Saturday, August 26, 2023

No Commando

For several weeks now Dave has been moaning about his underpants and how he really, really needs to find some new ones. Long time readers of the blog, and readers of my books Plotting for Grown-ups and Days Are Where We Live know all too well that Dave has a problematic relationship with underpants.

This morning he charged into the room with a new idea that I enjoyed so much I asked him to write about it for the blog.

Here it is:

Inspired by Gap Finders on Radio 4, I have identified a massive gap in the market and am about to make a fortune with my specialised underpant emporia, No Commando, which will be springing up somewhere near you shortly.

No Commando will ensure the nation’s security, and comfort, by providing decent pants for decent people. It will focus on robust materials and elastic that actually has fight in it, unlike most currently available underpants.

Why now ?

Well, it is underpant season here at the Towers, and the hunt, as usual, is fraught with frustration. I am personally affronted by ill-fitting pants which sag and basically do not have the talent or wherewithal to meet even the most basic job description for nether garments. I identify as a male, largely because I date from a time when there was no real alphabetti spaghetti to choose from, and suitable underpants are thin on the ground, and in the air.

What happened to the Paxman pant is anybody’s guess, but they never appeared on the market, and we have to pick our way through the dross that claims to be underwear.

None of this will remain the case when No Commando opens its doors. We intend to be the Dickies of the underpant world. The undergarments we stock will be hardy and pawing the ground with eagerness for the fight. ‘No Commando, no nonsense’ will be our slogan, and there will be full refunds on any pant whose elastic surrenders within five years of purchase.

We will stock pants in a range of workperson-like materials and colours, which will not include the sludge or threatening sky which are currently the boundaries of imagination for pant producers everywhere.

Our pant range will not assume that customers have the shape of whippets during Lent, and will cater for all levels and ages of pant user, from those who prefer the posing pouch (whatever that is) to the older customer who needs the pant that terminates just below the armpit.

I step into the market unwillingly, but with missionary zeal and a gleam in my eye. The market has failed me, palming me off with a bunch of ill-designed, ill-fitting and unimaginative rubbish, pretty much like the government.

It is time.

No Commando is on its way.





Monday, August 21, 2023

The day so far

This morning I woke up at 5.50 after 8 hours sleep and checked the weather forecast and thought - Yes! Bike ride this morning!

Then this is what happened:

I did Wordle and Quordle and Sequence Quordle;

read the awful news, specifically this morning about Saudis shooting unarmed women and children refugees on the border of Yemen and Saudi Arabia (and YET our PM is hosting the Saudi prince who also ordered the killing of the journalist Khashoggi);

had breakfast in bed of Dave's homemade oatcakes and my homemade lemon curd;

wrote my to do list for this week;

answered yesterday's set question in my 5 year diary "What are you avoiding?" Answer: "Bad news";

read from my new anthology Being Human, which I bought in London on my day trip last week. I have the other two books in the trilogy - Staying Alive and Being Alive, but oh I think this is the best. It blows me away every time I open it and read. There is a lot of tough and moving stuff in there but here is something other:

then I got up and made a flask of coffee for my bike ride stop, and got my bike out of the shed, and coming back inside met Dave who was brandishing some paperwork he wanted me to look at and I sat on the bottom of the stairs to read it and mentally file it,  and then looked at the photo of the grandchildren taken ten years ago that's hanging in the hall and said "Aren't children wonderful?" and Dave said "Yes, and then they grow up and become people." (He was talking in general terms, and NOT about our own three fabulous offspring.) We had a tussle of words while his bleak view of life got an airing and then I sighed. I felt too weak and tired to set off on the bike.

That's what being me is like.

So I came up to write to you. I had wanted anyway to tell you about the poetry book and also show you these photos of weird chairs in the RA exhibition last week:

Photo by Het

Photo by Het

I had two sleepless nights last week and spent Saturday lying on the sofa reading my poetry book, as I was too tired to do anything else. Then I slept well and went to Meeting, which cheered me up enormously. It was food for the soul. 

I wanted to ask you whether on sleepless nights you too lie in bed worrying about the state of the world and our country in particular and about your family, and then about the world again and climate crisis, and then about the possibility that benighted Americans (of which there are millions) might vote Trump in again, and about the fate of all of our grandchildren...

But now it's Monday and having sat down for half an hour and written to you I feel strong enough to go out into this sunny day on my amazing new bike. 

And as the woman used to say at the end of the Morecambe and Wise Show "Good night, and I love you all!"

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Day trip

I had the most wonderful day yesterday which began with laying out various clothes on the bed and excitedly trying to decide what to wear. This Country Mouse was going to town.

I was off to London to meet my friend Het and to visit the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. 

The train from Chesterfield to London takes just over two hours and that seemed like no time at all because I was in the middle of an Anne Tyler book I’ve not read for twenty years - Back When We Were Grown-ups. I have a shelf full of her novels and until I find something new and appealing I’m working my way along the shelf. (I'm cashing in on one of the few advantages of being old: not remembering the plots of novels.)

For those of you who don’t know, the RA Summer Exhibition is an open one. This means anyone can put forward their painting for selection. If it's selected, your painting will be hung alongside paintings by eminent artists such as Tracey Emin, Barbara Rae, Ken Howard and lots of famous Royal Academicians that I’ve never heard of. The prices of paintings run from £150 (the cheapest we remember liking) to £95,000 and beyond, to who knows what. There are some paintings so expensive you have to ask for the price at the sales desk. 

My only ambition painting-wise is to have a painting of mine accepted for the RA Summer Exhibition. Having seen some of the ones chosen this year I decided there’s no reason why I shouldn’t try my luck in 2024.

This is the painting I have just finished.

Acrylic on board 35.5 by 35.5 cms.

I realise it’s not realistic and I’ve decided I don’t care. I like it as it is. I like the colours and the shapes and the lines. I didn’t set out to make it horticulturally correct. I painted it to celebrate nasturtiums which I love as much as sweet peas (and long time readers know how much I love the latter.) 

There were over 1600 pieces of art in the exhibition and by the time we got to the last two rooms we were too tired to give any further attention, and decided to leave. Het took me back to her super new flat in the Barbican for one of her delicious lunches and a catch-up. 

I was home in the fresh summer air of Derbyshire by 7 and finished the day watering my pots. I loved my burst of the metropolis and I love it here too. The only thing bothering me today is why my cosmos - which are now over a metre high - are still not in flower. They are bushy and healthy but there’s only one measly bud showing. Any suggestions as to what the problem might be?

Sunday, August 13, 2023

There are no safe routes

Dave is sitting at his desk writing to our MP about the latest tragedy in the Channel and this repulsive government’s hand in it. I refer to the drowning of yet more desperate asylum seekers who take to unsafe boats because there are no safe routes to get here to claim asylum.

I have written many times to our MP about this government’s cruel, hateful treatment of people travelling in small boats across the Channel to seek safety here. I have argued using statistics, using the fact of the UK’s responsibility under the United Nations charter on refugees, about the lack of safe routes, about the fact that the vast majority of people arriving on small boats would be entitled to refugee status and be able to live and work here if their cases were dealt with, rather than left to moulder in a pile of unprocessed claims. 

The last time I wrote was about the policy to people-traffic asylum seekers to Rwanda. She replied that she was looking forward to working with Suella Braverman. 

What can a person say to that?

Today Dave is writing for both of us:

Six more people have died as a result of their boat capsizing in the Channel as they were attempting to reach safety here.

The government’s line continues to be that the aim is to stop the small boats by breaking the ‘business model’ of ‘criminal gangs’. It is as if the government were to break the business model of hostage-takers by making the hostages’ lives more wretched and killing random numbers of them.

The logic of the government’s position appears to be that by making boarding a small boat futile, the number of paying passengers will be reduced. And yet the numbers of small boats remain undiminished and people continue to die.

The so-called ‘criminal gangs’ are beyond the government’s jurisdiction, and in order to exert imagined leverage on them, the government aims its measures entirely at the innocent victims who are dying in numbers as a result.

Once arrived, the reception these refugees and asylum seekers face is less than welcoming: vile accommodation, the threat of deportation to an unwanted destination, interminably slow processing, and public demonisation by the government. None of these has any impact whatsoever on the supposed villains of the piece, the ‘criminal gangs’. Every measure is designed to make life more wretched for the victims rather than the traffickers.

It seems likely that were legal routes here available, there would be less enthusiasm for risking life in the Channel, and yet the government has closed legal routes except for Ukrainians and Afghanis.

The refugees and asylum seekers are merely expendable pawns in the government’s game. Is this anything other than exploitation by the UK government? Further, how is removing people to Rwanda, a destination they have not chosen, any different from trafficking?

The government’s whole approach appears to lack humanity, ignore human rights, and to be based on unspeakable calculated cruelty. It is an approach of spectacular moral vacuity, and deeply cynical.

These policies are a stain on any civilised society, and not worthy of a decent community. We were slow to respond to the Jewish community who fled Nazism in 1938, and history has taught us nothing. These refugees and asylum seekers deserve the best we can offer, not the departmental sadism offered by your government.

I urge you to write to your MP, even if you have done it before to no avail.


Thursday, August 10, 2023

Letter from home

I'm sitting here at the start of a very hot day.  

The last three days have been busy, and Dave is out so the house is quiet and there's a feeling of space, and there are so many things I want to do, but I can't decide where to start. I want to write a blog post AND I want to be outside watering the pots, AND I want to be out on my bike AND I want to be figuring out how to tweak this painting so I am satisfied with it. it's not quite there yet and it's bugging me. Spot the difference from the last time I posted it.

August garden and blue fence
Acrylic on canvas board, 84 x 59 cms

I delivered a painting to the Fronteer gallery in Sheffield on Tuesday for their upcoming exhibition 'Portal,' opening on August 22nd. This is it.

The gate next door.
Acrylic on canvas board. 37 x 37 cms.

I've put a price on it, but now I'm ridiculously hoping it doesn't sell, because I'm fond of it and don't feel I've enjoyed it enough yet to let it go.

After I'd left it at the gallery I started thinking about the other paintings I've sold that I'll never see again, and that felt sad. There's the pride and the feeling of achievement of having painted something that someone else likes enough to pay money for, but it's coupled with a sadness. Is it akin to the feeling you get when your children leave home? Not really, because you expect to see your children again.

My favourite school of painting is the Scottish Colourists, so I called in at the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield to see their current exhibition. This is my very favourite painting of all time but sadly it wasn't there.

And probably because my brain has shrunk since turning 70, I only just realised that this painting of mine is probably an unconscious homage to it. 

Bedside table in February 2015
Acrylic on paper 

I shan’t be selling that one. I’m lucky. I don’t live by my art. Poor Cadell died destitute because after the 1929 crash the bottom fell out of the art market.

That's enough about painting. 

Someone said to me recently that British people shouldn't complain about the government, they should change things themselves, and it bugged me. How many times have I written to my MP and it's made no difference? 

I heard a radio programme in the car on Monday about the lead up to the war in Iraq, and Tony Blair's beliefs and actions. It made me recall going on the march in London against invading Iraq, on February 15th 2003, along with a million other people, including two of my children. It made me cry (literally) to remember that a million British people bothered to go to London to say NO and he still went ahead.

I should stop listening to political stuff on the radio when I'm driving. When Braverman first floated the idea of her Rwanda policy for refugees I was so aghast I all but missed a red light.

But all is well here if I forget about politics. It's not only sunny, it's a still day today, something rare at Hepworh Towers, one of the the windiest spots in the village. It means that Dave will not be able to say it's too windy to play table tennis. I'm not a purist and wind doesn't put me off because I love the game so much. 

Basically I love summer days - bike rides, table tennis, sitting in the garden with a margarita - happiness.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Rain rain rain

It was a huge blessing that on our last Refugee Hospitality Day it didn’t rain for more than half an hour, and that was inside when we were engaged with the ice-breaker.

I need to tell overseas readers that it has chucked it down here since the start of July: and this is the second rainiest summer I can remember. 

The one that is seared in my memory is the summer of 37 years ago. I was taking the three children 2, 13 and 15 on holiday without Dave to stay with friends in their large family holiday house on the Suffolk coast, and the car broke down on the outward journey in Norwich, and we came home with the AA in a giant truck, arriving in the middle of the night, and I remember Dave saying “Don’t worry, we’ll do lots of lovely trips from home to make up for it” and it rained and it rained and it rained and there were no trips and Dave spent all his school summer holidays digging a trench around the garage to stop the damp from seeping in. Hey ho.

On these ‘summer days’ of 2023, Dave and I consult the forecast ten times a day to find out if and when a bike ride is possible. I’ve recently discovered a new place to get forecasts which is the most helpful I’ve come across. it’s the Norwegian weather forecast. Yes they cover Britain. It doesn’t just tell you precisely when it’s going to rain, but how much it’s going to rain…how many millimetres. Just Google

The result of all this rain is a garden that looks like a colourful jungle. And that’s what inspired my latest painting. It’s big, and has been huge fun to paint, and I’m still working on it. I’m enjoying it so much I’m going to go wild and paint another afterwards, this time of my nasturtiums.

Now I must get up and dressed, because it’s oddly sunny this morning and my bike is calling. Dave and I had scheduled a domestic finances meeting this morning, but we’ve both agreed that now it’s sunny, bike rides are more important.

I’ll leave with two photos of the smoke bush down the lane, covered in raindrops.
Isn’t it beautiful?