Writing


snowflakeShe’s done it again: our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) ‘leader’ has set us up to do another performance – spoken short stories or poetry and music. Even more ‘intimate’ than last time, in Ilkley library on 10 December afternoon – no stage, no microphones, no projector, no technology whatsoever. She set us the task of writing something original with a ‘winter’ theme. I’ve offered a tanka, rather than my more usual haiku, and a short story.


snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair


Don’t touch

“Don’t touch me, please”.

Alicia snatched her finger back just before it touched the window, taking a few quick steps backwards and turning her head to see who had spoken. She had thought she was alone in the room but, where were they? She could see no-one. It must be that younger brother of hers, Ewan, she thought, but where on earth was he, and how did he speak with that delicate voice?

Was it someone outside? It didn’t seem likely as snow was falling fast and it was very cold, so cold that large snowflakes landing on the window did not melt but kept their beautiful, delicately intricate form. It was these that Alicia had approached the window to see more clearly.

“Don’t be frightened, come closer, but please don’t touch me”. The window itself seemed to be speaking. Alicia moved cautiously forward, a tentative step, then another.

“Oh, you can come closer than that”.

Where was that voice coming from? Alicia was a little frighted, but more curious so she shuffled half a step towards the window.

“Come on, just one more step, but be careful, don’t touch the window, not even with your nose”.

Alicia moved forward another step, now so close that she could see little more than one much larger than usual snowflake on the outside of the window glass.

“That’s better, now we can have a chat”.

Alicia’s eyes snapped into focus on the centre of the snowflake, amazed to see two bright eyes and a pretty rosebud mouth and realised that the speech was coming from that mouth, now smiling.

“You do look surprised”, the snowflake continued. “Can you hear me alright? I’d like to come inside for a chat but that’s not possible, it’s too warm”.

Alicia fought with the jumble of thoughts tumbling about in her head. Is she dreaming? Is she crazy? Finally she stuttered some words:

“Oh you are so pretty, a bit like some lace on my mum’s nighty, or some doilies at my gran’s, but I never knew snowflakes could speak”, said Alicia finally, struggling over her surprise. “And you have such beautiful eyes; I didn’t know snowflakes had eyes, or a mouth for that matter”.

“Oh, we can speak but we can choose whether a human can hear us. We only choose children, they seem much nicer than adults. Mind you, there are some pretty horrible children too. I was lucky enough to land on the window and saw you. You looked nice so I chose you. The double glazing is good as we don’t get warmed up so quickly unless you touch right where I am, but it does make it a bit more difficult to chat with you.”

“Do you chat to other snowflakes too”, Alicia asked.

“Oh yes. We chatter quite a bit when we are growing up, up in the clouds. Then we have some serious conversations on our way down because we know that usually when we land we are so packed together and there is so much noise we can’t hear anything. I was lucky today, landing on your window”.

“It must be lovely floating down as you large ones do”, Alicia said. “I just love to watch you”.

“Yes it is good, a wonderful feeling, and we get more time to chat, or sing. But it’s good to land on something like your window because when it eventually warms up, slowly, we quickly go back up again and, if we are lucky, rapidly grow up as snowflakes all over again. I hate it when I land in the sea; I can be there for thousands and thousands of years and it’s really boring. So I’d like to stay here as long as possible, please”.

“Oh yes, I’d like you to stay there forever”, said Alicia, “but anyway, for a long time”.

A noise behind made Alicia turn round to see Ewan had come into the room. “Who are you talking to, yourself? That’s crazy you know, my crazy sister”.

“I’m not crazy, I’m talking to a snowflake. It’s very interesting”.

“Now that’s really crazy” said Ewan, breaking into a sing song chant “My crazy sister, my crazy sister” as he came up beside her.

“I’m not crazy, look there it is and if you talk to it maybe it will talk to you. Come closer and see, but whatever you do don’t touch the window”.

The boy moved forward till finally he was standing right beside Alicia, looking suspiciously at the large snowflake now right in front of his face.

“Say something to it, but don’t touch … Don’t touch. Don’t touch the window Ewan”.

Alicia’s voice rose to a scream as he approached the window, adding a final despairing shout, “Don’t touch” as Ewan purposefully put a chubby warm finger on precisely where the snowflake rested, watching fascinated as its beautiful filigree blurred and a single tear fell, to disappear in the packed snow on the windowsill.

cohen
Fulham rooms filled with the lazy smoke of marijuana, hash as we called it then. Chocolate cake which had the bride’s grandma dancing in a fountain at someone’s wedding. Girls without panties in the King’s Road. Charlie coming to work in his pyjamas, reluctantly leaving his one room abode in which all six walls were sky blue, broken only by billowing white clouds, created in an acid frenzy, and a mattress in the centre of the lowest – “if I stand on my tiptoes I can touch the ceiling”, he said, assuring us that the little pills opened the way to the secrets of life. Ruggiero Ricci playing Paganini, Maria Callas and Giuseppe de Stefano in Tosca, spilling through the haze from the slowly spinning vinyl on the Dansette to the entangled forms on the accommodating communal bed. All paused for …


Songs of Leonard Cohen

in 1967.


The world was never the same again.
It’s ended with a string quartet and a heart-rending plea for a treaty.

A couple of posts ago I said that we had been set the theme ‘Halloween‘ to write a short story or poem for yesterday’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. Here’s my offering:

∞ ∞ ∞

The story text as a picture

I think my fellow members were surprised. I don’t usually write so long, or dark.

For anyone who has difficulty reading the story as an image, it is available as black text on a white background on this page.

Another 'health' item added to my diet

Another ‘health’ item added to my diet

Fortunately I live in a flat so generally can avoid the horrible little trick or treaters and, worse, their parents. This Halloween money-making scam for the supermarkets, imported in its present form from the USA, is gradually usurping the traditional UK event on 5th November, leaving that to the big boys competing to see who can spend the most money to make the largest explosion.

Short story or poem?

However, this year I cannot ignore Halloween completely as this is the theme given for our short story/poem task in our local writers’ club ‘Writing on the Wharfe‘, to be read at the meeting on 29 October. You’d think it would be easy but I’m struggling, not having the recently discovered short-story-a-day talent of Jenny Malloney or the poetic talent of one of my longest standing ‘followed’, another Jenny – the optimistic pessimist. I wonder if I’ll manage a haiku. If I do manage something I guess it will make next week’s post here.

One good thing about Halloween is that pumpkins abound. Having been advised by my good internet friend Eddy Winko to eat pumpkin seeds, following my most recent post, a good source has suddenly appeared at a price much lower than the exhorbitant health food shop offerings. I’ve acquired pumpkin seed oil for salads but the seeds will readily replace the sunflower seeds I would usually put in the bread I bake.

lettersTrying to get back into regular ‘personal’ blogging I have the dilemma of what to blog about – skipping from food and cooking to another hobby, eg photography, writing, classic cars, or varied hobby horses, etc, as I used to do – or stick to one topic, as advised by the blogging gurus. I’ve decided on the former, for the moment. It suits me. I am working up to a cooking one soon, in which I’ll be asking for advice from the many brilliant cooks I follow, but today here’s something completely different, though it was brought on by a guest post from Joanne Gennard on the Ilford blog ‘Best in Black and White’.

Memories brought flooding back

When my mother died several years ago I found that she had kept letters which I wrote to her during my time in Romania. Many friends have suggested I should turn them into a book; though I wasn’t sure about that, I did promise myself that ‘one day’ I would save them in another, more widely accessible, form by scanning them and storing them also digitally. I have never looked at them until the past few days and, when I found them, assumed that she had kept all the letters, from March 1993 to mid-2004. Having recently been reminded forcefully that I am not immortal I decided to do something about it. Having read about a quarter of the letters, I’m so glad I have started the job: there is so much that I had forgotten which I’ve been delighted to be reminded of – eg, experiences with the many children I taught, for example the ‘Bunnies’, a delightful special needs class, pictured on the right (some of them have featured before, in a post on 27 January 2013) and even experiences at the start of my relationship with my wife leading up to New Year’s Eve (her birthday) 1999. We married in 2000.

ltr2-toner_ed

Not a letter but included with a letter to show my mother something about my internet projects and show her a picture of a class of delightful special needs children I worked with. I could not print colour then so stuck on a colour photo.

Sorting through the packet a few days ago, I found that the earliest letter is from over four years after I arrived in Romania, when they began to be written on ‘computer’ and printed. The many before, written by hand on what I seem to remember were called ‘aerograms’ are not there, not one. Why the printed ones were saved, but the handwritten ones not, I cannot explain.

Simple OCR

One of the reasons I had never got around to the task was that I thought I would have to transcribe from handwriting. No excuse now, I thought, as OCR (optical character recognition) should make the job easier. I’ve also found that it can be done in a much more relaxed manner than using a scanner and computer, by using an iPad and a great free ‘app’ called ‘Doc Scanner + OCR’. It takes a while to figure out how to work it but once that hurdle is jumped it is very good. It is not happy when the printing to be scanned is light, ie a pale grey, but really excellent when the type is a strong black. I’m still working on that, and on getting reasonably even lighting across the page being scanned.

scansetup_edFor my first attempts I just put a sheet of typing on the floor and handheld the iPad over it. It was quite difficult to hold the iPad steady enough and parallel to the sheet so I’ve now made a simple jig by carving up a suitably sized cardboard box (pictured). The zoom slider in the latest iPad OS camera is a big help in getting the image to the optimum size.

Once scanned and converted to text, I’m copying it and pasting into another free app called Pages, in which it is easy to edit (the OCR conversion is good but never perfect). Pages is another really great app which I use a lot, for everything from writing letters to drafting blog posts. Finally I’m backing it up to Dropbox and my ‘Personal Cloud’ as a pdf. When I’ve completed all the letters I’ll print them out.

I might even make a book😉 .

We did it! An exciting night with a lovely bunch of people: Writing on the Wharfe writers’ club – and our audience of course – at the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ .

rlfringe_8Petronela and I did intend to video the whole thing but neither of us knowing much about making videos we didn’t succeed to get it all. However, she did get me so if you have a strong stomach you can watch my effort by clicking

my video clip

 

I chose three of my haiku and one short short story, all previously published on this site, for my contribution.

rmmacd_6724_edAs the wonderful lyrical and musical talent of fellow club member Emma immediately preceded me I’ve nicked that for an introduction but other than that I wouldn’t publish clips of others, but will send them their clip eventually if we’ve got it.

Emma’s song is from her album ‘Leaving a Space‘, launched two days before. My usually preferred genre is what is generally called ‘classical music’ but her CD will be frequently in my CD player. Her song in the video clip – Delicate – is from the album. If you’re on Spotify you can stream it but if, like me, you prefer a physical CD (worth it for the lovely picture of her!) then you can purchase a CD (or a digital download) by going to:

http://emmanabarrosteel.bandcamp.com/album/leaving-a-space

Anticipation of an exciting (scary?) event has motivated me to blog something after another long absence. The local writers’ club of which I am a member is doing a show at the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’. Writings of the members shown below, and one other, will be featured in a one hour show at the Ilkley Playhouse on Monday 3 October. It’s free, as are all the fringe events. Unfortunately, at least for me, it’s late,  9-10pm.

After sorting out the programme, Writing on the Wharfe members at the usual meeting place, the Menstone club in Menston. L to R: Becky, David, Emma, Bob, Ruxandra, me, Marjorie and Kelly

After sorting out our fringe programme, Writing on the Wharfe members at the usual meeting place, the Menstone club in Menston. L to R: Becky, David, Emma, Bob, Ruxandra, me, Marjorie and Kelly.

I hope to get back to blogging more regularly despite the health problems which led to the long gaps over the past couple of years. I’ve had to withdraw from most of the village activities in which I was involved because meetings are inevitably in the evening, which I can no longer do. Fortunately the writers’ club meets on Saturday lunchtimes. I hope also to get back to writing more haiku and even short stories but for this year’s Ilkley Fringe performance I’ll be sticking to some written some time ago, and published a while ago on this blog.

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