live in Cornwall, and I am back home, working on my own still life. 

I am so invigorated by my trip I have even begun the first step in tackling something that has been on my to-do list for three winters:

They're downloaded and printed and now 'all' I have to do is fill them in and register them.

Watch this space.

Monday, January 23, 2023



I always planned to come back on February 1st and say whether I was going to resume the blog or give it up, but I'm here now. 

Have you read the desperate news about the writer Hanif Kureishi? He fell in Rome and woke up paralysed and has been tweeting his thoughts and feelings from his bed, via his wife and son.

In her insightful piece about him in the Financial Times, Rebecca Watson said this:

This seems relevant to me and my blog.

But it’s done me good to have a break. I’ve been able to concentrate on getting through a cold dark January with the news getting worse and even more upsetting. For example:

A letter to my MP is in the pipeline.

This is the U.K., not some dodgy, uncivilised country. Or is that where we are now?

Up top in his bubble, Sunak thinks our priorities are these:

For his information, my priorities are these:

Fixing the NHS and social care
Realistic benefit levels
Fair wages and conditions
Proper funding of public services 
Compassionate treatment of refugees and asylum seekers

When I was a student doing my psychology degree I took the Eysenck Personality Inventory and discovered that amongst other things I was “tender minded.” This is probably why I get so deeply upset about all the things I rant about on here. But I realised this month that I really need to toughen up. 

One of my Christmas presents was a DIY neon sign. You shape a length of black wire and clip pink plastic tubing to it. The tubing is attached to a battery pack. I chose my word, but because I have fat fingers, Dave did 85% of the work. I wanted a sign I would see every morning when I am sitting in bed doing Quordle that would encourage me to toughen up. I might be wrong about it, but somehow  “Be more stoical” didn't sound sufficiently punchy (or neon-worthy,) so I chose “Courage.” 

I look at my sign when I'm in bed in the morning, and during the day if I get upset about anything I focus on the word 'Courage.' It has been working.

Meanwhile, I've been painting.

Acrylic on canvas board
25 x 30 cms

And I've been to London - of which more another day. 

And yesterday we had the most beautiful dawn.

I hope you're doing more than surviving this cold dark winter.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Wishing you hope

I finished the Still Life with Covid painting:

Still Life with Covid
Acrylic on board. 

It could be better, but I am leaving it. "A work of art is never finished, only abandoned." (source possibly da Vinci) 

I had a wonderful time with the family on Friday, and lots of lovely cuddles with my new baby granddaughter. Strangely, though, I came home feeling older than usual. Partly, it's because I think that Covid has made me deafer and I forgot to take my hearing aids. It wasn't just that, though. I came home with a feeling that perhaps old people are irrelevant.

I shared the thought with Dave and naturally, given his take on life, he agreed. "The best that old people can hope for is that they don't become toothless, fat and smelly."

His dark and bracing view of life always makes me laugh. Since then I've been thinking about my mother and my gran. They both lived into their 90s, and if they were "irrelevant" in their later years  - and I am not saying they were - they were very much loved and they were very loving.  And love is never irrelevant. 

Dave came in as I was drinking my morning tea in bed and said “The headlines are all about people celebrating the New Year. All over the world! What on earth is there to celebrate?” (He used rather fruitier language than this.)

I feel the same as Dave.

But don’t worry, this is not going to be another miserable, moany post. 

I feel bad there has been so much moaning on here this last year. I don’t want 2023 to be the same.

I’m here to say that I hope this year brings you happiness and whatever personal qualities you wish you had. 

I’m wishing myself unselfishness, tact, courage and hope. 

I’m also here to say that I want to take some time off from the blog. When I looked back at this last year’s posts there is so much struggle against despair, so many complaints about the government, more poems than I’ve every shared before. And the reason for this last is that thing that Ted Hughes said about poetry:

I’m hoping that when I come back I’ll be in a better frame of mind and have lots of funny and interesting things to tell you. My brother's just been on the phone and when I told him I was taking a break he said "You can't take a break. People will be disappointed."

When I said I didn't want to moan on endlessly, he said "Well, don't moan. Be positive."

But to my mind the value of the blog is that it's authentic. It has to come from inside me. That's the point of it. 

Somewhere in the back of my head, my mother is saying "Go in the other room, and don't come back until you can be nice."

So I hope to see you in February. 

Or maybe next week. 

Who knows?


And I'll leave you with Greta Thunberg:

"Right now we are in desperate need of hope. But hope is not about pretending that everything will be fine. To me, hope is not something that is given to you, it is something you have to earn, to create. It cannot be gained passively...Hope is taking action."