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.


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.


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!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

My Blog has a new name

Today I have given my blog a new name. It was almost ten years ago that I began writing this blog. As I've explained in the above strap-line, I called it 'Writing in the Rain' because life was not so good. With Mr A starting chemotherapy the future looked bleak and I thought this blog would be a way to meet other people who were going through similar problems. It turned out quite differently. Thankfully Mr A is in remission and long may it last. As for this blog, it has introduced me to lots of lovely writers and helped me to keep in touch with friends and family. It took me from the negative into the positive and so it was high time the blog got a more positive title.

I was prompted to do this today by Facebook. Sometimes I am irritated when Facebook reminds me what was happening on this day many years ago. Today it came up with a lovely, but bitter-sweet, photograph. It was a picture of me having breakfast in Venice overlooking the Grand Canal. I loved Venice. One day I will go there again but hopefully not for the same reason. We booked that holiday when Mr A was first diagnosed with Amyloidosis. We knew that the prognosis could turn out to be bad and Venice was one place that neither of us had visited - it was on our bucket list and so we went.

Thank you Facebook for making me turn to the positives of life. In fact, this has given me an idea for a poem and so I am Writing Again...

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

What happened to warm and cuddly?

I may have started using that pair of rose-tinted specs again but I'm sure that films in the cinema and programmes on the TV used to be warm and cuddly. These days they all feel harsh and sadistic. I accept that a storyline needs its peaks and troughs. We have to travel through adversity with our hero before the satisfying conclusion, before our hero achieves, possibly also learns, and it makes us feel - well - warm and cuddly. I don't want to share my relaxation time with sadists, so I shun the cinema and avoid TV programmes - except for Mastermind and University Challenge, of course.

That said, last week I watched more films than I had all year. We shared a holiday cottage with Son and family. The cottage boasted an impressive selection of DVDs and every morning I had a date with 9-year-old Grandson at 7.15 to share a breakfast-time film of his choice. He had seen them all before but they were new to me and he was especially delighted when the ending of Paddington 2 reduced me to tears. "You've really connected with this film, haven't you, Grandma."

I've said that I only do warm and cuddly and Paddington is warm and cuddly but one scene from that film will forever live in my head and hurt like billy-oh. Without going into too much detail, Paddington thinks the Browns have forgotten him. He falls into the river. Mrs Brown dives in to rescue him but he's trapped. For several moments they float motionless, looking at each other with real love in their eyes (How do film animators do that!?!) and then comes the rescue, etc., etc.

Why am I recounting this section of film? Bear with me (sorry, couldn't resist the pun!) and it will all become clear. Last Friday was departure day from our cottage. We packed bags, loaded cars, checked the cottage, locked up and shared hugs, kisses and 'goodbyes' before they headed North and we headed South. We got into our respective cars. My car window was level with their back window where Grandson was sitting. He wound his window down. I wound my window down. We silently stared at each other. Then his window closed and they drove away. It took a while before I could drive off. Like I said, it hurt like billy-oh.

But I'm coping. I have a Mastermind and a University Challenge to watch on the TV tonight and I just know that they will distract my thoughts from anything remotely non-warm-and-cuddly.

Posts have been few and far between recently because I've been kept rather busy working on the displays and texts for a new Visitors' Centre at Leicester's Orthodox Synagogue but more about that next time.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

More than just a ferry

Last week, we visited Liverpool - my first visit to the City. We stayed in a hotel near the Albert Docks, an area alongside the Mersey River that has been developed into a tourist attraction for lovers of all things both maritime and Beatles related.

My first excitement was seeing the Liver birds on the Liver Building. There was a 1970s television series called the Liver Birds and so I stood and gazed up at the birds, just like Nerys Hughes had done every week on the telly.
(I discovered from a tour guide that the clocks were made in Leicester - so proud!)

My second excitement happened as we walked through Albert Dock towards the river. A busker was playing Ferry Cross the Mersey and there I was looking at the actual Mersey River. I didn't expect to get emotional but I had to blink back tears. It was a mixture of nostalgia and a kind of raw emotion that only music can invoke - all this and we hadn't yet been to the Beatles Experience museum.

It was clear that the Beatles had to wait. My priority was to go on the ferry across the Mersey, just like Gerry and the Pacemakers had done when they sung about it all those years ago. The ferry is now painted in psychedelic patterns (I'm guessing it was a boring grey in the 70s) and every time it docked they played the tune and every time they played the tune I got all emotional all over again.

So much emotion is exhausting...

but I loved every minute of it...

We went on to visit the Beatles Museum and the Tate North Gallery, the Maritime Museum and we had a tour of the City on an open topped bus, but nothing could beat sitting on that ferry and listening to that tune because it's so much more than just a ferry. It's the soundtrack to my teenage years.