Sunday, 28 December 2014

Peeling Potatoes

I’ve opened a present, a bottle of Schnapps
My favourite, Archers, peach flavour
I’m peeling potatoes and just dare not lapse
Cause my roasties are something to savour.

I’ve eaten four mince pies laced liberally with rum.
I’m still peeling but feel rather weepy.
So I've gulped down some whisky. It's warming my tum,
But potatoes are making me sleepy.

They’re inside watching telly. That’s fine. It’s ok.
Come the adverts, they all want a cuppa.
It’s a Peach Schnapps for me. I feel better that way
When I’m peeling potatoes for supper.

I’ve made them all tea and they’re watching a play
So I’m peeling potatoes like crazy
But the kitchen is starting to gently sway
And I’m feeling incredibly lazy.

I’ll just rest for a while. I’ll slide onto the floor
I know one thing without any doubt,
I’m sorry. I can’t peel potatoes no more
Cause I fear I’m about to pass…



Monday, 22 December 2014

Faith, Hope and Gluttony

Every Christmas time I scour the TV Times to make sure that my favourite Christmas story will be showing, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I've watched it in one form or another almost every year since I was a teenager. I could mouth some versions, but that doesn't spoil the enjoyment for me. I love the way that Dickens put his message across, which I interpret to be the same message as is in the title of this blog post.

'...Faith, Hope and Gluttony, that'll be Christmas...', lyrics from a Christmas song sung by Thea Gilmore. There are a lot of Christmas songs being played right now. Mostly they talk about happiness and family togetherness which is what we've been trained to expect at Christmas, trained by the media and advertising but...

Last week The Independent stated that 13 million people in the UK are living in a state of poverty. That is brain-stunningly shocking.

13 million people! In the UK! 

Shelter predicts that 93,000 children will be homeless this Christmas and the Trussell Trust, who are responsible for the food banks throughout the UK, talk about there being a 'real, stark two-nations Britain'.

When food banks were recently debated in parliament, Maria Eagle MP stated that the number of people using food banks had increased from 41,000 in 2009/10 to 913,000 in 2013/14. She went on to say that 'over the last four years prices have risen faster than wages ... and failings in the operation of the social security system continue to be the main triggers for food bank use...'

I am not an economist and so can't even begin to work out how the problem of rising prices versus wages could be solved but it doesn't take an economist to see that something could and should be done about failings in the operation of the social security system. In 2013 I blogged about food banks. I talked about the experiences of my friend who is a volunteer in her local food bank. She said,
"People are given three days' worth of food. These are not society's drop-outs but people who are desperate to feed their families. Many are having money problems through no fault of their own. One had to wait for a payment cheque which had taken longer than usual to arrive. Another explained that his allowances had been changed which meant there was a gap in payments."
I wonder if those people who are responsible for issuing allowance payments have any idea what it feels like to have no money at all, no savings, no family who can lend, no tins in the larder to dip into, nothing? And I wonder how those people responsible for making these late payments are able to enjoy their heavily-laden Christmas dinner table?

Which brings me back to my favourite Christmas story and the realisation that we have, as a caring community, changed very little since Victorian times. It is disappointing. There must be something we can do to make a difference but I really don't know what.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Who, or more precisely, what is a Lady?

Would you refer to yourself (or, if you happen to be male, would you refer to a female) as a lady or a woman or would you rather use the term 'girl'?

I mentioned to a friend the other day that I belong to a Ladies' Bridge group. She frowned. I assured her that it was a perfectly civilised group, no glaring if one of us makes a wrong bid, no shushing if any of us get the giggles. It was social bridge with an emphasis on the word 'social'. She explained that her frown was for the name rather than the activity. It should, more accurately, be Women's Bridge.

I took this on as a challenge. What is the difference between the two and what about the word 'girl'? Should we maybe call it the Girls' Bridge group instead? 

Lady, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, can be used in many ways:
  • It means the wife of a Lord. That's not us! 
  • It can be used in a derogatory way, e.g. "Listen, lady, I've had enough of this!" Ladies who lunch started out, I believe, as a mildly insulting term implying that the ladies have nothing better to do. (I think it's an excellent activity, myself.)
  • It is used in a formal setting when welcoming ladies and gentlemen to a gathering. 
  • It can be used when referring to a young girl with attitude, e.g. "You're asking for trouble, young lady!" 
  • It is even used as a modifying term, e.g. lady doctor
But the word does not, apparently, describe a group like ours.

The OED is no more encouraging about the word 'woman':
  • It is used as a general term, e.g. women's department in a clothes shop. 
  • It can be used in a patronising way, e.g. "Pull yourself together, woman!" 
  • What really puts me off the word is the 'old woman' tag. I don't care how old I am in actual years, I will not be classed as an old woman (grumpy or otherwise) for at least another 20 years, so there! 
It would seem that our group cannot be referred to as a Women's Bridge group either.

I glanced at the definition of 'girl' with little hope for a resolution to the problem. This is what the OED said:

  • a female child, a daughter or a young woman. Sadly, we're not the latter!
And then I saw it...
  • a social female group, e.g. having lunch with the girls.
That looks like a clincher. We should, from now on, be referred to as the Girls' Bridge group but somehow I don't think it's going to catch on!


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Miracles

This tea time I stood and watched the sun setting from an upstairs window. It began with delicate strips of pink on a deep blue sky. A lemon hue rose from the horizon as the pink strips deepened to salmon and then red. I know that scientists would willingly give me a factual explanation for this phenomenon but I'm no scientist. It felt as if this was a beautiful light show for my eyes only, in which case it must surely be classed as a miracle.

On Tuesday evening we will be lighting the first candle for Chanukah. This festival is about the power of light and about miracles.

As I explained in last year's post, miracles don't have to be as huge as the parting of the Red Sea. Watching my daughter heal after major surgery, seeing my grandson complete his first term at school in spite of his diabetes and all the restrictions this places on his life, meeting and sharing special time with old friends - these are the miracles that I'm talking about.

I firmly believe that it doesn't matter if we're celebrating Chanukah, Diwali, Christmas, the mid-winter solstice or a similar festival. Surely what matters is that we're all hoping for the same thing, for miracles that make our lives a little easier, for a light that illuminates our darkness.




I explained in a bit more detail what Chanukah is about in a post in 2011. You can read it here: Festival of Lights.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

I'm out and about

I'm so pleased with the results of the Lives Behind the Stones cemetery research project that I'd love it if other communities followed suit and created their own website along the lines of the one that I've been responsible for developing during the last year. Indeed, one of the final aims of the project is to promote the idea as a template and so I have been out and about these last few weeks doing just that.

Today I'm over at Simon Mayer's blog talking about the project. If you'd like to pop over and visit me there you can find me at Simon Mayers - Researcher and Historian

I can also be found in this week's copy of the Jewish Chronicle and you can read an online version of the article here.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Etymology:

The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

I was sorting through a pile of my old papers this morning and, as is the way with such activities, I found something absorbing to read. Several years ago I had made some notes about a fascinating man with the intention of mentioning him here. I don’t think I ever did, so I shall put that right now. 

Mark Forsythe is an etymologist. He has contributed to many etymological publications, not least the introduction to the 12th edition of the Collins English Dictionary in which he states, “There are few pastimes in life as pleasurable and profitable as reading the dictionary…” How can anyone disagree with him? His most recent book is called The Eloquence of Elegance and although I haven't yet read it, it is on my 'wish list'. I am at the moment enjoying his The Horologicon - A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language.

Forsythe blogs at Inky Fool and I thought I'd share with you a few of the more obscure words that he has talked about there. He says that he loves gongoozling. Indeed, who doesn’t love having the occasional gongoozle? You can read the derivation of the word on his post called Gongoozler and, just in case you didn’t know, it means to gaze idly especially at people working on a canal.

Another of his posts talks about wamblecropt, a word which he professes to find "intolerably beautiful" to listen to. Sadly the word is no longer in regular use. It means being overcome with indigestion. Maybe we should reintroduce it this very minute.

Yet another post has been devoted to the phrontistery, a place specifically built for people to go and think. I could go on but Forsythe describes these words and their meanings so much more eloquently than I ever could so I recommend you pop over to Inky Fool and have a read for yourself.

And now I shall sit in my phrontistery and gongoozle for a while. (No, there is no canal visible from my phronistery window but I can't get it right all the time, now can I!)

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Art Class

I've blogged quite a bit about how busy I've been this last term but I haven't once mentioned my bit of relaxation; my art class. I'm not an artist but I love going to the weekly art class in town. It means two hours of being totally absorbed in something that has nothing to do with the realities of life. 

This term we've been trying out different techniques using acrylic paints. Dry brush was ok but my brush kept getting so dry that it wouldn't produce any marks at all and when I wet it just I ended up with huge splodges and a spoilt painting. Glazing was interesting but it involved painting lots of thin layers of paint and waiting for each one to dry which taxed my patience to the limit. My favourite technique so far has been using a palette knife. It's a bit like producing a roughly iced cake. The best part about it is being able to smear extra layers on top of each other if you make a mistake.

The following is the painting that I completed this week. I used acrylic paints, palette knife and a fine brush for the small details. I must stress again that I am not an artist. I'm very much a learner and this was painted in the easiest way possible, i.e. by copying a real artist's picture. This is much simpler than painting real life because someone else has converted the subject into a 2D image. 


I've tried to find who painted the original picture. I think it is by Leonid Afremov. I can't find the exact one on Google but there's a similar picture called Fall Love, which translated into UK is Autumn Love. The name has a sad ring to it. I shall call my version Forever Springtime.



Monday, 24 November 2014

To Do Lists


I love it when I can tick off lots of things on my To Do List. It's so satisfying. Over the last few weeks I've blogged about a number of current jobs and tasks and I'm pleased to say that this last week I've ticked off the following:


  • One therapeutic writing workshop successfully hosted, thereby kick-starting the East Midlands Lapidus group again. We had an amazing day thanks to the lovely people who attended. (The next meeting is going to be in January 2015 so if anyone is interested in joining us do let me know.)
  • One book signing (Children's Book of Richard III) at a Richard III Day at Leicester's Guildhall successfully completed with lots of compliments on both text and illustrations. (These were especially appreciated from members of the Richard III Society.)
  • One health club duly joined, one aquarobics class attended and one swimming session completed. (I went for the expensive club with no deep end for those of you who read my blog post from two weeks ago.)
  • The final report for The Lives Behind the Stones Cemetery Project completed. Yesterday I clicked "submit" on the screen, thereby sending it off to the Heritage Lottery Fund and marking the end of the project. (Not really the end because people still want me to add information but that's not a problem.)

The thing about To Do Lists is that you've never completely done with them. There are always more tasks to add, more challenges to meet, but then life would be boring if our To Do Lists were empty... wouldn't it?


Monday, 17 November 2014

When Writing is Therapeutic

I love picking up a pencil and writing about nothing in particular. I never know what is about to emerge onto the paper. I only know that something always does. It's therapeutic. It's the kind of writing that is the absolute opposite of what I've been doing during this last year. My work cataloguing the local cemetery can't, by any stretch of the imagination, be called therapeutic. My parents and other family members are buried there, along with a number of dear friends. I've spent too much time immersed in grave stones. I need a break. I need to do some therapeutic creative writing.

I'm a member of Lapidus, The Writing for Wellbeing Organisation. The local East Midlands group fell into 'disrepair' several years ago so I decided that it was time to repair it. The first meeting of our newly formed East Midlands Lapidus Writing Group will take place this Friday 21st November in Leicester. If you live in the East Midlands and you'd like to join us then please get in touch with me or leave a message in the comments below and I'll get in touch with you.

Talking of comments, it is with some sadness and a lot of irritation that I've had to put comment moderation back onto my blog. Most people post comments that are helpful, friendly and relevant. Why do some people always spoil things? I'm receiving regular comments from people who want to sell me dubious items, want to offer me dubious jobs or - and these are the most confusing - comments that are nothing but a list of nonsensical words. Why would anyone waste their time writing that when they could be writing therapeutically instead?

If you're interested in therapeutic journal writing then I would recommend you visit Kate Thompson's blog called Therapeutic Journal Writing. It's packed with inspiring writing ideas.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Watery Dilemma

Earlier this year I announced, with a certain amount of smugness, that I had joined a Caribbean Dance Class. I now have to admit that it only lasted three weeks – my attendance, that is, not the class. I believe there are still people dancing themselves to a standstill and I’m sure it’s doing them good but it was too much for my poor, unfit body. I returned to the comfort and safety of my computer chair… until a few weeks ago.

A few weeks ago, for the first time ever, my GP expressed concern about my blood pressure. He’s not overly concerned so thankfully I don’t have to take pills but he did ask me how many times a week I exercised. He wasn't impressed with my new yoga routine. "It has to be aerobic," he said. My blank stare of a reply told him all that he had, no doubt, expected and I was sent away with a warning to think about it seriously.

For the last few weeks I have been thinking about it seriously. That frenetic dance class wasn’t for me. I’m hopeless at running. My ankle swells when I walk too much (old squash injury but that’s another story!) The only activity left is swimming. I've decided to treat myself and join a club. That way I’m sure to go because I’ve paid money up front (Yes, I am that pathetic at keeping up exercise regimes!) So where to go?

There’s a lovely pool at my old Univerity five minutes drive away and I’m entitled to join because I’m an alumna but it's very expensive. There is also a pool that belongs to another Uni that I could join. It’s the other side of town, not too far away, and it’s a quarter the price but here’s my dilemma. I can swim perfectly well but I’m a wimp. I have to fight the panic if I go out of my depth.  The expensive pool has no deep end. The cheaper one does. On the other hand, they both offer aquarobics on a Friday morning which sounds like fun and I'm sure my GP would approve. 


All I need to do now is to decide which one to join and yes, I know, I am prevaricating. I will get exercising again, really I will... just as soon as I've decided where to go!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

4 a.m.

I read recently that the mind can heal itself naturally, just like the body does, but that this healing takes place mainly at night. This is worrying. I’ve mentioned before about the problems I have not only getting to sleep but staying asleep. Last night it was 4 a.m. when I woke. My mind was filled with thoughts and I suspected that going back to sleep would be an unlikely event. I was right.

So what do you do when you're awake in the middle of the night? I sometimes write poems in my head...

Waking at four in the morning’s all wrong
And counting sheep can drive you mad.
I sometimes try going through words of a song
But the ones I know best are too sad.

They say you should get up and make a hot drink
But with two cats there’s really no way.
They insist on their breakfast and unfairly think
I should instantly kick-start their day.

So I lie very still and I wait for the light
And I watch the dark fading away.
Only then, when I've banished the thoughts from the night,
Can I throw myself into the day.

(Don't worry. I'll feel better after a good night's sleep :-)






Thursday, 30 October 2014

Lives Behind the Stones - The Finale

As many of you know, for the past year I have been coordinating a project to catalogue our local cemetery. I’m delighted, relieved, pleased to say that the year is almost over. This weekend I’m holding a presentation to celebrate our achievements and, as I jot them down in preparation for my speech, I’m proud to say that the outcomes far outstrip the aims. In fact, had anyone suggested at the outset that we would get this much work done, I would have been quite ‘negative’ with them.

We now have information boards at the cemetery. These include plans of all the plots. There are row markers and small plaques for every unmarked grave…

And more than that, we now have a website with all the basic information that anyone might need to know about the cemetery…

And much more than that, the website contains a record for every burial with data about that person and search facilities. It is now a fully functioning genealogical website…

And even more than that, the website contains many researched stories about the lives led by a number of the people buried there. This is why we called the project The Lives Behind the Stones. We’ve managed to gather a fair cross-section showing contributions made to the local community, to the city, in some cases to the country. There are contributions to commerce, celebrations of scientific developments and, sadly, many moving stories of refugees and evacuees who sought shelter here in Leicester.

I’m sorry you can’t all come to the presentation but, if you’ve not looked at the website recently, you might like to see the finished product and discover what I’ve been up to all year.  You'll find it here.



Thanks to my team and to all the volunteers who have worked so hard and, of course, many thanks to the Heritage Lottery people who have funded the work and supported us during the year. 


Friday, 24 October 2014

The Dreaded Sunday Clock Fiasco



The family know to keep out of my way,
It’s the end of October again.
If you ask me the time, I won’t know what to say.
Greenwich Meantime has messed with my brain.

The Sunday fiasco begins with a groan.
Is it eight o’clock, seven or nine?
My alarm clock apparently changed on its own.
I’m just grateful my watch is still mine.

It feels like it’s lunchtime but no one is sure.
Am I early or am I too late?
I’ve decided a real early night is the cure
Cause my body clock’s in such a state.




This is not just my way of saying that the clocks go back this Sunday. It truly is how I feel. I obviously have a very sensitive body clock. It’s a good job I don’t have to do regular commutes to the US!

Is it just me?




Sunday, 19 October 2014

How do all our memories fit in?

I've been doing a bit of yoga recently, trying to clear my head, put some good thoughts there and remove some of the worries. This has got me thinking about our thoughts and our memories. What makes memories linger in our brain? I'm not talking about bad memories here, not today. I'm just talking about the good ones, the kind that can be replayed over and over in your head, the kind that can take you to a better place when you're feeling fed up.

What amazes me is that there seems to be no limit to how many memories any one brain can hold. The popular image of a memory is that of a filing cabinet, where each memory is stored away in some kind of sensible order. That's how I like to think about mine anyway and it will come as no surprise to my blog friends that a lot of my memories appear to be filed away under the heading of 'pop songs'. It's not only music that can bring memories to life, though. Smells, tastes, even colours can be evocative of times past.

I remember from my GCE Biology (yes, they were called GCEs in those days before GCSEs had been invented!) ...I remember that memories are stored in the hippocampus but that doesn't help me to understand how it works because the hippocampus is a very small part of the brain. How do all the memories fit in? I also remember learning that the average brain weighs about 3 lbs and 80% of that is made up of water. Mum helped me to revise Biology and we did it so well that a lot of this stuff is still stored in my memory. Why is it not overflowing?

What's more, our memories can be 'jogged'. Go to a reunion or meet up with an old friend and a whole file full of memories can be reopened. You start thinking about things you did all those years ago, things that you'd almost forgotten about, but now the memory has been 'jogged', they're as vivid as if they happened yesterday.

Of course, the bad news is that our memories can start to lose their 'search facility' as we get older. That old chestnut of walking into a room and forgetting why you're there happens to most of us and it's apparently because by the time we reach 50 the connections between neurons in our brains are starting to show their age.

I'm not sure how scientifically effective it is but I'm doing my best to keep my brain active in the hope that it will maintain its full search facility functions for as long as possible. I play Bridge at least once a week and I play word games and do crosswords every day, although the Guardian cryptic crossword is much tougher these days than it used to be - humour me! It is tougher, isn't it?!

What do you do to keep your brain active?

Monday, 13 October 2014

Me and Richard III

We've Been Visiting Schools

For the last few weeks Richard III has been escorting me into local schools. I've been mainly talking to Year 4 and 5 classes (ages 9 to 11). My publisher, Lynn Moore from The Reading Shop has been coming with me too. We have an excellent partnership. I talk about The Children's Book of Richard III and she sells it.

Every school is different. Some have the children waiting in rows with pre-prepared questions. Others just slot me into their busy schedule.

Every class of children is different too. They each want to know about different aspects of the book. Today's children were really fascinated by the Princes in the Tower. Last week the children were more interested in the fact that Richard's body had been found beneath a Leicester City car park. The week before, I was quizzed about how I'd written the book and how it had been produced.

The children's questions are fascinating and funny in equal measure. Last week I was asked if I remember when Richard III was alive! The teacher assured me she would do some more work on maths awareness. This week I was asked if I personally believed Richard III to be a good or a bad King. Good question. I sat on the fence, as I have done in the book, but then admitted that, because I'd spent so much time writing about him, I had become really fond of him and was prepared to believe that all the bad press had come from Henry VII and the Tudors.

This was me this afternoon at a small village school just outside Leicester:


I'm pleased to say that the children do have one thing in common, they all want to buy a book.

If you'd like to buy a copy then please visit The Reading Shop website or if you're in the Leicester area then why not pop into the shop and support a local children's independent bookshop. It's on The Parade in Oadby.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Expressions of Exasperation...

...the kind that exasperate me

We all use them, those clichés that help us to 'let off steam' but what do they actually mean? Here are just a few examples.

Good Grief! How can grief ever be good? It makes no sense to me.

Good Lord! There are, no doubt, many Lords who are, indeed, good, but why do we have to shout out about their goodness when we're exasperated?

Gordon Bennet! Most people are aware that he was once a politician and I can understand why people might want to exclaim a politician's name when they feel exasperated but we could at least use a more up-to-date example. I can think of a few politicians from recent times who deserve this accolade but I won't name names.

Stone the crows! I like this one. It's not because I would ever stone a crow. They may be large, raucous birds but I wouldn't ever hurt one. It's because I imagine myself doffing a flat cap whilst saying it and adding, 'Cor blimey, Guvnor!'

Modern ones are every bit as exasperating as the older, well-worn examples above:

OMG or as Daughter tweeted the other day, OMGeeeeee. I suspect it was tweeted with a degree of irony, but even so!

What expressions of exasperation exasperate you?




Thursday, 2 October 2014

A Poem for National Poetry Day

My poems are often a tad light and fluffy but I thought I'd share this piece of free-verse with you. I'm always a bit wary of free-style poetry. I'm not good at writing without rules, so please don't be too judgemental. It's my offering for this year's National Poetry Day:

Sins of the Wedding Feast

Pride
The bride’s father beams                                                 
Contented guests
Real champagne
Smoked salmon canapés
Nothing but the best for his princess.

Lust
The best man drools
Her moist pink lips
Cream skin glimpsed
Beneath white lace
He’d have made a much better husband.

Greed
The groom fidgets
Lost appetite
Yet aches to feast
Upon her body
They’ll go once the speeches are over.

Envy
The bridesmaid pouts
Sees herself
At the alter
A man in tow
If only someone would ask her.

Gluttony
Cousin Albert gorges
Pies and puddings
Wine and lager
A bulging belly
You can’t let good food go to waste.

Wrath
Aunt Amelia tuts
Sat at the back
With the Smiths
What a disgrace
Who is responsible for this seating plan?

Sloth
The bride languishes
No more work
A monthly allowance
Cleaners, a gardener
She’s got a man to look after her now