A picture of The famous Roman acrostic (and palindrome) or word square in Cirencester in the UK.

The famous Roman acrostic (and palindrome) or word square in Cirencester in UK.

I so love this blogging world. Over the years I have made blogging friends (friends in the true sense) from several countries; I have learnt so much about things of which I would not even have been aware were I not an avid reader of other blogs; and recently, the day before yesterday, I added a new word to my vocabulary, a rare occurrence having been an insatiable reader of books of many kinds for around three quarters of a century. I’m as excited as I would be finding a rare piece of ancient Chinese porcelain for 10p at a car boot or flea market. The word is: Rambunctious

As an aspiring writer (of fiction – I had a successful career in what you might call ‘documentary writing’), reading something with excellent use of the vast English vocabulary thrills me; lazy writing, with restricted vocabulary, makes me despair, the overwhelming example now being the liberal sprinkling of ‘the f… word’ throughout a piece. I’m no prude; it used to be a good word to use when riled; now, it having been made meaningless, we have been left without such a word.

Rambunctious – an 19th century north American word

Back to rambunctious; a little research found that it was was a north American word coined in the early to mid 19th century and, surprise, used in the Financial Times in 2011.  I was so excited at its discovery I just had to use it; I’m no poet but I decided to rush off an acrostic poem for today’s meeting of our writers’ club, ‘Writing on the Wharfe’. Here it is:

Rare is the day when
After years of devouring books –
Many times, when young, with a torch,
Blankets over my head
Until the battery failed –
New words, or even just one, are added to my vocabulary.
Came a blogger new to me,
Tasted, drawn by, my comments to another blogger friend,
Introducing her young grandsons as ‘rambunctious’.
Oh what a word to savour!
Uncontrollably exuberant, wildly boisterous,
Such am I today – rambunctious

Thanks are due to ‘atticsister’, an antique dealer and blogger from Illinois who was brought to my blog by my comments on the blog of my good blogger friend Ilze from Latvia. She described her grandsons as rambunctious. What is more, she also described them as ‘tikes’, calling to mind my own grandmother who often called me and my younger brothers that when we were being unruly.

 

 

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What remains of herbal teas brought back from Romania last summer, foraged by my ‘honorary grandmother’

I began to appreciate herbal teas only due to an experience during my second year in Romania, 1994. They are relatively little drunk in Britain, at least by the general population, compared to Romania and, I know now, Latvia.  The Romanian experience changed my view and what followed changed my life.

I’ve posted before about how I began to teach in Romania (due to mistaking the word ‘marfă’ for ‘mafia’). I’ve not posted before about two life-changing experiences. The first was an introduction to herbal teas; the second, in the same place, was when I say I was ‘born again’, half Romanian.

Introduction to herbal teas

The ‘county’ inspector for English, who persuaded me to stay in Romania to teach English in a top high school when my planned six month stay finished, invited me to accompany her on a visit to a village school, in a village called Sadova, not far from the town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc. I was feeling really ill with a dreadful cough, sore throat and high temperature which I had not been able to shake off as I usually could. I almost called the visit off.

At some point we visited the house of a/the young English teacher. I  was clearly suffering and struggling to eat something (obligatory when visiting any Romanian home). She asked to be excused, went out the back and climbed a little way up the steep grassy slope to the forest, seeming to be picking flowers. She returned with a handful of leaves and flowers. She boiled some water, poured it on the plants, added some honey and after a few minutes gave me a mug full of the brew to drink. A strange taste for me then but it seemed discourteous not to drink it.

An hour or so later I felt completely well!

I’ve no idea what those plants were – at the time my Romanian was sparse – but now I’d call the brew ‘ceai de multe plante’, ‘tea of many plants’.

Born again in Bucovina

View of Sadova and surroundings

Sadova

The second experience I find impossible to describe adequately. I was back in Sadova but alone. I cannot remember how I got there but I climbed up the steep slopes through the forest and came across a grassy clearing, sun filtering through the tall fir trees, the air full of the scent of them, so sat to catch my breath. An extraordinary peace came over me and the light seemed to change to what I can only describe as magical. The cynical might say I hyperoxygenated from the climb. I’m sure that is not the explanation. I’ve no idea for how long I sat but when I left I felt a different person and I still have that feeling every time I cross the border into Romania, more so when I enter the Bucovina.

I say I was ‘reborn’ there and have been in love with the Bucovina ever since. Several years later I managed a project there with egg decorators, made many friends, and now visit the region and those friends every year.

Romanian herbal ‘teas’ – collecting romanița

I said above that I was introduced to herbal teas in Sadova. That is not quite true though that was the first time I drank one. In the first couple of months in Romania I collected ‘romanița’ (chamomile) beside the impressive river Prut in a little village called ‘Broascăcești’ (which no one I tell of it believes exists – maybe it’s a local popular name – my translation, ‘village of frogs’). I was taken there by my wonderful host family, at or around Easter 1993, to visit relatives. A lady, perhaps I met her/danced with her at a wedding, persuaded me to collect romanița with her the following day. My memories are fragmented but I do remember the village was flooded when we arrived and we had to abandon the car (ubiquitous Dacia, one of only two makes of cars seen 25 years ago, Romanian Renault 11) and take to a cart pulled by a bullock.

Now we bring back to UK ‘teas’ gathered by my ‘honorary grandmother’ each year (those remaining from last year are pictured). More recently I’ve learned about many more from my good Latvian friend Ilze, from her blog ‘a day in the life of a latvian mom’, along with fungi (‘mushrooms’) of various kinds, vegetarian recipes, about her fascinating country (of which I knew little) and much more.

Romanian foraged ‘herbal teas’ I know (I may not always spell correctly):

Those brought back to the UK
Păducel – Hawthorn
Ceai de tei – Flowers of the Linden tree
Mentă – Mint
Salcâm – Acacia (also my favourite honey)
Soc – Elder flower
Gălbanele – Marigold
Cimbru de câmp – Wild thyme
Coada soricelului (mouse tail) – Yarrow
Sunătoare – St. John’s-wort
Trandafir – Rose

Others I know
Romaniță (mușețel) – Chamomile
Coada calului (horse tail) – Field horse tail
Patlagină – Ribwort plantain
Bradul – The fir tree
Leurda – Wild garlic (we collect in UK for salad)
Osul iepurelui (rabbit’s bone) – Restharrow
Țelina – Celeriac
Urzica – Nettle (we collect in UK, young, and use like spinach)
Vișinul – Sour cherry (my favourite fruit, especially in Romania)
Zmeurul – Raspberry (another favourite fruit)

There are good reasons to bring back herbs and fruit even if available in the UK: both soil and air are cleaner in the Bucovina, truly ‘organic‘ (a stupid term, all food is ‘organic’ – recently adopted ‘bio‘ is as bad – but you’ll know what I mean).

Photo of cup with a few coins in the hands of a beggar

Photo by York Press

A lot of bloggers make a little money selling their ‘products’ through their WordPress blogs – self-published books, courses in anything from writing or photography to cookery, using Photoshop or other applications, and a wide variety of other products. Of course I cannot have any objection to that; it seems to me that it’s a valid use of a blog. I have some sympathy also with students who offer something in return for a small ‘donation’.

But when it comes to what amounts to ‘begging’, the on-line equivalent of sitting in the street with a begging bowl, I find it difficult to accept. It works at various levels.

Sponsorship

First there are the requests to ‘sponsor’ a blog, the argument being ‘if you like reading my blog please give me some money to allow me to continue’. What about the millions of bloggers who just give us a good read, often giving excellent advice too (foodie and photography blogs spring to mind), fitting their blogging activity around the ‘day job’?

Donate

Then there’s the ‘donate’ button. This is often accompanied by a text with an explanation similar to that given with requests for ‘sponsorship’.

On-line begging bowl

Finally, there’s the simple on-line equivalent of the begging bowl, a blog post which just asks for money because the blogger needs money for anything from day to day living to help with medical bills.

Many of us will respond to the street beggar with a little money or, better, a hot drink or some food when they seem to be a genuine case of hardship. Money needs more thought as it will often go on drugs. And of course there are the street beggars who have a daily take only dreamed of by many hardworking people with a ‘day job’. Spotting them can be difficult as they are often put on the street by a ‘minder’ who takes most of the money. This is particularly prevalent in Romania.

What brought on this post?

There’s a Romanian blogger who I’ve followed for a few years. As the number of posts asking for money increased my reading of his posts, usually several a day, has decreased. I have in the past bought some of his ‘products’, more as a way of giving a bit of help than that I wanted the ‘product’. But now, for me, he’s overstepped the mark.

His latest story is that he will be made homeless unless he pays overdue rent of several hundred dollars. It began with requests to help with dental bills. I had some sympathy with that as it would be difficult to work well if in continual pain. Bloggers sent him really substantial sums of money. Then he asked for money to buy a video camera to make his video clips. My sympathy evaporated but it seems he received the money. Then the story was that his laptop had crashed and he needed money to buy a new one. Again he seemed to receive it readily. Now he says he hasn’t been able to pay his rent and will shortly be evicted, made homeless!

Romanians to whom I’ve related this story have been furious; it’s the kind of story which has brought Romania into disrepute. Having worked with Romanians for over a decade and spending a lot of time in the country since, I can assure you that most Romanians are hardworking given the opportunity (for many this, sadly, meant emigrating).

As I said above, I no longer read many of this blogger’s posts but was drawn to comment on one recently, one of several which seemed to assume that we all want a large number of followers. I felt obliged to point out that not all bloggers want this and gave the reasons; in my case because I try to respond to all comments and ‘likes’ (with some exceptions) and I just could not deal with large numbers.

How many comments ‘not approved’?

What is really sad is that my comment on his blog, which did include a mild admonishment about ‘begging’, was not approved so no one other than the blogger in question has seen it. So I must assume that any other comments expressing unease about ‘begging’ have been similarly withheld.

So, I have to ask here: do you think this type of ‘begging via blog’ is acceptable or not, and which type oversteps the mark? Do you think I’m being unreasonable?

 

The author, pointing to the window in the picture 'And interesting paragraph'Today was the second stage of the ‘Evocation’ project but this time I was one of the four writers, not the photographer. So unfortunately I don’t have a picture with all five performers as I did with the first stage – only of the four paintings and one of me with the painting which ‘evoked’ my story.

David, with a picture of a Norwegian ffiord gave us a wonderful mixture of myth and fact spanning from Viking times to the present day; Jo, with a drummer boy and his fife-playing companion on the battlefield, had us shedding a tear; James, given the unlikely subject of a couple of horses in a snow storm, had us in stitches. Sam (Samuel Moore) surpassed his usual brilliant self with astounding virtuoso performances of his flamenco compositions ‘evoked’ by a combination of the picture and the writer’s interpretation of it.

Unfortunately I cannot give you the three other stories as the authors may wish to enter in some competition and previous publication would prevent this. So, sadly, you have only my ‘Evocation’, as follows.

An interesting paragraph

Haynes King, who painted this picture called ‘An interesting paragraph’, was born in Barbados but came to England in his 20s. The two female figures are typical of many of his paintings but what has struck me more is the window, which also appears in several of his works. As I am a keen photographer it was his use of natural light, reflected from the newspaper to illuminate the reader’s face, which particularly appealed to me. I think the light and the newspaper are clues to the time of day: quite early in the morning.

The painting 'An interesting paragraph' by Haynes King.

Haynes King’s ‘An interesting paragraph’. Apologies for the reflections; it’s behind glass

When I first saw this picture I immediately thought of the Brontë sisters, though the environment is wrong – a quite humble cottage rather than a vicarage. Nevertheless, I chose to think of two young spinster sisters, relatively well educated so they can read and are quite well informed of world events. Research failed to uncover the date of the painting, only the date it came to this Gallery. So I chose to date the scene as 1865 and believed these sisters would have read Wuthering Heights and something from Charlotte and would have been aware that the male pen names of Currer Bell and Ellis Bell hid two talented women authors. Intelligent, well-read, they surely have dreams of meeting their own heroes and taking at least a small step up in society.

So, we might imagine the following conversation:

Here’s an interesting paragraph Emm. It says that slavery has been abolished in the United States of America. What do you think of that?” Sitting in the window reading a newspaper by the morning light, Lucy enjoyed scanning the paper and calling her sister’s attention to things she found interesting. Although she could read herself, Emily was happy with this usual arrangement.

Emily thought deeply before she replied: “It seems strange to me that a nation which fought so hard to win independence, freedom, from Britain, could retain slavery for so long. But of course there’s effectively been no slavery there for a while. How long ago was it abolished in the British Empire, thirty years or more?

Yes, something like that,” Lucy paused, then continued, “But I think we still have some kinds of slavery here, in particular for women. Because we can’t vote for members of parliament it’s very difficult to change that. It seems sad to me that the Brontë sisters felt it necessary to publish their wonderful stories with men’s names for the authors. Otherwise no one would have taken them seriously.”

Emily, always the more proactive of the two sisters, said thoughtfully, “Maybe we should try to do something about it. It’s all very well leaving it to a few ‘posh’ women in London but maybe we could push from the bottom of the pile. I kept the story about those women in London who set up a society; we could write to them. What did they call themselves? I can’t remember.”

Oh, I think it was something like ‘The Chelsea Society’, but that’s not right. It was ‘the something society’, a place in London but I can’t remember exactly,” Lucy replied.

After a minute’s silence, Emily shouted “I’ve got it, ‘The Kensington Society’, that was it! Please see if you can find that story I cut out.”

Yes that was it, and I cut another from the newspaper about some movement in Manchester. Maybe it would be better to write to the women in Manchester; we could ask about forming a group here, even go to one of their meetings. We could get a train from Leeds”. While speaking, Lucy jumped down from her window seat, shuffled through a drawer, then, “Here they are”, waving the cuttings.

What does it say about Manchester?” Emily asked.

Lucy quickly scanned the cutting: “Oh, only that some women were thinking of setting up a society, not that they’d done it. But there is a name of a woman who was interviewed about the idea – Lydia Becker. There’s no address, but we could write to the paper I suppose.”

Yes, let’s do that Lu. Meanwhile we can make a poster proposing setting up some kind of group locally and see what response we get. We might even get some more free-thinking men, our own Mr Rochesters!” Emily paused. “Even a Heathcliffe would be interesting,” she added, with a mischevious glint in her eye.

So, there we’ll leave our sisters, busy with paper and pen, with the hope that they did find their heroes though they would not get the vote in their lifetimes.

It was not until 1918 that women got the vote in the UK, and they had to wait another ten years before all women over 21 got the vote on the same terms as men. But the slavery continues even today, for example by women frequently being paid far less than men for the same job. Can you believe that, more than 150 years after my fictional conversation evoked by Haynes King’s painting?

You’ll find more information about our club, ‘Writing on the Wharfe’, on a recently created public Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/writingonthewharfe/

The five ‘performers’ – Kayla, Ruxandra, Martin. John and Samuel Moore in front of the four paintings they evoked so well

Saturday was quite a day for me. Some pain I had throughout Friday carried over into Saturday and worsened but not only was I scheduled to support my writers’ club colleagues in a unique event, entitled ‘Evocation’, in Leeds Art Gallery, being also no less than ‘official photographer’, but later Petronela had booked into my favourite restaurant for my annual ‘birthday treat’. I was determined to enjoy both so employed mind over matter, helped by a few paracetamols, and had a wonderful day. I suffered on Sunday, matter overcoming mind with a vengeance, but I was happy.

I’m pretty sure the Leeds Art Gallery event was unique. Each writer first read a story or poem – about 5 to 6 minutes – which one of four pictures, very different, but in close proximity, had evoked for them. Each reading was followed by an interpretation, of not only the picture but also the ‘story’ from the writer, by a wonderful flamenco guitarist Samuel Moore.

There had been a rehearsal in the club but I studiously avoided this so the experience was absolutely fresh for me. What an experience it was too: the stories from the writers were little short of brilliant and Sam’s musical evocation was not only brilliant but emotionally moving. Perhaps because I have several copies of Sutcliffe’s famous (notorious ?) photograph of naked boys enjoying the sea at Whitby, I was particularly taken by the painting with a similar theme and when the music came I was bathing in sunshine, hot Spanish sun brought to an English scene through some astounding flamenco guitar.

The story doesn’t end here; in June stage 2 of ‘Evocation’ will take place with another four paintings in the gallery. For this event I will not be ‘official photographer’ but one of the writers, attempting to relate what a painting, Haynes King’s ‘An interesting paragraph’, evokes for me. I might need more than a fistfull of paracetamols.

Birthday treat at Emporio Italiana

This was the third time my ‘birthday treat’ has been dinner at Emporio Italia in Ilkley. This tiny restaurant, far from Ilkley ‘posh’, transports you straight to Italy. It’s not only the superb food but the atmosphere, complete with ‘waiters’ who know their food, explain each dish in detail and sing, adding to the hussle bussle you’d expect in their home country. There is no ‘menu’ as such, just what proprietor chef Luigi feels like cooking on the day, written on a large blackboard carried from table to table as required. I love it!

For the record, I had an extraordinary ‘tartino di pesce’ as a starter, salmon and prawns in a cream sauce under a cover of amazing potato mash with pork; my main was rabbit ‘coniglio alla cacciotora‘ – superb; finishing with delicious coffee and walnut tart. Petronela and I shared a bottle of house red, excellent.

Comical aside: to ensure we could get into this small restaurant Petronela booked the table way back, maybe February, and neither of us could remember what date we had booked – the Saturday before, the Saturday after or the day itself, Tuesday 15th. A panic telephone call on Friday established it was booked for the Saturday before.

If you don’t like so-called ‘classical music’ this post will not be of interest. However, if you do and have yet to discover ‘Classic FM Revision’ it might be.

I have listened to Classic FM for a few years – it’s my background for many things but particularly writing, at low volume – despite the often annoying advertisements, silly announcements that I am listening to Classic FM between every piece of music, some really irritating presenters (hence the low volume) and, for me, one boring programme. Now, with ‘ … Revision’ at least the last two can be switched off without losing the continuous (but it’s not, despite the claim to be music “all in one continuous stream”) music. Also, the music seems to be on a ‘loop’ so we seem to hear the same pieces repeatedly but if it is a loop it’s quite a big one.

Don’t get me wrong, not all the Classic FM presenters are irritating: none of the women, not David Mellor (my favourite programme) , Alyd Jones nor many of the other men. So who are the irritating ones who now definitely have me switching to ‘ … Revision’?

Top of the ‘irritating’ list

First and top of the ‘irritating’ list is that presenter of some pointless tv quiz who tries so hard to be witty, Alexander Armstrong. What is more, although he has a decent voice he cannot sing, but other presenters feel obliged (are obliged?) to plug his albums and people buy them – it’s beyond me; his ‘Christmas’ offering was surely the most boring Christmas album ever produced. He even jumped on the band wagon with ‘Peter and the Wolf’, again irritating after David Bowie did it so well.

I didn’t mind the plugs for Alyd Jones as he really can sing and the diction is wonderful – as both man and boy. Handel/Somervell’s ‘Silent worship’ sung by Alyd is a delight no matter how many times I hear it.

Other irritants and the boring one

Not far behind Armstrong in the irritation stakes are the Yorkshire (unfortunately) gardener, Titchmarsh, and Suchet; both speak to us as if we’re in primary school. The most boring programme? ‘Saturday night at the movies’; there is some excellent film music, written to accompany a film, but relatively little of it can stand alone as music in my opinion, and even less might be given the tag ‘classical’.

Not continuous music

Classic FM Revision’ claims to produce non-stop music ideal for the students who like a music background to studying, as I would. It’s not quite true. The stupid frequent reminders of what programme we are listening to are there, maybe a little less frequent as there are no presenters for each piece. The silly or inappropriate advertisements are still there (are students really interested in buying a holiday home?) but, for the moment at least, they seem less frequent.

But the big plus is that when one of the irritating presenters is due to come on I can switch to ‘ … Revision’, but switch back for a more varied selection of music with a pleasant presenter when they have finished.

Haiku (translation):
an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water
Matsuo Basho, 1686

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know I like to write ‘short’ and have sometimes written so-called ‘English haiku’ following the format: three lines of 5,7,5 syllables or, more correctly, sounds. In fact recently I collected together my scribblings in this format and put them under a menu heading of ‘Haiku’

However, recently I have come to the conclusion, after reading hundreds of them from other writers/bloggers, that although they are often beautiful, sometimes moving, short poems, haiku they are not – for me. The same applies to tanka, which add another two ‘lines’ of seven syllables to a haiku (or rather, the haiku resulted from removing the last two ‘lines’ of tanka).

I have to assume that Japanese haiku are just that but as I don’t read Japanese I cannot make any judgement. I read translations of them but I’m certain they lose something. I know Romanian poetry, which I can read in the original, certainly does. I sometimes wonder whether I, as a native English speaker who speaks Romanian pretty well, could do better.

Few of the English ones I’ve read come close to a true haiku, in my opinion, but I haven’t read even one that I now consider to be a haiku – there’s an indefinable ‘something’ missing: Japanese culture perhaps? I certainly haven’t written one.

I find my little 5,7,5 poems easy to write when the moment grabs me, the same with poems that rhyme – haiku do not of course (most people I know say that it’s the rhyming they find difficult). I think I’ve become better over time with my ‘haiku’ attempts but I’m still a long way from being satisfied.

Despite these doubts, I will not stop writing them as I enjoy the discipline of writing to the 5,7,5 format and trying to get closer to a haiku; I think I’ve said before I always enjoyed writing headlines as a journalist and there are similarities. Also, the tanka, and so haiku, goes back 11 centuries and there is something satisfying for me to try to create something with this long a history. In the past one of these short poetic forms was often sent to a friend or family member who added to it and sent it back. It might go back and forth like this for years.

Capturing the ‘decisive moment’

Silhouettes of couple kissing and figure of person with umbrella jumping, with Eiffel Tower in the backgrounc

‘A decisive moment’ captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson

An essential characteristic of a true haiku is that it captures a brief moment of time, and as a keen photographer I cannot help but compare that with the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Substitute ‘haiku’ for ‘photography’ and ‘words’ for ‘forms’ and you have, I believe, the essence of a haiku.

So, here’s a challenge: add two seven syllable lines to the following attempt at an ‘English haiku’ I’ve just written, to make a ‘tanka’, and put it in comments. I’ll attempt to respond to each one with another ‘haiku’.

bluetit … food in beak

pauses outside hole in wall

cat waits patiently