Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Leicester Through a Visitor's Eyes

It’s been yet another busy week but this time it wasn’t about work. My sister came to stay which is a rare treat as Sister is even more anxious than I am about travelling. This was our first proper visit together since our Mum died. Mum was greatly missed but it also meant that we had time to do some shopping and touristy things that we’ve not really done together since she left Leicester about 30 years ago.

Our Tourist Schedule:

Curve Theatre to see Barnum
Sister was surprised by the vast, bulging building that is our Curve theatre.  She reminisced about the days of The Haymarket Theatre. Sadly that theatre now stands empty. What a waste of a resource! Barnum was a bit slow in the first half, or maybe our expectations were too high, but we enjoyed our evening together and Sister went home with photographs to help her remember. (Like that children’s TV programme character, Mr Benn!)

Richard III

Leicester’s Medieval Area
Sister was amazed by all the preparations for Richard III’s reburial. Where there was once ordinary side street paving and a non-descript front to the Cathedral, the workmen are now creating tiled walkways between the Richard III Visitors’ Centre and the Cathedral and a landscaped garden complete with modern sculpture and statue of Richard III. The biggest change even shocked me. We went into the Cathedral for a quiet sit down only to find that the workmen have boarded off the Cathedral side chapels and the Choir while they excavate Richard’s final resting place. Sister went home with more photographs to help her remember.

Leicester’s High Cross Shopping Centre
Sister lives in a very small town on the South coast. It has only a few shops for ‘essentials only’. High Cross, therefore, provided a confusion as well as profusion of shops. Consequently, Sister went home with less money than she had when she arrived!

Singing and Chatting
We caterwauled our way through The Last Night of the Proms and it reminded me of when we were little. We used to make our Grandma and Great Aunts sit through ‘concerts’ every time we visited. They were very patient. And we chatted for hours about life and stuff. It’s good having a sister.

Down Side to the Visit
Many weeks ago, in order to make Sister’s journey a little easier, we said we would pick her up from Birmingham’s New Street Station. That wouldn't have been a problem if it hadn’t been for The Letter that we received only days before her arrival. The Letter was from the DVLA telling Mr A that they would not be renewing his driving licence due to eyesight issues. Before you ask, yes I can drive, but have you ever tried driving into Central Birmingham when you haven’t a clue where you’re going? It wasn’t a good experience… but I did it and, what’s more, I’m proud of myself!

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Latest Fashion Trends

I don’t say, “Tut tut,” when the youngsters walk by
Being tutted at never was sweet,
Like when I wore my mini skirt turned way up high
Psychedelic from Carnaby Street.

These days I prefer wearing comfort than style,
Baggy trousers, some jeans at a push.
I pull on a skirt every once in a while
But it covers far more than my tush.

It’s hard to dress posh when your toes just won’t bend.
Flat trainers don’t show off a dress
Though I see that the youngsters have started a trend.
Comfy shoes can now dress to impress.

Out of all of the fashions that kids wear today
It’s tight leggings that I’d love to try,
But I know if I wore them the youngsters would say,
“Tut, tut,” every time I walk by.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Not Yet Autumn in Our Garden

After a couple of hot months, this cooler weather has fooled some of us into thinking that it's Autumn, but Summer is not quite over yet, not in our garden anyway. I love this rose:

And these two-tone gladioli are amazing:

The tomatoes in Mr A's greenhouse will be ripening for another month or so yet:

We're already getting a steady supply of them, plus a few raspberries which you can see tucked into the front of the bowl:

And there's enough root vegetables to keep us well fed:

You can't beat 'growing your own'. If I had to choose my favourite crop it would be peas. I love them so much that they rarely make the journey from the garden into the kitchen intact! What's your favourite crop?

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Collecting Happy Memories

We've just spent a bit of quality time with our amazing grandkids. I have to admit that I am now exhausted but it was lovely to see them and I've gathered up lots of happy memories while we were there. We saw monkeys in the monkey forest playing and chasing each other. We played on the swings in the local park and I plucked up the courage to swing high, like when I was a kid. Then there were the stories that we read together and the games that we created whilst crawling on the floor. The best memories are the hugs and kisses and the words, "I love you, Grandma Ros and Grandpa Rod".

Those happy memories will keep me going for a little while until we can meet up again. (Why can't families all live round the corner from each other like in the olden days or am I wearing those tinted specs again?) But I came away from our visit with more than happy memories. I came away with a wise piece of advice from my son. (Don't you love it when your kids become wiser than you?!) On our last evening there he put little grandson to bed and came down saying, "I always like to leave him with a happy thought to take with him as he goes off to sleep. Tonight he chose the baby monkeys playing in the forest."

A lot of life is about what's in our heads, isn't it. We can think about something lovely and smile or we can think about something awful and grimace. It sounds like an obvious choice and if it was as easy as that then we'd all spend all our time thinking lovely thoughts. For me the hardest times are those hours in the middle of the night, but maybe I can turn that around if I listen to my son's advice and take a happy thought with me when I go to sleep. (If you're reading this, Son, and I know that you often do, then thanks. I'll certainly give it a go.)

Daughter update: I'm so pleased to report that my daughter is recovering well following major surgery earlier in the summer. She's hoping to get back to work after the Bank Holiday week. Thanks to everyone who sent her get well wishes.
Children's Book of Richard III update: We have almost sold out of the first print run. Because there were one or two small changes required, this next print run has become a 2nd edition. Apologies if you wanted to order a copy this week. The 2nd edition will be available either online or in person from The Reading Shop in about two weeks' time.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Writing About Food

Our writing workshop met this morning and I suggested we do a writing exercise before getting on with our critiquing. I chose an exercise from one of my favourite and well-used books, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She recommends a short session (we did five minutes) of brainstorm/freeflow writing followed by a further session to edit some or all of the material produced and then to share the pieces out loud. 

I had chosen food for our writing exercise, anything to do with food. I guessed that each of us would produce something totally different and I was right. We heard about the bulk cooking of pizzas for a family gathering and the way that food can touch the memory like no other sensation can. We were taken into a French kitchen with its rich atmosphere and pungent aromas. We mused at the way in which a trip to the market to buy cherries turned into memories of an aunt and her hat-purchasing fetish and we had a mouthwatering account of all the foods that we have, over the years, brought along to our monthly lunch gatherings. (Yes, we are ladies who lunch as well as ladies who write!)

Although most of us are fiction writers, every piece of writing was based on true events, most of them long-ago memories. This was also true of the piece I'd written, except it isn't a long ago memory. It happened yesterday. I wrote it in short poetry-style lines. It's not meant to read as a poem. It was just the way it fell from my pen:

I love cheese,
creamy yellow cheese, 
crunchy mature cheese, 
soft runny French cheese, 
the kind that stinks out your fridge,
cheese wrapped in nettle leaves,
even blue-veined cheese,
but yesterday I wanted cheese scones for lunch.

We called at the bakers.
They only had cheese straws.
We popped into the deli
But baclava doesn't do it for me.
We had soup for lunch instead
and I disappeared off to write,
trying to ignore the noises from the kitchen.
Clunk, whir, click.

He brought me a steaming mug of tea 
and a plate of tiny, round,
perfectly formed,
cheese scones.
They dissolved on my tongue.
From a man of few words 
They spoke a million.

Only one left. Proof of the pudding...

Friday, 8 August 2014

Nothing Lasts Forever

Website Launch

It's been a long and hard year of work but the task to catalogue our old and crumbling cemetery is nearing completion. For those of you who have expressed an interest in the project, please visit the official Project Website at Jewish-Gilroes It helps to explain why I've not been around much on the Bloggersphere recently.

Nothing lasts forever. This photograph shows some of the older stones as they were last year. Sadly, since then, even more stones in this part of the cemetery have become unsafe. Every time we go to the cemetery we see that the Council have erected more and more orange netting. It surrounds the dangerous stones; the ones that are crumbling or have succumbed to subsidence.

I know that even the Internet and Websites don't last forever but I hope that we've preserved something; the images of the graves, information about the people buried there. It's all on the Website for future generations.

This has been a really worthwhile project and I'm extremely grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for all their support but I can't wait to get back to writing something frivolous, something purely fictional. I think I can feel one of my ditty-style poems coming on!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Describing a life in 500 words

By the end of August I hope to have completed most of the text for the Website that records the cataloguing of all the graves in our local cemetery. As soon as it’s done I will post up the url because I’m starting to feel quite proud of it, but there’s a lot of hard work still to be done.

The original project plan was to select one or two of the older stones and research the life ‘behind the stone’. In other words we’d write up a short biog in no more than 500 words. In practice it’s almost impossible to describe a life in 500 words especially as we are including contributions made to the local and wider community, family, interests, career, and the journey that led to Leicester – particularly interesting as a lot of the graves are for people who survived pogroms and holocaust atrocities.

It soon became obvious that the word count was the least of my problems. There were too many interesting stories to tell. My job was to decide which names to include in this ever-growing list, but by definition, this also meant that I had to decide which names to omit because we just can’t produce over 900 individual stories. The problem is that everybody has got a story to tell. We may not all have had a long and dangerous physical journey to arrive where we are today but many of us have had long emotional journeys. 


I’m giving the researched stories side-headings but that made me think about me. What side-headings would I give to my own story-so-far? 

Teacher That would have to be there.
Writer I couldn’t miss that one off.
Mother Goes without saying but I’ve said it anyway!
Animal Lover I’ve rarely been without a pet throughout my life.

But would I include the more painful periods of my life? 

Divorce It can’t be ignored.
Family Illness I couldn’t omit my husband’s stem cell transplant, my mother’s long and final illness, my daughter’s recent major operation, and then there’s my own struggle with agoraphobia as a teenager.
Not a Good Traveller That is very much a part of who I am but would it find it’s way into my story-so-far?

I suspect I would gloss over the negative, play up the positive and provide the reader with a ‘rose-tinted’ version of myself.

What side-headings would you give your life’s story-so-far?