Friday, December 29, 2023

Letter from home

Dave said yesterday that he hates the week between Christmas and New Year because it feels like a week of Sundays. 

I love it because it’s the only time in the year when I’m at home when I don’t put pressure on myself to “achieve” something. I don’t feel guilty for staying in bed till 11 am reading. I don’t feel guilty sitting by the log burning stove for an hour just thinking. And spending an hour trying to work out an attractive still life arrangement, and failing, doesn’t feel like a waste of time.

I always thought I hated still life paintings, and then I realised that my very favourite painting is a still life.

And the family’s favourite painting of mine is my bedside table, February 2015. This was a ‘found’ still life, not an arranged one.

So anyway, I’ve been on the lookout for collections of objects at home that would make a good ‘unposed’ still life and so far I’ve failed. 

Did you have a good Christmas Day? I hope so.

I had a lovely one despite the fact that the top oven was on the blink and I had too many things to cook adequately in the bottom oven. But Z kept me steady, and three glasses of champagne certainly helped, 

Photo by Z

and the dinner seemed to be a success. We have meat eaters and vegetarians, which includes two lapsed vegans, and there’s one grandchild with very individual eating habits (he is very like Dave in other ways, too) who asked for a veggie toad in the hole, so the dinner this year was my biggest ever challenge. 

Dave and Tate assembled the magic table again

Photo by Z

and then Dave sloped off to the shed to work on a project that our younger grandson had brought along.

Photo by Z

The best thing about the day for me - apart from just being with family - was conversations I had with my grandchildren, and that includes a 5.30 am texting chat on Boxing Day with Lux (11.30pm her time). She taught me something new to do with my iPad, too, so that was a bonus.

Dave has been busy making reindeer this Christmas. He began with one for me for my “Christmas card” and then he made another and then they began to breed.

Today he is out doing DIY with someone, and it has stopped raining, and for once the wind is a reasonable 16mph and not a gale, so I shall go out for some exercise and fresh air, then cook, then paint.

I hope you’re enjoying yourselves, whatever you’re up to.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Hope and magic

Well friends, I finished the painting. It’s not perfect, and there may be some tweaking, but it’s 95% done.

How are you doing this week? This morning?

Are you managing to keep your spirits up despite the gloom? I hope so.

It’s been a tough gig since October 7th for me, but I’m OK as I begin to write this at 6.19 am. I have just read Jonathan Freedland’s piece in the Guardian - the only piece besides the headlines -  and I think I’m going to leave it at that, because it left me with hope.

Dave and I had a discussion the other night about Christmas. What was it about? he asked, baffled. Why did I like it? 

I like: 

the magic

the tree coming in, in the middle of a dark season. I like decorating it and remembering where each decoration came from - my sister Jen gave me the Angel

Zoë gave me the joy star, and the peace star, Mary gave me the sun, Liz gave me the dove, Het gave me the heart, Wendy gave me the purple beaded star.

I like:

every evening seeing the tree in the corner of the room, sparkling 

the memories of Christmases when I was a child. I like thinking about my mother and father, and all the sibs being at home for Christmas

wrapping presents

cooking on my own in the kitchen on Christmas Eve while listening to the Carols from Kings College on the radio

the T S Eliot poem The Journey of the Magi, the first verse of which is

and the Wendy Cope poem The Christmas Life with its lines 

“Bring in your memories of Christmas past

Bring in your tears for all that you have lost”


“Bring in the hope, of birth and love and light.

Bring the Christmas life into this house.”

I like the Christmas story itself, not because I think it’s true but because it’s full of magic, and I like the central message of hope. What brings more joy than a new baby, full of promise? 

And this year I thought about the angels. Wouldn’t it be amazing to go out at night and see angels in the sky, singing? Can you imagine it? Yes, it sounds bonkers, and I don’t believe it happened but wouldn’t it be amazing to see it? 

It’s an ON Christmas at Hepworth Towers this year, so our children and grandchildren who live in Sheffield are coming over for the day, which means everyone will be here except the Colorado family.

And there’ll be a high chair at the end of the table with MsX in it.

My Christmas message this year is an old one I am returning to. Oddly (or perhaps not) one of the times I quoted it on the blog was in January 2010, during another cruel onslaught on Gaza.

Here it is…

“It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”

Happy Christmas, dear friends.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

very quiet

Excerpt from an email I wrote to Het this morning:

I am in a weird mental state. I feel I have nothing to say to anyone apart from Dave. I don’t know what’s going on. I suppose it’s interesting.

Excerpt from Het''s email reply:

I think I feel similar. Last Friday night’s outing to the Newlyn lights switch on made me feel distinctly irrelevant.

I decided to go with it (🤷‍♂️) and carry on regardless.

These are such strange and awful times on so many fronts - it does render you speechless, when so many powerful words (written and spoken) have made so little difference...

…Anyway - here I am, in Tesco, carrying on regardless.

And here I am at home, working on my painting of this photo of our shed in September. I will show it to you when I have finished it.

A friend in Sheffield just sent me this video of protestors in Sheffield Waitrose two days ago. It's cheering.

More anon, when I’m not feeling quiet.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Do you ever come home from spending time with a good friend and feel you’ve been a boring conversationalist with not much of interest to say?

It’s happened to me twice in the last week. And last night I dreamed I was in a group of people I didn't know and the idea of a book group came up and they all seemed very keen and then when I asked two separately, in succession, if they wanted my contact details so we could set up said book group, they declined, and it felt as if it was me they were rejecting, and not the book group.

It could be because I’ve had a filthy cold and it’s made me feel low in ways other than physical. Or have I been particularly boring/lacklustre this week? 

Or is it because there are some very important things I can’t bear to talk about?

Dave knows I don’t want to talk about the genocide in Gaza and the western world’s complicity because it makes me sink so low I’m in danger of drowning, and nor can I bear much talk about this disreputable and compassionless “government” and its fixation on making the lives of refugees and asylum seekers even worse than they are already. (And you can bet that before the month is out, the majority of them will be merrily singing about a homeless couple having a baby in a stable and not join the dots.) 

It’s not that I avoid the issues. And I do what I can to help. The problem is that there is not much that ordinary people can do in the two cases above, except give money to the appropriate charities, protest, protest and protest, and be kind to everyone, including and especially the dispossessed.

I know Dylan Thomas was talking about death, but this phrase seems appropriate right now in a much wider context - Rage, rage, against the dying of the light. 

Two letters in the Guardian today are certainly raging. The first is from the human rights lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith

I am not sure that Rishi Sunak is showing enough commitment to win through on his Rwanda bill. His legal team deems it consistent with the rule of law to pass a bill overriding the UN refugee convention, and his goal is apparently to deter people from coming to the UK.

As a longtime human rights lawyer, I offer a modest solution: why not announce that we have had enough of the woke adherence to the UN convention against torture, and we will waterboard those fortunate enough to avoid drowning in the Channel. That should put them off.

As for children, the UN convention on the rights of the child is really just mollycoddling, so when they have overcome seasickness from the crossing, put them in solitary confinement in the Bibby Stockholm, the prison hulk in Portland.

Please just call for more free legal advice.
Clive Stafford Smith
Bridport, Dorset

 I wonder if TV bosses might be interested in the idea of replacing I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! with a new reality show, in which contestants are dropped in a war-torn or repressive country – the likes of Iran, Afghanistan, Syria or Rwanda – and then required to make their way to the UK (Nigel Farage to swap the jungle for the Tory party? At this point, why not let him at it, 11 December).

I’ve already come up with a number of ideal participants, such as Suella Braverman, Robert Jenrick, Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Mark Francois and, of course, Nigel Farage. But I am sure that fellow Guardian readers could come up with other names to add to that motley crew.
Jim King

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

A very short post

Sitting in bed at 6.41 am with a box of tissues on the bedside table, which has rapidly diminishing contents. 

My current painting is proving to be incredibly difficult, and I’m discouraged; and I have just finished Saint Maybe, an Anne Tyler book I have never read before, but which might just be my new favourite. I have read 16 of Tyler’s novels and enjoyed them all. Previously my favourites included Breathing Lessons, A Patchwork Planet, and Noah’s Compass. How about you?

On the Gaza question, I commend this interview with Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Yesterday’s letter to our Tory MP:


Monday, December 04, 2023

Shades of Pom Pom puppies

I was sitting in bed writing the post below and Dave walked in before I had finished and told me two dreadful snatches of news he’d heard on the radio and depressed the hell out of me, which is a shame because I had woken up feeling quite chipper. But I have reminded myself what Het said to cheer me up when I was in pieces over the plight of the Palestinians  -‘They want us to care, not to suffer’ - so I have metaphorically squared my shoulders and shall continue with the following post.

Here goes.

Tank tops/sleeveless jumpers are all the rage. I first realised this when I saw one on the Toast website two months ago. 

You might as well know that looking at clothes online and not buying them is something I do quite a lot of. I love clothes but I don’t buy many. Partly it’s because of lack of money and partly its because I’m a Quaker and I try to lead a simple life.

But I do love clothes, and I really liked that sleeveless sweater I saw on Toast so I decided to make one myself. It was knitted in a random design of faint stripes and I realised that I could knit mine in scraps of wool I had in my knitting drawer. I had some arran wool and to get the same thickness from other scraps I knitted two strands of 4ply together. I knew I’d enjoy working out a colour scheme. So I began. I didn’t have a pattern so did it out of my head. This sounds clever but there’s not a lot of shaping in a tank top and I’ve knitted enough jumpers to be able to work out how to do the armholes. The neck would be trickier but at that stage I could use trial and error.

I finished knitting last evening and sewed it up and before I knitted the ribs round the armholes and neckline I tried it on. Oh dear.

It is a big disappointment. It makes me look huge.

Dave was encouraging and said ‘It looks very warm.’

This morning he said ‘You should know that horizontal stripes are never flattering.’

I was so disappointed that I texted two people who love clothes as much as I do - my daughter and Het - and sent a photo. What did they think?

Z said I was slim and this was not flattering, and said it would be a shame to pull it out, and could I make it into a cushion cover?

Het said 

There is no mitigation. I don’t want to bother reknitting the neckline and ribbing it and the armholes (never a pleasant task) when all it is fit for is wearing as a snowy weather extra layer. 

In answer to Het's Didn't you suspect till now? question - I was enjoying choosing the colours too much. 

Hey ho.

I will probably unravel it and knit little sweaters for child refugees, which is something I do anyway when I have nothing else to knit. 

I am reminded of the Pom Pom puppies incident in my murky past.

p.s. I may leave Twitter (X) in the future, so you won’t see me posting a link to my blog posts there. If you google me when you want to check in, you can find a link to the blog and then, once on the blog, if you click on the blog title it will show you the latest post. 

Sunday, December 03, 2023

A meander through the everyday

I used to find it sad when my mother and father were the age I am now and I asked them what they would like for Christmas and they said ‘Nothing, thank you. There’s nothing I need.’

But this week when my daughter asked what I would like this year my mind was blank. What did I want?  The things I want are unattainable - 

A one state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. 

Any kind of solution to the conflict.  

A UK government with integrity that cares about ordinary people.

Politicians the world over who act as though there is ACTUALLY a climate crisis.

Enough of this.

After some thought I told her that what I’d like was an outing of some kind with her. It could be as simple as a walk with a cuppa and a scone at the end. Spending time with my adult children individually has become something rare because they are all so busy. 

I saw a tweet from @VeryBritishProblems on the medium-formerly-known-as-Twitter this week that I really liked.  I liked it because it was about tea (the drink) but I liked it for a larger meaning -  because it celebrated the value of the ordinary. 

The best types of tea: 

-The tea brought to you in bed on a Sunday morning 

-The tea that comforts you after bad news, gives you the energy to carry on 

-The leaning on the worktop after cleaning the kitchen tea (usually held in two hands)

-The “struggle to take a glove off as someone hands it to you” gardening break tea 

-The tea you almost forget to drink when you’re in a rush but you remember it just in time 

-The hotel room tea 

-The tea with a cooked breakfast 

-The recovering in hospital tea 

-The tea on the freezing sidelines of a Sunday League football match

-The back at the desk after a long meeting tea

-The first tea of the day 

-The first tea of the new year 

-The tea you take to bed 

-The tea while slapping a new coat of paint on the walls 

-The tea in the shed 

-The tea while staring out the window on a rainy Saturday afternoon 

-The tea you celebrate with (and calm down with) when you’ve just received very good news 

 -The tea you didn’t expect to be offered -The tea in a museum cafe -The free tea 

 -The tea after an argument 

 -The tea that gives you an excuse to open the good biscuits -The tea with a view 

 -The tea with buttered toast 

-The “afternoon tea” with lots of little sandwiches and cakes 

-The tea in a tent while camping 

-The tea from a flask on an Autumn hike 

-The tea while reading a book in an armchair on a rare day off with not a care in the world 

 -The tea after a hard day at work

-The tea after getting in from a run / bike ride 

-The first tea back in your home after a holiday -

-The picnic tea 

-The ‘break up a long car journey’ tea 

 -The tea you make for someone and they say it’s a really lovely cup of tea, one of the best teas they’ve ever had

-The tea made by your Mum/Dad

People reading the tweet had made additions to the list and I concur with two of them - the cup of tea you have with toast after giving birth (amazing) and the first cup of tea you have when you arrive home from abroad (the relief.)

Reading the list again reminds me of that phrase at the top of Megan Young's old blog The Scent of Water where she said that she was a lifelong devotee of the beauty of the quotidian.

After all, my blog throughout the years has been about everyday life: Days are where we live. Maybe paying attention to and celebrating the tiny enjoyable moments that make up our lives leads to thankfulness and perhaps, thus, to happiness. 

And I’ve just remembered a bit at the beginning of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn where she says “I love the everydayness of marriage, I love figuring out what’s for dinner and where to hang the pictures and do we owe the Richardsons…”

Well, each to her own. Nora Ephron loved cooking. Personally, I hate deciding what to make for tea

And so do at least 88,000 other people, apparently.

Also, deciding on where to hang my paintings is a nightmare, but let’s park that one.

I’m getting lost on the subject of the everyday, so here's Larkin:


What are days for?

Days are where we live.   

They come, they wake us   

Time and time over.

They are to be happy in:   

Where can we live but days?


Ah, solving that question

Brings the priest and the doctor   

In their long coats

Running over the fields.


Philip Larkin 

This is what our today looks like:

I hope you enjoy your today.

p.s. I may leave Twitter (X) in the future, so you won’t see me posting a link to my blog posts there. If you google me when you want to check in, you can find a link to the blog and then, once on the blog, if you click on the blog title it will show you the latest post.