The short version (a tanka)

river’s melody
embraced by guardian hills
a chaffinch sings
the mad bull sinks into us
relishing the peace he brings

The longer version

Perfect spot

No mobile telephone signal, no radio signal, no internet, just the singing of the river outside the door and the birds. Bliss! We’re in Borrowdale, more exactly on the banks of the river Derwent near the hamlet of Stonethwaite.

A chaffinch, dressed to kill, perches on a branch no more than two arm’s lengths from our door and entices a lover with a melody composed in heaven.

One tree has plucked feathers from the birds …

The freshest green of early Spring bleeds from the blasted trees and the long greened-over molehills and boulders. One tree has plucked feathers from the birds and transformed them into more fresh Spring green as they shower towards the rushing water below.

Priorities correct, two ‘glasses’ of red wine, ‘Toro Loco’ of course, Tempranillo and Bobal wrung from grapes in his far away homeland, stand beside two hastily erected chairs, prepared to catch the last of the sun as it sinks below the highest hilltop to the west. My VW ‘summer’ t-shirt is perfect for the occasion as we eat chicken thighs and pork chops, cooked at home, with salad, and mashed potatoes from a packet.

It’s surprisingly warm here, no cold blast as in the town, Keswick, where we stopped for a warming coffee, there being no heating in Lofty, our forty five year old VW camper. Petronela insisted on buying me a pair of trousers reduced from £60 to £14.95. It reminds me of my mother, RIP, who could never resist a ‘bargain’ whether it was something needed or not. We give Lofty an affectionate pat for having brought us here, the final approach along a pitted narrow track threatening, with one slight wrong move to the left, to tip us down into the riverside area designated for camping. Petronela gives a warning bleat, joining the sheep on the surrounding slopes. I tell her to keep quiet while I concentrate; there’s only a couple of inches on either side.

“We’ll be putting a few more stones down before the season,” the farmer tells me when he comes to collect the £5 per adult per night, clearly having received one or two complaints from the two or three modern car drivers who have ventured here. “Don’t bother for us,” I say, “he (gesturing to Lofty) relishes tracks like that.”

We go to sleep with the birds at eight o’clock, envying no one in the five star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants ringing the lake only a couple of bird calls away.

§

Two chatty great tits sound the alarm at 5.30am. I take a quick look through one open eye, enjoying their chatter. Another single open eye meets mine. “Go back to sleep! I don’t want coffee yet,” emerges from some hidden depth in the sleeping bag. I do as I’m ordered.

An hour and a half later the tits are insistent; eleven hours sleep is enough they say. I make the coffee. I eat the raw oats and milk which has been my breakfast Monday to Saturday, with rare exceptions, for half a century.

About a quarter, or less, of the way up. Lofty the camper is the tiny white speck you see between the trees on the right.

“I want to see if I can climb up to that point between the two peaks,” I say. I’m amazed when P says we can try. She gave up on a much lower, and easier, climb on the Cat Bells last year. The first part of today’s climb, maybe to a quarter of the way up or less, was not helped a lot by some rudimentary steps alongside a rushing mountain stream. The steps have obviously been unused for many a year; in disrepair and unstable they were probably more dangerous than any unmarked route. Before they petered out P said she was going no further.

Petronela at the point she gave up. My target is the dip in the skyline to her left.

I debated whether to go on alone as with no phone signal a turned ankle could be a real problem. However, I was determined to take advantage of my new lease of life so continued. I learned later that P waited an hour for me then came back to the van. I didn’t make it quite to the top; I saw rain advancing up the valley so decided it was sensible to turn back. We are in the rainiest place in England. Nevertheless, I was happy that I had been able to get that far; six months ago I could not have attempted a fifth of that height, even on a reasonable track (regular readers will know that I’ve had, still have, some serious health problems). As usual, although requiring far less energy, the descent was far more difficult than the ascent. I arrived back at Lofty 4.1/4 hours after leaving him. P said I was crazy. I said “What’s new?”

The pub

I said no WiFi and that was true down the valley where we are parked. But we decided in the evening to walk the 15 minutes to the local pub, The Langstrath Country Inn, for some soup and to sample the local brew. It has WiFi so I’ve uploaded this post so far though I will not finish it till we’re home tomorrow. A roaring open log fire completes the joy. My legs are killing me but I’m hoping that a couple of pints of an extraordinary brew, Keswick Special, dark with a hint of sweetness, will get me home (or sleeping with the sheep in the field).

The soup was superb, celeriac and white wine. Thick, tasty and filling, with some great ‘black’ bread. Not cheap, nor the beer, but we’re past caring about the price.

I made it past the sheep, ate some salata de boeuf left over from the Easter ‘feast’ with the remains of the Toro Loco and was soon asleep, though the beer had me up two or three times in the night. Fortunately we have a loo in Lofty so I didn’t really wake up, just as well as it felt like I’d been beaten all over with sticks.

§

Friday morning, 7am, and still feels like I’ve been beaten all over but, coffee made, I’m feeling great. No chaffinch this morning unless he was here earlier and didn’t wake me. A brief visit from a robin who said good morning then departed. It’s been raining in the night and there’s quite a wind this morning with some ominous clouds, though it’s not cold. The valley in which the hamlet of Stonethwaite sits (the road ends at the pub, the track to nowhere continues past the campsite) has its own micro climate and I expect it’s a lot colder elsewhere. Maybe we’ll have a leisurely breakfast and set off for home if the visibility isn’t too good.

It’s raining. So what?

At 9am the Derwent Fells to the north west (beyond the end of the valley) have disappeared in rain and cloud and it’s raining quite hard here now. P’s eyes are grey, not blue, this morning, which means rain for sure. She jumps in the river. Now who’s crazy? Reluctantly we pack up, check Lofty’s oil, and are away at 10.45.

§

2.15pm and we’re home. It’s sunny; a large gin and tonic is easing the pain. Just got to sort out some pictures then post this.

I was recently nominated for ‘The blogger recognition award‘; I have never ‘accepted’ such awards because I’ve seen they can get out of hand and usually require ‘inflicting’ them on a number of other bloggers. However, though I cannot accept this one because I cannot bring myself to meet the first condition, to nominate 15 others bloggers for it (think of chain letters – 15×15=225 x15=3,375) and thus cannot say something about each blog nominated, another ‘condition’. However, I am going to take the opportunity to fulfil some other conditions, the first of which is to thank the nominator and give a link to their blog.

Kristina Steiner

So, thank you sincerely to Kristina Steiner (click her name to go to her blog) who I came to know recently when she gave a ‘like’ on a post of mine, subsequently finding that she was Slovenian, a teacher of English (as I have been) and had recently (one year ago) published a book. One of the things I love about blogging, the most loved thing after providing an outlet for an urge to write, is discovering new ‘friends’ – often in other parts of the world and in completely different cultures – when they put a ‘like’ on a post. I like to think that Kristina has already become a friend.

I’m saying no more about the novel, entitled ‘Equinox‘, publicly other than to say it has many surprising similarities (yet some big differences) to the longest story I’ve ever written but nowhere near a novel (still in progress – see my post of 2 April). I bought Kristina’s book and finished reading it a day ago. I’ve already commented to Kristina privately and will do so more. You can buy it on Amazon – a Kindle version is very cheap. 

The second requirement is to write this post and show the award. I don’t mind doing that.

How I started blogging

Third is to say how my blog started. That’s easy but may seem a little odd (but I am, I’m told!). I created the blog in 2008, four years after returning to the UK after 11.1/2 years in Romania – most of the time as a volunteer – because although I was writing a lot in PR work positions at that time I wasn’t writing everything I really wanted to write about. However, I did not start blogging on it until four years later when my frustration with British politics, and what British society had become in my absence, boiled over. However, I foresaw that this alone wouldn’t keep my writing urges satisfied for long when I created the blog, so gave it a subtitle of ‘A view from Yorkshire, about anything’, so breaking a basic rule if you want to collect a lot of followers: have a single theme. I never did intend to post every day, another advice for collecting a lot of followers, only when I wanted to get something out of my system. There have also been long gaps due to some serious health problems.

Two pieces of advice

Another ‘condition’ is to give two pieces of advice to new bloggers. I wouldn’t usually be so presumptious but:

I would say always follow up a ‘like’ on your posts, even if only to go to have a look at the ‘liker’s’ blog; in my opinion it’s just polite, something that is sadly much missing from society today. It seems to me that the easier communication has become the less people communicate in any meaningful way (Facebook, which I dislike, being a prime example). You will not always find the blog interesting; I often put a ‘like’ on a blog that I would not want to ‘follow’ as the theme is not of general interest to me but that particular post is. On the other hand, you will find many new ‘friends’ in many different cultures.

My second piece of advice is do not get too hung up on posting frequently, or even regularly. This is against WordPress advice and will mean your followers will build up only slowly. Post when you want, or need, to say something. I find that if something is bugging me it helps to write it down and get it out there; whether anyone reads it, let alone ‘likes’ it, is often irrelevant.

Writing in a foreign language

So, thank you Kristina; I love you already and wish you success with your book and the second which you say you have in the pipeline. I have tremendous admiration for anyone who writes in a foreign language and already follow a number of Romanian bloggers for that reason, even though I read and speak Romanian pretty well. I have special admiration for someone who writes a novel in a foreign language. So, Kristina, I’m delighted that you have already prompted me to learn a little about your country and reading your novel suggested some solutions to difficulties I had encountered in my story. It is a privilege to have begun to know you. Thank you. (more…)

If you celebrate Easter then every good wish for that. If you do not, I just want to wish you a wonderful weekend. Here are some Romanian ‘Easter eggs’, from the Bucovina. They were made for this, 2017, Easter by my friend Violeta Macovei in the village of Paltin.

Following what we deemed to be the ‘success’ of our winter story-telling in Ilkley Library last year we (our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe) repeated the exercise last Saturday but with Spring/Easter stories. Three of our new members were performing for the first time. There were some great stories, poems and a song – or two.

The 'team' pictured after the performance

L to R: Kayla, Becky, John, Emma, Roger, Ruxandra, David, Helen (thanks to Adam for the picture)

Great fun, good chats in the pub afterwards for some of us then more ‘fun’ in the park for a few of us (it was a spectacularly lovely sunny day, warm, more like summer).

Emma and Becky sitting on the grass in Ilkley Park after the meeting

Singer-songwriter Emma Nabarro-Steel and blogger extraordinary, Becky Bond, who brighten up our meetings with their wonderful talent

A chat with one of our new members in the pub showed me the path the protagonists in my ‘long short story’ might take and an ‘event’ in the park gave me an idea of how they might reach their destination, whatever that might be (I’ve written the beginning and the end, though it’s all in draft so could change).

I hope that I might receive some of the contributions from other members so I can post them somewhere so you can see them, but in the meantime I can only post mine, below, prompted by a comment from a member when planning, that “children should be introduced to new words”.


Maleficently

“I’m really fed up, cooped up here in the dark.” The voice was muffled in the cramped space.

“Oh be quiet, we haven’t been in here for very long, not a day yet, and we’ll be out soon then you know what will happen, don’t you? You’ll really have something to complain about.” The answering voice was very close, a soft, calming voice even if it was telling him off.

“Well, I wish I could at least see you. You do have a lovely voice.”

“That’s nice, thank you. So, would you like me to sing you a song to pass the time?”

“Oh yes please, I’d love that.”

“OK, now let me see, let me see … oh yes …

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great —”

“No, no, no, stop! Not that one, please, anything but that one.”

“I’m sorry, it’s the only one I know. What else could I do? Oh yes, would you like a limerick instead? I know a limerick, in fact I just made it up.”

“OK, I’d rather hear you sing but if you only have that song. You do have such a beautiful voice.”

“Well, I’ll try to sing-song it. Here goes …

“There once was an egg called Humpty
Very good looking but dumpty,
He sat in a box
Protected from shocks
Till he sat on a wall and —”

“Woah, stop, it’s going to be as bad as your song for sure!”

“Oh dear. How about a haiku then?”

“What’s a hi coo? Something a pigeon says?”

“No silly, it a very short Japanese poem, just three lines.”

“Alright, go on then, but nothing about sitting on a wall this time, please.”

“Right, let me see …

 “sitting in the dark
humpty   met girl in a box
fell in love   right there”

“That’s not a poem, it doesn’t rhyme.”

“A haiku doesn’t rhyme, it just has five syllables, then seven syllables, then five syllables. Lots of poems don’t rhyme. Do you know what a syllable is?”

“Of course I know what a syllabub is. My mum makes them all the time. Do you think I’m —”

A sudden burst of bright light, and excited voices of children, interrupted:

“Oh yes, they look perfect, I think I’ll choose this one, it’s a nice pale colour so I can paint it,” said one of the children, a girl about seven years old, as she carefully lifted her selection out of the box and put it in a white egg cup.

“The one next to it looks good for me,” said another voice, a boy about the same age. He lifted the adjacent egg out of the box and put it, not so carefully, into another egg cup next to the first one.

“Be careful,” said the girl, “you’ll break it if you’re so rough. So, what are you going to do with yours? Something nice for Easter?”

“I’m going to make it into Darth Vader, all black, with a big laser gun blasting everything to pieces.”

“Oh no, that’s not right. Anyway, I’m sure your’s is a girl. It’s mine that’s a boy.”

“OK, OK … I’ll make it Maleficent then.”

“Why do you always have to make everything nasty. I bet you don’t even know what maleficent means, do you?”

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the name of the wicked queen in Sleeping Beauty. I like her, she’s got horns, which is perfect.”

“It does so mean something, it means something doing evil or harm to someone else. Do you really want that for Easter?”

“Of course I do,” the boy said, drawing the sword from the belt of his red soldier’s uniform and brandishing it wildly.

“Oh do be careful, it’s you that’s maleficent, not the egg. I’m going to make mine into Humpty Dumpty, with red trousers and a big smile.”

“Did you hear that?” the soft voice said, “I’m going to be a wicked queen and you’re going to be Humpty Dumpty. You know what happened to him don’t you?”

“I don’t care, it’s just nice to be next to you again and to see you. You’re just as beautiful as your voice”.

Before an answer could be made both eggs were lifted out of the egg cups and the children were working busily with paintbrushes, the girl with red, the boy with black. Soon they had finished, a jolly Humpty Dumpty in one egg cup, a menacing black queen with plasticine horns in the other.

“Come on, let’s go and hide them for the egg hunt,” said the girl, picking up Humpty Dumpty and running outside, followed by the little soldier with his dark queen.

“Let’s hide them behind the holly bush, you know, on that wall. They won’t be easy to find there, especially as it’ll be a bit prickly to get in there,” shouted the boy as he ran towards his chosen spot. The girl squeezed in behind him, placing Humpty Dumpty carefully on the wall. “Hooray,” cheered the boy. Drawing his sword and, waving it about, he knocked Humpty down, where he lay on the ground, his smile still beaming up at the children but his red trousers in a dozen small pieces.

“Don’t worry, I’ll fix him” said the boy as the girl began to cry.

“Don’t be stupid,” the girl blubbed through her tears. “If all the king’s soldiers and all the king’s men couldn’t do it, one stupid little soldier isn’t going to do it. I’ll go and make another, but you just go away, right away.” Stamping on the smile as she squeezed out of the space, she ran into the house and slammed the door firmly shut.

Now, If you looked very, very carefully at the evil queen up on the wall, you might have seen her smiling – maleficently!


Now children, I’ll let you into a secret, maleficently isn’t a word. I just made it up. But I think it’s a good word for the kind of smile you might see on that bad queen’s face, isn’t it? Can you say it? So, how did the queen smile?MA – LE – FI – CENT – LY.

Now here’s one for the adults:

CENOSILICAPHOBIA

or perhaps even better

CENOCYLICAPHOBIA

Either way:

Ceno – empty (as in cenotaph, an empty tomb)
Silica – glass, or Cylica – drinking vessel
Phobia – a fear of

So, at risk of offending any Greek scholars out there, fear of an empty glass, that Saturday evening feeling which prompts you to get to Aldi, pdq!

Drawing of a rose, with thornd

Drawing by blogger ‘mopana’, see below

Recently I began a story which currently stands at over 17,000 words. That’s a big jump from the maximum of around the 1,000, more usually a few hundred, I managed before. Even that number surprises me; I’m more likely to turn out a haiku or a 100 words, precisely. For some reason I like the discipline which those impose.

However, what I’ve found is that it is just the discipline which prevents me writing longer and for the first time I have understood why I’ve always been averse to attending any kind of creative writing course. Any kind of planning, or thinking too deeply about plot, characters or the like just makes me wrap up the whole thing quickly or abandon it. If nothing else, it just makes it boring, for me.

In our local writers’ club we are usually given a ‘theme’ on which to write for reading at the following meeting after two weeks. That has always resulted in something short from me, which is ideal as writing longer means there is time to read only an extract, which is never really satisfactory. However, one recent theme ‘What if …’ opened up so many possibilities that I found myself just writing and writing, with no plan, just waiting for the two characters (Miranda and Peter – M and P; where they came from I have no idea, or have I?) to ‘speak’ to me to tell me what was happening.

Blocked

I first became ‘blocked’ when they fell silent, at around 6,000 words. I’d written what I thought was the beginning and the end but felt the journey between the extremities was too short for my two characters. They had not enjoyed themselves, nor suffered enough, to satisfy me. They spoke to me no more but clearly wanted to carry on their journey. I decided to call on my fellow writers’ club members, though just a select few (I won’t say more other than that I’ve always had more empathy with women than men, as any regular reader of this blog may know), asking them to comment on a printed version. One responded almost immediately; with her suggestion in my head M and P began to speak to me again, telling me much more about themselves, so another 6,000 words was rapidly completed.

Stalled again at about 12,000. Then another club member gave me some notes handwritten on my script with some words of encouragement. Again, M and P began to speak, suggesting that they had a discussion about their star signs, so each would be able to see how the partner saw them and how they saw themselves. Another 5,500 words resulted, so now 17,500 in all.

Another suggestion was that an ‘observer’ who I’d introduced right at the end should have something to say earlier, now and then, to make the reader question whether they were in reality or fantasy. This fell into place quite readily and, I thought, much improved things.

No one has yet suggested the author/book from which I ‘nicked’ the idea of the outside observer but I know.

Anne Brontë

Throughout this process I did not know why I was compelled  to write the story or what the underlying theme was, though I had an idea that it was perhaps about the strength of women and the weakness of men. Throughout the writing, from the first idea, I had the feeling that the answer lay in a quotation which I could not recall though I spent long periods thinking about it. I had a vague feeling it was Emily Brontë but, having read her novel many times, could not think where it might be; in her poems perhaps? But no luck there either.

It came to me suddenly a couple of days ago. Not Emily, but Anne:

On all her breezes borne
Earth yields no scents like those;
But he, that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

In a poem, The Narrow Way. I was rather annoyed that I had not been able to recall those last two lines earlier. They are the key, I think, to adding a few more thousand words, even perhaps finishing the story.

However, something even stranger, a remarkable coincidence (but I do not believe in coincidences!). A few hours later I was scrolling through the bloggers I follow and came across those same two lines in a post from a young Romanian woman, very young in comparison with me. What is more, she’d written a haiku to go with them (and her drawing of a rose, above). I find her blog refreshing, creative and entrepreneurial; you can go to it by clicking her user name: Mopana.

Music

Now, I cannot write in silence, so after hearing several authors interviewed on radio who felt the same, but many who did not, I was intrigued to find out what accompaniment my fellow club members used, if any, so tried to begin a discussion about it on the club Facebook (closed) page. So far only three have responded but of those two demand absolute silence, one is with me but the music, he says, is random. Mine is not.

Below is a picture of what has been keeping me company during my writing marathon. Some were there from the beginning. Some I added to jog my memory (one I even bought for this purpose) when I realised that I was writing about 1960s London. I have music mostly on LP, including many complete operas, but they are not really practical unless you just want to sit and listen.

It’s a motley collection you might think but it does reflect a part of my musical taste.

For the record, they are, left to right approx, Ella Fitzgerald with Count Basie; some operatic divas (as selected by Gok) – I posted about this recently; member of our writers’ club Emma Nabarro-Steel; Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin; Schubert’s ‘Trout’ quintet; Sofia Vicoveanca (my favourite Romanian ‘popular music’ artiste, though she’s joined from time to time by a delightful young one I don’t yet have a CD of, so from internet, Andrea Chișăliță; the Brighouse and Rastrick brass band; one of several Beethoven string quartets, particularly the late ones, played by the Romanian quartet Voces; and Eric Clapton. There’s one missing in the photo as it’s on LP – Mozart’s clarinet concerto. If I had it I’d have Stephane Grappelli with Django Reinhardt in there too. What I select depends partly on mood, partly on what I’m writing about.

I’ve now realised I have a story in waiting behind every one of those music choices. Maybe I’ll write those stories sometime.

I’d be interested to hear about any other’s writing process, whether you like a music background or not and if so what and why or anything else about how you write. I am, of course, talking about writing fiction. Blogging is something quite different though, again, there’s no theme to mine; I just write about anything which takes my fancy as and when, the words spilling out like blood from a stuck pig rather than from a finger pierced by the thorn of a rose.

My second passion after music is writing, and a sudden urge to write longer fiction, rather than my usual 100 word stories and haiku, resulted in twelve and a half thousand words in an unfinished story. Attempts at fiction, or poetry, only began in earnest when, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to our then newly-formed local writers’ club. Set a theme at each fortnightly meeting I usually managed to come up with something.

Until that time my real passion had been to write journalistically, more recently mainly by blogging.

The English Patient book cover The detour into fiction may have been halted, hopefully temporarily, by recent events, including reading a novel; my previous experience of it had been only through the film based on it – The English Patient.

The last time I was stopped completely by a novel was when, at 17, I read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. That time it was the final paragraph (above) which stopped me; I don’t think I spoke for a couple of days – literally.

The English Patient did not stop life in the same way, it just brought my attempts at fiction writing to a halt. I have not yet reached the end; I was towards the end of only the third chapter. Michael Ondaatje seeming to do so easily what I was really struggling with, that combined with another event – or rather non-event – I just lost the motivation to continue. One of the consequences has been a renewed urge to blog more frequently, hence inflicting this on you, my readers.

Cytotoxic

What has cytotoxic to do with this? Well it was just the single word which brought me to a halt when I first encountered it on newly prescribed medication. The word was followed by ‘handle carefully’ and entreaties not to handle at all if pregnant. Now, I don’t think I’m pregnant though nothing would surprise me, even a virgin birth! I knew vaguely that the word meant the contents could kill cells. Until now, far from killing me it seems to be giving me a new lease of life so in this case it’s a single word which brought about a change.

I could become a thoroughly bad girl.

Small Belleek vase with flowersI can’t let St Patrick’s Day pass without a small acknowledgement; Ireland and it’s people share the top spot in my favourites with Romania, though it’s a few years now since I visited. Must remedy that.

The little Belleek vase was bought on one of the most memorable of many memorable Press visits when I was working full time as a journalist. It was bought as a memento for my mother and came to me when she passed on at 91 years five years ago.

Alcoholism, divorce and Blarney

A guest of the Irish Export Board with two other journalists, we were ferried around for three days in a Mercedes limousine, a wonderful – quite crazy – trip around many bars with several factories between. I returned to England I swear with a tan, Guinness tan, a preference for Irish whisky which has never left me, and a lasting wonder of Irish food. Despite the ride in an alcoholic haze (in those days all true journalists worked better well over the limit – alcoholism and divorce were the main enemies), the export board got their money’s worth with a published feature on the working places with export potential which we visited. It must have been 1970 or thereabouts.

The itinerary certainly included Dublin, Limerick and Cork (near which the obligatory kissing of the Blarney Stone took place). We never went anywhere near the village of Belleek, which is just over the border in Northern Ireland, but I acquired the small piece somewhere. I’ve always considered Ireland to be one country anyway.

So today I’m green, with envy, for all those lucky enough to be there over the Irish sea.