In no particular order of importance, each with its own list of merits, I have four reasons to celebrate.

Firstly, I give you my milestone of one hundred days sober. Well, its actually 112 as I type this, but I celebrated my centenary on 12th February, two days after my birthday. How did I celebrate? It wasn’t by pouring a large gin or by cracking open the fizz – I bought myself a new jumper from the lovely folk at Celtic & Co. (The one I’m wearing in the picture with Daisy, below.)

Playing farms with Daisy in new new jumper.
Playing farms with Daisy in new new jumper.

               When I started my sober journey, I hoped that life would get better, but I had no idea just how good it would be, one hundred days along the road. My confidence and ability to cope with life’s ups and downs has grown, my anxiety over social situations is so much less, and I have so much more energy. My skin feels great, the dark circles that I had under my eyes (signs that my liver was screaming at me) are so much better, and I feel as if I have had a facelift. My hairdresser even remarked that my hair felt different. No more waking up with a sense of dread and wondering who I’d offended the night before! My app tells me I’ve saved over £600 too – maybe not saved, but ‘diverted’ to more healthy purchases. If you are sober curious and would like to talk in confidence, then feel free to leave to drop me a line.

One Hundred Days Sober
One Hundred Days Sober

               I wasn’t the only one to have a birthday recently. Daisy, my granddaughter was 2! It’s amazing how time has flown in the last two years, and I am so grateful my daughter lives close by so we can share looking after Daisy while she and Daisy’s daddy are at work. ‘Nanny, sing to me’, she says and we sing songs that my grandmother sang to me, we play making dens, we paint, we bake cookies and after all that, she’s a dab hand at making Nanny a cup of tea in her kitchen. I consider myself very blessed. We bought her a Playmobil toy farm (second-hand) for her birthday, and as we were leaving, she said ‘Dandad, thank you for my farm’.

Making nanny a cup of tea
Making nanny a cup of tea

               After almost thirty years of having one of my ‘children’ in the house, my youngest moved out. He’s done so well, and thanks to house prices being relatively cheap here in the north-east, has managed to save enough for the deposit on his first house. I am immensely proud of him. He’s moved to Greenside, which is a lovely village, on the outskirts of Gateshead, but surrounded by countryside and woods. An avid cyclist, he is now able to cycle to work and get out and about on his bike. I sobbed, and as I stood in his empty bedroom, said goodbye to that chapter of my life. Being a mum to my three continues but will never be quite the same again.

New Beginnings
New Beginnings

Tim and I went out the night John moved out, to Northern Stage, and saw The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff by The Young’uns. It was a fabulous production and told of the tale of a young man’s fight against fascism through song. It felt like I was on a date, and as we came home, it reminded me of the time we were newly-wed, before we had kids, although Tim declined to carry me over the threshold when we got back. We set about making John’s old bedroom into a fitness room, and with the help of my new book, ‘Feel Better in 5’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee’, I have rolled out my yoga mat, and am doing five minutes of yoga in the morning, as well as some of the other ‘health snacks’ the good doctor recommends.

Feel Better in 5 by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Last, but not least, the marks came in for my first submissions for the MA in Creative Writing I’m doing at Newcastle University. I got 64% and 67%, both Merits. There was some great feedback, and I have taken all the comments on board. I was happy to read that my writing was considered ‘interesting, humorous and evocative’. There is considerable room for improvement but considering I haven’t written anything for assessment since I bashed out essays for my teacher training qualification back in 1984 on a typewriter, I was pleased to get the two merits.

First submissions, both merits
First submissions, both merits

I’m now four weeks into the next module on the Creative Writing MA, ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ with a fantastic tutor, Anne, Coburn. I’m discovering a whole new area of fiction, and last night saw me reading well into the night as I wanted to finish the gripping story by Liani Taylor, ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’. But I’ll write more about my reading and writing plans for this module next time…..

Liani Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Liani Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Thanks for reading! It’s been good to catch up.

You can follow on my social media channels too. Just search for Sue Reed Writes.

I’ve just finished reading Salley Vicker’s latest novel, ‘Grandmothers, bought for me this Christmas by my daughter. I’m a Salley Vickers fan, having first discovered her when I went to Venice for my 40th Birthday, and followed in the footsteps of Miss Garnet’s Angel. In Grandmothers, there was a lot of tender, well observed detail, that made the characters believable.  The detail may well have come from Salley’s own experience of both being a grandmother and remembering her own. My prose tutor tells us that remembered detail is very important to making characters believable, and with my paternal grandmother’s birthday this week on the 23rd January, I thought I would write a little piece by way of introduction to my grandmothers and jot down some of the detail from my memory of them.

               I had two grandmothers: Nanny Dora and Nanny Gwen, both living close to home where I grew up in Worthing, on the Sussex coast. They had both lived in the village of Durrington as single parents to my mum and dad, on the same estate, having both had marriages that suffered as a result of the war, but that was where the similarities ended.

Nanny Gwen
Nanny Gwen

               Nanny Gwen, my mother’s mother, with her love of lilac had a ladies dress shop in Hurstpierpoint when I was a small girl, and one of my earliest memories is of her flat with its sloping bedroom ceilings and single beds with purple patchwork quilts, one of which I proudly own. Nanny Gwen made little paste pots of jam, dainty scones and had beaded cotton covers for her porcelain milk jugs. She had a fluffy cat which my father, who detested cats, would throw his coat over when he arrived. Nanny Gwen was nervous of men and would hand a male visitor the newspaper on his arrival; a huge fan of the Royal Family, this was always the Daily Mail.

Her birthday was on 23rd December, and the family would gather to watch her open her presents, which were many, and the present opening ceremony to this small child who would be perched on the settee, alongside her younger brother and cousin, best behaviour expected, would take hours. With each new parcel. Nanny Gwen would look up, with watery eyes, and genteelly ask, ‘is it for me?’ taking her time to carefully slit the Sellotape with her ornamental embroidery scissors before remarking on the beauty of the wrapping paper and ribbon, and carefully folding it to be used another time.


               Enterprising and crafty, she would make Christmas and Birthday presents for us, although these were often the same year in year out. There is a limit to how many string tins, made from Lyons coffee tins, covered in pretty, sticky backed plastic and braid my father needed. We had a glorious collection of Nanny Gwen’s homemade waste-paper bins, made from liver tins collected from the butcher, and covered, you guessed it, in sticky backed plastic and braid. For those also born in the sixties, you will remember sticky backed plastic was quite a thing, especially for my Nan and Blue Peter presenters.

     I was given a variety of crochet ponchos with tassels, pom-poms on strings and matching berets. There was a handy bush on the way to school where these well-meant gifts could safely be stashed until the walk home, to avoid social suicide. Red, white and blue were popular themes, her being a devotee of the Royals.

The Seed Merchant, Copied by Gwendoline Ellen Dewar, my Nan.

               Nanny Gwen had beautiful handwriting, having learnt calligraphy skills, and I treasure both letters she wrote to me when I had left home and was away at college, and a picture she drew in pen and ink called ‘The Seed Merchant’, which hangs on my study wall. I’ve just come home from shopping in Hexham with a bunch of the new season’s daffodils, which I buy every year in memory of Nanny Gwen who did the same. The china cow was hers too, and although has been glued together on countless occasions is a much loved memento of this fine lady.

New Season Daffodils in Memory of Nanny Gwen
New Season Daffodils in Memory of Nanny Gwen

               Nanny Dora in contrast was rather more ‘down to earth’. She called a spade a spade and had would make her feelings about people known. She was not averse to talking about ‘that dreadful man’ when walking past a house, regardless of the fact his wife was pruning her rhododendrons within full earshot. Mrs Brown, of Mrs Brown’s Boys reminds me of my Nan. She was not course or vulgar, and would not have sworn, well, at least not in front of us kids, but she did wear a nylon housecoat, and would have a man’s hanky in her pocket. She was a smoker, up until Grandad died of lung cancer, when they both gave up, but until then, had smoked from being a teenager. She only ever smoked y the kitchen door to the garden, ‘nasty filthy ‘abit!’ I loved rolling her ‘shag fags’ with the little red rizla rolling machine, but we kept that from my Mum, who wouldn’t have approved. Desperate for her to give up when we were older, and witnessed her hacking cough, we would hide her Old Holborn and Rizlas, much to her vexation. ‘I’ll tan your backsides’ she used to say, but she never did.

Nanny Dora

               She had a glorious ‘telephone voice’ dropping her h’s and adding them on and would get words jumbled in a most endearing manner. A trip to London, to the Halbert ‘All, was rounded off with a meal at a Berni Inn, where she had a ‘hoppin’ great pork chop and a side saddle’.

               She was my best friend in life when I was growing up. ‘What’s that ruddy church gone and done to you now’ she would say, as she greeted ‘her precious’ with open arms at the doorway to her bungalow, smelling of face powder and stale tobacco. I loved the safety of those arms.

               We spent many a night having sleepovers at Nan’s – memories of eating crab and prawns on Cream Crackers, whilst watching the wrestling on a Saturday afternoon when Grandad picked at winkles with a pin, having come home with leftover scraps from Mac Fisheries. On rainy days we were allowed to heap the settee cushions on a pile and jump on them or would have drawing competitions – she always won! On sunnier days we played or helped Nan in the garden. She grew trays of bedding out plants in wooden kipper trays and we set up shop and sold these out the front of her house, along with tomatoes and runner beans from the greenhouse. I feel her presence sometimes, when I’m picking tomatoes in my own greenhouse. There is something so evocative about that smell.  

               The bedtime routine involved getting undressed in front of the roaring coal fire (everywhere else in the house was Baltic) having had a bath in two inches of scalding water and being sat on the loo until you had done your number two for the day. She would then tuck us up in bed, a mug of milk with skin on the top cooling on the bedside table, where she knelt and serenaded us with ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ pausing to cough and splutter, then kiss us, her face all whiskery and powdery. I loved my Nan so much.

               I wrote a short story about Nanny Dora, and the jug I own that was hers when I applied for Uni, and as I write, I have her photo by the side of my laptop. I miss her. I hope very much I can revisit my memories of both Nanny Dora and Nanny Gwen, and they like will appear as characters in a story. There is so much more to write about them. Now I am a Grandmother myself, I wonder if little Daisy will one day be reminiscing about the times she had at ‘Nanny’s house. I hope so.

Daisy Reading with Nanny
Daisy Reading with Nanny

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment below if you so wish, or share my writing amongst your friends.
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – just search for Sue Reed Writes.
Return to the homepage to catch up on some of my previous posts.

A golden glow greeted me as I stepped out of the Percy Building in the quadrangle at Newcastle University last Wednesday afternoon. The setting sun in the west had a clear corridor past the Hadrian Building and The Boiler House and struck the willow tree (I stand corrected if it isn’t a willow) outside the Hatton Building in front of the iconic arches on campus and lit up its branches like a flaming torch.

I was feeling proud of myself. Usually full of self-doubt and self-deprecation, I allowed myself a moment of congratulation as I stood on the steps watching my fellow students scuttle home from lectures.

I’d done it. I’d handed in my first submissions: a short story and two reflective essays. The last pieces of academic work I’d written were done on a typewriter with carbon paper. I had fond memories of staying up all night with my flatmate Jane, who was on the same course as me, with a packet of Bensons, a bottle of gin and cherry brandy to make Singapore Slings and the toaster and a packet of Mother’s Pride on the table spring to mind; but that was back in 1984.

Who knew that there was a tab on my laptop for adding footnotes when referencing? It had taken me three days of cursing and searching for tiny symbols before I realised this. (I am now a dab hand at adding footnotes if anyone else is stuck!) I was pleased with what I had written, and how I had got to grips with formatting and word processing.

I wrote an email to my Prose tutor, Lars Iyer, at the beginning of term after fudging an answer like a politician in class. Not understanding the question, let alone being able to come up with an answer, I had felt inadequate and had waffled something in reply. I’d beaten myself up on the train on the way home that night as I mulled over the question and in hindsight came up with an understanding of what I was being asked and what I should have said. I felt so stupid, blamed my age and doubted my academic ability. I explained that I felt like I’d arrived in Switzerland and was at the foot of a mountain. In one set of lectures, ‘Process’ we are wandering the green lower pastures and are gently learning about the process of becoming a writer. It is fairly light touch as we learn about keeping a notebook, developing the habit of daily writing, reading like a writer and learning to listen; all very important skills, and all well within my grasp. However, in the ‘Prose’ workshops I felt like I had arrived at the rock face. I had no idea where to put my hands or feet, and the other students, some of the fresh from undergraduate studies, were scaling up the mountain, way ahead of me. I felt stuck, unsure if I had the skills to climb. I was no academic, I was a mature student, a grandmother, having last written an essay over thirty years ago. (Mind you, I was very good at writing essays back then, and used to help other students write theirs.)

A gentle and kind email came back from my tutor, thanking me for my honesty in what he said was a ‘moving’ email. He said to relax, academic thinking would come, and besides, creative writing was not all about academia. They took mature students such as me on to the course for a reason. We had much to offer in terms of life experience and the stories that came with that. (I certainly have a few stories to tell!)

Last week I had a tutorial with Lars, following the submission of the first thousand words of my short story. After correcting some syntax and formatting errors, he suggested I cut the preamble of my story at the beginning as he wanted to get straight to the character’s monologue, which he had enjoyed. He said I had a wonderful narrative voice and had skills as a writer that couldn’t be taught. You could have knocked me down with a feather!

I’d come a long way from the therapy session when it was suggested I do an MA in Creative Writing to satisfy the urge in me to be radgy, but also to give me a conduit to get my story told. Little did I know that that conversation would lead me to be on the steps of the Percy Building having handed in a piece of memoir writing about a very painful time in my life that I had not dared visit for an awful long time. Not being good enough has been a recurring theme throughout my life, but here I was, standing on the steps of the English Department, having handed in my first pieces of work.

Looking at the golden glow in the branches of that tree, I felt a golden glow inside of me too.
Enough of this self-doubt and self-deprecation. That’s the last you’ll hear of it. I am good enough.

Handing on my first submissions. An essay on self-doubt and self-deprecation
A Golden Glow. An Essay on Self-Doubt and Self- Deprecation.

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy some of my others, Head back to the homepage to see more, or to sign up to get my musings direct to your inbox by hitting the link at the very bottom or sign up here.
Here are a couple more posts you may enjoy:

Are you a ‘morning’ person? I am, and mornings for me can be anything from four a.m. to seven a.m. Although now I’ve stopped drinking alcohol, the four a.m.’s are getting fewer.
I first came across morning pages when given a reading list for a week’s writer’s retreat in Tuscany at The Watermill. Jo Parfitt was our tutor and she recommended Julia Cameron’s book. The Artist’s Way as preparatory reading. The week focused on memoir writing and was my treat for myself after giving up The Woolly Pedlar. I’ve always had Tuscany on my bucket list, and this wonderful week in glorious sunshine and surroundings, with beautiful people and fabulous food at The Watermill certainly hit the spot.  I am working on my memoir, and it is taking me to some very far flung places in my life, with deeply buried memories, but more of that later.

Writing on the Vine Terrace at The Watermill, Tuscany
Writing on the Vine Terrace at The Watermill, Tuscany

Julia Cameron recommends you write three sides, it must be three, straight from sleep. You are to write whatever comes into your head, keep the pen moving, without pausing to correct grammar or spelling. It is also recommended that you use exercise books, and not do anything with the writing, even binning it. This is where Julia and I differ in our practice.

Morning Pages, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Morning Pages, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

I do write stream of consciousness thoughts, allowing whatever is in my head to go on the page, but I do reserve the right to use some of my scribbling as writing prompts to be developed further in my daily writing practice. I allow myself a trip to the loo, but then get back into bed, bring a pillow on my lap to raise the height and begin to write, anything, allowing my thoughts to flow. I write down dreams I have just had and reminisce about memories. I always stop at the bottom of the third page, and sometimes scribble as a footer ‘to be continued…’.  That idea then goes in a list at the back of the journal to remind me to expand on the memory or idea later.

Journal Writing
Journal Writing

As a writer, I am often gifted journals and notebooks, and over the years have amassed quite a collection. This Christmas was no exception, with a beautiful journal and pen from my sister-in-law. I love a new journal and have a passion for leather clad Leuchtturms. (Apologies if Lederhosen wearing, thigh slapping men have now entered your head.) I’ve just uncovered a stash of journals going back to when I was 17 in the attic, they make for both interesting and painful reading. I do love to keep a journal and am surprised at some of the detail I’ve forgotten. As a writer, we are told that detail brings our stories alive and makes them readable, and the best detail comes from your own life experience.

We’ve just had a full moon, the Wolf Moon, and this one was no exception, keeping me awake with thoughts racing. I headed to the spare room and at 4am started writing. It was powerful, and a whole barrow load of emotions came pouring out. I drew the line at going into the garden to howl at the moon, though was tempted.

Wolf Moon Writing
Wolf Moon Writing

Morning pages are my meditation. Do you keep a journal or write morning pages? Feel free to leave a comment or engage with the chat on social media. Follow Sue Reed Writes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.


Read about my Tuscan retreat at The Watermill in:

Finding my Plot

Finding My Plot
Finding My Plot

A Ripping Yarn

A Ripping Yarn
A Ripping Yarn

The Salami Boys of Fivizzano

Fivizzano market Tuscany
Fivizzano market Tuscany

What does self-care mean to you? Is it just a new-fangled buzz word for the twenty-first century, or a vital part of our lives? Did our grandmothers practise self-care, and if not, should they have done? Thanks to my sober journey and with inspiration from Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club community, I am learning about self-care and the art of putting oneself first.

When I was teaching full-time and bringing up a family of three children, the nearest I got to self-care was pouring a large gin and tonic whilst cooking tea when I’d got in from work. This, however, was the antithesis of self-care and did me more harm than good. One gin and tonic, and we’re not talking pub measures here, would invariably lead to another, then the evening wasted as I fell asleep soon after the kids were in bed. I would treat myself to a lie in on a Sunday, with the Saturday Guardian and breakfast in bed, but Sunday afternoon would see me back on the dining room table doing the planning that is the dread of every teacher. I was lucky that being a special needs teacher meant I didn’t have marking to do on top! All thoughts of self-care had gone out of the window as I rushed around like a blue-arsed fly seeing to the needs of everyone else, but not thinking of little old me and what my needs were.

Freshly made juice - beetroot, lemon, melon & pomegranate
Freshly made juice – beetroot, lemon, melon & pomegranate

Fast forward to now, and I try to factor some form of self-care into my life every day. It might be a daily walk, weather permitting, along the lane, or allowing myself to read a book – it’s amazing how, even though I’d doing an MA in Creative Writing and have been told to read, read and read some more, that reading in daylight hours still feels indulgent. Self-care might be a massage booked, or a long soak in a bubble bath. It might be a tasty glass of juice (today’s was a blend of beetroot, lemon, melon and pomegranate juice) or breakfast in bed. It might just be spending ten minutes with the bedroom or bathroom door locked, practising some mindful meditation. For me, self-care means prioritising my uni work, writing every day and making the housework wait. I have a short story I’m working on at the moment, as well as two reflective essays which need to be submitted by 16th January. Today I’m writing this blog ahead of taking the decorations down and cooking dinner. After all, all three lads in our house, husband included are off for the day on their bikes, so why shouldn’t I do what I want to do?

Ninebanks Youth Hostel
Ninebanks Youth Hostel

Today my self-care was to get out of the house and go and see my friends Pauline and Ian who run the Ninebanks Youth Hostel and were having a coffee morning. I find it so easy to stay indoors and not drive out to visit people, and that in itself can cause me to go into a downward spiral. I do need to get out and see friends, as living down a country lane although beautiful, can be isolating. If I hadn’t gone out, I would have missed this beautiful rainbow, and Pauline and Ian’s excellent coffee and homemade biscuits.

Rainbow over Northumberland
Rainbow over Northumberland

Yesterday I made a teapot, at a most enjoyable workshop up at The Sill, with Dianne from Muddy Fingers Pottery. Granted, it cost money, but I’ve been saving all the money I would have spent on booze to give myself treats like this. I’m looking forward to another moment of self-care when my teapot has been glazed and fired, and I can enjoy my first cup of tea from it.

Teapot made with Muddy Fingers Pottery
Teapot made with Muddy Fingers Pottery

What is good for one person, might not be good for another, but I feel it is vital to put ourselves first. I think women in particular can be conditioned to put everyone else before themselves, but this year, I am going to be consciously thinking of how I can take care of myself on a daily basis, however big or small these acts of self-care may be.

Thank you for reading my blog this week. I’d like to say I’m going to write every week, and that is my intention at the momnet, but I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, so they may be more sporadic.

Feel free to follow on social media by hitting the icons at the top of the page.

Here is last week’s blog in case you missed it: Happy New Year 2020

View from the bedroom window on New Year's Day in rural Northumberland
View from the bedroom window on New Year’s Day 2020

It’s eleven o’clock on New Year’s Day, on a frosty but sunny morning here in Northumberland, and I’m up in the garret, happy to be writing. I’ve let my daily writing slip over the last few weeks and although shopping, cooking and wrapping presents for the family at Christmas are pretty good excuses, I need to get back to work. I’m putting a few intentions in place on New Year’s Day, (please note these are mere intentions, not the dreaded resolutions) and getting back to daily writing is one of them.

Procrastination is a terrible thing, and even this morning, despite being anxious to get up here and write, I tidied the bedroom, sorted out the washing, went down and loaded the dishwasher then thought about making a second cup of coffee. I stopped myself, heading the words of Ron Carlson who writes in his book, ‘Ron Carlson Writes a Story’ that we must stay in the room and keep writing – the coffee can wait until we are done. So, with that in mind, I’m going to treat myself on this New Year’s Day to a morning’s writing, and my second cup of coffee, and the tidying of the garret can wait til I’ve written this blog post.

I do hope you had a good Christmas. We had a relaxed and happy family time over Christmas, with Daisy our granddaughter, being centre of attention, enjoying all her new toys and books. There is nothing finer than sitting a little one on your knee and reading stories together. With her mummy working as a bookseller for Waterstones, and her Nanny a writer, this little one is getting a very bookish beginning in life. She’s particularly loving the books by Kim Lewis, with their tales of rural life on a sheep farm.

Daisy Reading with Nanny
Daisy Reading with Nanny

Did you have a good New Year’s Eve? We have a family tradition to go out to lunch together then leave the youngsters to go off and do their own thing. We were not a full pack yesterday though as my daughter had to work and although both lads came along, my eldest son was recovering from a bout of food poisoning, brought on by some dodgy oysters in a local restaurant, so was not feeling a full shilling. The poor lad managed a few bites of tapas then went home to continue his recovery alone. Not the best of New Years for him.

We went home and lit the sauna, and being a clear starry night, with a beautiful crescent moon and Venus shining bright, it was the perfect night for steaming in the garden. Not your average New Year’s celebrations, but then again, we are not your average couple.

Lighting the round straw bale build  sauna in the garden
Lighting the round straw bale build sauna in the garden

I celebrated New Year with my favourite mocktail (recipe below) and congratulated myself on being 57 days sober. Giving up the booze has been incredible, and although it is a cliché, it really is the gift that keeps on giving. I have woken up on the perfect morning, feeling fresh, full of energy, clear headed and really looking forward to the year ahead. I would really like to give a shout out here to Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club. Over on the Sober Club website, there are so many great resources to support you in your sobriety, and well as an awesome Facebook group which is full of supportive people to motivate and encourage, and who have your back when you need it most.

If you are thinking of doing Dry January – go for it! However, I’d recommend you just keep on going into February, March and beyond. The first month is the tricky bit – the rewards get better the longer you do it for. I for one don’t intend going back to pouring booze down my neck. My friend Kath reports that Gordon is very disappointed, but she is doing her best to keep him company!

Happy New Year everyone!

Feel free to leave a comment or share this amongst your friends. I’d love a follow too over on My Facebook page Sue Reed Writes, Twitter @suereed62 or Instagram accounts.

‘Til next time.

Sue's Virgin Mojito recipe
Sue’s Virgin Mojito

Sue’s Virgin Mojito

Juice of two squeezed limes

10ml sugar syrup

Large dash or orange bitters

Soda Water

Ice

Squeeze juice of two limes into a cocktail glass, then add a good slug of sugar syrup. Add a dash of orange bitters to taste, then top up with soda water and plop a couple of ice cubes in. Decorate with a sprig of rosemary or some redcurrants or cranberries if you can be arsed!

Some of you may have seen this photo before. It was used by the right-wing press back in 2016 to slate Jeremy Corbyn, with the headline ‘Where’s Corbyn’. Instead of answering questions from the Tory party conference he was ‘lost’ on Hadrian’s Wall, buying recycled knitwear knitwear from The Woolly Pedlar. It was even suggested that he be called The Woolly Pedlar becuase he dealt in woolly politics.

As a socialist, can you imagine how gutted I was to hear that my photo was on the front of The Sun, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The London Evening Standard? It got worse – it appeared on Have I Got News For You?, in Private Eye , the BBC Politics Programme and New New Statesman. It was on BuzzFeed……it went viral.

I rang the Labour Party press office and said that I had done a very stupid thing. I’d had a phone call from The Daily Telegraph after I’d written a blog post about Jeremy Corbyn buying his wife one of my woolly wraps in our village shop, and had given them permission to use my photo. How utterly naive and stupid I was. I was elated that a man I so respected and admired, and hoped would be our next Prime Minister had taken the time to chat to my son on the station platform at Bardon Mill, then go into our very small village shop at Bardon Mill and buy is wife one of my woolly wraps.

He had indeed been working that weekend and was on his way from the Jarrow March celebrations. He was taking a Sunday afternoon off to go for a walk in our beautiful Northumberland countryside. For the record, we are contactable here in Northumberland. It may be north of Watford Gap, but we still have phone signal.

I was relieved to see that Peter Bradshaw had written a piece in The Guardian, coming to Jeremy and my defense. I was only a small business owner trying to show how happy I was that someone as famouse a Jeremy had bought one of my garments, and Jeremy was not sitting in his kitten heeled Westiminster bubble buying expensive designer clothes, and had indeed been working and engaging with ordinary people.
I lost some followers of my business, such as the woman who said she was about to but one of my woolly wraps, but couldn’t possibly as she knew Jeremy had bought one. What utter tosh! Would you walk out of a shop becuase you didn’t like the customer infront?

I was about to go on holiday when all this broke, and my photo went viral. My husband, not a huge fan of social media, had said that I was to stop looking at my phone as we were on holiday. I couldn’t leave this! My business grew after this, and I gained a lot of new followers, many of whom were of the same political persuasion as me. At least that was something positive to come out of this sorry tale.

I no longer recycle knitwear as The Woolly Pedlar, and one of the regrets of closing my website was that this story and the photos disappeared with it. I thought, therefore, that in the run up to this moneumentous election, with the country on the cusp of a revolution, it would be timely to tell my story again.

I now have a different set of social media accounts, under Sue Reed Writes – feel free to find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as I head off to Newcastle University to follow my dream to become a writer.

I am proud to be a member of the Labour Party. If I am ever lucky enough to meet Jeremy, I would like to apologise to him for being so naive as to give the Torygraph permission to use the photo, but thank him for being the humble, beautiful man that he is. I do hope he is the next Prime Minister, and we can put an end to homelessness, child poverty, food banks, zero hours contracts, save the NHS, address the climate emergency………the list goes on.

In October, I wrote about how I was feeling on the Creative Writing MA and likened it to being ‘At the Foot of a Mountain’. It was as if I had arrived in Switzerland; with one module I was relaxing into the process of being a writer, wandering around the green pastures of the foothills, but with the other module, I felt as if I was at the rock face, unsure of where to put my hands and feet, and watching others who were already approaching the summit.

I had a lovely email back from my tutor, Lars Iyer, who told me to relax, and that ‘academic’ learning would soon become easier. He said they took mature students such as me on the course on purpose, as we had so much else to offer than academia. I took heart from this, and as I eased off the self-doubt, I relaxed, found my confidence, and I have indeed begun to find academic study easier.

We have been learning in our Prose Workshop about the Freytag Triangle for plotting a short story and have been asked to write a story where the protagonist comes to the realisation that she has learnt something. We were to write from experience, safe in the knowledge that the best writing has lots of detail and writing from memory can provide this.

I was over the moon to hear that writing our own life stories was not only allowed, but positively encouraged. I have on the past, held back from writing some of the episodes of my life for fear the regurgitation of them would upset family members. A lot of my past is not pretty. However, I’ve written without the fear of publication, and have started with a story that goes back to a very painful period in my life. I was in my early teens when I started drinking, and going on dates with men that were a lot older than me.

It has been cathartic to write the tale. I heard the other day, that trying to stuff our past down is like trying to stuff a beach ball under the waves; an analogy I can relate to very much. Our own stories are very much part of us, and we must learn to have them walk alongside us, without shame.

I’ve been working with a therapist for some time now, and it was she who first suggested I go to uni to do my MA and learn to write. She has also suggested that pain comes before shame and has shown me how I have learnt to literally stuff down my pain by using food and alcohol, unable to speak of my wounds.

Writing my story is releasing something in me, and by acknowledging the pain without shame, I am starting to move forward. I made the decision four weeks ago to give up alcohol. Those who know me well, know what a big drinker I have been, and this had had some pretty dire consequences. I have so many tales that would make your hair curl, and who knows, maybe I will write them all down one day, but then again, I may not. I haven’t decided if I should write my story, or let it be and move on.

The alcohol free life has been a revelation. I had no idea I could feel this good all anxiety has gone out of the window; my relationships are already better; I have more energy and am sleeping better; I am losing weight and my skin looks great!. I am getting support from Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club, and have been listening to lots of ‘quit lit’ and podcasts. I’m hoping that I will be alcohol free for the rest of my life, although I do realise that at 27 days, I am very much at the beginning of my journey. I have a book title in mind for my own ‘quit lit’ – ‘Sex, Gin and Chocolate Cup Cakes’ – but have not made up my mind if I’m brave enough to write it. Who knows, maybe a year down the line I will be?

Giving up alcohol had given me the confidence to finally cash in the voucher Tim had given me for my last birthday for a flying lesson. My anxiety levels were far too high to even consider it before. It was amazing, and as I soared over the beautiful Northumberland countryside, I felt freer than I have done for years. I am flying high!

Flying over Alnwick, Northumberland

I won’t be sharing the short story about my teenage self with you at this point in time. However, watch out for a Christmas Short Story I’ve written that I’ll share with you all next week.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Death by Christmas Craft Fair

This piece is dedicated to all the friends I made, both as traders and customers during the seven years I ran my own business as The Woolly Pedlar, upcycling knitwear, and selling it at markets, fairs and events around the country, and in particular in the north-east of England. It is intended as a light-hearted but irreverent look at trading at Christmas events, but also as an acknowledgement to the stresses, strains and sheer hard graft that go with doing the Christmas Craft Fair circuit.

Two o’clock, and the doors are open for set-up, but first there is the need to get your vehicle as close to the door as possible. Goodness knows, you will be doing dozens of trips, wielding your trolley through mud and over wonky boards to your allotted stall. They haven’t put the heating on in the marquee yet, and so it’s bliddy freezing, but you’ll soon be working up a sweat as you march from your van to your table on countless trips. It’s every man and woman for him and herself, but of course we will all greet each other with a cheery ‘hello’ a hug and ‘lovely to see you’. We are after all, one big happy trading family.

A table? Didn’t they get my message that a table is no earthly use to me? I sell clothes for goodness sake, I have rails and a mirror, and full-length coats to display, so how the heck am I supposed to use a six foot table? The table is discarded round the back of the marquee, (let’s hope the fearsome organiser doesn’t realise it was me who dumped it there) and I begin the set-up. Thank goodness I paid for a double pitch this time; however, with the van hire, insurance credit card machine, price tags, bags and a new set of rails, I don’t have much change from a thousand pounds. I wonder how many of the punters who turn over my items with a look like they’re chewing wasps, realise my outlay before I’ve even set foot at these events?

Shit! One of the rails has a leg missing. Why did I get my husband to help pack the van? A quick phone call, and I ask him to bring it along. ‘Yes, I know it’s a nuisance, but no, I can’t do without it, and I did tell you there were five pieces to each rail.’

Despite having set up a zillion times before, each event is different, and with new stock to display, I want to get it right. A quick word with my neighbour, and we decide to butt up to each other to gain a bit more valuable space. The organiser is patrolling the venue to make sure we don’t go over the line, although there is a stand at the end, best friends of hers it seems, who are sticking right out into the aisle with their imported tat – I thought this was supposed to be a ‘handmade event’. I worry about the bottle-neck they are causing with their Union Jack and sequinned cushions. I’m also seething because I asked to be in the main marquee, and I’ve been demoted yet again to the side tent. Probably my own fault for sticking my neck out and complaining last year. I’m surprised I wasn’t struck off!

Everything is now out of the van, and I move it into the turnip field to allow other traders to unload. I notice others are not so magnanimous. It may have something to do with the rain we had over the last three days, and the prospect of being towed out by a tractor in the dark tonight.

Set up took five hours. I am shattered. The other half did turn up with the rail, and we hissed at each other as he tried to ‘help’ with suggestions of how he would do it better.

I have been working on this collection since the beginning of August, sweating under the Velux windows in the woolly garret under piles of wool when everyone else was outside, sipping Pimm’s and basking in the summer’s heat. Not only do I source all the knitwear I use, rushing around Hexham’s charity shops on a Tuesday morning like an old bag lady, but I then wash and dry it  – think Widow Twanky’s laundry – then design and finally cut and sew. I think of that oft heard comment ‘How long did it take you to make this?’ Sometimes, admittedly said with admiration and genuine respect, but more often by the chewing wasps brigade, with first an incredulous look at the price tag, then their friend as they show it to them and mouth something, Les Dawson style thinking I can’t hear.

Home for a much-needed gin and tonic, or maybe two, and meal I had the forethought to put in the slow cooker before leaving, washed down with a bottle of red that doesn’t touch the sides.

I wake at three in the morning – What?? I need my sleep more than ever tonight – Oh why did I drink so much? I’m hot fidgety and sweaty, and my mind is now racing. Did I put the card machine on charge – I must remember it in the morning; I forgot the bags – must put them in; Have I got all the orders ready for collection? I’m not sure if I drifted off again. Other half says I was snoring, so I must have done, but at 6.30 I get up, feeling dreadful. The show must go on despite the hangover.

I park the van in the turnip field and head down, covers off, in time for a quick bacon buttie and a coffee before we start. I stock up on ‘Christmas Slice’ – a calorific confection of shortbread, caramel, cranberries, chocolate and almonds that will see me through the day. It’s soon ten o’clock and the doors are open. There is a sea of people, mainly older women, with the look of the undead, making their way around the venue. There are four coach parties due in this morning.

‘Morning!’ I say with a smile – by the end of the four days I will have an ache in my jaw from smiling.

‘We’re only looking’ they snap. The wasp chewing has begun.

And I’m only saying hello!

Not put off, I try again,

‘How’s the Christmas shopping going?’ I’m ignored.

I grab a pair of my armwarmers and step forward

‘Can I show you what I do with recycled knitwear?’

 big mistake

‘What? Second-hand? Eugh – do you wash it first?’

Of course I bloody wash it you silly old bat

‘Oh yes, everything has a forty degree wash first, then any shrinkage that is going to occur has already happened. I use the felted jumpers for mittens and bodices of my coats and jackets’

I grab a jacket and pair of mittens and show them with a cheerful smile and hope in my heart.

‘No, it’s ok dear, we’re only here for a coffee and scone. It’s all so expensive’

I step back, the smile fixed, and look for someone else to chat to about my process and creations. It’s only early on day one, I’m not going to feel defeated.

You see some traders sitting behind their table, hunched over mobile phones, hardly glancing up. ‘I didn’t sell much’ I’m not flipping surprised – selling is all about talking! Talk about anything – the weather, the car park, kids, Christmas, anything to get the conversation going while you suss out what colours they like wearing then Bam! Hit them with a design in their colourway and style and the sale in in the bag – well, sometimes!

There is an invisible line about two feet in front of the stall; a line which some feel is a sound barrier. You can be as rude as you like about the products on display, and the stallholder won’t hear you – I have news – they can. As my patience with the general public wore thin, I was heard to say, ‘I can hear what you’re saying. I made all these.’ Rule number one, don’t take comments personally, but it’s very hard. You made everything, and they are part of you, how can you not take it personally? I have a story to illustrate this:

Still feeling a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ about my designs, I was doing my first big event at a local venue, and a lady came up to my rail of hooded sweatercoats. They had long liripipe hoods, a full skirt and are not for the faint hearted, but many raved about them. (I’d like a £1 for every ‘Joseph’s Technicolour Dream Coat comment made)

‘Feel free to try anything on, there’s no pressure, have a play!’

I helped a short lady into a coat. I noticed her bowed head and closed in stance lifted, as we buttoned up the coat. She looked at me and smiled.

‘Have a twirl!’ I said, ‘you look fab!’

A man appeared. I had not seen him at first, but now he was six inches from my face, his own, bright red, and spittle flew as he roared at his wife:

‘Take that off! You look fucking ridiculous!’

The general hubbub that had been in the tent stopped with the volume of his tirade, which continued, the room now silent, listening and watching, as he turned his venom on me.

‘Are you taking the fucking piss?’

The lady took off the coat, and placing it on the rail, whispered ‘Sorry’ to me. I noticed she had retreated back inside her shell as he marched her off.

I had turned to face the back wall, tears welling up in my eyes, when I felt a hand around my shoulder. Seeing and hearing what had gone on, a fellow trader had gate vaulted over her stall of cushions.

‘You’ll need to grow a thicker skin’ she said. ‘You’re dealing with the general public’ She continued. ‘Your work is beautiful, and if you ever need a seamstress I’m your girl”

This angel of mercy was Julie, who had her own business as a seamstress, and importantly, an industrial over-locker. Following our serendipitous meeting, Julie made hundreds of ponchos, bedspreads and blankets for me over the years. Talk about silver cloud! I do however, think of that woman often and wonder what sort of a life she had with that bully of a man.

It was seven years later, when another man came up to me (at the same event interestingly – it did attract them) and said ‘Perfectly good jumper til you started messing around with it’ and I replied, ‘Piss off!’ that I realised I’d grown my thicker skin.

Christmas Sweatercoat and a Thicker Skin

‘The general public’ can be a nightmare, and one’s patience tested to the max, but over the seven years I sold my woolly wares at Christmas events, I met some wonderful people. There are jewels out there, who support, encourage, and buy from crafters year in and year out, preferring handmade to imported tat, and supporting local artisans and producers.  I thank you for your kindness, purchases and friendship.

Poncho love from some of my happy customers

I am in fact having lunch with a woman this week who first bought a sweatercoat about five years ago. Our paths have crossed at pop-up-choirs, music concerts and political events, which is hardly surprising – we sing off the same hymn sheet.

I only lasted seven years, before the sheer hard work and all-consuming nature of the beast got the better of me. To all those selling at craft fairs and ‘Designer Maker Markets’ on the run up to Christmas, I salute you! It’s a Monday as I write this, and hope you’re taking a well-earned day off before the next onslaught at the weekend.

If you are a customer, visiting a handmade Christmas event, please spend a moment to smile, say hello and encourage our artists. They have put their blood, sweat and tears into what they do, and if you can, buy homemade this Christmas.

Woolly Pedlar Christmas stocking
Woolly Pedlar Christmas stocking

Whilst I am no longer making any woolly goodies, there is a small selection of remaining stock at The Cane Workshop in Alston, where Lou demonstrates chair caning, as well as stocking a wonderful range of products made by local artists in lovely old shop in the market place.

Four weeks into my MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and I feel like I’m at the foot of a mountain. We have two modules this semester: Process and Prose and they couldn’t be more different from each other in both teaching style and expectations.

At the foot of Mount Toubkal, Morocco 1987
At the foot of Mount Toubkal, Morocco 1987.

In ‘Process’ with Jacob Polley, we are being led gently through the foothills, learning the process of becoming a writer and gathering what we need to develop our practice. I can breathe the air and admire the view; the wind is blowing gently, and I am able to be kind to myself. My daily writing in my journal, with themes such as ‘I remember’, ‘I am looking at’ and ‘I am thinking of’, allow streams of consciousness to flow and these allow to memories and experiences to bubble up to the surface like mountain springs.

Lanehead, Weardale. Looking towards Wellhope
Lanehead, Weardale. Looking towards Wellhope.

Recently, I visited Lanehead where I lived in Weardale sixteen years ago. My daughter used to walk up a footpath known a ‘Clarty Lonnen’ to the Stone Chair, high up on Puddingthorne Fell. We returned there to take her daughter, our granddaughter Daisy, for her first visit. On my return, I opened my journal and began…’I remember’. Happy memories came flooding back, of when Tim and I bought two derelict lead miner’s cottages and an acre of land for a song, renovated them, raised our family on a shoestring, and worked as information assistants at Killhope Leadming Centre, having given up our teaching and accountancy careers to work part time and raise our young family. It has inspired me to write more of my experiences living in Weardale and possibly use some of my knowledge of the life and times of the lead miners in my writing.

Hannah, Tim and Daisy. The Stone Chair. Lanehead, Weardale 2019.

Our other module, ‘Prose Writing’ with Lars Iyer is in stark contrast. Here I have left the gentle, grassy slopes of the foothills and have arrived at a rock face. Others seem much further up, with their young academic minds fresh from undergrad courses, or having written for years. I need my wits about me, as at times I have no idea where I should be placing my hands or feet and find the climb quite daunting. The work is challenging, and questions posed need serious consideration.  My mind is menopausal and rusty, but with regular writing practice, reading and hard work, mine will hopefully soon be oiled and fit for the climb.

Climbing Mount Toubkal, Morocco 1987
Climbing Mount Toubkal. Morocco. 1987

As a good friend said to me just last week, I am on a journey. It’s going to be hard, but I will get there!

Top of the pass, heading into Oukaimeden. Morocco 1987

Mountain photos taken on our honeymoon, when we climbed Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa………but that’s another story.