Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Me and Distance Driving…

…Pathetic but true

I have been driving for over 50 years (yes, I'm that old!). This means that I’ve had more than enough time to hone the craft and I am fine around town but distance driving has never been my strength. Last weekend I visited family in North Manchester. I’ve done it before but will I ever be brave enough to do it again? It was so traumatic that I need to share the experience, by way of therapy. Please don’t feel obliged to read to the end. This one’s for me!

The Journey there: I thought I’d try a different route, avoid the dreaded M6, so I went up the M1 and over the top of Sheffield. That’s a pretty road, especially where it crosses the Pennines. I even pulled over on a lay-by for a few minutes to admire the view. I wouldn’t have done that if I’d known what was round the next corner. I’d never heard of the village Tintwhistle before. I have now. I spent almost an hour crawling towards Tintwhistle and then through Tintwhistle and then out the other side of Tintwhistle.

The Journey home: I was resigned to taking the dreaded M6 route but thankfully the motorway was clear… clear for the M6, that is. I transferred from M6 to A500 feeling smug until I reached the A50. There is a large roundabout on that road with signs saying how many lorries have overturned there during the year. That weekend I don’t suppose any lorries were about to overturn because the road beyond was shut, barred with red and white striped barriers.

Any seasoned traveller would have stopped and reassessed. I panicked. I went round the roundabout and drove back the way I had come. I had crazy thoughts of driving back to Manchester but knew that wasn’t an option. I drove all the way back to the M6. I drove South to the A5. I drove through a place called Cannock. I drove through numerous other places that I had never been to before. I was gripping the steering wheel, ‘rabbit in headlights’ mode. I should have stopped. Why didn’t I stop? I drove on for four hours. When I got home I sat on the settee with a substantial whisky and didn’t move for several hours. That night I had flashbacks of red and white striped barriers. Pathetic but true.

Thank you for allowing me to off-load.



Sunday, 2 July 2017

Fledgling Alert

So there I was, pegging out the washing, with Charlie the Cat looking on, when the garden became filled with a-screaming and a-squawking. It was a family of blackbirds, mummy, daddy and an unsteady fledgling. The fledgling had come closer to us than it should have done. Mummy and daddy blackbirds were screaming,

      "Get away from the human!" 

      "Avoid the cat at all costs!" 

but the fledgling didn't understand or maybe it was going through that teenage stage of thinking that it knew best.

By now Charlie's taste buds had been whetted. Cats will be cats, I'm afraid. She went into hunting mode, started to creep across the path towards the fledgling but the parents were having none of it. They went for Charlie, pecking at her head and neck. Charlie, who is not as young as she used to be and is now rather small and skinny, fled to a safe place under an acer bush but the blackbirds continued their screaming until I ran out, scooped Charlie up and brought her into the house.

Mummy and daddy blackbird are now sitting in strategic positions calling to the fledgling. I hope it makes it. It doesn't deserve to end up in Charlie's mouth. So far, so good. Charlie has fallen asleep in the house and the blackbirds are still busy outside.

This photo of mummy blackbird on the corner of the shed roof is blurred. It was taken from a distance. I decided that the birds had had enough trauma for one morning.





Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A Memorial After 72 Years

It is some time since I mentioned the Jewish Gilroes Cemetery website. This does not mean that it is being neglected. On the contrary. As well as keeping it up to date - sadly several members of the community have died since we completed the project - there is also the chance to add to the stories about those people buried there.

Sometimes a very special story comes along and I feel privileged to be the one to bring it to light. It has been written by a very old friend of mine. We both grew up in the small Leicester Jewish community but he moved to Israel and I stayed in Leicester. Recently he told me about an amazing series of incidents that resulted in him going to Berlin for a greatly belated memorial service to his grandparents and the presentation of a very special gift. It's heartwarming to hear about the kindnesses that people do, especially when the news is so filled with cruelties.

I don't want to say any more about his story here because he tells it so well himself. I hope you've got a few minutes to go and read this very special story here: A Memorial After 72 Years

Sunday, 14 May 2017

You can't beat a bit of Pomp and Pageantry

I can't speak for other countries but I must say that the UK knows how to put on a show. I've enjoyed two displays of pomp and pageantry this week and I have the photographs to prove it.

Lynn Moore, the publisher of my latest book, The Children's Book of Richard III, is not only a friend, she also happens to be my local city councillor. So when she rang to ask if I would like to be her guest at this year's Lord Mayor Making Ceremony I jumped at the chance. It was a fascinating occasion full of splendour and ceremony. We emerged from the Town Hall to a barrage of drum music and an opportunity to take photos.

This is Lord Mayor Joshi with his wife, the Lady Mayoress:


And the entire ceremony was overviewed by the Mace Bearer:


Don't they look amazing in their outfits? But two days later I was back in town for the Annual Joint Morris Men Day of Dance which this year was held in Leicester. If you think the Lord Mayor was fancily dressed, take a look at this lot. Wherever there was a space, they were dancing in it.

This dance was taking place in Leicester Market:


Some players from Bury St. Edmonds were waiting to go on next:


Over in the Cathedral Gardens there was a lively group from Solihull, banging sticks, shouting 'Hoy!' and thrusting their sticks skyward:



And finally a member of the host group, one of our very own Leicester Morris Men:


Like I said, you can't beat a bit of pomp and pegeantry.



Sunday, 7 May 2017

Leicester produces yet more historical gems

I have lived in Leicester all my life and remember when an area known as Frog Island was buzzing with industry, filled with soot-grimed factories and belching chimneys. Now the factories have closed down and those businesses that have survived have moved to out-of-town units. Some of the old buildings have been demolished, others have become derelict resulting in inevitable fires and vandalism. There are plans to redevelop the entire area but before new foundations are dug the Leicester University team of archeologists led by Richard Buckley (the man who led the team that discovered Richard III) took over one section of land in search of historical gems and once again they were successful.

The area for the dig is just outside the water-bound triangle that forms Frog Island, between Great Central Street and Highcross Street, and was once the Stibbe factory. It is not far from the Jewry Wall Museum where a carefully preserved section of remains of a Roman building housing the old town's baths is open to the public. This is the oldest part of Leicester and so the discovery of remains was not a surprise. What has been spectacular though is the number of well-preserved finds.

First a memory of my own from the area. The entrance to the site is opposite what used to be Leicester's Great Central Railway Station. It was the station where Leicester holiday makers took a train to the nearest seaside resort of Skegness and holds fond memories for many of Leicester's older residents. Only the entrance to the Parcels Office remains (as shown below) but it is evocative of the style of the building which was closed down in 1969, one of the many victims of the Beeching Report.


As for the actual dig, the finds include two Roman Streets, a well preserved mosaic over a hypocaust (underground heating - they were sophisticated in Roman times or was it that they found England freezing cold compared to Italy?) and a variety of artefacts including coins, brooches, hair pins and games. This elaborate woven mosaic is said to be the finest example found in Leicester for more than 150 years.


If you'd like to read more about the archeological dig and findings the Leicester University has issued this statement: Largest archeological excavation in Leicester.

Which just leaves me with one of my favourite ruminations. How did old stuff get to be so low down in the ground. I will elaborate - if the floors from these Roman remains are beneath present day ground level, which they clearly are, then why is it that the nearby All Saints Church is at street level? The church was built not long after this period although the actual date of the build is unknown. It is believed to have been mentioned in the Doomsday Book. So did people climb up steps to access the church? I suppose we'll never know.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

I Have Happy Feet

There's nothing that lifts the spirits more than a bit of escapism and that's what we got yesterday. We went to see 42nd Street at London's Drury Lane Theatre and I have to say that 'escapism' is an understatement. If you get the chance to go then please do. Compared to the film, they paint the love story angle with a very light brush. On the other hand, to continue a painting analogy, the dance sequences are produced in primary, poster-paint colours. They are amazing, truly stunning, a stage full of glittering, tap-dancing stars, all moving in perfect formation, in perfect time with the music. There are fabulous stage effects too, one uses a mirror lowered slowly onto the stage to change the effects of the sequence-style routine. You've got to go and see it, really!

I could enthuse about the dancing all day but there's more. The Victorians really knew how to design a theatre. The ceilings and walls are so highly decorated that as soon as you step into the Drury Lane you feel as if you've entered a fantasy land. It sets the scene so perfectly for this kind of show.

During the interval, in the queue for the ladies, a young girl wearing a pretty, red party frock was tapping away, throwing her arms around, twirling her skirt.

"Do you have tap lesson?" I asked.

"No," she said looking at her mother longingly.

It reminded me of when I was a kid. I used to pretend I could tap dance. I'll let you into a secret, between you and me, I still do, in the kitchen when there's no one else around. Those dance routines yesterday had me wanting to get up and dance just like when I was a kid. I'm convinced that tap dancing is inside every excited young girl and it stays there as we grow old. We just learn to hide it - most of the time.

I'm adding below a link to the official site where you can get a taster of the show with all those famous songs including We're in the Money, The Lullaby of Broadway, Keep Young and Beautiful, I Only Have Eyes For You and of course, 42nd Street.

42nd Street Musical

Cat Update: I've taken both cats off that medication (see previous post) and I have my happy, relaxed girls back again. I've spoken to the vet and he's agreed we keep a low-key eye on them and let them get on with their lives without being dosed up to their little feline eyeballs.

MA Update: Crikey! (polite expletive replacing what I really was thinking!) I've only got another two weeks before I hand in my assignment and I'm barely halfway through it. Best be going...


Friday, 7 April 2017

Worrying Cat Update

Yesterday lunchtime the smaller of my two cats, Charlie, had an epileptic fit. To my knowledge she's never had one before. Scroll down to my previous post and you'll see that the vet had put both cats onto medication for overactive thyroids. The medication is Felimazole.

I phoned the vet and he said to keep her quiet and calm. He said that the best thing would be for her to fall into a deep sleep and that I was not to shake her awake from this. He also said to take her off the pills until Monday. Was he kidding? If Felimazole can cause cats to fit then neither of my girls will ever be given it again. A half hour later she had a second fit. It took the rest of the day for her to return to almost normal. She's still very subdued.

Does anyone out there know of any similar incidents with Felimazole and cats having a fit?


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

My Cats Have a Condition

Vet: So Charlie needs to have a 1.25 pill with her breakfast and a 2.5 pill with her supper.

Me: Ok, thank you, Vet.

Vet: And Mabel needs to have a 2.5 pill with her breakfast and a 5.0 pill with her supper.

Me: Ohhh kaaay... thank you, Vet. (Thinks: The vet couldn't have made it harder if she'd tried.)

My girls both have overactive thyroids. It was diagnosed at their yearly check up in February and now they'll have to have medication for the duration. I didn't even know that cats could get overactive thyroids. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence that they both have it, or if it's because they're sisters, but it makes no difference to my new headache which is that they don't like taking pills. I have to crush them in their food but then comes the even bigger headache. My girls have always been in the habit of grazing on each others food. Not any more! I'm hovering over them, lifting their dishes up, putting them down, small bits until they're medicated. I can only put food down freely when they've both had their pill. If only I could explain it to them.

Until they get the dosage right they'll have to go in to the vets once a month for blood tests. Poor girls find that very traumatic. So do I, especially during yesterday's vet visit when Charlie's carry case broke as I was putting her in the car. They have to be nil by mouth from the evening before which is disturbing enough without all the shaved necks and needles business.

One kind of good outcome about all this is that we finally get to benefit from the cat health insurance that we've been paying into for years. Insurance is a funny concept. Somebody said to me the other day that as they had never claimed off their house insurance, would they be able to ask for a rebate. I explained that insurance doesn't work like that but I can see their point. If we had all the insurance money that we'd paid out over the years then we would all be rich...I think.

Masters Update: My final assignment for this year (I'm doing a part-time MA in Creative Writing at Leicester University over two years) has to be handed in on 3rd May so I've only popped by to have a bit of a breather and share my cat concens with whoever reads this. For my assignment I'm creating a small poetry pamphlet and writing about the methods which would be required to get the collection published. I might even share some poems with you when it's completed and marked and returned to me....but first I have to write the thing!

Have a good Pesach (Passover), Easter or maybe you observe a different Spring festival. Whichever it is, have a good one. The sun is shining and it's looking lovely in the garden.....but now I really will get back to work.


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A Masterclass from Bali Rai

The MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester joined together with Literary Leicester today to bring us an inspiring masterclass presented by Bali Rai.

Bali Rai was born in Leicester. He grew up in a multi-cultural, multiracial community, an experience that has had a definite influence on his writing. His first book was the best selling (Un)Arranged Marriage and he went on to become one of the UK's most successful YA authors. Today we were given a glimpse into his writing world, a chance to see how he has become so successful in his craft.

Bali Rai's enthusiasm was infectious
"All humans are nosey parkers," he told us. We must make sure that our audience wants to know more. We must elicit in them first sympathy and then empathy for our characters. Throughout the afternoon he kept bringing us back to this point, to considering who our audience is when we are writing. How we can connect with the audience became his mantra.

He stressed how important it is to analyse each section, each paragraph. Every sentence needs to be there for a reason. If it doesn't have a reason then get rid of it and make sure all the content will connect with the audience. 

How well do we know our characters? He asks his characters questions about their habits, desires, emotions. Only when he knows the characters really well can he portray them in a three-dimensional way. Only then will they connect with the audience.

He dropped in many pieces of advice as he spoke, sharing lessons that he had learnt from experience. The beginning of a novel is the hardest and most important to get right. Character is more important than setting. If you find yourself staring at a blank screen then turn it off and take a break. And yes, as a writer he believes in ghosts. Why be rational? You're a creative writer! 

"Everything comes back to connection with the audience," he reminded us and he practiced what he preached. For this afternoon we were his audience and he certainly connected with us. We were with him all the way.


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Herbs

This time last year I was struck down with pneumonia, not an experience I would recommend to anyone. I did intend to have my flu jab this winter but was waiting until my chest cleared...and waiting...and waiting until it became obvious that the chest-rattle was not going to clear on its own and it was probably too late to have a winter flu jab anyway.

Options: 
  • I could ignore it and hope it went away on its own but that's how I ended up with pneumonia last year.
  • I could request yet another course of antibiotics (I'd already had three courses last year) but I've only just got over the side effects of the last lot.
  • Or I could try something completely different - herbal medicine.

On a friend's recommendation, I went to a well-established herbalist in Leicester, Hydes Herbal Clinic. Advanced warning - this is not a cheap option. I had an hour's consultation and a thorough physical examination and came away with a large bottle of tincture, two kinds of pills and a bill that reminded me how expensive all medicine would be if we didn't have the NHS. 

I am delighted to say that within days of starting the treatment, the chest-rattle began to ease and it has now virtually gone. The herbalist is also trying to treat me for anxiety and related IBS symptoms but I fear that these are rather more deeply entrenched and may take more than a few weeks to tackle. But I shall persevere. 

At the risk of repeating myself, this treatment is not cheap and the tincture does taste rather unusual (good job I bought a jar of Nutella the week before!) but if it works, it'll be worth every grimace and exclamation of "Yuk!"

As for the Creative Writing MA, I do seem to be rather busy right now. Best go and get on with my next assignment.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

So much to do but...

Is it too late to wish people a happy New Year? I guess it’s never too late to wish happiness upon others. I have tried very hard to keep focussed on my University writing this last month. You may have noticed that I’ve kept away from here. I’ve only popped onto Twitter and Facebook briefly to say ‘hi’...
BUT 
There has been one major distraction and I can’t seem to cure myself of the addiction. Scrabble…online Scrabble, or Words With Friends to be absolutely precise. I keep having to have a quick look to see if I can place that elusive seven-letter word or an exhilarating ZA with the Z on a triple letter going two ways. You’re probably thinking that I need to get a life but that’s the problem. I have one, a very busy one, and so my addiction will have to be ‘managed’.


As for my ‘very busy life’, here is a taster:

I completed my first assignment for the MA in Creative Writing two weeks ago. I loved every minute of it…even the hours spent from 3.30 am the day before the submission deadline. I discovered an artist who has depicted his early life in a Polish shtetl through the medium of a series of paintings. I have written a collection of poems around his work, linking it to my Grandma’s early years.

I entertained the entire family over the Christmas period and cooked myself almost to a standstill. It was lovely to see them all, to have them all under one roof. It rarely happens, but I have had to accept that I’m getting old. I needed some serious rest and recuperation after the last of my family departed.

I’m in the middle of gathering and writing up research for a book charting the formation of the Progressive Jewish Community in Leicester. It’s a fascinating story including the long-term loan of a Czech Torah scroll that was confiscated by the Nazis when they rounded up the Jews in Czechoslovakia. I will tell more of that story here soon, but for now I have deadlines and so I must get on.

Oh yes, and a happy 2017 to everyone. The sun is shining as I type this. Maybe Spring will soon be here.