Monday, 30 December 2019

Lights

At this time of the year fairy lights, candle lights and glittering tinsel-adorned decorations are everywhere we look so we can ignore the weather with its dull dreariness. Last night all the Chanukah candles were alight...

...not only in our houses but in public spaces too. There’s a giant Menorah (candelabra) with all its lights blazing to brighten up an area of Victoria Park.

Last week the Rabbi lit candles on a giant-sized Menorah at the Civic Chanukah Service in the Town Hall while outside, in the Town Hall Square, multi-coloured Christmas decorations were hanging from every tree and lamppost. Even the Lion Fountain sported glitzy blue lights. (The fountain was donated to the town in the 1870s by Sir Israel Hart, President of the Synagogue.)


It's been a busy week. Friends know how I feel about distance driving but sometimes it's unavoidable - especially to visit family and so I was once more on the motorway, driving down to Hertford for a three day visit to Daughter. I added my own bit of bling and glitz to the day. I wore a Santa Bear Christmas jumper for the journey. I had a slight attack of 'cold feet' when we stopped at the services but thankfully I was not the only festively adorned driver in Costa. On the drive home we passed that house that says, 'Our house has more Christmas lights on it than any other house in the street!' Every neighbourhood has at least one. They're certainly eye-catching but I can't help wondering about their electricity bills.

It may have been a busy week but it's been an even busier year. It began on a high when I was awarded a Masters Degree with Distinction from the University of Leicester (Sorry for repeating this but I'm still rather proud of myself) The year has seen perhaps more than its fair share of ups and downs, of ill health and worries. We're now heading for another New Year, another new decade, another chance to say,
'It's going to be better. I won’t get anxious. I will enjoy the moment, each moment.' 
Well, I can try anyway, and so...





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.

WRONG!

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.



Onions

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.



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.