I have my own little tradition for 8 MarchInternational Women’s Day (but first encountered as simply ‘women’s day’ in Romania). I try to do a post about women, remarkable (aren’t they all?), undervalued or oppressed, on this day.

Remarkable

I have several in this first category close to home in our local writers’ club (see below), all with outstanding talent, and at least one in Romania who I’ll mention though there are far too many to mention individually – just look at the bloggers I follow, some of them as young as in their teens!

I’ll try to mention some remarkable women below. As a start I’ll just mention two most influential for me: my grandmother, an unmarried mother in the early years of the 20th century who managed to regain ‘respect’ and was the most influential adult in my early years; my mother who, as a war widow raised three young boys, I being the eldest, with very little money, despite being seriously ill much of the time.

Of course I have to mention my wife if only because she’s stuck with me for almost 17 years. However, one notable achievement was, arriving in the UK with her English limited to “Hello, I’m Petronela. I don’t speak English”, she obtained the GCSE C grade English, necessary to have her Romanian degree and teaching diploma recognised and gain ‘Qualified Teacher Status’, within a year and has been teaching in UK high schools ever since. Highly valued by her pupils and their parents, getting results from children labelled as under-achievers as well as those in ‘more able’ streams, she’s still undervalued by her current so-called ‘senior management team’. Despite this, while many colleagues have long and frequent absences for ‘stress’, many leaving the profession altogether, she has days absent – for genuine physical maladies – counted on no more than two hands in a decade or more.

I mentioned my grandmother above but I’ll add my ‘honorary grandmother’ (there’s only a year between our ages) who kept some traditions of the Romanian Bucovina alive when oppressed by the ‘Securitate’, secret police, in communist times. She still makes some of the best traditional food I’ve tasted. I’ve blogged about her more than once. Her name – Lucreția Hariuc.

Undervalued

I’ll mention just one group this time – nurses (of course I know there are male nurses), not undervalued I think by most patients but certainly by successive Governments in the UK.

Oppressed

I’ve had a go at two dreadful sources of female oppression in the past: female circumcision and forced marriage, both still rife even in Britain either directly or indirectly, especially in my locality.

I’d add every female in the USA, whether they know it or not, now that Trump is in the White House.

For this year I’ll add another group, just giving you the link here:

https://www.facebook.com/SheDecidesGFI/?pnref=story

Some of my local female heroes

I say ‘female heroes’ because giving them a different title already discriminates in my view. Just to list all the amazing females only in my village would make my post impossibly long so I’m going to mention only the female members  of our local writers’ club, founded and run by, of course, a woman. I cannot do them justice here nor would I wish to choose among them so here they are in alphabetical order (there are a few others in the members’ list but they rarely come to meetings so I don’t know them well enough to comment). Where the members listed have an example of their writing on my village website the name is a link to this.

Becky Bond

Becky, writing with unique humour, even on tragedy, recently threw in her job at the BBC because she was told she could not write anywhere else and went freelance. At the moment she’s my ‘muse’, being instrumental in extending my story-writing from a maximum few hundred words to, currently, over 10,000!

Have a look at her (non WordPress) blog. Often hilarious, always unique.

Ruxandra Busoiu

Certainly a remarkable young (mid 20s) Romanian woman who not only founded and runs our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) but over the past year has pushed us into involvement in the Ilkley Literature Festival (Fringe) and performing in a local (Ilkley) library. She’s served on a local youth offending team for a while now and is currently seeking to become a magistrate; will the white haired male wrinklies dominating our magistrates’ courts allow it?

Marjorie Hanbidge

Marjorie, before retirement, founded and ran a nursery school in the Wharfe valley. She’s another who usually makes us smile or laugh when she reads her poetry at club meetings. I call her our own Pam Ayres. Despite being very seriously ill just before Christmas and still not fully recovered, she was at the first meeting after Christmas to entertain us.

Kelly McCarthy-Wright

Kelly is a wonderful illustrator. I’ve said that in the unlikely event that I have a book published which requires illustrations, I’ll insist on her being the illustrator. She’s no mean writer either and is another who has the ability to make me laugh with her writing.

Emma Nabarro-Steel

Emma is our singer songwriter. A talented musician on both guitar and piano, she once regarded herself as a jazz singer. Now she says she doesn’t know what she is; all I know is that her songs – music and lyrics – delivered in a wonderfully soothing, soft voice, frequently have my hairs rising and sometimes bring a tear. You can explore, or buy, an album released late last year. She also delivers some super-crafted short stories and poetry, being eg instrumental in my attempt at writing a sonnet.

Catherine Turnbull

Catherine, when she joined the club, was editor of a local newspaper but, victim of the now familiar reorganisations in news media, she crossed the fence and now works in ‘PR’ for a large national organisation. She’s been widely published in the mainstream media and is instrumental in keeping us in touch with writing and learning about writing opportunities, some of which I’ve taken advantage of myself.

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A wonderful end to the year on Saturday afternoon for our local (usually Menston based) writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, ‘performing’ with short stories, songs and poems in the intimate setting of Ilkley library.

Picture of all the 'performers' lined up after their performances in the Ilkley library, with book-fillwed shelves behind.

In the wonderful setting of Ilkley library, left to right: back row – Bob, me, Ruxandra, David, Catherine, Rich; front row – Alina, Emma, Dan, Becky. Sadly two valued members, Kelly and Marjorie, couldn’t make it.

Unfortunately I do not have the contributions available to post here or links to most though I did post my short story in a post recently and you can hear Emma’s wonderful Christmas song and buy it for £1 on bandcamp (should be No.1 in the charts in my opinion!). She also treated us to ‘In the bleak midwinter’, retaining Harold Darke’s melody but substituting her own lyrics, apart from a short spoken excerpt of Christina Rossetti’s original lyrics in the middle.

Becky, Ruxandra and David sharing a joke measuring something with hands

Picture of the day? Measuring what?

Click on any picture in the gallery below to see them larger as a slide show. Many thanks to Adam Nabarro-Steel for photo recording the event for us. Many thanks also to our wonderful ‘leader’, Ruxandra Busoiu, a remarkable young Romanian who founded the club and worked very hard to bring off this event and the previous one at Ilkley Playhouse.

Thanks also to the wonderfully supportive staff of Ilkley library who made this event possible. This library and those in my village of Menston and neighbouring village of Burley in Wharfedale had been scheduled for closure by Bradford Council. Against a background of  appalling illiteracy in the UK, especially in Bradford, libraries should surely be high on any local authority’s priorities. Thankfully, a lot of people from the local communities are now working to take them over and run them as Community Libraries. Let’s hope they succeed.

 

The chair and the table. The table is the same colour as the chair; the lighting makes it look different here. The Romanian home-woven carpet is probably about 100 years old - typical Bucovina motifs

The finished chair and table. The table is the same colour as the chair; the lighting makes it look different here. The Romanian home-woven carpet is probably about 100 years old – typical Bucovina motifs

And now for something completely different (hoping my project does rather better than John Cleese!). Relaxing with feet up is something I like to do in the evening in my dotage, having generally been up and active from around 5.30am (I’ve always been a ‘morning person’). A La-Z-Boy wing recliner chair was what I aspired to. The recommended retail price of around £1,000, or even sale offers of around £750, was more than I was prepared to pay and anyway I do not like the current ‘boxy’ cubic designs. (more…)

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HAPPNEW YEAR

to you all

may your year be full of rainbows

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Several of the blogs I follow add the strapline ‘author’, or mention that this is what they are in the ‘About’. I think I understand what this means.
 
However, some add ‘writer’ as a strap line or describe themselves as this. I’m not sure I understand what this means (I know the dictionary definitions of course).
My first writing professionally was on something pretty much like this

My first writing professionally was on something pretty much like this

 
Am I a ‘writer’? I don’t think so, or I don’t think many people would consider me to be one, but I have certainly written millions of words in my lifetime. I’m leaving aside personal letters (and, over the past 20 years or so, emails), reports and the like, which would account for many, many thousands of words. For around 10 years I wrote no less than 5,000 words a week, so a total of 2.5 million words would be a very conservative estimate during this time alone. In the remaining 40 or so years of my adult life I’ve probably averaged a weekly writing output of about a fifth of this, so around another 2 million in all. Let’s say around 5 million words in total. You might gather that I like to write. Does this make me a ‘writer’?
 
One response
  
Commenting on a recent post on a blog I follow, I said that from the post and the many comments it attracted: “Some of the responses, and even your post, seem to suggest that it (a ‘writer’) is someone who is urged to write by some distressing, or maybe happy, event. I’m sometimes prompted to write by such things, but that doesn’t seem to make me a ‘writer’ either”.
 
The blogger, who terms herself ‘author’, replied: “I don’t think a ‘writer’ is someone who is urged to write by some distressing, or maybe happy, event … We are all writers if we are ‘writing a book’ – but when that book is published we become the ‘author’ of the book. I see no reason why anyone who is writing a book (whether it be fiction, poetry or an autobiography) can’t call themselves a ‘writer’ – because basically they are”. This seems to suggest that – with the exception of an autobiography – you are only a ‘writer’ if you write something fictional. So what about, eg, a ‘travel writer’?
 
I have not written, nor am I writing, a ‘book’. I have attempted a short story – ‘published’ on this blog. And every one of those 2.5 million words over a 10 year period I mention above was published – on paper; what is more, they were not self-published – I was either commissioned to write them or they were accepted and paid for by a publisher. Probably around a quarter of the other 2 million I mentioned were published. But this still does not seem to make me a ‘writer’.
 
Some of the bloggers who say they are a ‘writer’ write, often very eloquently, about writing. These are usually very popular blogs, attracting hundreds, if not thousands, of followers and comments. Many of these writers on writing have not had anything published other than self-published, often then only on their blog. Does this make them a ‘writer’? I’m not sure. What is more, sometimes when I’ve been able to access something they have ‘written’ – a book or short story – I’ve not been anything like as impressed as with the quality when they are ‘writing about writing’.
Some of the many thousands of words written to my mother over several years in Romania. They don't make me a 'writer', but what if I transcribe them and publish as a book? Will this wave the magic wand?

Some of the many thousands of words written to my mother over several years in Romania. They don’t make me a ‘writer’, but what if I transcribe them and publish as a book? Will this wave the magic wand?

 
An urge to write?
 
Does it have something to do with an urge to write? I’m not sure about this either; I have had an urge to write since childhood but again this doesn’t seem to make me a ‘writer’. In fact, almost everything I find interesting, fascinating, distressing or joyful urges me to write, and sometimes I write about it, as now. Does this make me a ‘writer’?
 
Steinbeck, Dickens, and who?
 
I’ve been reading books, I am told, from the age of three. The most influential on me was read when a teenager – Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath‘. The grammar is often dreadful, some passages seemingly overlong and difficult to get through, but I have no doubt he was a ‘writer’. Why? Because what he wrote has had such an effect on the whole of what I became? I don’t think this is the answer either, because some authors who I have no doubt are ‘writers’ simply give me enjoyment, as does so much of Dickens (I’m ignoring here his wealth of social commentary, which has also done much to mould my social conscience).
 
I don’t have that many ‘writers’ and ‘authors’ as followers so perhaps I should ask those of you who have to broadcast the question out to their many ‘writer/author’ followers and feed back in some way.
 
Or is the question of interest only to me?

Christmas is getting closer and much as I, being an old traditionalist, like to ignore it until Christmas Eve, I can’t do that as far as sending Christmas cards is concerned. So today I’ve devoted to making some.

This year I thought I’d do something with pictures of Romanian decorated eggs; decorated with Christmas scenes and symbols is not traditional, nor is feeding a ribbon through so it can be hung on the Christmas tree. I think I can take ‘credit’ for this as a suggestion made when I was working in a project to try to increase the income of the ladies who decorate the eggs.

Egg2_1060835 Egg1_1060834

I cannot take any credit for the one below – again it is not ‘traditional’ but the relatively small number of women making these wonderful paintings on hens’ eggs have no artistic training – it’s a natural talent. Some of the nuns in the monasteries paint eggs like this too.

Egg3_1060838

However, I have some people I want to send a Christmas card to who cannot see – tenants in the houses supported by the small charity for which I work and a couple of work colleagues. What about them?

What better than enclosing a CD with some of the wonderful Romanian Christmas carols, very beautiful and very different to the carols I was used to before I went to Romania.

Here are just three from the ‘Christmas card CD’ I have made this morning (hopefully if you click on them they’ll play on your computer – they’re MP3 files not the CD audio files).

22 Colindul clopotelor               21 Linu-i lin             19 O, ce veste minunata

22. The carol of the bells    

21. I can’t translate it – smooth (like the music)    

19. O, what wonderful news

– sung by the superb ‘Mira’ choir of the ‘Lord’s Church of St. Nicholas’ in Iasi, Romania (Lord in the sense of ruler, of Moldova, Stefan cel Mare – Stephen the Great). The only musical instrument in the Romanian church is the human voice, if you discount the bells and the toaca (the wooden board drummed to summon the faithful to prayer), of which this Iasi church has neither. I have been lucky enough to hear this choir many times when I lived in Iasi, not just at Christmas. The church is the one in which I was married.

The third carol is my favourite, perhaps because it is the first I learned by heart and surprised my pupils each year by singing it to them. For you, I can assure you that Mira is much better!

You’ll find Mira on YouTube:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNmJVKjeQpM

The writer

Lenutsa’s right hand moved smoothly in a small arc, its shadow – pale and indistinct in the light of a solitary oil lamp – gliding over the surface of the dark, ugly thing grasped lightly in her other hand. She sighed, laid the object on the cloth which covered the small table at which she was sitting and, turning to the eastern corner of the room, with thumb and first two fingers of her right hand together, touched them to her forehead, then her lower breast, then her right shoulder, then her left. She repeated the movements twice more.

She had written the final line. It was perfect.

Turning to the table again, she gently took the wart-covered thing between finger and thumb and placed it carefully in a small cup, half full with a potion, black, evil-looking, emanating an acrid, nauseating smell. Plucking a small stick from the table, she turned the object in the liquid, carefully pushing it down as she turned.

Again and again she plunged the object into the murky depths, till the object itself, covered in raised lines like old scars left by the razor of a precise maniac, was completely black.

Grasping it lightly between thumb and forefinger, she lifted the thing from the black liquid, lightly wiped it with a stained piece of cloth and placed it on a small clay tile on the table. She dried her thumb and finger with the same cloth and looked with distaste at the stains left there.

Never mind, she was almost done.

The first rays of dawn were creeping through the window. She blew out the lamp and a golden ray from the rising sun lit on the dark thing, now becoming a dull black as the evil liquid evaporated.

Lenutsa looked at the thing through drooping eyelids. Should she complete her task now, or sleep a little? She had just time for a short nap before the ducks began their morning gabble crying for food. If she completed her task she would not be able to sleep until all the daily chores demanded by her small piece of land and its few living creatures were completed.

She’d finish the thing.

She lit the oil lamp again. Reaching out her left hand, she took up the thing and, while holding it way above the flame of the lamp, took again the old rag in her right hand and began gently to wipe the black scars, now warm from the flame.

A red slash, bright as newly drawn blood, spilled out of the black where the rag had touched. The scars dissolved in the wake of the caressing rag. Another stroke, and golden yellow leapt out to reflect the increasingly strong rays of the sun. Another red slash, another burst of yellow; as the rag swept over the thing’s surface the colours began to coalesce into recognisable forms.

A diamond, a triangle, a star, a cross. Each delineated by a fine, shiny line, black or white. Each formed with sweeping, precise curves on the surface of the fragile creation.

Lenutsa absorbed the beauty with pride, crossed herself again and placed it at the end of a row of similar things on the nearby dresser.

She’d feed the ducks who had given her the beginning of each of those wonderful things now standing proudly in line. Then she’d walk to the local monastery, carefully carrying her creations in a plastic bag.

If she was lucky, today the tourists would come. The dozen duck egg shells she had written would each translate into one Euro, maybe more. And she would have money for the sugar, the coffee and the other things that her small plot could not provide and, of course, for the beeswax she would buy from her neighbour to write more eggs, and the chemical dyes which came from across the border, from the Ukraine.

Lenutsa crossed herself again as her lips moved silently to thank God. And then she smiled.

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This is my first attempt to write more than the few words of a haiku or a limerick as I’ve posted before. I’d welcome any feedback from all you more experienced writers out there, or from those who simply read. (A word of explanation, the egg decorators of the Bucovina in northern Romania say they ‘write’ the eggs, not ‘decorate’ or ‘paint’ them).