Tuesday, 29 December 2020

And the award goes to...

It is traditional for newspapers to produce lists of the best of the year - best book, best song, best film etc. I thought I'd do the same with just a few tweaks to reflect this most unusual of years:

Award for the best online facility goes to... Zoom: I've taken part in celebrations, discussions, religious meetings, not to mention catch-ups with family and friends all thanks to Zoom. It has brought many, many familiar faces into my home, faces of people who I miss very much. It has made the lockdowns and tier restrictions almost bearable.

For the best art event the award goes to... Grayson Perry's Art Club: This TV series lifted my mood. I challenge anyone to watch it and not feel less stressed. Grayson Perry is a highly acclaimed UK artists. He is unique, outlandish yet totally grounded. The art work that members of the public submitted to the programme was wildly varied and at the end of the series Grayson Perry chose a selection for an exhibition in the Manchester Art Gallery. It has not yet opened to the public because of yet another lockdown but it's still there. Maybe one day I'll go to Manchester and view it in real life.

This is the promotional photograph of Grayson Perry launching the Art Club Series:


Award for the best food delivery service goes to... Ocado: Reluctantly! Ocado has been the best of a fairly wobbly bunch. I know the sudden surge in demand caught them unawares but I have been an Ocado customer for long enough for them to give me a regular weekly slot. Thankfully they are now doing just that but during the hiatus I tried a number of their competitors. I found them all sadly wanting. Here are some of their misdemeanours - AA battery substituted with an AAA, Christmas pudding substituted with a ginger sponge cake, food with short use-by dates or, even worse, non-dated items that are clearly only fit for the compost bin as was the case with a recent delivery of a brown and soggy lettuce. 

Best walk award goes to... our garden: We have been on many walks this year - parks, country lanes, local streets, but by far the best was walking round and round the garden. Last summer our garden was beautiful and this is the first time that I have studied every plant every day. I watched the birds, the bees, the squirrels. I even observed a daily visit from a Woodpecker.

Award for the most inspiring dance goes to... Bill Bailey with 'The Show Must Go On': He danced a tango with Oti Mabuse to the rousing Queen song on Strictly Come Dancing and Bill and Oti won the trophy. 

The words of that song touched a nerve for many of us because our show, or more precisely our world, really must go on. We can't let Covid-19 win which leaves just one more thing for me to say on this week's blog post...





Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Heal the World

I'm thinking back to 1993. I was teaching in a local primary school when Michael Jackson's song Heal the World inspired me to plan an entire topic of work about the threat to our climate. For those who don't know the song it begins with the line:

🎵 Heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race... 🎵

I bought a children's book about the Earth Summit Conference that had taken place in Rio de Janeiro the year before and I planned lessons in English, maths, geography, history, biology, music, art and PE. (Remember the freedom of pre-National Curriculum restrictions?!) I timed the project to culminate with the date of my class's school assembly. The whole project was thoroughly enjoyed by my class of lovely Year 5 and 6 youngsters (aged 9 to 11). (The National Curriculum has destroyed all that spontaneity and enthusiasm.)

It may have been a success in my classroom but as for healing the world, I guess nobody actually listened to those lyrics. Few people have taken heed of either the Earth Summit or subsequent conferences on the growing climate crisis. 

By now, almost 30 years later, you'd think that humans would have woken up to the issues, be more prepared to do something radical about it all but no. We are all sleep-walking into disaster. To make matters worse, I read an article suggesting there are links between the climate crisis and Covid-19. This month's Lancet says:

'...the causes of both crises share commonalities, and their effects are converging. The climate emergency and COVID-19, a zoonotic disease, are both borne of human activity that has led to environmental degradation...' (Lancet, December 02, 2020)

It goes on to say that neither crisis was unexpected and related loss of life was preventable. That can bear being repeated. It makes me ashamed of humanity. 

Both crises had been predicted.

Related loss of life was preventable. 

There are people, not least of all Greta Thunberg, and organisations trying to persuade us to join together and tackle this world-threatening issue. 


The Friends of the Earth UK website makes for interesting reading. They talk about:

  • Lobbying Parliament: They are pressing for a fair and green recovery from the pandemic which really makes sense. We've got a chance to look at how life was before and change things, even if it's just encouraging home-working to continue for part of the time to reduce traffic congestion.
  • Planting trees: They are urging us to double the amount of tree cover in the UK. That's got to be a good idea and I do love trees.

Friends of the Earth also talk about: 

  • protecting nature
  • plastic and the environment 
  • trade and climate
  • reducing air travel
  • saving our bees
Sorry if I sound like an advert but I do feel passionate about this issue. Let's face it, so should we all.

I'll end with the final line from that Michael Jackson song because, in spite of any feelings you may have about his personal life, he certainly understood world issues:

🎵 There are people dying, if you care enough for the living make a better place for you and for me. 🎵 

 

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Chanukah thoughts

It's already the third evening of Chanukah. I have three candles plus the lighter candle flickering away on the table but I'm feeling pensive. There are so many people who I miss - family, friends. It hurts to be separated from loved ones for so long. I know we have Zoom and it's great that Son has lit the candles with me this evening from over 100 miles away but I wish we could have hugged as well. 

Chanukah marks an entire year of Jewish festivals experienced without family and friends (So pleased that Daughter has moved round the corner - her hugs are keeping me sane.) But Chanukah should be a time to gather together, to laugh and sing and share lots of delicious fried food, especially sugary doughnuts. It's not quite the same making doughnuts just for us. (Ok, ok, so I've never actually made doughnuts but you get my drift.)

Who would have thought last Pesach that this madness would still be going on at Chanukah. What a year! But that doesn't stop me from wishing everyone who celebrates...

🕎  Chanukah Sameach 🕎

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Vaccinations and making music

Out of Lockdown - Woohoo!

BUT

Placed in Tier 3 (the most restrictive tier) - Boohoo!

I'm not even sure what this means. I shall carry on acting as if we're still in lockdown and then no one can tell me I'm getting it wrong. 

The vaccine

I suppose the next major decision in my life will be whether or not to have the vaccine - assuming that I'm offered one. I don't believe all these conspiracy theorists. I don't think for one minute that anyone will be planning to subdue us all and take over the world... or do I? NO! Joke! Truly I don't! What do you think? Will you agree to have the jab?

I've never liked having injections. I only agreed to have the flu jab this year because of the pandemic and it's only my second ever flu jab. The first time was when Rod was in the isolation unit after high dose chemo. My GP stuck the needle in my arm when I went to him about something else entirely. I've made it sound as if he accosted me. It wasn't quite like that but it wasn't what I was expecting to receive that morning at the surgery! 

Making music

I'd like to say that I'm using this stay-at-home time to tidy out drawers and cupboards and I have made a start... many times... but I keep getting distracted. The other week I was about to clear out some papers when I found an old piece of sheet music. I dived to the piano to see if I could still play it but sadly piano playing is not like riding a bike. (I can't actually ride a bike but you know what I mean) And so I am now revisiting all those old pieces that I learned for piano exams, the ones that I could play in my sleep, and I am endeavouring to relearn them. (Apologies to my neighbours if they're reading this.)

I didn't start learning the piano until I was in my forties. We were living a few doors away from a concert pianist. She took me to a piano shop, helped me to select a suitable piano (second-hand but still a much-loved possession) and she taught me for a number of years. I'll never be good enough to play in front of you but it is a satisfying hobby.


I still have my two guitars, an acoustic and a classical. I restrung my acoustic one a few months ago but I soon realised that arthritis in my shoulders means that I have to severely restrict this once-favourite pass time. It's a bummer getting old... if you'll pardon my language!

Right, I'm off to do my Fitness for Seniors class on YouTube. I'll fight this darned ageing process if it's the last thing I do!!


Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Poetry and Project links

My Poetry:

Yesterday I experienced one of those serendipitous moments. Within a few hours two people who are totally unrelated asked if they would be able to read any of my poetry online. So this is for you (you know who you are) and for anyone else who happens to be passing by - a selection of those poems that have been published online: 

Youth in the Ekphrastic Review

Klezmer Men in the Jewish Literary Journal

From Far Away 1904 in the Copperfield Review

Tempus Fugit in the Ekphrastic Review

Unprecedented in 100 Words of Solitude (about to be launched as a book)

End of the Day which was an Ekphrastic Challenge but you have to be intrepid to find it. It's half way down the page of poems in response to a painting by Emilio Boggio.


Heritage Projects:

While I'm at it I shall include links to the two Heritage funded projects that I co-ordinated because I am extremely proud of the outcomes of both of them.

The Jewish Voices project's main outcome was a book of memories of the Leicester Jewish Community during and shortly after the Second World War. The website gives a taster of the book and an insight into how the book was compiled and produced. If you click on the Voices tab you'll hear a number of brief interviews that were recorded during one of the writing workshops.

The Jewish Gilroes project has catalogued the entire Jewish Cemetery in Leicester. I originally only intended to research and write up stories of some of the 'lives behind the stones' but while we were gathering information about each plot, a number of the hard-working team of volunteers set up a database which is now available to research information about the graves. If you visit this site do click on the Stories tab. It provides a link to some fascinating vignettes of people's lives way back when.

And now I shall get back to a bit of poetry writing which is proving to be an invaluable distraction during these tedious lockdown days.


Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Poetry, Shop Names and Corny Puns

Poetry

It's too easy to become slothful during a national lockdown. I have been trying to keep writing which at the moment means poetry writing. Even though I've produced a number of books - history related mostly - I keep coming back to poetry. It's what I enjoy most of all.

Last week an acceptance gave me the boost that I needed. A fascinating new magazine called The Pomegranate London have accepted my poem, The Circus Barker. It will be published in their first Issue which comes out in Spring 2021. I think they're still calling for submissions so any writers reading this might like to pop over and read their brief.

Shop Names

I do enjoy listening to podcasts, especially at night when sleep is elusive. It's been particularly bad this week as sadly my lovely cat, Mabel, died. This is the end of an era. I will never have another pet. It hurts too much when you lose them. Last night, in an effort to stop my overactive brain, I turned to my favourite podcast, Michael Rosen's Word of Mouth. I listened to an old episode about shop names. He talked about some old shop names from as far back as 1278. There is evidence of a shop in Westminster called Le Corner Shoppe, although it wasn't a shop as we would recognise it. There would have been a shopkeeper sitting at an outside stall with no customers allowed inside. 

My favourite part of the programme was when he discussed present day shop names. He had asked people to send in interesting shop names and these are just a few of the ones he mentioned:

a fruit shop called Melon Cauli

a chip shop in the Rhonda Valley called A Fish called Rhonda

a hairdresser in a narrow street called Alley Barber

and a window cleaner called Mr Bit (read it out loud if you don't get it first time!)

The one I liked the best is a camping shop's winter sale notice which read, Now is the winter of our discount tents.

If you want to hear more then tune in on BBC iPlayer to Word of Mouth Shop Names. I think you'll find it here. If not then it comes up on a Google search.

I'm sure there are local shop owners with equally punny ideas. The chain of UK pubs called The Slug and Lettuce comes to mind but that genuinely puts me off eating there and I used to frequent a cafe called The Salvador Deli but that has now closed down. 

I can't think of any others. Can you? 

Do share if you live near a clever shop name.


Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Twiddling my thumbs

The UK is about to descend into another national lockdown, we saw the first real frost of the season this morning and it's now getting dark long before supper time. I'm running out of useful things to do and so I'm clearing out cupboards. I expect I'm not the only one. I am quite a hoarder and find it hard to throw things away but some of this stuff is utter rubbish and the bin is filling up nicely.

Daughter Update: To those who know me personally you will know that Daughter has just relocated from down South and has bought a house only four and a half minutes away - Yay! She arrived last Thursday and so you might be wondering why I'm twiddling thumbs and clearing cupboards. It's because we're waiting for her to self-isolate from the removals and initial workmen. We will then become a bubble, the three of us, at which point we'll have plenty to keep us occupied. Her house was empty for a year and Rod can't wait to get started on the garden.

Writers' Magazines: In the meantime I'm clearing cupboards. In one cupboard I rediscovered boxes and boxes of old Writers News Magazines. I put a call out on the local Facebook Page and WhatsApp group to see if anyone wanted to take them off my hands but no one did so I settled down to do a bit of rereading. This may take some time:

Internet Competition: It's surprising how much of the information in the magazines is now freely available on the Internet. I suspect many monthly magazines have found themselves competing with free Internet content. I flicked through pages containing lists of publishers accepting submissions, suggestions on where to send different kinds of manuscripts, how to best word your covering letter when submitting, etc., etc. I can't now imagine having to wait for a monthly magazine to check on submission requirements and as for covering letters, they have been replaced by a politely worded email. 

Writing Letters: Talking of letters, they say that people are starting to write more personal letters during this lockdown/semi-lockdown period. I have not, as yet, turned to the Basil Bond and ink pen but maybe I will. I do have some old letters that I cherish. I have some that Daughter sent to me when she was volunteering on a Kibbutz in Israel some time in the last century. I also have one letter written by Son on the day he left home. I watched him drive off, heading South to his first job and an exciting new career. His car was piled to the top with his life. I waved until his car was out of sight and then I went up to his bedroom, stripped of his world, bed bare to the mattress, but on the bed was an envelope addressed to me and in the envelope was a letter from Son. I cried as I sat on the mattress and read his words and of course I still have the letter. An email or text message would not have worked and would have been long gone.

So, who reading this is going to send a letter or two to friends rather than typing out a quick WhatsApp? I'll let you know next time if I managed to get around to it. 



Friday, 30 October 2020

Lost and Finds - my poetic contribution

I recently had a new experience - I attended a session at an archeology conference (via Zoom of course). The brief was to produce a piece of archeological poetry writing. I'm not an archaeologist but as a historian/writer I suspected that I would be able to wing it and wing it I did. In fact, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. 

The session was part of Festival CHAT (CHAT stands for Contemporary and Historical Archeology in Theory). The session was called Lost and Finds and was run by Jodie Hannis from the University of Leicester Department of Archeology.  Jodie asked us to bring along a suitable item, for example one that had been languishing in a drawer, forgotten about, lost and then found again. Some of the archeologists brought along items from archeological digs. I don't possess such things but I had recently been sorting through drawers, having a bit of a lockdown clear-out, when I rediscovered an elderly item with a special meaning for me.

I thought I'd share the writing that I produced during the session first and then I will reveal the item although you'll probably guess what it is long before you reach the last line:

The Gift

Dad never was a gift-giver, not really, 
and this was long ago,  
so long ago that the pages are tea-stain brown
and fragile as dying leaves.

It was a gentle reminder of my heritage -
chicken soup, fried fish. I tried
but we never made feasts together, me and the gift,
which doesn't make it any less special. 

One day I'll pass it on to my daughter,
not for its written words - she knows all that by now -
but for its special message that remained unwritten 
because Dad never was a gift-giver, not really. 

 

I'm sure you've worked out that it was a cookery book but extra brownie points if by some feat of telepathy you said Florence Greenberg Recipe Book. Dad bought it as a surprise gift and gave it to me a few days before I got married. Like I said in my poem, it was a special gift.

 

 

 

 

 





Friday, 16 October 2020

Earworms

I'm sitting at my laptop, trying to start this blog post and all the time I'm singing a song in my head that has been there for days. It could have been any song. On this occasion it's Lewis Capaldi's Someone You Loved... I let my guard down and then you pulled the rug... 

There are some amazing lyrics out there but it doesn't have to have a moving lyric to become an earworm. This morning Daughter sent an emoji of a penguin along with a message - which had nothing to do with penguins but she's hoping to make a major house move quite soon so I disregarded the mismatch. It was a cute penguin but I fought off the Happy Feet earworm. Sorry if your brain is now singing it. It is a particularly aggressive earworm, as is The Wombling Song. Sorry again but it's not a bad idea to be wombling free. I could do with a bit of wombling free right now.

In case you're bemused, an earworm is when you can't get a particular tune out of your head. It keeps on going round and round. You'll realise that you're humming it while you're making your breakfast, singing it out loud as you're driving in the car, and reciting it silently as you walk around - suitably masked up of course - in public. So what exactly causes an earworm or to use its technical term, involuntary musical imagery? I don't think there's a definitive scientific explanation. If you have a theory do please share in the comments section below. I found a blog called Songwriting that gives an explanation and they've illustrated the article with this cartoon. I do love cartoons and I've put a link to their site on it so I hope they don't mind me sharing it with you:

After a while all earworms, however lovely the song, become thoroughly irritating but writing this post has reminded me of a more positive earworm. I suppose you could call it a self-imposed earworm. I blogged about this briefly in 2013 but I thought it deserved a revisit. When I was a teenager I had several periods of agoraphobia. The dictionary definition of this is a fear of open spaces. In reality I was convinced that if I went out on my own I would pass out. The self-imposed earworm that I selected to help me was Stevie Wonder's For Once in my Life. That song saved my teenage years and helped me to get out and about, no doubt because it distracted my mind from my fears. It finally disappeared when I had my children and I'm guessing that's because they also distracted me - big time! 

Back to the present time, even though I've tempted my brain with Happy Feet and The Wombling Song, Capaldi is still there so I shall go and get on with preparing the supper whilst humming gently... I was getting kind of used to being someone you loved...


Thursday, 8 October 2020

The 81 Words Challenge (+ my avatar!)

You may have gathered that I've not been highly motivated with my writing lately what with Covid-19 and lockdown and what-have-you. To illustrate how much time I've had on my hands, here is my avatar created during an idle few hours:


She's rather cute, don't you think. I've grown quite attached to her but it did make me realise that I needed to get back to writing and quickly. So a few days ago I did an online search for flash fiction submissions and came across a site that was asking for 81 word stories - precisely 81 words. I had an idea for a suitable piece of text and set about editing it down to 81 words. I love doing that sort of writing. It makes you really think about the usefulness of each word. It's surprising how many words can be cut without losing the meaning and at the same time making the content sharper.

One of the things that caught my eye about The 81 Words Challenge site was that the host, Christopher Fielden, was planning to gather stories from 1,000 different writers in order to break a world record. Sadly the Guinness World Record Office have declined to accept (you can read all his letters to them on the link in this paragraph) but he is determined to produce an anthology and all proceeds will go to The Arkbound Foundation, a charity that aims to widen access to literature and improve diversity within publishing. 

If you fancy having a go at writing an 81 word story then click on the link above and check out the guidelines. At the time of writing he needs another 128 stories to reach the 1000 mark. While you're there you might want to have a look at my contribution. It's called The Living Statue and it's somewhere near the bottom of the page with all the Stories from 801 to 900

Christopher's website is packed full of help with short story writing, lists of competitions and challenges that he is organising and he also has a list of other publications accepting submissions. You can find all this info at Christopher Fielden. He has certainly inspired me to get back to work and so I shall now wander off to my writing den, lick my virtual pencil and get scribbling. Bye for now...


Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Building Dens

Power Walking: On the 13th August I said in my blog post that shielding was about to end. Wrong! Six weeks on and Rod is still being instructed to shield until 5th October after which time he is miraculously safe to go out. We have, of course, been going out because we've been walking. On that same 13th August blog I said that we'd been strolling. We are now power walking - I trust you're impressed!

Brocks Hill: Yesterday our walking took us to Brocks Hill. It must be almost fifteen years since we used to take Josh, our lovely but rather naughty dog, there. The area was first designated as a country park in 1999 and when we went dog walking there it was nothing more than a series of fields with sparse plantings of saplings. You could see to the farm land beyond and many a time we would be standing, squinting into the distance at a disappearing ginger and white tail as we yelled, 'Josh, come back!' 

Building Dens: After Josh died we no longer went on those kind of walks, in fact we rarely went walking together at all until lockdown - one of the few positives to come out of this pandemic. It was amazing to see how those sparse saplings are now thick wooded areas. There are themed nature trails, wicker sculptures, woodland paths and ponds teeming with life but one area particularly caught my eye. It's called The Den Building Area. Just imagine the games we could have played if we'd had resources like that back in the day. 

The Green: When I was a child I used to play on a bare plot of land that we called The Green even though it wasn't green. It was a kind of muddy brown. It was the route to school and to the bus stop so we used it regularly. When it rained half of the plot flooded. We called that The Puddle. After school I'd hang around on The Green with my friend Theresa and we'd create imaginary worlds with nothing more than weeds and piles of stones. Imagine the worlds we would have created with a Den Building Area like the one at Brocks Hill.


Wednesday, 23 September 2020

A scarily senior moment or has my car taken control?

It was the last day of summer, the day when the sun was about to move into Libra so that by the time evening came it would officially be autumn with forecasts of rain and chill winds. We decided it was a good day to go for a trip out. There's a country park that we've never visited called Watermead and it's only about 20 minutes away. It has clearly marked and measured walks around a series of artificial lakes in an area of low-lying land, shielded from the extremes of weather. I worked out the route and we set off but things don't always go the way you plan them.

Do you ever get in the car, drive off and arrive at your destination but can't remember how you got there? Well, on this last day of summer my car took that experience one step further. I turned onto the A50, pulled in for petrol (with face mask in place and copious lashing of hand gel at the ready) and was just pulling out of the petrol station when I turned to Mr A and said, 'Why are we on the A50? What are we doing here?' (A scarily senior moment or has my car taken control?) Somewhere along the way I had taken a wrong turning so that now we weren't heading for Watermead Country Park. We were heading for Bradgate.


This was a good mistake - the car must have known what it was doing. Bradgate Park is in an area of ancient volcanic rock outcrops. I drove to the top car park next to Cropston Reservoir and we walked up to the very top of one of the outcrops. We gasped for breath. We admired the view of ferns and deer and distant fields. We sweltered in the heat and thoroughly enjoyed our trip out. Bradgate Park is best visited on the kind of day when the sun has not quite entered Libra.

That was yesterday. Today it is definitely autumn. It looks and feels like autumn. Our next trip out will be to Watermead and I suspect we'll be grateful for somewhere low-lying and shielded from the extremes of weather. Everything, it would seem, happens for a reason.


Thursday, 17 September 2020

And so to the year 5781

Everything is strange right now, not least the High Holy Day observances which begin this weekend. I have decided not to go to the synagogue this year for Rosh Hashonah (New Year) or for Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). I know that the Synagogue Committee have done their best to make the place Covid safe but I also know what I'm like. I won't have seen most of the congregants in person (I'm not counting Zoom) for over six months and I'll be tempted to linger on the way in or on the way out. I'll start to chat and I'll forget about social distancing. This year I'll say some prayers at home. 

I can still serve up apple and honey for a sweet new year. I've bought in lots of lovely food and I'll do some extra cooking and maybe even some baking today and tomorrow in anticipation. On Yom Kippur we say special prayers in memory of family who have died. This year I'll sit in the garden, read through the prayers and think of Mum and Dad. I don't have to be in a special place to do that. Their memories are always with me. However, we are meant to hear the blowing of the shofar (a ram's horn) during the High Holy Day services. I don't have a shofar but the Rabbi has promised to walk past my house blowing his shofar on Sunday afternoon. So for anybody living nearby - you have been warned!

There's little more to say other than l'shanah tovah (happy new year) and here's hoping for a happy, healthy, peaceful and sweet new year for us all - and let's hope the scientists can discover a cure and vaccination for this awful infection very soon so that our lives can return to normal. 



Thursday, 10 September 2020

Our new body language

The other morning I was queuing outside the bank, masked up in anticipation of my turn to enter when a member of staff came out to check the queue and smiled at me. I smiled back and she moved on. This left me wondering how I had known that she had smiled at me and how did she know that I had smiled back. I decided that it must be in the eyes but then I watched people who were meeting and smiling in recognition. There was something about their body language - an almost imperceptible jog of the shoulders accompanying mask-concealed smiles.

What do you mean smile?
I am smiling!

This got me thinking about other aspects of our new body language. The obvious one is the absence of handshaking, hugging and kissing on both cheeks. I can't say that I miss that, especially the kissing-on-the-cheeks bit. I always get confused as to whether it's one cheek, two or indeed three - kisses not cheeks. My timing is so poor during such rituals that I invariably bang noses or catch glasses and end up feeling undignified and inept. 

Chivalry is suffering too. (Mixed feelings about male chivalry but I'll hold that discussion over for another blog post.) I was waiting outside our small local chemist today while a man was inside collecting his prescription. As he came out he held the door open for me but that would have meant me breaking the 2 metre rule so I waved him on and an awkward few moments ensued before he realised what I meant.

Post-shopping involves me walking around with my hands in the air rather like a surgeon who is scrubbed and ready to operate. This is followed by the gelling of hands (accompanied by that funny antiseptic taste in the mouth - or is that just me?) Gelling causes me much consternation. In order to put my bag down and get my gel out I have to unlock the car. I can then gel my hands but need to also gel the car keys as they were touched with ungelled hands. I then ponder the car door handle. Surely that should also be gelled - but I've decided that I have to draw a line somewhere. (I've just realised that it also involves my handbag which has not been gelled at all since all this craziness began. What a dilemma!)

What strange quirks of body language have you noticed recently? 


Saturday, 29 August 2020

Daily TED Talks

I blogged recently about how much I'm enjoying listening to Podcasts. Since then I've gathered quite a list of regulars. My most recent addition to the 'Favourites' tab is Daily TED Talks. A new TED Talk is posted up every day. A few days ago they posted a talk called 'Do schools kill creativity?' It's from the archives but was repeated because the speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, sadly died last week. He was an accomplished speaker, winning the audience over with light-hearted banter and then subtly dropping the serious stuff in. I won't spoil any of it by telling you my favourite bits from his talk because I'm hoping that, if you haven't already heard it, you go and listen. It's well worth sparing 20 minutes out of your manic day. The link is below.

I have very firm opinions about the subject matter. Yes, schools do, indeed, kill creativity. When I taught in a primary school I used to love watching the nursery children bounce into the hall for school assembly, broad grins on their faces, keen to find out everything they could about the world. As each year group filed into the hall the smiles faded and by the time the Year 6 children (aged 10 to 11) arrived there were few smiles and too many glazed eyes. What did we do to those children during their formative years?

That's a rhetorical question. I know full-well what we did. We followed the National Curriculum guidelines. I have to admit to being rusty about today's primary school curriculum but I suspect nothing much has changed. The National Curriculum instructions for the teaching of English was lamentable. I was disappointed, upset and quite honestly I was angry when we were told that we could no longer read a story to the class at the end of the school day. There wasn't enough time and the only fiction they would receive in the classroom was to be short pieces of narrative to be analysed laboriously. 

I have vivid memories of story time when I was their age. I can even remember some of the stories our teacher read. Dr Doolittle was one of my favourites, long before the film was ever thought of.

I could go on to discuss the shortcomings in other subjects but Sir Ken Robinson tells it much better than I do so go along and have a listen. As I said, it's only 20 minutes and when you've heard what he has to say do pop back and make a comment. I'd be interested to hear your views on the subject. 

Do schools kill creativity?


Thursday, 13 August 2020

Strolling

Clothes feedback:

Before I start strolling I thought I'd give some feedback from my previous post about where to get responsibly sourced clothes. A number of people left comments on my Facebook page about this. They ranged from:
 
      'You can never be sure where the material has come from or how the clothes have been made' 
to 
      'It's best to buy second hand or recycled clothes if possible' 
to 
      'Here's a list of five trustworthy suppliers.' 

I was pleased to see White Stuff on the list because I love their clothes. I'd never heard of the other four which are: Dedicated, Know the Origin, People Tree and Thought Clothing.

Strolling:

Over the last few months I've become very well acquainted with people's front gardens. Shielding for vulnerable people in Leicester ends on Monday 17th August - we hope - so our main outing each day is a stroll around the block. We do have a choice. We step out of the front door and discuss whether to turn right or left. Ok, so it's not much of a choice but it amuses us.

There are as many different kinds of front gardens as there are people. Hollyhocks feature high in our walk. We're forever dodging out of their way as they lean and sway. Hydrangeas deserve a mention. I love the way they fade from pink to blue. I know about the science - acidic and alkaline soil - but their colours fascinate me, almost mystical. Roses always demand attention to check if they have a perfume and then there are the hedges...

Our front garden plants
We used to have a hedge in our front garden until the council sent us a letter asking us to keep it trimmed back. It was an escalonia and I thought it looked pretty but we responded by removing it. This was a good move. It's only a small front garden and now we have a selection of small shrubs that give variety and colour.

Some of the hedges we have to negotiate on our daily stroll surely deserve one of those council letters especially as they are often alongside a car parked half on the pavement - or even three quarters in some cases. Add to this the problem of social distancing and you can imagine our frustrations. We are continually having to step into the road. 

By far the best bit about strolling round the block is bumping into friends and neighbours. It's only then that I realise how much I desperately miss interacting with other people. Us humans were never meant to be lone creatures. I'm not hankering after a massive, sweaty rave-up but a few friends round for afternoon tea would be good. All we need now is an update from the government with a Covid-19 all clear for Leicester!


Tuesday, 4 August 2020

How do I know if I'm buying responsibly sourced clothing...

...but first a Leicester UK Lockdown update:
We have just been released from an extra month's-worth of lockdown. We can now go to non-essential shops. We can travel beyond the City boundary but we're not allowed to invite members of other households into our house or garden. Feels a bit never-ending!

I need clothes:
It's been over six months since I went clothes shopping. I'm blowed if I know how to buy clothes online. I need to try things on. Last week I bought two summer nighties from a well known high-end store (initials JL). I selected a blue one and a silver grey one, same size, same style. The grey one fits perfectly. The blue one is tight, so tight that I'm going to have to cut open the sleeves and try to remember dressmaking skills that my Grandma and Great Aunt tried to teach to me long ago.

Made in China:
I can't understand how these nighties can be so different. I chose this store because I thought I could rely on good quality merchandise. On the label it says 'Made in China'. I would have preferred it to say 'St Michael - made in Corah's of Leicester' (suppliers for Marks and Spencers in the days when M&S clothes were top quality). I decided to check the labels on my other clothes. I have items made in India, Turkey, Bangladesh, Cambodia. It's time the UK became a manufacturing country again.

Made in Leicester:
Leicester once 'clothed the world' and there are still textile companies here but over the last few months the media has been buzzing with news of a number of companies paying their workers less than the minimum wage, have less than sanitary working conditions and are putting pressure on those workers to continue working even with positive diagnoses of Covid-19. There's also a concern that a large amount of our cotton is being produced in China under similarly appalling working conditions. I'm left scratching my head as to what clothes I should be buying.

Where can I buy clothes?
So if anybody reading this knows of outlets supplying clothes from firms where cloth is responsibly sourced and workers are treated with respect and consideration then please let me know about them because right now I'm exasperated by it all.


Monday, 20 July 2020

From Far Away 1904 - a Poem

Today I have a poem published in The Copperfield Review. This is a fascinating site specialising in historical fiction and historical poetry. Regular visitors to this blog will understand why I was particularly attracted to the publication - right up my street!

Here is the link for the poem:  From Far Away 1904.

I've been quite distracted from my writing of late especially as Leicester is still in extended lockdown but I have been doing writing of sorts. I've been emailing my Member of Parliament, my local councillors, the Town Mayor and anyone else who will listen. I know I'm only one small voice but it felt good to make that voice heard, especially as I have had responses and have been in conversation with these leaders.

One of my frustrations is that social media is full of photos of groups gathering in our local parks and people having large social gatherings in their houses. What is the point of a lockdown if it's only being observed by the most reliable members of a community? There's more, a lot more, but for now I will put all those frustrations to the back of my mind and enjoy the poem that I've just had published. I can recommend their site for a good read and, as an added bonus for any writers of historical fiction or poetry, they pay for our work.

Stay safe x


Sunday, 5 July 2020

Ramblings

Today I typed two blog posts moaning about Leicester being back in lockdown and then deleted them.

I then typed a post about the nasty reaction I had to antibiotics last weekend and how ill I've been this week. I deleted that too. It didn't make for a fun read.

So what does that leave to talk about? Well, my 100 word piece was accepted for publication by 100 Words of Solitude. The website was set up by a group of University lecturers who wanted to record 'intimate moments, behaviours and feelings from real life in the time of Coronorvirus' from around the world. The site is well worth a visit. I was particularly pleased with the way they introduced my piece. They said that I had delicately and intimately detailed the dramatic changes to life in lockdown at the start of isolation.
You can read my piece here.

For those of you who love words like I do I thought I'd share a podcast that I've been listening to this week. It's called Something Rhymes With Purple and it's by Gyles Brandreth and Susie Dent.  It's not too serious about itself and it has helped me to pass a few relaxing hours this last week so I thought I'd share it with you.


Saturday, 20 June 2020

The Many Phases of Lockdown

It's been over twelve weeks now and I'm ok most of the time but every now and then I feel as if I might be about to unravel. I've passed through many phases of lockdown:

The clearing out cupboards phase: I've found make-up that was over ten years old, empty boxes and odd socks - very odd socks.

The jigsaw phase: That didn't last long. I only have three jigsaws and I've done them so many times the pieces could place themselves. 

Experimenting with new food recipes phase: This might have been more successful if I could have gone to the shops and if the online supermarket hadn't run out of flour and yeast and sugar. Toilet rolls I can almost understand but sugar? Really?

Trialling keep fit videos on YouTube phase: I still have the pain in my shoulder. Fortunately my online supermarket does have a supply of Ibuprofen Gel.

Watching films on Netflix phase: Eyestrain

Reading books on Kindle phase: Eyestrain

Walking round and round the garden phase: Dizziness

The piano and guitar playing phase: Abandoned in deference to my neighbours' sanity.

So what phase comes next? Let's hope it's the return to normal life phase... whatever normal is.

What phases of lockdown have you passed through?


Thursday, 4 June 2020

1950s Leicester - Some Real Characters

I clearly remember the tramp in Lewis's doorway and I've heard of Rum Weather and the other characters that I've mentioned below but I never saw them. If anyone reading this remembers them then do let me know. I've been told they were real characters.

Leicester's post-war kids knew all about tramps,
the demob dropouts with combat-proof medals,
compensation for war battered brains,
like the man with the grubby greatcoat
and wild hair stooped in Lewis’s doorway.

Rum Weather used to stroll round town,
down London Road and across Vicky Park,
clutching his brown cardboard string-tied suitcase,
rattling pennies in his tatty tobacco tin,
calling out, ‘Rum weather’ to anyone who'd listen.

Everyone knew how Scratch Cockshaw got his name.
He’d hang out round the fruit market,
beg a mug of tea, a fag, an apple,
a bacon butty if he was lucky,
squeeze fleas between filthy fingers.

Johnny No Legs was tough as brass shrapnel.
He’d board a bus with a swing of his arm
and go pea picking down at the local farm.
Back in town he’d show off, break neck speed
on his battered go-cart bogey - at least that's what I heard.

They were a part of our world, like the bomb-site
where Dad parked his car when we went up town,
the Welfare orange juice to build our bones
and the siren on the factory down the road
with its practice wail every Wednesday –
just in case.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

I Don't Like Change

There's a Chinese proverb that says, 'When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.' I am most definitely a bricklayer - a builder of proverbial walls. I don't like change. I need routine and sameness in my life.

Take driving. I'm only comfortable when I'm driving along a route that I know really well whereas many people love exploring and driving unfamiliar roads BUT right now I'm hardly doing any driving at all.

Shopping is another example. I struggle in unfamiliar supermarkets. I need to know where everything is BUT I haven't been to a supermarket for over ten weeks and don't get me started on internet shopping! Relying on a once-a-week delivery is creating a famine and feast situation here.

Then there's the gym. I love swimming. I'd go at least once a week, often more than once BUT lockdown has sadly put paid to that activity and I miss it very much.

For someone who hates change this is a bewildering time but another quote comes to mind. Benjamin Disraeli said, 'Change is inevitable. Change is constant.' And so I have to accept that the winds of change are blowing and the only thing I can do about it is to build that proverbial windmill.

What changes are you struggling with during this pandemic?

For those people who love windmills the above photograph is of the windmill at Cley, Norfolk, where we stayed on two occasions - two lovely holidays. They're still in business and their website promises that they will reopen as soon as they're allowed to but I wonder if we'll ever get back there.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

My Lockdown Garden

I'm not a gardener. It's far too physical for my liking. Fortunately Mr A has a passion for gardening and so here is a collage of my lockdown garden:


And here is a photo of my favoured gardening contribution... relaxing on my swing seat:




Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Empty

I had thought of handing this blog post over to Mabel the Cat to write but she'd only moan about how the Humans are getting under her paws. She'd reminisce about the days when she could choose her spot for a morning nap without interruption and her afternoon siesta would be spent in blissful silence. Now she has to listen to strangers shouting out from tiny squares on a computer screen, strange sounds from that 'darned piano' and endless discussions about meals. 'Just open a sachet of Whiskas and stop whinging,' would be her advice.

So for all the above reasons I am resigned to writing it myself. I've not a lot to say. I've not stepped out of the front door for over seven weeks. I wake up in the night wondering what the outside world looks like these days. Empty, I suppose. Empty also describes my diary and possibly my life - but is empty bad?

For the first time ever I have had the time to smell the roses - ok, maybe not roses, not yet, but lilac. I've been smelling the lilac every time I walk round the garden - walking and thinking and reassessing. A number of people I know have done just that and have decided that this is not the way they want to live. We all have free will but maybe it takes a major pandemic to make us stop, examine our motives, and decide to move in a different direction. I'm still pondering mine but one thing I know for sure. I never want to return to the manic life I was leading a few months ago.

And now I shall return to my piano practice, never mind what Mabel the Cat says. I'm rather enjoying working my way through my Easy Listening collection and you just can't beat a bit of Phil Collins...

"...You're the only one who really knew me at all. So take a look at me now. There's just an empty space..."

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Why is this night different from any other night?

This evening Jewish families around the world will be celebrating the start of Pesach (Passover) with a special service and meal called the Seder. It is traditional to gather with friends and family for the Seder meal - the more the merrier. This year will be strange and very difficult for those living alone.

One of the prayers said during the Seder service begins with the line "Why is this night different from any other night?" As far as I know, never before and hopefully never again have entire communities been obliged to hold their Seder meals in isolation so this night could not be more different from any other night, ever!

During the Seder service we tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It's the one about Pharoah, Moses and the ten plagues. We eat bitter herbs to represent bitter times and dip parsley in salt water to represent tears and we try to imagine how the Israelites might have felt. We may not be slaves in Egypt but this year we are certainly experiencing our own bitter times and tears.



The picture above shows the centrepiece of a traditional Seder table with the Haggadah (the special prayer book for the Seder), matzo (unlevened bread eaten for the entire eight days instead of bread), goblets of wine (we're asked to drink four each during the evening), and a plate with egg, bitter herbs, salt water and charoseth (a mix of ground nuts, wine and dried fruit to represent mortar).

Before the main meal it's traditional to have a starter of hard boiled egg in salt water to represent new beginnings. Here's hoping that it's not long before we can all experience new beginnings.



An explanation for anyone reading this in years to come: we are in lockdown because of a worldwide Coronavirus Covid-19 epidemic and it's frightening.



Friday, 3 April 2020

Scrabble's weird and wonderful words

Words are amazing. We use them in so many ways.

Talking - my friends say it's non-stop in my case.

Reading - but am I the only one who sniffs a books before reading it?

Writing - I certainly do lots of that.

Playing games - do children still play hangman?

TV programmes - how many years has Countdown been running?

Crosswords - especially cryptic ones.

But this blog isn't about any of the above.  It's about SCRABBLE.



I play friendly Scrabble. No way would I want the stress of championship tournament Scrabble. I'm not good enough anyway. These championship players know all manner of unusual words that are included in the UK Scrabble lexicon.



Did you know that:

FALAJ is a water channel

QANAT is an underground channel

CEZVE is a small metal coffee pot

VUGH is a small rock cavity

DOHL is a drum

AROHA is a Maori word for love

If you've too many vowels then how about:

EOAN relating to the dawn
or
ZOEA crab larva

If you've no vowels how about:

PFFT to suddenly disappear
or
TYG a two-handled mug


If you have any satisfyingly obscure Scrabble words to add to this list then do please share...



Sunday, 29 March 2020

Bird Watching

There are so many thoughts, opinions, reports and updates out there that no one needs to read my thoughts on our current situation so I will look out of the window instead. 

We've been feeding the birds a new mix that contains fat pellets this year and the extra cost has paid off. We now have a far wider variety of bird visitors. Watching them reminds me a bit of the children I used to teach, endearing but unruly and I have to keep my eyes peeled or I would miss some of their more outlandish antics.

Here are some of my favourites:

The blackbird, male with a stunningly orange beak, who waits for us to appear every morning and runs across the path to be first at the 'breakfast' bird table. Why he runs I really can't say. It would surely be quicker to fly and I have to say it would be more elegant. His bottom certainly has an ungainly gait when running!

The long tailed tits with their delicate pink stomachs flit to the hanging feeder and flit back into the nearby Rowan tree. They move so quickly that my binoculars can hardly pick them out but when they do linger their elegant tails and pink feathers are a treat to see.

The robin, a regular and a pretty little bird, but he hangs around the bird table in a sinister way and he is somewhat lacking in table manners chasing off the poor dunnocks.

A pair of adorable goldfinches who spend just long enough at the feeder for me to study their amazing markings through the binoculars.

A greater spotted woodpecker who visits occasionally, boots the others off the feeder and angles his large body sideways so as not to fall off. When he's finished he flies to the Rowan and gives its trunk a couple of taps. He's a real character.

The bully-boy wood pigeons who are not really my favourites but I have to include them. They crowd round the bird table and our little blackbird is forced to move aside or he would be trampled upon for sure.

Yes, I know, I've missed out loads of them, like the countless tits who come and go so quickly that I can hardly make them out and the magpies with their raucous calls plus an occasional Jay, and I've no photos to post up because they won't let me get near enough but watching them all certainly helps to pass the time during this strange period in our lives.

Stay safe everyone. 


Sunday, 8 March 2020

Even though I'm a woman

I mix with people who treat me as an equal... 
even though I'm a woman. 

My peer group would possibly object to that phrase - the title of this blog post - but it bears looking at. I offer a small example, one which doesn't affect my life or threaten me in any way but it represents an underlying assumption. On many occasions I have been complimented on how well I park my car. Would that happen if I was a male driver?

I mix with people who think they treat all women as equals... 
even though they occasionally don't.

Yet again, this is a small point but a telling one - in a subtle kind of way. Last week a friend commented that there had been a female referee on a recently televised football match - Chelsea v. Liverpool I believe it was. He said how good it was that none of the TV presenters had felt the need to mention the fact that she was a woman.
"You have just negated that positive act," I said.
"How do you mean?" he asked.
"By mentioning it," I told him.
He pointed out that he was merely complimenting them on their equality. I said that there should be no need to compliment anyone on equality because equality should be taken for granted in today's world.
"Oh yes," he said. "I see what you mean."
But I can't help thinking that next time there's a woman referee at a men's football match he, and many men like him, will be thinking thoughts of inequality.

As I say, the above are minor points, irritating but by no means life threatening. I sometimes forget how profoundly unequal some women still are and how much they still suffer for that inequality. In 1995 Hillary Clinton created a mantra that still rings out today:
"Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights." 

She said, "It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives." Has anything improved in this regard since 1995? I suspect not.

Malala Yousafzai said, "We realise the importance of our voices only when we are silenced."

Maya Angelou said, "Each time a woman stands up for herself... she stands up for all women."

I could go on with quote after quote, but the mere fact that there are so many quotes out there aimed at empowering women, illustrates that women are neither empowered, nor are they equal. If they were we wouldn't need the quotes.

I can't begin to try and heal the transgressions of mankind in this blog post but maybe I can suggest a starting point. I aim this at those men who still think it's ok to compliment a woman on her looks and a man on his achievements. When you understand how wrong that is then, and only then, will you begin to accept women as equals.

Friday, 6 March 2020

To rewrite or not to rewrite...

It has been well over a year since I completed my MA and yet I still haven't managed to get myself to revisit my dissertation. It's a play and, although I got a distinction for it, it's the only play I've ever written and so I'm not sure what to do with it next. It still has the constraints of the MA examiner's rules, for example, word count and footnoting, but I could work on that. I could extend it to add all those extras that were systematically stripped away when I realised I was thousands of words over the allowed limit. Alternatively I could convert it into a novel, return to a more familiar genre. I've yet to decide.

I have a number of concerns about keeping it as a play. Firstly, I wouldn't know where to send it. Yes, I could Google but that's unknown territory for me.

Secondly, and more importantly for my sanity, is the fear that it might just be accepted. I can't imagine how unsettling it would be to know that my script was being learned and rehearsed by actors who didn't know me and who were probably criticising its every line.

As for the actual performances, I would be every bit as scared as I used to be when I was a teenage member of an amateur dramatic group - possibly even more scared because teenagers often think they can conquer the world, whereas you and me... well, we know we never will.

So it's decision time. First I have to gird my proverbial loins and reread the thing. I hope I'll be pleasantly entertained. I hope I don't do too much cringing at awkward phrases and lumpy plot devices. One thing is for sure, if I do proceed with a rewrite then you will be among the first to know. So watch this space...

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Suffering for Fashion - a poem

I have childhood memories of 50s fashion
when skirts billowed above sugared net
when nylons clung to gravity-fighting suspenders
and boned corsets squeezed waists and ribs,
when hair was rollered, backcombed, sprayed solid
and tethered at night by hairnet and curlers.

I grew into 60s psychedelia,
tottering on metal stilettoes
that crushed my toes into improbable points
while my Carnaby Street miniskirt froze my legs
although it did turn heads, attracted attention,
but not always of the right kind.

These days I’m surrounded by loose swing dresses,
ripped jeans, leggings, free-flying hair,
plimsolls with skirts
and not a corset in sight.
Where’s the grit? Where’s the pain?
Where’s the suffering for fashion?

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Five Fun Ferret Facts

Several years ago, in 2011 to be precise, I posted a blog called Three Free Frog Facts. I think it was the tongue-twisting element of the title that amused me the most but frogs did feature quite regularly in my life in those days. Charlie the cat was the frog catcher. Sadly she has died and her sister, Mabel, has no interest in chasing anything. Why would she when a bowl of perfectly acceptable food is provided for her whenever she deigns to wake up from her serial napping? And so these days I have become less involved with frogs and more involved with ferrets.  If you want to know why then continue reading.

Here are my Five Fun Ferret Facts:

Ferret Fact 1: Males are called hobs, females are jills, babies are kits and a group of ferrets are a business - and what's more they never mind their own business. In fact, they are so nosy that I have on occasions found them in my handbag, my boots and even my coat pocket. Here is Woody climbing innocently out of the sock drawer:

Woody


Ferret Fact 2:  Queen Elizabeth I is said to have had a white ferret as a pet. I wonder if it ever delved into her regal handbag. This is Lilah lounging in a handbag as if it had 'ferret bed' written on the front:

Lilah


Ferret Fact 3: Ferrets make a chuckling sound when they play which is called dooking. It's a lovely noise guaranteed to make you want to dook along with them. Here are the two youngsters, Timmy and Jemima, playing and dooking together:

Timmy and Jemima


Ferret Fact 4:  They are very affectionate animals - most of them anyway - and they will happily sleep on laps or cradled in arms like a baby. They can fall into such a deep sleep, known as 'ferret dead sleep', that many a ferret Mum's heart will race until the crafty little thing opens one eye and wonders what the fuss is about. Here are Willow, Lilah and Dee Dee demonstrating just that:

Willow, Lilah and Dee Dee


Ferret Fact 5:  They are highly entertaining pets, especially when they leap in the air, chase each other through ferret tubes - often backwards - and bounce sideways like cartoon coyotes. Here is Charlie emerging from his ferret tube and Woody and Isaac investigating a mixing bowl:

Charlie
Woody and Isaac
How do I know all this?

Well, thanks to Daughter, I am the proud grandma of 10 grandferrets!!

(Apologies and fur-baby sized kisses to Leo and Ozzy who have not been included in this little rogues gallery and to Isaac who has an adorable face but is only showing off his rear here!)




If you'd like to see what I had to say about frogs the blog link is:  Three Free Frog Facts