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.

Monday, 17 June 2019

No More Spam Comments

The spammers will not stop me from blogging

I have been blogging here for almost ten years. My first post was in November 2009. Back then receiving comments from you, the reader, was a joy, an added bonus to the privilege of being able to post my thoughts, problems and achievements in this most public of places. Now I delete numerous spam comments daily. I wouldn't mind if they had been written in a fluent - or even semi-fluent - way but they seem to be auto-translated with the syntax in places that English syntax was never meant to be. Consequently they make little or no sense and are never related to my blog post.

It is for this reason that I am now only allowing members of this blog to comment, so apologies to any genuine passers-by who are desperate to contribute to my myriad ramblings - but thank you for visiting anyway. I'd like to particularly mention two fellow bloggers who have, over the years, faithfully visited and commented on my blog. I really appreciate their support and friendship and would be delighted if you could pop along and visit their blogs. Joanne Faries blogs at Word Splash and Hilary Melton-Butcher blogs at Positive Letters

Writing Update:

I have finally recovered from the MA experience, my feet have just about touched the ground once more and I am submitting poetry. I've sent three poems about journeys to the Myslexia call for themed submissions and I've also submitted to several other magazines including Strix and Granta.

Yesterday I sent two poems to the Writing East Midlands Aurora Competition. They are accepting short stories and poetry and the closing date is 26th June, National Writing Day. If you fancy entering here's the link: Aurora Competition

If I get any good news from my submissions then you will be among the first to know! Have a good rest of June and here's hoping it has finally stopped pouring with rain.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Talks, Talks, Talks

Over the last two days I've been to three different events, each with speakers and each speaker with a very different kind of message.

Bill Turnbull:
The first event was the Annual LOROS Ladies' Luncheon. It's a big affair held at the King Power Stadium (a football place!!). Over 600 women were fed, plied with wine and ready for a talk from the television personality, Bill Turnbull and he pitched it perfectly with warmth, humour and a captivating personality. He talked about his career in news broadcasting and his appearance on Strictly Come Dancing before moving on to his diagnosis and ongoing treatment for prostate cancer. It was a brave subject to address but he did it gently with enough humour to keep the mood buoyant whilst at the same time driving home the message to get to the GP straight away if you have any doubts.

Dialogue between faiths:
That evening I had been invited to accompany a friend to an Iftar meal, the meal with which Moslems break the daily fast during the month of Ramadan. It was organised by the Dialogue Society who firmly believe that promoting dialogue between faiths, getting us to talk about our beliefs, our differences and our similarities, goes a long way towards eradicating discrimination. There were speakers from a number of faiths talking on the subject both before and after the meal. Sadly, you only have to read the newspapers to see that it hasn't worked for everyone yet but it's a good place to start.

Poetry with a message:
The next day I was off to Nottingham for a poetry pamphlet launch - two poetry pamphlets to be precise. The launch was held at the amazing Five Leaves Bookshop in Long Row, Nottingham and the poets were both brilliant and poles apart.

Linda Stern Zisquit came over from Jerusalem to launch her pamphlet, From the Notebooks of Korah's Daughter. She has taken lines from the Psalms and written her responses to them during a time of great personal turmoil. Her words were moving. She had me spellbound.

Declan Ryan was reading from Fighters, Losers, where he finds poetry in the lives of famous boxers, in their rise to stardom and in their inevitable but painful fall. He delivered his work with a delightful helping of sardonic humour.

Well done to the publishers, New Walk Editions. They have two winners on their books.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Passover - a hope for peace

The sun has risen on the third day of Passover. The Seder nights are done - but not forgotten. It's the traditional Passover meal when we sit round the table with family and friends, tell the story from Exodus and eat a lovely meal together. We remember the Israelites who were made to work as slaves, suffering at the hands of Pharoah. We also remember the Egyptians because they too were suffering. Pharoah had hardened his heart to the pleading from Moses to let the Israelites go, so the Egyptian people had to suffer the ten plagues.

The following is a well worn moan of mine but I make no apologies for repeating it:

It would be good to think that by retelling the story each year, people would no longer have to suffer, either at the hands of other people or from modern-day plagues but this is not the case. Humans seem to be able to justify causing untold pain and misery to other humans. I don't understand it.

And then there are the plagues, the many illnesses that we still have no cure for and, even worse, those that we do have a cure for but the people suffering from them are too poor to pay for the medicines or they have no access to clean water...

I could go on but it won't change the facts and so instead I'll wish you a happy Passover/Easter and hope that some time soon our newspapers can be filled with news about people not killing each other.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Learning Poetry by Heart

The other day, Giles Brandreth was talking on BBC Radio 2 about the values of learning poetry by heart. Not only does it help children to learn, it also helps stave off dementia. Quoting poems by heart is certainly a satisfying experience. The science bit of the programme explained why. It would seem that acoustic statistics are aligned with each other when you speak poetry and that's why it feels right to the brain. I suspect that song lyrics have the same effect.

As I've often said on this blog, my head is full of song lyrics. There's an entire section of my brain given over to their storage. (I know it doesn't really work like that but it's how I think of it.) There is also a section that stores my favourite poems. I once learnt a nonsense poem by Gelette Burgess and it seems to have taken up permanent residence in my memory:

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
but I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.

There are many others that I learnt by heart years ago. A. A. Milne's poems I've blogged about before, including my ultimate favourite by A. A. Milne:

There once was a dormouse who lived in a bed
of delphiniums blue and geraniums red...

I have, on my book shelves, a very old poetry book by Thomas Hood that I treasured as a child. My favourite poem from that book is still:

I remember, I remember
the house where I was born,
the little window where the sun
came peeping in at morn...

Magical stuff!

I never think to learn poems these days, but according to Radio's Giles Brandreth this is precisely the time in my life when I should be learning. He talked of Dame Sybil Thorndike who memorised a poem a day right into her nineties. This, he said, was 'to keep her mind alive'. I want to keep my mind alive so I'm going to do the same. I'll start by learning a poem a week and I'll report back here next month with my list of achievements... if I remember (Sorry, for that corny and predictable quip!)

All I need to do now is to select a poem for my first week of learning. Any suggestions?

Saturday, 6 April 2019

White Out

The thing I love about writing poetry is that nothing is wrong, anything goes, and the words can be interpreted to say what you want them to say. This may be a poem about walking through a blizzard - or it may be about something else entirely.

Walking through a blizzard
your feet take time to acclimatise.
You move slowly
and with each step you sink deeper.

You turn to check your progress
but you can’t quite be sure
which way to go,
which way you came.

For the moment it’s beautiful
but you know that underneath it all
the world is grey and very soon
the pain and numbness will hit.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

A Day of Spontaneity

A quiet day in Peterborough, that was what I had planned for Daughter and myself. We would have a bite to eat in John Lewis, wander up to the Cathedral and then sip coffee in an as-yet-unidentified cafe. Even though Peterborough is equidistance between us, this was the first time we had arranged to meet there. It was what we both needed on one of Daughter's rare work breaks - a nice quiet day.

I was about to leave the house when she rang. The Peterborough train has been cancelled. Let's meet in London and have lunch at Ottolenghi's... and so began a manic but marvellous meet-up.

Ottolenghi's is in Islington, a typical Israeli relaxed kind of place with long white tables and lots of chatter. We each had a plate piled high with rich and varied salads. As our food was placed before us, I couldn't help thinking that salads never looked like this when I was young.

We sat for hours putting the world to rights and then we wandered off to Angel Islington and the boutique shops. I fell in love with a handbag and, as this was a day of spontaneity, I bought it. We wandered on past a nail bar... well not exactly past. We went into the nail bar and minutes later we were sitting side-by-side having our hands massaged and our nails painted. I went for glittery pink. Daughter chose blue.

In the next street we found one of those cafés where people sit with laptops or lounge on settees and we put yet more of the world to rights over an afternoon cuppa by which time it was no longer afternoon. It was six o'clock and time to return to St Pancras Railway Station.

Just time for a final hug and a wave and the day was over. What a treat, and all the more enjoyable for being so spontaneous.

Friday, 8 March 2019

On Being a Pet Owner

It has been a difficult few weeks for a number of reasons. One of them is cat related. Our little old cat, Charlie, had to be taken for her last visit to the vets on Monday. She had been a poorly cat for some time so this was not a sudden thing but that doesn't mean it hurts any less. Now her sister, Mabel, keeps sitting in the hall crying and wandering round sniffing the carpet. How do you tell a cat that her lifelong companion has gone?

And so I'm trying to write, trying to take my mind off the pains and vagaries of life but, at the moment, I can only think of cat related things to write about and so...

I have had cats all my life. There was a tabby cat called Timothy, a fluffy one called Paddy Paws and my first cat when I got married, a ginger tom called Tinker, aptly named. He would leap from behind and attach himself to unsuspecting visitors' backs.

Plink and Plonk, (I know, I know, they were named by my ex-husband!) were two little brother cats who supported me through a difficult divorce. They moved house with me when I had to downsize twice over and then, when I met Mr A, they had to tolerate the addition of Ben the dog into their lives. I was concerned for their safety as Ben fancied himself as a bit of a cat chaser. We kept them in separate parts of the house for a few days but we knew we had to introduce them. (I have mentioned this once before here on my blog but I think it bears a second telling.) One evening Mr A put Ben on the lead and brought him into the back room where the cats were. Ben pulled and strained on his lead whining, "Let me get at them, let me get at them." I told Mr A to unfasten the lead and I got ready to rescue the cats, but as soon as Ben realised he was no longer safely on the lead he hid behind Mr A's legs and shook. For weeks the cats sat on the dining table taking unprovoked swipes at Ben's muzzle.

Plink and Plonk never truly warmed to Ben but after their demise our little tortoiseshell darling cat, Rosie, fell in love with him, so much so that when Ben died, Rosie pined and we got another rescue dog, the manic and very adorable Josh. Losing Josh hurt so badly I thought I'd never have a pet again. It was Mum who suggested that my home wasn't a home without pets. She was right... of course. Mums are always right. Charlie and Mabel, two sister cats, came from the RSPCA where nothing was known about them except that an elderly lady had owned them. They were traumatised and timid when they arrived but I like to think they've had (and in Mabel's case is continuing to have) a good life here with us which is the most important thing.

And now I shall go back to giving Mabel extra fuss and attention because she deserves it.

Rest in Peace my sweet little Charlie.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Dangers of Canal Boating

I’ve written a short piece about a canal boat holiday. It happened years ago, so long ago that the photographs below are stuck in an album and we look like youngsters.  The story is true… although I may have embroidered the middle bit just a little… but it really did happen.
We were enjoying our canal boat holiday in Norfolk. It’s a sedate way of travelling. Put on the kettle, wander along the towpath, gaze into the impenetrable brown. There’s no current to move boats along, only the steady chug of the engine, horse power but no longer literal. And then we saw the sign.
'Report to the lock keeper. You are about to enter a tidal river.'

We knew it was approaching. The Great Ouse. We’d been warned about it but the sun was shining, the lock keeper was cracking jokes. How bad could it be? I love rivers, all that rushing water, all that life. While waiting our turn we were given our instructions, 'Turn right. Head for the orange flag a few metres up river.' A few metres? No problem! 'Have your engine on full rev. You’ll need it,' he added.
The lock filled. The gates opened. Our metal boat was punched by a watery fist. Wind kicked its frame. Our engine roared. Spray slapped my face. The orange flag was a long way off. I turned to look back but all I could see was a blur of water. This river was predatory. I was gripping the side rail, trying to push away thoughts of my mourning family. Who would tell the kids? How would they manage? Then Mr A’s voice shook me back to reality. 'Get up here! Help me hold the tiller! We’re heading out to sea!'

Together we leant on the tiller then I lost my footing on the slimy metal deck. He reached out to help causing the boat made a violent lurch. 'I’m ok!' I yelled. 'Get the tiller!' Grabbing the rail, I hauled myself up. Water dripped from my clothes and hair, I squinted into the spray. 'The flag! Look!' I pointed. I’d never been so pleased to see an orange flag approach. Two men in life jackets were by the lock.

            'Throw us your rope!' one called. I edged my way towards the bow, unhooked the hefty coil of rough, water-sodden rope and tried to swing it out to them. The rope landed with a thud on the water. I hauled it in. I tried a second, a third time. My hands hurt with the cold, the wet, the rope, the indignity.
'I can’t do it,' I sobbed.
'Come and take the rudder!' yelled Mr A. I edged back towards the stern but the wind was pushing me, pinning me against the boat and we were being buffeted away from the flag, towards the open sea once more.

At that moment the boat listed to one side. If we took on water here we’d drown, I knew that. But then, just as it looked as if the water would flow over the side, a hand appeared on the rail followed by an orange-jacketed body and there, on the deck, stood one of the lock keepers. With an expertly aimed throw the rope was tossed to the shore and our boat was hauled away from the currents and into the lock.
On the other side we moored up, brewed up, changed into dry clothes and walked back to view the scene of our tidal terrors. We picked our way along a narrow path down to the very edge of the river. The sun glinted on each crest of each tiny wave. A fish, unidentifiable in the bright light, wove past us. There was a smell of salt, a tang of seaweed. I could feel the tension draining from my body. I do love rivers.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

My Poetry

I've had a few requests from blogger friends to post up some of my poetry but once a poem has appeared on a blog it is considered to have been published and, as such, most poetry magazines would refuse to accept it. I am working towards producing a poetry collection and so it is important for me to have my work published by poetry magazines in order to get my name out there. Therefore I can't post up a selection of my poems at the moment. What I can do is to post the links to three poems that have been published so far this year...


I wrote Youth in response to a piece of artwork called Messiah by Ernst Neuschul. I am fascinated by this kind of writing. It's called ekphrastic writing and our tutor on the MA Course introduced me to it. He took us to New Walk Museum and told us to find a painting and see what writing it inspired. Youth was the first piece I wrote. I went on to write a number of other pieces but this one was accepted by the Ekphrastic Review last December and so you can read it here:

Klezmer Men

Having been inspired by art, I moved on to music. I love listening to Klezmer music, popular in 19th century Ashkenazi communities of Eastern Europe. Klezmer bands would roam from stetl to stetl often playing for very little money and a bed for the night. The music fell out of fashion after the Second World War but during the 1980s its popularity reemerged. Klezmer music makes me want to dance and so I wrote two poems about men playing and dancing to the music. They were both published in last month's Jewish Literary Review. You can read them here:

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Holocaust Memorial Day Event...

...and a tiff with the local press

Last week our local newspaper, The Leicester Mercury, said that they couldn't send a reporter to the annual HMD Event and so the event organiser asked if I would write a report. I interviewed participants, wrote out the article and submitted it early next morning.

The following day it appeared in the local newspaper - that is to say, all my words appeared, but they were accredited to someone called Staff Reporter. When I queried this, they said they thought I was sending in a press release... No, it made no sense as an excuse to me either. 

I have decided to post the article here, so that my name can be firmly attached to my words, because I did indeed write them. The only alteration I've made is to remove the names of the school children - something that is welcomed in the world of local newspapers, but not necessarily on a public blog.

Theme: Torn from Home

On Sunday, 27th January, 2019, it was standing room only for the 19th Holocaust Memorial Day Event. The audience at the University of Leicester’s Fraser Noble Hall experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. 

Four eloquent students opened the evening with a passionate desire to see their generation make a difference. The first two students recounted their visit to Auschwitz. They were particularly moved by the room of personal possessions, by the bags, shoes and glasses, and were saddened that there is still ethnic cleansing today. The second two students spoke of their trip to the First World War battlefields. They hoped that by raising awareness of past horrors it might prevent them from reoccurring and concluded by quoting Anne Frank: 
‘I still believe people are really good at heart.’ 

Tony Nelson, who was chairing the event, said that these youngsters give us hope for the future.

Howard Coleman playing
Klezmer music for the guitar
Photo by Richard Gatward
After listening to haunting flute music from two young musicians, Dr Tom Wilson talked of his sobering experience visiting Srebrenica. This was followed by several pieces of Klezmer music. Howard Coleman played his own guitar arrangements of original pieces and explained that Klezmer music had been lost following the Holocaust but since the 1980s it has been more readily available and is now gaining in popularity once more.

The rollercoaster of emotions continued. The children’s art competition organised by local artist, Claire Jackson, produced astoundingly moving artwork from four local schools including the Children’s Hospital School. One youngster explained that she used a curled up body to portray the emotion of loneliness and fear. Another chose the darkness of a silhouette to express a man’s desperation. His father was overwhelmed saying, 
‘I didn’t realise my son could express such emotions through art.’
Professor Aubrey Newman ended the evening with the keynote speech. He has presented every one of the keynote speeches since the annual event began 19 years ago but said that this year’s theme, Torn from Home, had particular resonance. He began by reminding us of the number murdered during the Holocaust – six million, a number impossible to comprehend, but still the murders continue in Rwanda, Cambodia, so many places and so many people living in fear of their safety, even in our own country where anti-Semitism has now re-emerged. He concluded by saying that this year’s theme reminds us that home should be a place of security. We are all entitled to a safe home.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Life After Masters

Last week I graduated. De Montfort Hall looked amazing. We all looked amazing. The University of Leicester did us proud.

I had been dreading Graduation Day - all that fuss, all that pomp and tradition. What if the gown didn't fit? What if I tripped as I walked across the stage? But then I woke up at 5 am and I was no longer anxious. I was looking forward to it. I was going to enjoy every minute, not least seeing Daughter who was travelling up by train for the day.

Now it's all over. I have my certificate for my MA. I have my Waddington Award for best dissertation and my G. S. Fraser award for poetry. But there is a void. I want a deadline for an assignment. I want the preparation for a seminar. I want the coffee and chat in the Student Union cafe. It will take a while before I stop missing all those things.

Its not as if I've been doing nothing since I finished the MA. I've sent out some poetry - three poems accepted so far this year and there are more out there being considered. What I should be doing is transforming my stage play from a dissertation to a submittable script. I worked really hard on that play, was thrilled to get an award for it, so why can't I just get on with editing and submitting? It's based on a true event from 1935 London. I became very attached to the characters, both the real ones and my fictional protagonist. Maybe I'm afraid that it will be rejected. Maybe I need a bit more time to ruminate. Maybe I should stop writing this blog post and just get on with it...

Friday, 4 January 2019

Ferret Love

For over 40 years I cooked Christmas dinner for the family. Now it's someone else's turn. 

This is the second year that we spent Christmas with Daughter. It has become our new tradition. Daughter found a lovely pub-cum-restaurant where we lounged near a huge log fire and unashamedly allowed others to wait upon us.

Since I last mentioned Daughter on this blog, she has fallen in love with ferrets. She is a weekend volunteer at her local RSPCA and this was how she first met - and lost her heart to - these long furry animals. I didn't realise how tame and loving ferrets could be. It would seem that I am now their grandma and so, as is the way with all good grandmas, I am in love with them... almost.

Between you, me and the blog post, I have to admit that I do prefer cats. My two girls, Mabel and Charlie, are getting on in years now and are both on different doses of medication. This would make going away impossible if it wasn't for my amazing friend/neighbour who even crept round early on Christmas morning to give them food, meds and love before her family woke up.

Of course, there were other holiday events; trips to visit family, family staying over on New Years Eve, a visit with the grandkids to the local pantomime, Peter Pan - oh yes we did - but somehow I keep thinking of those ferrets, of their hammocks to sleep in, their toys to play with and tubes to run through. They've certainly landed on their paws at my Daughter's place and they're not cheap to run. They eat fresh meat every day, need constant care and attention and I'm guessing that all those ferret toys cost a pretty penny and some, but then I think about the amount of love that they have to offer - and that is priceless.