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You’ll probably find me prattling on about equality, and discrimination, even more than usual over the coming month, particularly gender equality, because in the UK we have a general election in a month’s time. Although the present Government is headed for a landslide victory we do have an opportunity to cause a bit of a storm because we now have the Female Equality Party and, exciting for me, the party leader is standing in the constituency where I live. I referred briefly to her, Sophie Walker, in my previous post.

I haven’t ‘marched’ for years, 23 years to be precise when a German teaching colleague and I were pushed to the front of the column of protesting Romanian teachers which we had joined.

I’m polishing my marching boots now and honing my placarding skills. But as a starter I thought I’d give you a run-down of how and when I took up the cudgels against each type of discrimination. I might be a year or so out but not more, and gender discrimination was not the first.

Religious discrimination

I first experienced religious discrimination when I was about eight years old, though I didn’t recognise it as such at the time and what we’d now call bullying was not directed at me. I can now see there was an element of economic discrimination too as the bullying was directed at children from Roman Catholic families, who were generally even poorer than us. Even at that tender age I did not understand it and was often in trouble with the ‘protestant’ clique as I insisted on playing with the RCs.

Gender discrimination

I didn’t recognise discrimination against women until I was much older, 16 in fact. At that time I was working in a research laboratory and began to question why all the lab technicians were women, no males, but there was not one woman among the many research staff or section heads. It would not be true now but there’s still a long way to go. I eventually, in 2006, ended up working in an organisation specifically supporting and promoting the roles of women in science and technology.

Racial discrimination

I first became aware of racial (or skin colour) discrimination in the early 1960s when, between ‘real’ jobs, I worked for a short time in a coffee bar near Victoria station in London. I had a colleague, a lovely man from Balochistan (or should that be Baluchistan?) called Gulamnabi (the spelling may not be correct) and was horrified by the abuse he got from seemingly civilised customers. I used to put orange concentrate in their early morning coffee 😇 and steam it till it was too hot to drink (they were always in a rush). I’ve had many confrontations since those days.

Disability/ability discrimination

I think I first became aware of the discrimination against people with a disability in the late 1980s when, as a member of a Lions club, I assisted at sports days and in clubs for people with a disability. This culminated in my visit to Romania in 1993, initially specifically to work with children with a disability and their parents. More recently I’ve worked for a charity supporting people with sight loss and additional disabilities.

Age discrimination

I’ve never had a problem with age discrimination but I know and/or know of many people who have, particularly when looking for employment in the early 2000s. The best story I have was from applying for a job in an organisation supporting women in science and technology, when I did not respond to the date of birth question on the application form. “I see you didn’t reply to the age question,” said one of the interviewing panel. “Here we go,” I thought as I answered “No”. “Good for you,” was the response. I got the job.

Sexual orientation discrimination

Homophobia was not obvious to me before the late 1970s when I sometimes went to dinner parties where I was with a lady partner but all the other couples were male and discussions round the table made me aware of it. In some ways it became far worse when homosexual acts between men finally became decriminalised in 2004. Of course there never had been legislation making lesbian acts illegal. Oddly enough I ended up working in an organisation supporting LGBT people in 2005; really odd for me was that I was the only ‘straight’ person in the organisation, no problem for me but it was for some of my colleagues.

That sets out my battlefield for the coming month. My weapons will only be words but you all know I’m sure the English metonymic adage about the pen being mightier than ….

Women’s equality has been the subject of my posts as often as the rarity of posts on politics. It’s great to be able to combine the two now, linking a member of our writers’ club to a general election candidate in my constituency – respectively Becky Bond and Sophie Walker.

I haven’t admired a politician since Tony Benn but now, though I still cannot now vote Labour (I stopped with Tony Blair) I have another, Jeremy Corbyn. I’m far from ‘left wing’ but in general he seems to be honest and sticks to his guns. So, if he were our candidate I might have a problem, whether to vote Labour (for him, not the party) or for Sophie. As he is not it’s no contest.

Becky Bond

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I've had the pleasure to 'work' with

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I’ve had the pleasure to ‘work’ with

Becky, for me one of the three best writers I’ve ‘worked’ with (the other two being career journalists), recently took the brave decision to go freelance when her job as a BBC radio producer did not allow her to write for anywhere else. She’s romping away, as I knew she would. We’ve become used in our club (Writing on the Wharfe) to hearing her hilarious writing on her blog (beckybondwrites.com) – unfortunately not WordPress, a little difficult to comment on it, but I persevere to support her. If you’re having a bad day just go and read her posts; if she doesn’t make you laugh you really do have a problem.

Now she’s writing regularly for the Yorkshire Post and a local parents’ magazine. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we see her regularly in the Guardian or Times/Sunday Times (she’s already been in the latter, a while ago). What’s really thrilling for me is she’s ‘seeing the story’ and recently adapted her style to do two brilliant pieces, one on a severely disabled pole dancer (really), the other on a schoolgirl power lifter (yesterday’s YP). Thrilling? When I was editing I had many times to remind my journalists “there is always a story”, so no excuses. Becky just sees ’em, naturally.

Sophie Walker

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

I don’t agree with everything Sophie says but, after around six decades of battling in my small way for women’s equality it’s so good to have someone standing for Parliament on that platform alone as leader of the Women’s Equality Party. She has an uphill task in our Shipley (Bradford) constituency where she will have to overturn a majority of 9,624 in the previous election for the sitting MP, Philip Davies. But if she can fire up the women’s vote, including those who have previously voted Labour, Liberal Democrat or not voted at all, she could do it.

Maggie Philbin OBE

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

I cannot close this post without a mention of another remarkable woman, Maggie Philbin OBE. It was a tweet of hers which first brought Sophie Walker to my attention. I had the honour to work with Maggie in a very small way when I worked for an organisation promoting women in science and technology, after admiring her from afar for years as an avid follower of Tomorrow’s World. She now does amazing work promoting careers in science and technology to youth. I was delighted to see her recently promoting apprenticeships as an alternative to university, another hobby horse of mine. Mine, for five years in the central research laboratories of then one of the largest engineering companies in Britain, opened so many possibilities for me and without it I surely would not be writing this post as my life would have taken a different course, and Sophie would probably have one less vote!

How to illustrate this post? The ‘ Happy Bunnies’, a special needs class I taught in Romania in 1994 made my heart bleed yet gave me so much joy every lesson. Here with me on a picnic, at the famous citadel of Stephen the Great in Suceava

My soul rarely bleeds out on my blog, more often in short pieces I write for relating in our writers’ club. Recently, however, as a result of an unexpected increased passion for ‘creative writing’, I’ve been exploring more writers’ blogs and have been staggered just how many blogger writers lay their souls bare – beautifully.

Many do it through poetry and what is really surprising is that many of these are not from bloggers in English speaking countries but nevertheless they are writing in English. The only language other than my native English I know reasonably well is Romanian so I can say some of the Romanian writers manage to overlay their English writings with the extraordinary beauty of the Romanian language. I suspect the same is true of some of the writing in English from India, which often also has an extraordinary beauty of its own. In both cases the English is frequently near perfect – better than many native English speakers!

I was particularly struck very recently by the final paragraph in a post from a Romanian blogger, Iulia Halatz, a teacher of English in Bucharest (moreover, she runs her own business – check her out at https://blogdecompanie.wordpress.com). Here’s the final paragraph of her post ‘tyrannosaurus writing’:

“To write with the truth of pain in your mouth is gruesome poetry…You’ll have to cut out your heart with every word and show it to the world, then hope it will heal. This is how the light gets in, also the dark. To acknowledge fear, defeat, despair and pretend serenity of a lesson learned while patching up the wounds is…Life.”

As someone much influenced by Leonard Cohen in my younger days I found the bow (or curtsy) to him striking. It made me think maybe I should write posts now and then where I open a few cracks, to let the light in.


PS. If the picture of my ‘Happy Bunnies’ used to illustrate this post intrigues you, perhaps you’ll find a long post I wrote four years ago , which has quite a bit of information about experiences teaching English in Romania 1993-94 (and using internet before we had Windows), when my heart was bleeding almost every day, though often with joy, interesting. Be warned, I ramble on about other things though. 

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!

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