Monday, February 06, 2023

A quiet week

It has been a quiet week at Hepworth Towers, apart from the chainsawing and chopping of wood. Dave has been ‘processing’ the tree he chopped down. He’s been stacking it too. Boy he works hard. We now have enough for next winter. Let's just hope they don't ban wood burning stoves before then.







I, meanwhile, have been working on a still life which I am not yet happy to show you. It’s been a tough one to get right and while struggling with a particular section of it I got so fed up I put it in one side, thinking  I’ll paint something fun, something just for me. Why on earth did that thought run through my head? I’m free to paint whatever I like. 

So I began on another painting of my gorgeous pandemic quilt. I’m fascinated by the shapes and shades it makes when it’s rumpled. And of course I’m wild about the colours.





I'll finish the still life in a couple of days.

I've begun 'work' on the forms for lasting power of attorney. The most complicated bit seems to be getting the signatures signed from the right people in the right order, and working out who can be witnesses. Strangely, this latter requirement varies from signature to signature.

One highlight of the week was my new granddaughter smiling at me for the first time. She went on her first demo with her mother, the lovely Jaine. There’s so much to protest about and you can’t start too young. 

With widespread newspaper coverage of Happy Valley this month, and speculation about the final episode, I’ve felt left out. Sally Wainwright is a stonking writer and yet I have not watched HV because I know the drama has been brutal and I can’t do brutal. Then yesterday on FaceTime Isaac mentioned they’d all been watching something on Netflix called Wednesday, so I asked Lux (12) about it but she said “It’s not suitable for you, Sue. It’s too gory.” 

I’ve just looked it up and Wiki says it’s a coming-of-age supernatural comedy horror. Well, if it’s reached the stage when the girls’ TV tastes don’t overlap with mine, I’ll have to wait until I can watch Paw Patrol and Bluey with the new little granddaughter who cannot be named. 

This week I'm going to a preview of an exhibition in Sheffield in which one of my paintings figures. Guess what? It's one of my patchwork quilt.





Monday, January 30, 2023

Being us

ZoΓ« 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

Invigorated

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 ZoΓ« 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 dΓ©cor 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

Courage

Hello!

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?

πŸ™„

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."




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.

GIFTED?

GIFTED?

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.

PASSED?

PASSED?

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!

Anyhow..."

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