Thursday, 20 October 2016

You can never have too many discussions

Me reading my poem
The last month has been manic. We are still in the middle of the Jewish High Holy Days, which have taken large chunks out of the usual working week. Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year landed during the first week of my University MA Course. That week also saw the launch of the Welcome to Leicester Poetry Anthology (see details below). I was one of the readers, performing my poem, Leicester Market 1963. I was rather tired by the end of that week. 

Last week was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. We fasted to ask for forgiveness for all our sins – another busy day, then! The fast was broken by a lovely meal with a group of old friends and lots of friendly chat and discussions; my kind of evening. The next morning I ran a meeting with the planning team of our Thinking Allowed monthly discussion group. The topic this month will be Why Trump? and inevitably there was much discussion during the planning process.

This week is Sukkot. People erect a temporary structure called a Sukkah in their garden and eat meals out there. It must have mainly leaves for a covering and I think you should be able to see at least one star through the roof. I was honoured to be invited to the Rabbi’s house to eat in their Sukka. It was a fascinating – if slightly chilly - evening with lots of in-depth discussions ranging from archaeological findings in Jerusalem to the meaning of beauty. You can never have too many discussion sessions. I was in my element.

In-between it all I’ve been trying to get to grips with the MA Course. One of the fascinating aspects of this Semester’s work is Research in Creative Writing, the study of the actual writing process; what goes on in my mind when I plan to write, get down to writing, rewriting. It’s a difficult concept to get a hold of because a lot of the planning and honing happens while I’m doing other things and often when I’m not even aware of it. Take this blog post for example:

I decided to relate the business of my month and to introduce this idea of researching creative writing. I am now sitting at the computer typing this with no pre-prepared notes and no plan to redraft (this was not the case. I redrafted a little). It’s more like a chat with you although I suspect the actual content has been percolating in my mind over night, having decided last night to write it. One of the problems with trying to study a subject like creative writing scientifically is that we are human beings and don’t perform well in laboratory conditions – but it is providing me with plenty of material to chat about. Like I said, you can never have too many discussions.

How would you analyse your creative writing process?

Poetry anthology, "Welcome to Leicester" is published by
Leicester-based Dahlia Publishing 
and was edited by
Emma Lee and Ambrose Musiyiwa.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Induction Day

An MA in Creative Writing? At my age? What would the other students think? What would they see when they looked at me? After a stern pep-talk from Daughter and a third outfit change I was ready to face them all.

On campus I was surrounded by students wearing red lanyards, bearing their plastic encoded ID. It was over 30 years since I had graduated from Leicester University. There were no plastic encoded cards in those days, never mind lanyards around people’s necks. Doors were opened with keys, metal ones, and our student ID card was just that, a card, folded into a booklet with our photograph stuck inside. I still have my old ones and have been known to use them as after-dinner entertainment. It was the hair. Year 1 shows me with straight, dare I say, boring hair. In Year 2 it had become a little more ruffled but by Year 3 I was sporting a full-blown, shoulder-length, curly perm, chestnut black with a hint of red.

Just the sight of all those red lanyards made me childishly enthusiastic at the thought of sporting my very own. The large hall in the Charles Wilson Building was set up as a temporary ID issue point. From the door I could see members of staff handing over lanyards with the regularity of a car production line but, as I entered the hall, I was stopped by a security guard.
“Can I help you, Madam?”
“I’ve come to collect my ID card.”
“You mean, you’re collecting one for somebody else?”
My eyes narrowed. “No, it’s for me.” I was trying to keep the anger from my voice.
“Oh!” he said. “How…”
“Don’t!” I snapped but he continued anyway.
“How very brave of you. Well done.”
I was lost for a suitably stinging retort.
“I’m doing an MA!” I barked as if that explained it all, as if there was anything that needed explaining. I thrust my head up and strode past him into the hall. I queued at the wrong desk and then, lanyard hanging awkwardly around my neck, tried to exit through the entrance door. It took a coffee, a strong one, for me to half-recover but I was still seething. I needed a good experience to end the day. Would I find it in the library?

I now had my seemingly endless reading list and I asked the librarian how many books I could take out. She checked my ID card and replied, but it was noisy in the reception area and, please remember, I’m not as young as I was.
“Pardon?” I said. “Did you say 14 books?”
“No,” she grinned. “I said 40.”
Forty books! A perfect end to an almost perfect day. MA in Creative Writing? I’m ready for you now.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

So much to do...

Days are getting busier. Life is cranking up a notch and here’s why:

I have just registered as a part-time student at Leicester University to study for an MA in Creative Writing. I’ll be a part-time student and so it will take two years to complete. I may use some of my family history research as a basis for wider writing. I have a lot of information about the refugee situation in the early 1900s, about the arrival in England of Yiddish speaking strangers, with a different culture, different beliefs, frightened, bewildered aliens. Prepare to read more about them.

I’m in the middle of researching and writing a book on the history of the Leicester Progressive Synagogue. It is turning out to be more time-consuming than I expected (isn’t everything!) but there are many fascinating stories being unearthed. They’re not yet ready to be told here but I may share a few before publication. The Synagogue building is called Neve Shalom. It was named after a village near Jerusalem where Jewish and Palestinian-Arab families live together in harmony. Neve Shalom means 'Oasis of Peace'. Isn't that a lovely name.

Talking of an oasis of peace, I’ve re-joined the Leicester Writers’ Club and this has inspired me to get back to more of the creative side of writing. They are excellent at critiquing and I only wish I hadn’t stayed away so long. We meet every Thursday evening and it’s going to be a haven for me in what promises to be an extremely hectic year.

Alongside the writing, I am still organising monthly talks, helping to run a weekly luncheon club and swimming at least twice a week. So if I don’t come around here quite as often as I used to, then please forgive me. In the words of that creepy guy from the films, “I’ll be back!”

Sunday, 4 September 2016

My Strictly Poem

It surprised me to see that it is five years since I posted up this poem. It's still relevant, still true to the very last word and so, as Strictly Come Dancing returned to the TV yesterday evening, I'm reposting my Strictly poem. 

Strictly Come Dancing is back on our screens.
I’m as happy as Len with a ten.
From now til December I’ll jive in my dreams
with the Strictly Professional men.

I’ll dress up in sequins, a basque made of lace,
high heels and a teeny tight skirt,
doing chasses and flicks with a smile on my face
and not one single muscle will hurt.

Now, I know that a dream should remain strictly that
but this dream is a much longed-for goal.
It’s to dance a routine with a cane and a hat
in the arms of that cute Brendan Cole.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Conflagration Anniversary

Yes, I do mean the Great Fire of London but I wanted an excuse to use the word conflagration. It rolls around the tongue in a most satisfying way. Today is the 350th anniversary of the fire which famously began in Pudding Lane, London.

When the alarm was first raised, the Lord Mayor of London was told of the news. His response was said to be,

"Pish! A woman might piss it out!"

He was wrong! It burned for four days, aided by the recent drought and tinder dry buildings. London houses in those days were closely packed together and many were made of wood and straw so, unsurprisingly, the fire quickly spread. Somewhere in the region of 13,200 houses were destroyed and about 80,000 people were made homeless.

People came from all around to help fight the fire. Even King Charles II joined the firefighters. What's more, the fire destroyed any last remnants of the plague which had still been killing so many people only a year earlier. The main records of the event are from diarists who had little interest in the poor people. Samuel Pepys talks of such essentials as making sure he had buried his Parmesan cheese to keep it safe from the fire. Little is known about the vast encampments outside the city where the homeless were forced to settle, for anything from months to years, until houses were rebuilt.

It would be interesting to know a bit more about what happened to them but, if this had been a current event, reporters would have zoomed in with their cameras on every painful detail of hardship and deprivation. I have said this before in an earlier blog, but it bears repetition. We expect to be informed about disasters, but there is a difference between reporting the news and being given a ghoulishly voyeuristic view of these events and their effects on the victims.

(steps onto soap box)  
Please, if you're a news reporter, back off from people's tears, broken bones and weeping wounds. They are not news. They are an invasion of privacy.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Lazy August

So many red flowers in the garden this month. They seem to be reflecting my mood, lazy and languid. Only the bee in the bottom photo is doing any work:

Hope you're having a great August holiday time. September will be the start of a fresh academic year and a new adventure for me, but I'll talk more about that next month...

Friday, 12 August 2016

Leicester's Bell Hotel

On this day, 12th August, in 1848 George Stephenson died. He not only built the first public inter-city railway line, he planned and managed the building of Leicestershire's first railway line too. When he was planning the construction work he met with engineers and financiers at Leicester's Bell Hotel. The Bell is no longer standing but I still have fond memories of the hotel and, although I am sure that I could have written copious words in memory of George Stephenson, I have decided to write a tribute to The Bell Hotel instead.

The Bell Hotel, Humberstone Gate, Leicester

The Bell Hotel was Leicester’s most respectable coaching inn in the days when horse power really meant horse power. Built around 1700, it was well patronised by all the county families and was said to be cutting edge in comfort. The Bell was favoured by the hunting gentry on their way to the Quorn and, as I mentioned above, it was the place where George Stephenson met with engineers and financiers to plan Leicestershire’s first railway, the Leicester to Swannington line. The hotel was an important part of upper class Leicester life.

Time passed and tramlines were laid into the cobbled roadway running past the hotel, adding new sounds to the strike of horses hooves. The Bell was modernised, with electric lighting and a garage for those ‘new fangled motor vehicles’.

Yet more time passed. They tarmacked over the cobbles, over the tramlines and maroon Corporation buses took the place of the horse and carriage. The Bell was still popular, still buzzing with lively dinner dances, parties and weddings, but by 1970 it was starting to look shabby and Leicester, it would seem, needed a shopping mall. The Council ignored the objections, the placards, the protests printed on the Leicester Mercury letters’ page. The bulldozers were sent in to do their damnedest and a red brick shopping centre emerged from the 18th century dust. They used an ancient name. They called it the Haymarket, as if this might placate the objectors. It didn’t.

Now, stone paving slabs have replaced the tarmac roadway. Humberstone Gate has been pedestrianised, with a big screen for special sporting occasions, a roundabout for the kids and an ice rink that appears each Christmas time. It seems strange that a coaching inn once stood on a site where traffic is no longer allowed and it’s sad that all traces of The Bell Hotel have gone, so I thought I’d write this to try and keep its memory alive.