Category Archives: Uncategorized

One Year On…..

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I can’t really believe it’s been more than a year since my last blog post. A year since I’ve written a creative sentence. And suddenly here I am, hands on the keyboard, words appearing on the screen.

I won’t go into the ups and downs of the journey so far, except to say the downs have been breathtaking and the ups hard won. Some days I can hardly believe I’ve made it this far. And I feel better than I felt when I was first diagnosed in May 2015. I have been very fortunate. I have a gene mutation called ROS1, which is found in only 1 in 100 non-small cell lung cancer patients. This means I have been treated with some new immunotherapy  drugs which have not been suitable for other patients.

I have been on the latest one for just a few weeks, so until the scans and MRI in a couple of months I won’t know how effective it has been. The word used by patients for the feelings that prevail at this time is ‘scanxiety’. As we are usually waiting for a scan date, or the subsequent results, it tends to be a more-or-less permanent state of mind and nerves.

But the bottom line is I have seen another summer, been well enough to spend long weekends in Hereford and Edinburgh and had more days out having adventures with my wonderful husband than I can count. I have bought spring bulbs and planned what to do in the garden next year, and we are tentatively planning a river cruise (with a late booking).

Now, as I look back, the weeks spent in bed recovering from chemo, the days being wheeled round in a wheelchair because I was too weak to stand, and the days when I slept and slept and slept, seem as insubstantial as frost when the sun comes up. The bright memories are of the lorikeets perching on my fingers at Edinburgh Zoo, and the huge alium blossoms that seemed to be everywhere in Hereford. There were picnics by our favourite lake with the younger grandchildren, with the sharp smell of freshly cut grass and the slap of oars on water. A long, lazy lunch in the sun with my second-eldest granddaughter,  the week before she went to university,  dinner under the stars with my eldest granddaughter, and days strolling through markets with my husband.

Mostly just ordinary things, but somehow they have all seemed touched by magic. I am realising that it is through the ordinary things that our lives unfold and are enriched, in the everyday that we find love and acceptance -in the touch of a hand or the laughter of friends.

And if the colours have seemed brighter this year, perhaps it is because I have just learned to see them with clearer eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Dead cats and naked bodies

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Two significant events happened on Facebook today. A friend drew my attention to a page advocating the slaughter of feral cats. The page was full of graphic pictures of dead cats, many decapitated. In my opinion, it was violent in the extreme. Along with other posters, I reported the page. The reports were rejected, as the site apparently didn’t breach Facebook’s ‘community standards’.

Another friend, an excellent writer of erotic fiction, posted that she has been told to remove all nude photographs from her adult-only blog site, or risk having the site shut down. Now, erotic fiction isn’t my bag, but I’ve seen the images and they are beautiful. They celebrate the human body. They are not offensive. They are artistic.

Elsewhere on the net, I’ve heard that atheist sites are being shut down because they are deemed to be ‘hate’ sites, aimed at Christians, simply for putting forward a different viewpoint.

So what is the nature of censorship on the internet now? The judgements seem random, but I think that is a generous assessment. Why target adult sites, which are clearly popular and clearly marked as for adult viewers only? The ‘family friendly’ argument doesn’t hold water. There is enough room on the net for all tastes.

Why allow a vicious, violent page to remain, uncensored, when it causes  distress to so many people with the sheer barbarity of its content? I am broadly against censorship, but there have to be some lines we do not cross. Barbarity, especially where it involves the weak, the helpless, those creatures, whether human or otherwise, that cannot defend themselves from evil actions or the celebration of those actions, must be challenged.

I have no answers to these questions, just a growing disquiet concerning the power being wielded by faceless organisations that pull us in with promises of freedom of speech and support for our businesses, only to change the goal posts when we are well and truly hooked.

One more question. If these same organisations would rather give us a the bloodied head of a decapitated cat to look at than a beautifully posed picture of the human form, what does that say about where the internet is heading?

Go Down the Rabbit Hole: A Writer’s Manifesto

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Great advice for all writers.

Writing for Digital Media

1. You are the work. The work is you: both an articulation of the self and a possibility for self-reflection. Be honest in creation: allow yourself to bleed into the work, but also allow it to work on you. Your work can show you things: illuminate and clarify your own thoughts, motivations, actions. If you do it right, you will find the work changing you, too.

2. Thinking is process. Laying on the floor. Sitting on park benches. Getting lost on purpose. These are all working. Learn the difference between mindless distraction and mindful wandering.

3. Go down the rabbit hole. Sometimes the work isn’t about what you think it is. Allow yourself to get lost down alleyways, to follow a train of thought around a corner. Don’t feel you need to reign yourself in. Too much focus squeezes all the possibility for revelation out of the work.

4. Fear…

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An old-fashioned Sunday

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Bigger Bertie, the biggest hand-crafted rocking horse in the world at 14ft 6ins tall and 28ft 3ins long.

Bigger Bertie, the biggest hand-crafted rocking horse in the world at 14ft 6ins tall and 28ft 3ins long.

We spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon at Burnby Hall Gardens in Pocklington. It was like stepping back in time. Elland Silver Band played magnificently in the bandstand, watched by a huge audience, men in straw hats, ladies in summer dresses, all enjoying music and picnics in the afternoon sunshine.

Bigger Bertie is the latest addition to the gardens, standing proudly in a formal garden close to the aviary. He has to be seen to be believed, a huge, beautifully crafted horse on elegant rockers, made by Tony Dew’s craftsmen at The Rocking Horse Shop.

Part of the lake, with water lilies just beginning to bloom.

Part of the lake, with water lilies just beginning to bloom.

We just wandered round the lake, where the water lilies are coming into bloom. I realised how long it had been since we’d had the leisure to just amble about, doing nothing in particular. We always seem to be so busy at weekends. That isn’t a problem, we enjoy our weekends, but it was so nice to have no plan other than to walk, linger over coffee and cakes in the cafe, and smell the new growth on the juniper trees.

 

Apart from the formal gardens, there is a nature reserve, The Stumpery, where small mammals, birds and insects are encouraged. Shaded by cool woodland, every effort has been made to encourage wildlife, including the erection of ‘bug hotels’, wooden structures filled with reeds to help creatures survive the harsh winter months.

Bug Hotel

Bug Hotel

 

One of the many carvings in The Stumpery

One of the many carvings in The Stumpery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are carvings emerging from ferns and foxgloves, Green Men and an incongruous interpretation of a Maori tiki. Somehow they all work, balanced, harmonious, magical.

It was such an old-fashioned afternoon, gentle, timeless, and restful. I sat for awhile indulging my favourite pastime – people watching. There were families, with buggies and toddlers, old couples strolling, hand-in-hand, all quietly enjoying the day. If ever proof was needed that environment affects behaviour, Sunday afternoon by the lake was it. I didn’t hear raised voices, no-one was rushing to be somewhere else. People were talking quietly to each other and actually looked happy. I didn’t see one person texting, or using a mobile phone, other than to take photos, as we did. Just so that we could take a bit of the magic home with us.

 

If I could Paint the Sun

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This is a powerful post about words, and inspiration for the days when we wonder if anyone reads anything we write.

HarsH ReaLiTy

Dear You,

“She says she wants to shine a light into the darkness,” but thinks a blog will not accomplish the deed. Does she not realize that with every eye that looks upon her words, a heart might possibly be softened? A mind might be altered slightly? The power to share, to care, and to allow ourselves to affect others… “affect” because we are indeed changing them. It is a scary thought for some and this is not some super power we speak of. It is the power to care and that is a very human quality. That is a character trait that should never be overlooked and instead should be embraced.

A borderless world is social media. This land that we stand in now, these people of all colors and no color at all, their personalities created on fonts called Calibri and Times New Roman. And yet we know…

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Why Aren’t Kids Reading?

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I can’t imagine a home without books. In our house they are always within reach. Perhaps minimalist decor doesn’t have room for books, or they are hidden away to keep things tidy. Perhaps changing tastes will redress this. I hope so.

Quoth The Wordsmith

Child_with_red_hair_reading There’s been a lot of talk lately about the lack of kids reading for pleasure. It seems that the statistical numbers are dropping, and less children are finding solace in the written word. If you simply do a google search on the subject, a plethora of articles will appear with opinions and suggestions and discussions from all over the world. I’ll give you yet another.

I don’t remember ever despising books. I seem to have always savoured them, even as a very small child. However, I don’t think that this would be the case had I not been encouraged to read. It’s not like I come from a super rich family that could afford all of the new toys and gadgets. I am the product of a single mother who lived in her childhood home (with her parents and three brothers) for the first three years of my life. One…

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Ghostly inspiration.

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Yesterday I picked up a copy of Susan Hill’s ghost story The Small Hand, from a second-hand book stall. I fancied a light, quick read, and I love ghost stories. Her prose is so matter-of-fact, so lean, and yet from the outset I was immersed not only in the story but in the sense of place she created. The gardens of the White House were so well drawn, the observations so precise, I could smell the grass and feel the chill in the shadows of the yew hedges. It makes me want to rip up every word I’ve ever written and start again from scratch.

Coffee memories

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Strange how the mere hint of a smell can take you back years. It happened to me this morning, in my local garage shop, waiting by the coffee machine for my latte. I’ve used the same machine countless times, but today was different. I caught the smell of coffee beans and was instantly transported back over fifty years, to the coffee-house under the arches at Portsmouth station. The smell that emanated from its door was the most exotic, exciting scent in the world to me. A mixture of rich, heavy coffee, ice cream and wafer biscuits. Inside the long, narrow shop were two rows of fixed booths, with an aisle between them. It was like a train that never went anywhere.

My treat was an ice cream; cold, thick, and buttery yellow. I always went there with Great Aunt Eva. I spent a good part of my childhood with her, while my parents ran a pub in the city. Her sprawling Victorian terraced house had two steps up to the front door and a brass knocker that got polished every morning. Ice cream in hand, if it was fine, we’d wander into the park, with its aviaries and wide lawns. We’d watch the old man who spent every day there with a bag of seed, feeding the sparrows. They lined up on his outstretched arm, waiting to be fed. Sometimes we’d venture under the arches, into the town and stroll through Charlotte Street market. There was little shop, just a few feet wide, with a sloping marble slab in the window. Here were piles of cockles and winkles, fresh from the shore. We’d go home with a pint of cockles, wrapped in newspaper, through Guildhall Square, following the railway line, over the bomb sites (Portsmouth took a real pasting during WWII) and back home for lunch. The cockles were large and plump and tasted of the sea.

I loved my childhood with Aunt Eva. She didn’t mind if my long hair was loose and wild, didn’t mind me playing with a stray kitten in the coal shed at the bottom of the little garden, didn’t mind me roaming the castles and caves of the bomb sites. My mother would have had a blue fit if she’d known how much freedom I had in those years. My mother put my hair in rags at night so that I had pretty ringlets every day.

HMS Victory, the old face of Portsmouth

HMS Victory, the old face of Portsmouth

On rainy days I retreated to the chair below the little window in the back room that looked out into the yard. This was my island in the South Seas, safe from the storms, and the big dining table was the roof of my secret cave. The green velour cloth that always covered it hung down almost to the floor, and I’d sit with my back against a stout round leg, perfectly content with my world.

Aunt Eva had once been married to a sailor. I never met my Uncle, always referred to by my aunt as ‘My Jack’. He was a submariner. One day his boat submerged and never came up again. Aunt Eva never remarried, never had children of her own. Their wedding photo sat on the sideboard, next to the blue biscuit barrel, a sepia portrait, with Jack in his sailor’s uniform, and my aunt in her fox stole, leaning towards each other, smiling at the camera. I thought they looked like film stars.

Three doors down from my aunt’s house lived an ex-soldier and his Polish wife. When we visited we sat in the front parlour, surrounded by rich velvet throws and large plants. It was voluptuous, a feast for the eyes of deep red and gold.  It was a different word and it took my breath away. I can still feel the softness of velvet throws against my legs and see gold tassels shimmer in the firelight. To this day, I believe that room informs my choice of colours and fabrics for my own home.

Spinnaker Tower- the new face of Portsmouth

Spinnaker Tower- the new face of Portsmouth

I remember the corner shop, two streets away, where I was sent for packs of Woodbine cigarettes. I liked the picture on the packet front, the tiny blue flowers, and curling leaves. Sometimes there were pop bottles to take back, and the returned deposit to spend on sweets. There were square tin boxes of biscuits that could be bought by weight, and a box at the end of the row with broken biscuits for when money was tight.  A paper warehouse at the end of the road paid pennies for bundles of newspapers. Tied up with rough string that cut into my fingers, it was worth the pain for the sweet money.

Then the bomb sites were redeveloped as part of a grand plan for new housing. Aunt Eva’s beautiful house was subject to a compulsory purchase order. Even the road disappeared, buried somewhere under a high-rise block of flats. Aunt Eva moved back to North Wales to live near her sisters. I moved to Yorkshire with my parents and my childhood was over.

All this from a cup of coffee.