Sunday, 26 January 2020

Holes in my comfort blanket

I don't usually take the news as a blog theme but I'm feeling unsettled. There are holes in my comfort blanket. Major news items happen to other people - right? Except this week it feels different, what with, the Coronavirus outbreak, a citizens' climate crisis assembly, Holocaust Memorial Day, antisemitism and the impending Brexit.

Coronavirus could threaten us all. A friend arrived back from China on Tuesday. We spent time together on Friday, joked about face masks, but really - I mean really, it is not a joke and it could have an even more drastic effect on the world than the flu epidemic of 1919. The virus could already be in my house. My daughter works at a University that has a large number of Chinese students, some from the worst hit provinces. The virus could already be in her house too.

I won't bang on about the climate crisis because there has been so much about it in the media this month that there's a risk of us developing 'news fatigue' but when I read that David Attenborough is coming to the Midlands to talk at a major citizens' assembly I did a double take, muttered an expletive or two, and declared to myself that it is time I did more to help the world than merely reusing shopping bags.

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day, 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, since the world was stunned by unbelievably horrific images in the news. Those events have formed an uncomfortable backdrop to my entire life. Had the Holocaust never happened the community in which I grew up, and am still a part of, would have been very different. I have lived surrounded by immigrants and refugees. The German refugees, those who came on the kindertransport, lost everything. They rarely talked about it but the pain was always there, like a cloud choking their aura. I remember one of Mum's friends who fell silent whenever Mum mentioned her cousins. I remember my Sunday School teacher with his number tattooed on his arm. He never stoped talking about it. I must have been about seven and would come home on Sundays with an ache in my heart. 

In spite of the above, I am having to include antisemitism as one of this week's disturbing news items. There is no denying that it is still with us. What is wrong with human beings? Why are we hardwired to hate? The issues of antisemitism in the Labour Party are yet again in the news as the Party campaigns for a new leader and in today's paper there's a plea from World Jewish Congress leaders to halt antisemitism. I keep asking myself what Mum would think about all this, even though I know the answer. She would be shocked and horrified, and so am I.

Which brings me to the final news item, Brexit. This time next week we will no longer be part of the EU. The papers have published photographs of a commemorative 50p coin that will be issued on Friday, but can we abide by the motto engraved on it:
Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations (inspired by Jefferson's first inaugural address). 
I only hope that this hand of friendship is extended to immigrants and refugees living within our borders, and to all descendants of immigrants and refugees, because I certainly fall into that category and I rather suspect that, if we delve back far enough, so do we all.

Chancellor Sajid Javid with the commemorative 5p coin



Friday, 17 January 2020

An Amazon Moan

Amazon exasperates me. This morning I decided to update by Amazon Author Page and was shocked to see that they have my Jewish Voices book for sale at £61. This is a complimentary book. It says as much on the back cover. The printing of the books was paid for the Heritage Fund UK. How can anyone possibly be expected to pay £61 for a free book?

I also noted that they don't mention the paperback version of The Children's Book of Richard III. The hardback copies have completely sold out which means that anyone visiting Amazon to get a new copy of my book, rather than a used copy, can't get one. I don't know what Amazon's rules are but I have stated as much in my author profile blurb. Here is what I said:

...Rosalind's 'Children's Book of Richard III' is selling so well that it has now gone into paperback. The paperback does not seem to be available on this site but has proved to be a best seller in the Richard III Visitor Centre, Leicester's Museum shops, the Bosworth Battlefield shop and can be purchased from the author herself...

I wonder if they will object. Incidentally, I now have a supply of books to sell at events etc so if you would like a copy, seeing as you're my blog friend, I'll let you have a signed copy for £8. Just comment below.

This is the link to my Amazon author page. If you've got a browsing minute perhaps you could have a look and let me know if I've missed anything or if anything needs updating.




Monday, 30 December 2019

Lights

At this time of the year fairy lights, candle lights and glittering tinsel-adorned decorations are everywhere we look so we can ignore the weather with its dull dreariness. Last night all the Chanukah candles were alight...

...not only in our houses but in public spaces too. There’s a giant Menorah (candelabra) with all its lights blazing to brighten up an area of Victoria Park.

Last week the Rabbi lit candles on a giant-sized Menorah at the Civic Chanukah Service in the Town Hall while outside, in the Town Hall Square, multi-coloured Christmas decorations were hanging from every tree and lamppost. Even the Lion Fountain sported glitzy blue lights. (The fountain was donated to the town in the 1870s by Sir Israel Hart, President of the Synagogue.)


It's been a busy week. Friends know how I feel about distance driving but sometimes it's unavoidable - especially to visit family and so I was once more on the motorway, driving down to Hertford for a three day visit to Daughter. I added my own bit of bling and glitz to the day. I wore a Santa Bear Christmas jumper for the journey. I had a slight attack of 'cold feet' when we stopped at the services but thankfully I was not the only festively adorned driver in Costa. On the drive home we passed that house that says, 'Our house has more Christmas lights on it than any other house in the street!' Every neighbourhood has at least one. They're certainly eye-catching but I can't help wondering about their electricity bills.

It may have been a busy week but it's been an even busier year. It began on a high when I was awarded a Masters Degree with Distinction from the University of Leicester (Sorry for repeating this but I'm still rather proud of myself) The year has seen perhaps more than its fair share of ups and downs, of ill health and worries. We're now heading for another New Year, another new decade, another chance to say,
'It's going to be better. I won’t get anxious. I will enjoy the moment, each moment.' 
Well, I can try anyway, and so...





Thursday, 5 December 2019

I Love Words

Are you an etymologist? Do you enjoy talking and reading about words? Have you ever listened to Michael Rosen's Word of Mouth? It's on BBC Radio 4 and, although there is no current series, the Listen Again page on the BBC website has almost 200 past episodes that can be listened to at your leisure. I confess to being addicted to them. I listen to at least one an evening while I'm getting ready for bed. Some of them I know almost by heart and some talk about things that I'd forgotten or hadn't picked up on in the first airing.

Some links: Topics range from language and writing e.g. Philip Pullman in 2017, to metaphors for the pastto a discussion with Countdown's Susie Dent on her love of words. There's even an episode on T-shirt slogans.

If you're still reading this then you must love words as much as I do and so, in case you hadn't already discovered him (but I bet you have), I recommend you read some of Robert Macfarlane's work. His books include Underland, Landmarks and The Lost Words and are a feast for word lovers. We used some of his material in the Masters in Creative Writing that I did last year - did I mention how much I enjoyed that course?

And if you love words I dare say you've discovered the website and Twitter feed called Haggard Hawks.

Have you got any word lovers' links to share? If you have do let me know in the comments. Thanks.
p.s. I just created my first ever word cloud - see above. I downloaded an app called Shapego. It's fun. I feel a new obsession coming on!

Monday, 25 November 2019

How to Produce an Historic Timeline - or how not to...

...and news of my second ekphrasis poem published in the Ekphrastic Review

In my August blog I posted up the following apology:
Posts have been few and far between recently because I've been kept busy working on the displays and texts for a new Visitor Centre at Leicester's Orthodox Synagogue.
I didn't expect to be still working on it in November although I'm glad to say that I can now see the end of the first section of work. Thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Fund there will be a new communal area beside the Synagogue and I was asked to co-ordinate the writing and preparation of an historic timeline for a long wall in the room that is earmarked for educational visits, talks and social events.

'No problem,' I thought when I was first approached back in April. I'll just jot down the historical facts, get some pictures to illustrate and send it to the graphic designers to turn it into a permanent wall display.

WRONG!

The history of the community dates back to the 1830s. Early evidence is scant but I've had help, a very good friend who is excellent at research. She found old newspaper extracts: one about a wedding in 1835 that had to be held in an Inn because there was no synagogue, another dated 1897 tells of the laying of a foundation stone for the Synagogue that is still standing today.

We moved on to the First World War and found evidence of young Synagogue members who had fought in France: one received the Croix de Guerre for bravery, another was a poet and we found an extract of a poem that he could well have written in the trenches.

It was all going really well... until we reached the years that we all remember, our own personal involvement in this historical account, and then things became complicated. Who do we include? Who do we leave out? How can one wall do justice to the contributions of the multitude of families who have met, married and prayed at the Synagogue over the last 60 or so years?

Seven months later we have just about got the timeline ready for those graphic designer whizz kids to turn it into some kind of vinyl wallpaper for the allotted wall.

I can't wait to see it on the wall 
but at the same time 
I dread seeing it on the wall 

because I know that no matter how many people I've spoken to and consulted about content, there will be someone who comes up to me when it's all done and dusted and says, "Why didn't you include..."
On a lighter note: I've just had another ekphrasis poem accepted on the Ekphrastic Review (an online magazine that only accepts poetry written in response to art work of any kind.) This poem was for a challenge. They choose the picture and we're given two weeks to write and submit a poem. They do it every fortnight but this was the first time I'd tried this particular challenge. 
If you'd like to have a look at it here's the link: Ekphrastic Reviewbut it's not easy to find. Scroll down to the image of a muddy evening with people walking home alongside a river painted by Emilio Boggio. My poem is called End of the Day and it's 14th in the list of successful submissions.
 And now please excuse me because I have a timeline to finish...

Thursday, 17 October 2019

An Onion Poem

A lot of the time people assume that anything an author writes must be autobiographical, especially a poem. Sometimes it is but not always. I remember reading about a Gilbert O'Sullivan tour in the US where Americans wrongly assumed he was an orphan because of his song Alone Again Naturally.

What I'm trying to say is that the following poem is not autobiographical - except for the bit about those onions that have seen better days before you even get them home from the shops.



Onions

I tug at the cellophane.
Its crinkle-sealed edges refuse to part.

Each Spring Dad dug the earth
round the back of the outside loo
and planted sets in rows.

I rummage in the drawer beneath
spatulas and holed plastic spoons.

He hoed and tended them after work.
He showed them off to visitors.
He won rosettes with them.

The scissors splits the cellophane
like a spade through well-tilled soil.

He pulled one from the earth each day
and took it in to Mum.
That first slice would bring tears to her eyes.

A base of moulded polystyrene
cradles soggy, brown orbs.

His spade would glisten from the care of a well-oiled rag.
Now it is wrapped in cobwebs
and hung on a nail in a silent shed.

I bin cellophane, polystyrene and oozing onions
and wipe a tear from my eye.



Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Stage Fright

When I was young I was a member of an amateur dramatic group. I think I was an ok kind of actress - some say I'm still a bit of a drama queen - but I dropped out because of stage fright. More recently I've cut down on my talks about The Children's Book of Richard III for the same reason. Logically it makes no sense because I have never had to face a hostile audience - except for one school assembly when I finished my Richard III talk at a rate of knots, grabbed my stuff and ran - but on the whole most audiences are lovely and once I begin my talk I'm always perfectly fine. It's those hours beforehand that slay me.

Fortunately not everyone is as wimpish as I am. Last Sunday good friends from way back came for
lunch. They were booked to play at an acoustic afternoon in our local micro pub. Lunchtime consisted of wall-to-wall reminiscing about the good old days when we were teenagers hanging out at the Maccabi Youth Club, but then there was a lull in the laughter, just a slight one, and they excused themselves an hour before the gig to go and set up. They admitted to me afterwards that it always takes the first few songs before they can settle into a set. I was blissfully unaware, tapping feet, singing along and thoroughly enjoying their performance. Their act is called Cherry Tree and they play a wide range of music, including some good old nostalgia songs from the 60s and some bluegrass blues played on a converted cigar box.

I'm not implying that Cherry Tree suffer from stage fright. Far from it. They're experienced enough to know how to channel those nerves, along with the resulting adrenalin, into a successful performance. Before Cherry Tree began their set they were approached by a very talented young girl who asked if she could perform a few songs during their interval. Until last Sunday she had only ever played to her mother and now she was ready to perform in public - brave girl - but as her turn to perform approached her face became almost contorted with fear. Her legs visibly trembled and when she started singing I didn't think her voice would make it to the end of the first song. But it did. She performed four numbers and with each song her voice grew in strength, she handled the guitar with more confidence and her talent shone out. One day she will make it big - once she has learnt how to channel those nerves.

In the meantime I will continue to play my piano when nobody else can hear me and - I'm going to let you into a secret - a new purchase has just arrived in the post. It's a mouth organ. I haven't played a mouth organ since I was 14 so I will have to start from the beginning but I can promise you one thing. You'll never hear me play it - unless you happen to be Mabel the cat!