Leafy Shoes

Autumn treeOccasionally I like to participate in blog challenges, and sometimes I even post the result. This week I was drawn into the weekly DPChallenge because so many of the blogs I like to read seemed to be writing extraordinarily wonderful pieces for it, and I became intrigued. The challenge has been posted by Rara:

This week, we’re asking you to consider things from a different point of view — to walk a mile in someone’s shoes. 

Well, I thought, that sounds like a bit of a giggle. Let’s try it out.

In previous lives I have run a few IT Helpdesks. You know the ones: you call up and a spotty adolescent rolls his or her eyes and tells you to try switching it off and on again. Then you call back and they ask you to open the computer up and reinstall the hard drive without a safety net. I have to say this should never have happened on my watch, although I have indeed talked a customer through opening up a computer to remove a CD their colleague had pushed inside the case for some inexplicable reason. I may have used the phrase “It’s fine, it’s just like Lego” a little more than necessary but we all survived.

Naturally I planned to write something that I always try to instil in my technical support teams about getting into the customer’s shoes.

Then my sub-conscious mugged me.

I sat at the keyboard expectantly and imagined my voice droning on at the team about how no one is born knowing Command Line. God, I was boring. I have a new appreciation for the patience of technical support staff now, given they were able to put up with that and not hunt me down with pitchforks and torches; although what they get up to World of Warcraft is their business so long as it’s not on company time.

So my brain stared at me and I stared at the keyboard.

“OK, Brain,” I said. “What else then?”

And all of a sudden I saw a picture of a maple leaf fluttering to the ground. I blame it on the fact I have been watching “Due South” all week.

“On no,” I muttered. But Brain was relentless.

Back in the autumn I attended a creative writing workshop, and even wrote about the experience in this very blog. If you remember it, or read it again now (I’ll wait – OK, ready?), I was rather overwhelmed at the fact I read a piece of my imaginative writing out loud to real humans. Today the Brain has decreed I should take this further and share it with you.

So, with a deep breath, I will. Allow me caveats first – it was a 5 minute exercise, and no time to edit. If I could just ask that you keep the giggling to a minimum I would be grateful Thank you, as they say, kindly.

For the piece we were asked to write about an experience of autumn, I wrote about how I felt as a two year old when we visited my aunt and uncle in Canada, and I saw the beautiful Canadian Fall. It blew my little English mind and is one of my happiest memories. In it I am warm and snug, with the cold air nipping my nose and my uncle holding my hand and telling me about things called Maple Trees, and my eyes are having a party with the colours.

The reason I am including it for this challenge is that in my little girl noggin I wanted to be up in the treetops too, with those brightly coloured leaves which I think I confused with fairies.

Autumn leaf

I want to be an autumn leaf, high in the trees, brightening and crinkling in the frost and sunshine. I can see for miles across the tree tops and everywhere are other leaves as bright and shining as me. We are singing in the light and cold air, just waiting to leap from the tree into the wind, and dance down to earth in our millions. We twist and shiver in the wind but the tree won’t let us go. We cover her in glory. We have to move on.

Why not have a go at this challenge yourself, if you haven’t already done so? Getting into someone else’s shoes is like an out of body experience. Have fun!

Namaste

Daily Prompt: Playlist of the Week

Tell us how your week went by putting together a playlist of  five songs that represent it.

Well my dears, I haven’t had time to tell you about my week, which included a cataract operation, a decision on The Project and Mother’s day dinner with my mother. So obviously the Daily Prompt felt that it needed to remind me to do so.

Fit the First:

On Wednesday I went across to Head Office in Leeds ahead of my operation because I knew I would have to avoid travelling for some time after it. The train was, as ever, crowded and a little late. It is ever thus.

That was not what was on my mind though. I was thinking about how we actually need another stop, like we used to have, to help all the harried commuters who live on the outskirts of York at Wigginton and Haxby. Every now and then they talk about restoring the station at Haxby which was torn out during the Beeching Evisceration of the railways on the 1960s. Flanders and Swann wrote a song about it at the time, called “Slow Train”. It’s very sad and sweet, rather different from most of their songs.

No-one departs, no-one arrives,
From Selby to Goole,
From St. Erth to St. Ives,
They all passed out of our lives

Fit the Second:

On Thursday I went to hospital for the cataract operation, the second of the two. Being Britain this was done under the auspices of the NHS, which meant I had a long wait between eye one and eye two, and then sat in a dingy room with five beds which was designed for four beds, surrounded by curtains which had a cheerful logo on about “Clean Hands Saves Lives” . The logo bothered me. I’m sure it should have said “Clean Hands Save Lives” but I suppose grammar has been cut to make savings. Sigoth couldn’t wait with me because there was no room for visitors so he went into town for the afternoon and came back about tea time to collect me.

In another bed an 85 year old woman was being sent home to manage on her own. She was blind, although the surgeon hoped to have given her some sight back, but she had no one with her. She will have to manage eye drops for four weeks. Eye drops are tricky beasts to wrangle. I dread to think what it is like to do them when you are 85 and mostly blind. Social care is also being cut along with grammar and ethics.

The surgeon was a delightful Dutch gentleman, fairly young and rather stressed because the 85 year old had blood pressure above 200 and he needed to operate on her first so she could get home before the transport system stopped at 5.30. Transport has been cut so it only runs during office hours regardless of what time you wake up from anaesthetics.

He gazed at me and said “Amazing! I’ve never seen anyone with Minus 24 before!” He was referring to my eyesight, in case you were wondering. I am used to it. It’s why I am having surgery. What it means is that they all pay attention and do a good job because it interests them.

They gave me a general anaesthetic and when I woke up the eye patch I was wearing made things a bit blurry, but I could see the surgeon smiling. Cue Jimmy Cliff and God Bless the NHS!

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright) sunshinin’ day

Fit the Third:

On Saturday I woke up, took off the eye patch and I could see. I could read the clock. I could see the knots in the ceiling beams. I could read the crossword clues to Sigoth. I could see the pattern on the curtains and on the duvet cover, and the veins in my hand. I could see the photos on the wall and the dust on the dressing table and the shadows to eh birds against the curtains as they flew past the window.

Really, I love science, and I love medicine and I loved that consultant for taking time out ina  really busy afternoon to run through the formula for the lens change three times to make sure he got he it as good as he could.

I have to praise you
I have to praise you like I should

Fit the Fourth:

On Sunday it was Mothers’ Day and we took my mother to the local pub for Sunday lunch. She enjoyed herself but couldn’t remember where we were going for the less than one minute drive (it less than ¼ mile from the house) or read the menu. She had fun though and I let her have a Knickerbocker Glory despite the diabetes.

We’ll build the world of our own that no one else can share
All our sorrows will leave far behind the stairs
And I know you will find there’ll be peace of mind
And we’ll live in a world of our own

Fit the Fifth:

Later on Sunday the Offspring who loves locally decided not to call me, but came over instead with a beautiful card. I was able to read it and I was so happy to see her and get the card and to Skype other Offspringses and I felt so blessed.

It was a cold day with snow on the wind. The weather forecast was grim so we stayed inside and lit a fire and drank tea. We have a song we sing when it’s cold. We nicked the tune from Lennon & Macca.

All you need is gloves!” we carol. “Gloves is all you need!

Epilogue

I haven’t even mentioned that I rang into a tele-conference on Friday to approve go ahead for The Project, so was feeling very chipper about that too.But I did. It’s been an amazing few days.

Next Wednesday I am back at the hospital to have a suture removed. They might need an entire opera for that.

Namaste.

The Reading Life

This week’s Mind the Gap: How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand? drew my attention….stand by your screens.

My name is EBL and I am a Geek. I work in IT and have done for too many years to admit. OK, it’s more than 25. Actually it’s 26. Some of you weren’t born when I set up my first server in Novell Netware and learned Edlin to handle the batch files.

Read the strap line: this is a nostalgia blog!

I am also a Book Nerd. I had read all the Junior Library books before I was ten and progressed to the Adult section under the watchful eye of the Lady at the Library, who was like a surrogate mother to me. I have no idea of her name, which now strikes me as odd, although it didn’t at the time.

I love books and I love gadgets. So e-readers should be a no-brainer.

And yet, and yet…

I only bought my device in April last year. I had not been impressed by the demos I saw in shops and was a little addicted to the smell of ink. You know the smell I mean; the smell when you open a new book, fresh from the publisher, and riffle those virgin pages. That inky scent wafts out and you are carried away in a haze of antici……

…pation (as Tim Curry would say), the first eyes to scan those pages, the first hands to turn them, smoothing them lovingly until they settle like anxious birds. Or is it just me?

The promise of being able to carry a reasonable library about in my bag seemed pretty appealing; I travel for work frequently so I could see where it would be helpful. I wouldn’t have to carry multiple books or face running out of something to read on those long, dark nights in the hotel room.

The ability to download instantly was a threat to the bank balance; but the option to trial a sample chapter addressed the risk of hasty and regrettable purchases. An e-reader would have saved me from some serious pain by letting me realise that just because some books are popular does not mean I am going to enjoy them (Dan Brown, I am looking at you).

The green credentials were appealing. Save those trees! OK, producing the actual thingummybob would have environmental impacts, but paper is a toxic process too, and we need forests to breathe for our sorry planet.

The final decider was the fact I could resize the text which was important because of my eye problems last year; I had built up three shelves of books which I couldn’t read during that time. It was physically painful to see them piling up and gathering dust, forlorn, unread, despondent and pitiful. One day, I promised them, one day….

So the e-reader was purchased and Project Gutenberg was raided for beloved classics at no cost. I discovered that I could get a newspaper delivered every day for less than the cost of a Sunday paper in the pulp. That was fantastic because where I live there is no newsagent accessible on my way to work, and who wants to read the paper at night?

I have been using the thing for about nine months, and I am using it less and less every day. As soon as I was able to read normal books I started doing so and rediscovered a love of dead tree. I love the feel and smell and heft of a book. What I have learned is that I integrate it all into the reading experience. By which I mean, I want to know how far through I am, really, not by looking at a progress bar. I want to be able to flick back and forth between chapters and stick my finger on a page two chapters ago because I remember a description or an event which is relevant to the story: what was he carrying; where was the car parked; what time did the clock on the mantelpiece say; what colour was the doctor’s coat, or hair, or front door? Sometimes it’s because the writer has made a mistake and jarred my reading, like a continuity error in a film; more often it’s a clue or a link that is important.

My e-reader presents the words, but not the sensory experience of a book. It has no personality. Whether I am reading Lord of the Rings (about 1700 pages) or The Snow Goose (about 50 pages) or a newspaper, the look and feel is the same. I left the thing lying around for over a week because I forgot about it and read a paper novel instead. I don’t forget paper novels, even when I want to (Dan Brown!).

I re-read one of my favourite books on the e-reader. I was completely unengaged. It was a shock. That is a book I read at least every couple of years because I love it so much, and every time it produces something new and interesting and beautiful I hadn’t noticed before. This time – nothing. I only knew how far through I was because I know the book so well. I had no real sense of progress while reading, no early heightened tension that I was nearing the end because the pages were running out, no feeling of achievement (not quite the word I want – perhaps commitment or solidarity with the writer?) as I looked back at pages read and a shared journey.

Immersing myself in a book is a complete and utter abandonment of the daily routine. I let go of the world around me and enter another, with all my heart and mind and even soul. It’s a risky business, opening a book. If you choose the wrong author they can scar you. It’s a drug, and you want to get the good stuff, not the stuff cut with something cheap and nasty and damaging, like the time we gave a friend a crumbled Oxo cube and told him it was top quality grass. He smoked it and told us it was really good shit, and couldn’t understand why we fell about laughing. Bless teenagers for their pranks. You don’t want an Oxo cube novel.

I’m sorry, dear little e-reader, I know you tried really hard. I do have some use for you, but it’s more restricted than either of us hoped. I still admire your sample chapters. I still like your text resizing when I am having an off-day. I appreciate being able to buy trashy novels really cheaply to fill my time, or download classic texts for nothing to enjoy. Let’s stay friends. Sadly you will never be able to replace my many shelves of dusty, crumbling books, some with pages yellowed and crumbling after only 40 years. You can’t replace my reference books yet, although one day one of your descendants will try.

Several years ago I read a book by Nicholas Negroponte about his vision of the future for technology and he talked about electronic newspapers. The e-readers we have don’t come close to what he recognised as essential – the feel and convenience of something you can roll up, fit into a pocket, that weighs almost nothing. My newspaper subscription is now cancelled. The thing doesn’t even update through the day. I was still reading the news websites to find out the latest on stories I was interested in. I now consume news on the go, and even an electronic newspaper fails to meet my learned expectation of instant gratification to know the latest regarding Richard III’s skeleton or the results of a by-election or the progress of snow from west to east. To be fair, that’s what “news” means.

I tried, my friends, I tried so hard to commit utterly and faithfully to my dear little e-reader. It was not its fault, it can only do what it can do, as can we all. Its limitations were built in and it performed mightily within them. We aren’t compatible for a full-time relationship, but I think we’ll keep in touch and spend the odd evening in each other’s company.

And in the end, is this the wisdom I have found? To work within the boundaries of what is, to work creatively and joyfully to find my way in reading to the fullest extent that I am able, and not to bemoan or begrudge what is not possible. I have choices I never used to have, and if the world does not meet my exacting expectations, then I can still obtain pleasure from what is around me. Those three or so shelves (maybe four, who’s counting?) are still waiting patiently for my time and attention, and it shall be theirs.

Namaste.

The Spirit of Willy Woodthorpe

19890611Ashford Woodthorpe Road School5Recently the daily prompt at WordPress asked me to write a memorial to part of my childhood that had been destroyed.

It’s not fashionable to admit liking school. Sometimes anti-intellectualism goes too far, and so I am here to tell you that school was happy for some of us, at least some of the time.  My secondary school was horrible, but primary – well, I lived in heaven for several years, my dears. I told you about one of my teachers there the other day. The fantastic Mr B.

It wasn’t just Mr B though; it was the school itself. It wasn’t Hogwarts (if Hogwarts ever had a prep school, which it didn’t, but never mind), with Houses and homework and ghosts – although allegedly there was a ghost in our classroom. I think Mr B made him up, but you can’t be too careful about these things. The ghost lived in the roofspace over our classroom; you see that big arched window in the main building? That was our classroom, and Willy Woodthorpe, the ghost, lived above it.  At the end of the day, when we were getting giddy, Mr B would sit us down and play his version of Sleeping Lions. We had to sit at our desks and not smile or giggle. Meanwhile he stalked among us, telling us about Willy Woodthorpe and making silly faces and noises until we cracked. The last one to laugh won.

When I say the school was special, I don’t mean the teachers, although most of them were fabulous. Except the one who threw the blackboard wiper at your head if she got cross. She was not fabulous at all. She was the threat we held over annoying kids.

“I’ll tell Miss Scary!”

That wasn’t her real name of course, although it was how we thought of her. I doubt she meant to be scary, but she did get quite angry quite often. She used crutches because she had had polio as a child, and so she was not very mobile. I suspect the throwing was compensation for a clip round the ear, which other teachers might have adopted.

Anyway, not the teachers. The school itself, the bricks and mortar and crumbly, fading glory of it that you could pick out of the cracks with prying fingers when you were bored.

It was typical of many schools of that age – high windows and ceilings, resulting in cold rooms with grumbling, clunky radiators fighting a losing, cantankerous battle, and a polished wooden floor in the main hall where we went to sing hymns and do gym (not at the same time). The stage had library shelves at the back which you were allowed to use once you were good enough at reading. It was brilliant. There were books about astronauts and dinosaurs and volcanoes, although sadly not all in one stupendous volume.

The playground had lots of nooks and crannies, because the building was so fractal on the edges. It was a bit like Slartibartfast’s fjords, lovely and crinkly, providing a baroque feel. By unspoken agreement, different year groups inhabited different areas. Once we were in the final year we took over the space outside our classroom and held manic conker competitions and pretended to be daleks and had fights and long, soul searching discussions on the benches (because it was almost, but not quite, time for puberty).

During playtimes we might see our mums going past on their way back from shopping in town, which meant we had to be reasonably well-behaved otherwise we would be in trouble at home time. There was a rain shelter (you can just see the edge of it on the left hand side of the photo; it’s the square brick wall poking in behind the railings) which only held about half the school complement on days it was wet, so the smaller children tended to steam slightly if they sat near a radiator on a wet afternoon. We always went outside at break, without exception. Blue knees were pretty common because the girls all had short skirts and the boys all had short trousers; the science class on circulation of the blood made complete sense once you had examined your mottled knees and realised your life was being sucked from you by vampire winds. Our mums knitted balaclavas to keep our ears warm, but knees were left to fend for themselves.

I suppose the school was hard to heat, although the kitchens cooked us hot dinners every day so it felt warm in the hall itself. The only way in and around was up and down stairs, which were problematic if you had difficulty walking, like Miss Scary, or like the boy in our year who had cerebral palsy. He took forever to get up to the classroom. At the time we just waited because that was how long he took, although some of the boys called him names when the teachers weren’t around.

The downside to this suburban idyll was the toilets. When I say toilets, don’t be fooled into imaging pristine water closets with working flush mechanisms and gleaming porcelain. This was the 1960s. They were in special blocks the other side of the playground, and they were unspeakably horrible. I suspect most of us, if we learned nothing else, learned top quality bladder control because really anything was preferable to having to use them. It was a wonder we didn’t all catch cholera, although if we had I expect we would still have had to go to school. You needed a cast iron excuse to be off sick, such as death, and even then only if your mum wrote a note.

Most of us were happy there. Most of us learned to read and write and add up enough to get by.

I also saw the first man walk on the moon one summer day, and discovered that not everyone speaks English when a couple of Chinese children arrived (no one actually explained but I suspect they were refugees). I had my first crush on an actual boy, won another boy’s best conker in a fluke attack, and did handstands against the toilet block walls with the other girls. I made a model of an archaeopteryx which hung for the rest of term from the classroom ceiling.

Admittedly I also learned some unsavoury lessons, such as: if I hit the boy who teased me, he got in trouble for teasing a girl, and no one believed I had hit him. He learned the game wasn’t worth the candle and left me and my friends alone afterwards.

Eventually the council got fed up with the crumbly old building and hazardous toilets. They sold it to the Salvation Army and this is what is there now.

But the spirit of Willy Woodthorpe lives on, and, to paraphrase appallingly, you can’t take my school from me. Cue fiddles!

Take my love, take my land

Take me where I cannot stand

I don’t care, I’m still free

You can’t take the sky my school from me.

 

Take me out to the black

Tell them I ain’t comin’ back

Burn the land and boil the sea

You can’t take the sky my school from me.

Know my school and you know me.

Namaste