Sunday, 26 April 2015

Five Facts - Music Makes you Happy

Regular visitors to my blog know that I love music, but not everyone is as fanatical about music as I am, so this is my attempt to convert any non-music loving people with a few facts about the benefits:

1.  Music can help reduce your blood pressure and heart rate. (So much for the GP telling me I had to do lots of exercise to reduce my blood pressure! I joke. I'm still swimming.)

2.  Even if you listen to sad music, it will still lift your mood and reduce your stress levels. (I love sad songs. I have playlists full of them.)

3.  Making music, either singing or with instruments, is a recognised method of improving people's cognitive functions. (I play piano and guitar - badly - but I still get great satisfaction from it.)

4.  Music therapy has been shown to help stroke patients, especially with emotions and social interaction.

5.  Both playing and listening to music can help patients with dementia and amnesia.

The arguments in favour of music as therapeutic seem to be pretty decisive. In which case, why isn't music therapy offered by GPs instead, or alongside, anti-depressants?

My favourite way of listening to music right now is on Spotify. Below is a section of one of my favourite playlists. I can spend hours scrolling through all the songs on Spotify. It's my idea of musical bliss.

What is your idea of musical bliss?

Monday, 20 April 2015

Leicester Writes

"Leicester is a spicy cauldron of creativity!" This is what fellow Leicester writer, Siobhan Logan, said on Twitter this morning. I love it! And she's spot on!

As a writer living in Leicester UK, I consider myself to be very lucky. I have a fantastic support network around me because Leicester has proved itself to be a real hotspot of writing talent. Not only that, local writers are keen to support others, to share contacts and to pass on skills. There are writers’ workshops, writers’ clubs and spoken word events. There are University Courses catering for new and prospective writers as well as MA courses in Creative Writing. 

If you are a new writer and you live in the East Midlands then I expect you will be going along to the Leicester Writes Festival of New Writing on the last weekend of June 2015. It will be covering all areas of writing from poetry to writing novels, from short stories to screen writing. It even includes blogging.

One of the speakers is Jacob Ross. He will be giving a masterclass in the art of writing short stories on Friday 26th June. It all sounds very exciting and it's excellent value for money.

If you want to find out more then visit Leicester Writes Website.

Did I mention that I will be on a panel of writers for a discussion called ‘New Technologies, New Directions’ on Sunday 28th June at 3 pm? It will be taking place at the LCB Depot Courtyard Room which is just round the corner from Curve Theatre. Well, I've mentioned it now and I may well be mentioning it again! 

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

National Poetry Month - A Poem for Mum

This month is National Poetry Month. (See the bottom of this post for a link to the Grammarly website and their poetry quiz.) I posted a poem last week dedicated to my teddy bears but this week I thought I would post up one with a far more important dedication.

This poem is dedicated to my dear Mum who passed away four years ago this week. I still miss her very much. This is not one of my better poems. It is certainly no literary piece of work. I wrote it before Mum died and she read it and approved of the sentiment so I know that, even though the metre is a little clunky and the rhyming a little forced, it had my Mum’s blessing and that’s good enough for me.

Mums 1950s Menu

Rationing was boring. No fun food to eat.
My Mum's cooking was judgement to this.
On a Sunday she roasted a joint of meat,
Which she sliced up on Monday with chips.

On a Tuesday we knew it would be shepherds' pie.
While on Wednesday we always had stew.
There was omelette on Thursday, fresh egg, no more dried,
With a fried up tomato or two.

On a Friday I thought that the meal was quite good;
Steamed white fish, mashed potato and sauce
With the yummiest Apricot Sponge for our pud,
Which she got from the Co-op, of course.

The 60s saw Mum spread her culinary wings.
Bolognese that was not from a tin,
Vesta packets of dried, little cube-looking things
Topped with noodles all crispy and thin.

But we still had some order to the weekly food file,
Certain things for each day of the week,
Until Mum launched herself into 70s style
Then we never knew what we would eat.

There was chilli-con-carne and curry and rice,
A big pizza for our Sunday lunch.
Mum's menu was transformed by lashings of spice.
And we even had something called brunch.

Until Mum became lost all alone in her flat,
Too tired to shop or to cook.
So she moved to a Care Home and there she found that
Things were more familiar than they looked.

She had roast beef on Sunday, sliced up the next day.
It all felt really safe and secure.
And whenever the stew was served up she would say
That the day must be Wednesday for sure.

She talked about cooking and how it once was
When a loaf of bread cost a few pence. 
She talked of the days when you knew where you were, cause
She knew where she was once again.

This week the Grammarly website has a special poetry quiz to pair you up with your poet soulmate. If you have a go at it then do let me know who you were paired up with. I got Pablo Neruda and his poem If You Forget Me. This is a poem that I have read many times and, although it is a translation and so the wording is not as precise as the original, I still love it very much, so the quiz does, indeed, seem to work.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

It's only a teddy bear!

(For those who view my blog through non-formatting readers, the following is a poem - OK, son?!)

It’s ok to chat with a cat, so I’ve heard,
Cause you know that a cat can hear every word
But you don’t want to talk with inanimate things,
Like your teddy, whose stuffing is held in with string.

Just a minute! A cat doesn’t care about words.
He would much rather chase after dormice or birds.
The teddy, however, absorbs all you say.
He collects up your words in his kapok each day.

So your teddy bear holds all your wishes and thoughts.
He knows all of your hopes, all those demons you’ve fought.
Please ignore those who say he’s a toy. It’s not true.
He’s the one true custodian of all that is you.

Don’t you just love your teddy bears? 

Here are a few of mine:

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Retelling the Passover Story

This Friday evening marks the beginning of the eight days of Passover. We start the Passover (Pesach) with a special meal on the first two evenings called the Seder meal.

Photo curtesy of Bridget Blair from Thinking of the Days
During the Seder meal we retell the story from Exodus of the escape from slavery in Egypt. To hear Leicester's Rabbi Pink talk about this then please visit Radio Leicester. His interview is 1:45 mins into the programme.

I talked about it on my blog last year. I just reread that post and I’ve decided that, if we can retell the same story every year at the Seder table and it still has an effect on us, then my blog post from last year can stand a second telling because it’s still… no, sadly, it’s even more relevant today than it was last year.

This is a section from my last year’s post with only minor alterations:
We have to tell the story every year to help us remember. We eat bitter herbs so that we never forget the bitter times of slavery. We dip parsley into salt water so that we never forget the tears. Does it make it easier to bear, knowing that this happened not today but thousands of years ago?
Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Belsen in 1945. (This was correct last year. The Passover is determined by the Hebrew calendar. The actual date is 15th April.) When the soldiers arrived they were horrified to see piles of dead and rotting corpses and thousands of sick and starving prisoners. Does it make it easier to bear, knowing that this happened not today but 69 years ago? (70 years ago now.) 
Today in 1994 Rwandans were being massacred, not by the thousands but by the hundred-thousands. The massacres continued until mid-July. Does it make it easier to bear, knowing that this happened not today but over 20 years ago?
When I wrote that post there was headline news about the liberation of sex slaves locked in rooms in the UK. It doesn’t get any closer to home or contemporary than that and sadly the atrocities continue. There have been too many incidents to list, but I feel I have to mention the horrific Charlie Hebdo shootings. 

And yet we continue to retell the story of the Exodus in the hope that by remembering, it might mean that it is not repeated. Are we remembering in vain?

Do you think that it is important to remember the past, or should we only look to the future?

Update: While I was writing the above blog post the news was breaking that Islamist gunmen had shot dead 147 people at a college in Kenya. Tragic news. There is no end to it.