Five minutes

This is the story of how EBL came to be blogging for your terror and delight. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

You see, last weekend I attended a writing day in nearby Pickering. I have never been to a writing day before so I was properly nervous about it. I had visions of reading out my drivelling word count to sniggers, and even roars, of derision; I felt I would never be brave enough to do that, but the very nice lady running the course assured me I would not have do any such thing if I didn’t want to. So off I went, admittedly with trepidation in my heart, but also hope and a flurry of antici…

…pation.

It’s a funny thing, my dears. I can happily witter on to you all with never a care in the world. You are patient and kind and tolerant. You don’t laugh in my face or make snide remarks in the post comments. I applaud you and thank you and am humbled by you.

I started playing about with this new blogging thing some years ago, largely to amuse myself, to understand the possibilities for work related projects, and to keep in touch with family and read their blogs. I had three or four blogs including this one, which is actually the newest. This is the secret blog. I didn’t tell anyone it was here and I used it to experiment a bit more. I hoped no one would read it, and to be fair, no one did. I still wrote in notebooks as well, and in fact I still do that now. Sometimes writing by hand on paper is simply the best way.

Then last Autumn I decided to give NaNoWriMo a pop. That all came about because I responded to a prompt or meme or something, and wrote a little story. The characters came alive in my head and a couple of people picked it up through the prompt tags and said nice things to me, which was a complete surprise and very frightening. Once in NaNoWriMo I made more links to people and by blogging my progress daily I got a few more comments and even a follower or two. Everyone was very nice and friendly and supportive so I felt braver and braver.

So when I saw the workshop advertised I decided to give it a go. I knew I would technically be free as I was due to have completed the software developments I was working on. So why not? I like to write and I like to get inspiration for writing. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, when the day arrived I was trying to make up all kinds of excuses for not going. I have mentioned a couple of times recently that I am a workaholic. One of the effects this has on me is to make me completely anti-social away from work. I feel stripped right back to the core and very vulnerable. I don’t socialise because I am always working. When I am required to meet humans I find it very difficult. I was never a sociable being in the first place, and the workload has helped me to withdraw further. I have recently recognised this pattern and I want to change it.

So there I was on Saturday, making excuses. Sigoth saw right through that. When I couldn’t find food for lunch he found me something to eat. When I didn’t know what to take he talked me through packing a bag (notebook, pen, lunch, phone in case I wanted to come home, money). When I missed the bus he gave me a lift.

In I went and helped make tea for everyone as I was a few minutes early. Tea making is a great soother. Once I had a tray set up and a pot brewing I felt better. People arrived and had drinks. Biscuits appeared and we all sat around for half an hour not being dangerously inquisitive abut each other’s writing, but just discussing the apples and plums on the trees, and recipes for chutney. I could manage that.

Then we went into the main room to start and it was very peaceful and there was soothing music and a candle and we heard the rules about how the day would go and it all felt safe. I could manage that too.

The technique we used on the day was based on the techniques used by Joanne Klassen and in particular we followed the Just 5 Minutes technique. With this, as the name suggests, you time yourself to write for just 5 minutes, then stop. It can be any nonsense but the idea is to keep writing even so. This is similar to The Artist’s Way and various other authors and guides to writing, so I was familiar with the idea and felt comfortable doing it. Everyone else also settled down pretty quickly and soon we were all scratching away merrily in our notebooks, all very privately. I could even manage that.

Our theme, unsurprisingly, was Autumn, and we used a number of prompts and triggers to do a series of five minute writing exercises, then talked about them in small groups of four. Some people read out what they had written. Others, myself included, did not. I couldn’t quite manage that bit.

In the final session of the day we had the chance to share one thing we had written or learned during the day. Most people now felt able to read out a piece, and as more and more people in the circle did so I became increasingly determined to overcome my own anxiety. I wanted to manage that!

Suddenly I seized my chance and said I would read out my imaginative piece. Everyone waited as I sorted myself out and started to read. It was very quiet afterwards. My ears became attuned to stifled amusement. I didn’t dare look at anyone. Not managing.

Then one of the others said she would like to hear it again.

I nearly died with embarrassment. Was it so garbled they hadn’t understood it? It is true I get carried away with wild flights of fancy, and friends and colleagues are often left bemused by my non sequiturs. I read it again, not at all sure I wasn’t going to cry. This was far worse than blogging. It was desperately humiliating. There were real people in the same room hearing me read.

There was another silence, then someone said they really liked it and someone else said it made them shiver. I took that to mean a good thing. One of them asked to take my book and read it out loud again. How strange the words sounded in another voice, as she stumbled over my scribbles.

I did plan to share it with you here, but won’t. It was a few short sentences written in just five minutes. It is small and insignificant on the page. You had to be there.

What I really wanted to share with you was my amazement and gratitude for the generosity of others, and my journey from secret blogger to bold, brave writer who fearlessly shared a paragraph with humans in real-space. I wanted to thank the people who helped me feel safe in a group of strangers.

Many of you are confident, shining writers who don’t need to be told you produce marvellous works (although it never hurts to say it). However, some of us are not so confident, and if you, like me, have no faith in yourself, then take heart.

Live adventurously. Be brave, and trust the kindness of strangers to shine a light on your path to help you find your way.

Namaste

 

Bloggers for Peace: Better to have loved and lost…

Can you have a relationship with someone you have never met? Can you have a relationship with a favourite author? Certainly in the Age of Celebrity there appear to be many people who think they have a relationship with characters from TV programmes or films, or with actors, whom they never can meet.

I am fairly confident in assuming that many of you are avid readers. Certainly I believe it to be so when you are such great writers. It does not follow that if I read I can also write; however, I am certain that if you write well, you must read broadly too.  So regardless of any pretensions to writing well, I will admit I do read broadly and will further assume that this is true for you as well.

I love certain authors. I never interact with them directly – well, almost never. Recently I felt very daring and left a message on a top author’s blog expressing gratitude for his books and letting him know how much they had meant to me over the very many years I had been reading him, since the 1984 in fact.

Do you have a favourite genre? I have probably said before that I am a big science fiction fan. I may be repeating myself (I’m too lazy to check) but one of the reasons I fell into a long term relationship with a number of science fiction authors, in my devil-may-care, the-more-the-merrier, I-read-around-a-bit way, was that I read an essay/article by someone erudite. It may have been Brian Aldiss, I’m not sure, but what he said was that the reason science fiction was an interesting, even essential, genre was that it gave you space to explore really big and difficult questions in new ways without the baggage. You could look at relationships and society and history and science and politics and elitism and autocrats and racism and human rights and, when you get right down to it, what it means to be a human being, with freedom and honesty and integrity. If you wanted. He suggested that when you were writing in the real world, you were constrained by real world limitations and expectations and the status quo. Actually he might not have said any of that, but it’s what I took away from whatever it was I read.

Science fiction was exciting at an intellectual level, not just a boys’-toys (excuse me, chaps), Flash Gordon, shoot-the-aliens kind of way. It had a weight and heft that mattered. Plus I learned all my science from Star Trek (and my history from Jean Plaidy but that’s another story, quite literally).

Within the honoured throng of writers there is one to whom I was devoted, because he wrote about really positive possibilities. He confronted difficulties and he didn’t fall into some kind of dystopian nightmare, framed by Ridley Scott in rain and darkness (yes, I do mean Bladerunner – as if Philip K Dick wasn’t depressing enough in print). He saw people overcoming our current idiocies and taking science and prodding serious buttock with it until we had a society worth living in. There was also pain and despair and very dark humour, and exciting spaceship fights begging to be screened at an IMAX, and artificial intelligence that was cool and clever and actually quite human at the same time.

Obviously a humble purchaser of his books such as myself would never dream of crossing his shadow. He was too clever and cool and brilliant for the likes of me. I bought everything he published, science fiction or not, and it was all amazing (well, maybe one dud if I am truthful).

On 3rd April Iain Banks announced that he was unwell; that in fact he had been diagnosed with late stage gall bladder cancer.  I signed his message board to express my sorrow and appreciation.

On Sunday, 9th June, he died.

Can we have relationships with people we have never met. I’m not sure. Do we need reciprocity? Does his writing books and my consuming books represent more than symbiosis? And is symbiosis a relationship of a kind?

I don’t know, but I feel a loss, and am sad to think I will never read new books by him. There are fantastic new writers to meet yet, but each writer is unique and so cannot be replaced. Iain Banks’ warmth and humour and challenge will be hard to follow. He railed against stupidity and promoted compassion. He helped me think about what it means to be human. He wrote many wonderful things, but in summary they all come to this:

“Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.”
Iain Banks, Against a Dark Background

Meanwhile, read other blogs participating in this month’s Bloggers for Peace Challenge:

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/05/28/monthly-peace-challenge-peace-at-home/

http://mylittlespacebook.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/what-do-duck-fights-have-to-do-with-peace/

http://cpgutierrez.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/accepting-the-challenge/#comment-2568

http://retiredruth.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/monthly-peace-challenge/

http://ponderingspawned.com/2013/06/11/sing-sweet-nightingale/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Namaste.

What I did on my holidays

Did you miss me? I know, I know, but I’m very proud of how you coped without me, and I’m back now.

Lindisfarne Abbey

I went on a little holiday, a few days up north on the Northumbria coast just opposite Lindisfarne. It’s one of my favourite places and we had a wonderful rest. We forswore the Internet for five whole days. Somehow when I got back home I found I didn’t want to go back on-line. The thought of all the blogs and emails and news and social feeds and stuff was just too much.

Sigoth felt similarly so we decided to spend more time de-cluttering when we got home and have made many trips to the dump and to charity shops with our un-necessities. I even resigned from Governors. We feel like we are entering a new phase of our lives; it’s an age thing I suppose.

In any case, here in the northern hemisphere the world is turning its face to the sun and the evenings are filled with light until bedtime and the birds are up and shouting outside my window before 4 am. In those circumstances my mood changes and I want to be doing different things, or perhaps similar things differently.

Does that happen to you? In the summer I like to work more with my hands. Even though it’s hotter (well, a bit; this is England after all) I still want to knit. Fortunately I seem to have numerous young colleagues procreating so baby items are the order of the day. I take the camera out and about to photograph yet more trees and fields and birds, fuzzily and with a tendency to a slope down on the right.  I bake scones for Sunday tea in the garden.

In the winter I read and write and spend time on-line. I knit still, blankets and chunky jumpers. It’s all about cosying up in front of the fire with the lights on as the sun teases me with a quick game of peek-a-boo for a few minutes around lunchtime, then goes off to play with the more popular clouds in the South. If it’s not too cold I take photos of frost on spider webs, or the snowy lane. I make soup and casseroles.

This summer the Internet just felt winterish. I can’t explain it any other way. So I took extended leave and did the other things for a few more weeks. Today I have spent a larger than usual amount of time reflecting on things, with a quick spot of meditation after waking up, some meditative circle dancing, and then meetings for worship and for business (these latter two being Quakerly activities). I realised that I don’t want to stop blogging and that I needed to ease back into it at my own pace.

So that is that and here we are. It felt odd not to miss the blogging but to miss the bloggers. I hope you are well. I don’t think I will have time to catch up properly with you all, but I have been thinking about you nevertheless, wishing you peace and joy and perfect happiness.

No doubt come the solstice as the Great Wheel turns again, I will find my way back to keyboard more often. EBL at her computer is as seasonal as the Canada Geese on the reservoir. Some winters they stay longer and some they leave sooner, but every year they return.

Namaste.

 

EBL to Her Coy Reader

It’s as well I don’t aim to blog every day or even every few days. My life is bursty. I live in bursts. Take last week for example.

I was away for work, stuck in a hotel room with no Internet connection. I could have paid for Internet if I had wanted to, but it was expensive (in my mind) and I was out and about so much that it didn’t seem worth it. Most evenings I didn’t get back to my room until nearly ten o’clock, exhausted and too brain-dead to string together any sentences, let alone read those produced by others.

So it goes, my dears. At times I write extensively, just as I did for NaNoWriMo; at others I read more, or exercise, or I knit, or I play games, or learn a new language, or I get involved in some project or other. I also volunteer as a school governor and help to write quizzes every fortnight for the Village Hall funds. I am a Jill of all trades and mistress of none. I can’t do everything at once so I do things in turn. Last week I worked.

I also socialised. I am not a social animal by nature, but when I am away in Leeds I like to catch up with the local Offspring, and a friend who also works in Leeds, and colleagues whom I usually only meet by telephone. On Monday night for example I worked late at the office with one colleague and we went for a pint after to get over it.

One thing drives out another and I realised I have blogs I want to write this month and have not yet done. Next week I have some time off so perhaps I will do them then.

But is it just me? I am interested in so many incompatible things and cannot choose. I end up doing all of them superficially. When I was at school I couldn’t decide on subjects to study. If you ask me about hobbies I am likely to say I have none, almost because there are so many things I want to do that I can’t settle on one.

Andrew Marvell had it right – there is not enough time. It’s true he was just trying to get his lover into bed, but the same principle applies. There’s no blogging from the grave.

In haste, and in eternity, Namaste!

How not to be Wu Wei

The wondrous Rarasaur has created “Prompts for the Promptless” to expand minds, share ideas, and — equally importantly find something about which to blog.

This week, Rara has presented us with Wu Wei as the topic.

Wu wei, or non-doing, is a Taoist practice involving letting one’s action follow the simple and spontaneous course of nature rather than interfering with the harmonious working of universal law by imposing arbitrary and artificial forms.  In other words, it is the action of non-action.

They say, by which I mean someone once said to me, that when you are learning to drive you know you’ve got it when you stop thinking consciously about the gears and the clutch everything, and you just drive. Eventually through perseverance and practice learned behaviours appear natural. They are performed unconsciously. They flow.

I think the definition of Wu Wei is not quite that, though. It’s about being natural. A human being does very little that is natural. Look at a new born baby. It can breathe, excrete, feed, sleep and cry. After a relatively short space of time, once its eyes focus, it smiles unknowingly at anything with dots arranged like the eyes, nose and mouth of a human face.  This reflex assists bonding with the parent and is a reflexive survival instinct. Otherwise humans are pretty much artificial beings.

Trees, now. Trees don’t go through a learning phase where they start with absorbing water and end up catalysing chlorophyll. They don’t, as far as I know, suffer existential anxiety about whether really they should be a shrub  or a daisy or possibly moss. They don’t ask what it’s all about anyway when you get right down to it, or have tantrums or a rebellious teenage phase stomping about the forest, slamming branches or experimenting with fertiliser. They rarely gambol in the fields, although they may whisper breathy tales in  windy, storm-tossed darkness about ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties and things that go bump in the night, if only to scare the saplings. They do not learn. They simply are. They are natural beings.

You will have spotted at once, my dears, that EBL is equating natural with instinctive, and artificial with learned. This is my distinction, and I am using it for the sake of the post. I am open to new ideas from whatever quarter they may come. My mind is a very field of dreams, with gusts of frantic randomness billowing through it. Different interpretaions can and do apply. Etc.

The principle of Wu Wei then, for me as a non-Taoist and complete novice to the concept, is that we learn to predict a natural response and enact it, without thinking.

This may be why I cannot claim, yet, to be a Tao-ist. EBL makes a note to read the Tao of Pooh as soon as possible. When all else fails, a teddy bear may help. It is a sound principle.

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”
― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Oh, that makes sense. Thanks, Pooh!

This has been EBL over-thinking like some kind of Anti-Tao-ist. It’s a classic example of how not to be Wu Wei.

Namaste.

Blog Awards

Well, EBL is red-faced with embarrassment. Two blog awards have pinged my way recently and I am lost for words. In fact the reason I didn’t respond immediately was that I was lost for words. Enjoy that while it lasted, gentle readers: normal drivel is now resumed!

liebster-blog-awardFirst up, I accept with delight and with intense amazement.the Liebster Blog Award from Authentic Talk at: http://leazengage.wordpress.com

Thank you very much!

Secondly, I am thrilled and somewhat shell-shocked to accept the Reality Blog Award from Ponderings at http://ponderingspawned.com/category/ponderings

realityaward

I never thought I would be the recipient of one of the blog awards that go around, so I am more than a little stunned to receive two almost at once. It feels like something that happens to other people.

I know many people whose blogs I read are old hands at such things, but then their blogs are better, so that is as it should be. Seriously I am quite shocked.

Anyway, I’ll give it a go and see what happens.

Liebster Blog Award Rules

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to their blog.

2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself and create 11 questions for your nominees.

3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 bloggers who you feel deserve to be noticed. These blogs must have 200 followers or less. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated by you.

4. Copy and paste the blog award on your blog. Post all the items listed in item 2 on your blog also.

My Answers to the 11 Questions from AUTHENTIC TALK:

What is important to you?

Honesty. It’s going to make the next 10 answers difficult.

Why do you blog?

I have always liked writing and I find that it is good for my mental well-being. By committing to a blog I am more likely to write, mainly because other bloggers comment and inspire me further. Surprisingly this did not happen with my paper journal.

Do you like art, music, fitness, nature?

Why yes, I do! They are Good Things. However, my appreciation is often very basic, and I find keeping fit very hard in particular, being of Middle Age and Genetically Undextrous. The things I like even better than those things, as in really like, are literature (unless that comes under art – but then so much does that I feel the need to draw a line), learning new things, playing games, being with family/friends, knitting, and making soup. Not necessarily in that order and rarely all at once.

What has surprised you recently?

Blog awards!

The other surprise was running out of wool when finishing a jacket. I am at an impasse trying to work out how to sew it up now because I am terrible at sewing up and the stitching will show with different wool. <Frowny face>. This may genuinely represent an occasion when eBay is a Force for Good in the world.

Are there any other online communities, besides the blogger world, that you belong to? Do you like them? Why? If you’d like, feel free to provide links.

Actually I’m not a huge fan of the on-line world, although I do enjoy the new experiences it brings and the people I meet virtually. I use other social media to keep in touch with friends from the meatspace. I like to look stuff up or download a programme I missed on TV or order items to be delivered. However, I prefer to interface with compatible fleshware in co-terminous time/space coordinates over a glass of something unsuitably alcoholic whenever possible. I am EBL, and I am retro.

When are you happiest?

Friday night at home with a glass of wine, my Significant Other, and a sense of another week achieved.

What is your favorite food?

Balti palak paneer. It is unfailingly delicious. There is nothing else to say, unless it’s “Seconds? Why, thank you!”.

What is your favorite season?

Autumn: intense colours, conkers, mists and mellow fruitfulness, that back-to-school feeling, new beginnings (strangely, but probably due to the school thing), nearly Christmas, bonfires and fireworks and pumpkin pies, proper dark nights, frost on spider webs, pale blue skies, hot chocolate, snuggly jumpers, home made soups, new Dr Who starting, ghost stories, a real fire….

Do you own indoor plants?

I share my life with a few friends of the vegetable persuasion.

I have a Christmas cactus grown from my aunt’s plant, which she gave me when I was about 13 or 14. That would make it almost 40 years old. There is also a spider plant dating back to a similar time. Those plants have been with me through thick and thin.

We inherited a fern from Sigoth’s Granny when she died and it thrives on our window sill, keeping her a place in our home too. I also adopted a cordyline when a friend changed jobs and had to leave it behind. It reminds me of her.

There are a couple of other plants which were gifts more recently, and we are getting to know one another. I am pleased to say we have reached a good rapport.

Who has inspired you in your life?

My father, and an extraordinary teacher I had at primary school.

I wrote a post about the latter recently in fact.

Do you like answering these kinds of questions?

Not really. I find them difficult. I am sure my answers are not of much interest, although I enjoy reading other people’s responses so feel obliged to do my best. It is not my normal blog style, but it’s interesting to try something new. I thought quite hard about whether to accept these awards, but the main point of them is to share other blogs more widely so I decided they were a good thing.

11 Random Facts About Me:

  1. I love getting older. It feels like I am breaking free because I care less about what other people think and more about living a life I am proud of, no matter how insignificant.
  2. I work in IT but dislike desktop computers immensely. They are badly designed and confusing and expect humans to adapt to them, when it should be the other way around.
  3. I was born by emergency caesarean a month early. My dad built the nursery furniture in the month my mother and I were in the hospital.
  4. My children are better people than I will ever be.
  5. I want to go into space and see the earth from the outside and the stars without interfering atmospherics.
  6. I learned to play classical guitar at school but cannot strum.
  7. I keep my hair long because I still have a crush on Mary Hopkin after 45 years.
  8. I love science fiction because it allows us to examine questions about what it means to be human, plus who can resist a roaring good space battle, a split in the fabric of the space-time continuum, or a Grandfather Paradox?
  9. I love science but studied languages, which I found easier.
  10. I went to watch England play South Africa at Twickenham once and screamed so loudly I lost my voice, although it was worth it because we won the match. For those unsure, I am referring to rugby union.
  11. I once won First Prize in the Village Show Photo Competition.

The 11 Questions for my Nominees to Answer:

  1. If you were reincarnated, who/what would you like to be?
  2. What is your earliest memory?
  3. What is your favourite music?
  4. What three words would your best friend use to describe you?
  5. How do you feel about the place you live?
  6. What would be the one thing you would do if you were World Ruler for a day?
  7. What is your favourite story?
  8. Do you prefer the mountains or the sea?
  9. If you were stuck for 18 months in a space capsule going to Mars, what would you miss the most from home?
  10. Who is the greatest person in history?
  11. What is your favourite word?

My 11 Nominees are:

  1. http://alisonmay.wordpress.com/
  2. http://backontherock.com/
  3. http://elappleby.wordpress.com/
  4. http://adifferentdaylight.wordpress.com/
  5. http://farawayinthesunshine.wordpress.com/
  6. http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/
  7. http://ellengreycarter.wordpress.com/
  8. http://cpgutierrez.wordpress.com/

There is a Quaker Blog Project in 2013 to look at an A-Z of Quaker Experience. And three bloggers I enjoy reading as part of it are:

  1. http://stumblingstepping.blogspot.co.uk/
  2. http://brigidfoxandbuddha.wordpress.com/
  3. http://www.stephanie-blog.co.uk/

Please go and say hello to these lovely bloggers!

Now for the Reality Blog Award! from Ponderings

The rules of this award are as follows:

1. Visit and thank the blogger who nominated you
2. Display the award on your blog somewhere
3. Acknowledge the blogger on your blog and link back to them.
4. Answer the 5 simple questions about yourself.
5. Nominate as many as 20 bloggers for this award and notify them.

Here are the five questions set for me:

What encouraged you to begin blogging, and how has the experience affected your life?

I started blogging to keep in touch with my eldest child when he went to university. It was a way of holding a more in-depth conversation without long, expensive phone calls or timing issues. I liked writing anyway so it was not a great leap; I was mainly concerned that other people might read it and tried not to be found. More recently I have ventured further afield and made new blogging friends, and am enjoying the whole experience!

What is your favorite wordpress feature?

I like the Daily Prompt. I used to use Plinky but it got silly although I found some great bloggers that way.

To date, what would you say you are most proud of having posted, and why (don’t forget to include a link)? 

I think it’s the post where I admit to my own depression. It’s not cheerful but I was scared to put that in the public domain and have been grateful for the responses.

https://electronicbaglady.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/black-dog/

What role does writing play in your life?

Writing is good for my mental well being, as I said in the earlier question. Plus I like the sound of my own voice. What’s not to enjoy in blogging?

If you had to do a character sketch based on yourself, would you like the character? Is there anything you would change?

I’m not very positive about myself, so a character sketch might not turn out well. At best I’d feel sorry for me, for being so timid and slow to change and risk-averse. I see little to celebrate.

More blogs to read:

http://grandmalin.wordpress.com/

http://knockedoverbyafeather.wordpress.com/

http://cardcastlesinthesky.wordpress.com/

Show them some bags of love!

For those of you still with me – I salute your stamina. Namaste!

Hopefully

Hopefully, my dears, I will be posting this to you soon. I travel in hope as I write this, as WordPress has decided to block my ability to post because my blog content is causing concern.

Well, how very exciting! I haven’t felt this excited since being phone-tapped in the 1980s for being undesirable. It makes me feel positively young again. The phone tapping thing was because we were caretakers at the local Quaker Meeting House, and I also worked at Friends House in London. I suspect they just listened in automatically. They would have been treated to some very mundane conversations, but obviously it was all code.

“Hello, Someplace Friends Meeting House.”

“I’d like to book the hall for Saturday 5th all day please, in the name of Someplace Embroiderers.”

“Oh, hello, you’ve booked before, haven’t you? That’s fine, it’s free then. Is that all day or just half a day?”

“All day please, with access to the kitchen.”

“OK, that will be an extra £10. Please be aware we do not allow alcohol on the premises.”

And so on. Clearly all a deadly plot against HMG. At no point did we discuss the geese flying south for the winter, or the clouds hanging low over London, although it was tempting.

The Embroiderers are not a joke though. We also hired out meeting rooms at Friends House and the National Front was always trying to book the large hall because it was cheap, capacious and handy for various stations. We had them blacklisted but they remained hopeful too. They booked once as an Embroidery Guild and we only realised when lots of shaven-headed young men in bovver boots arrived for the meeting. Now I don’t mean to be stereotypist here, but generally such sartorial elegance is negatively correlated with a keen interest in artistic sewing. Upon challenge it turned out they were, in fact, not the Embroidery Guild and so were asked to leave.

So here I am, writing to you from the equivalent of Solitary Confinement until WordPress respond to my cries for help. If they take too long there will be a mighty storm of posting to catch me up. I look on it as a way to learn patience. I’m learning as quick as I can! Hopefully.

Namaste.

And thanks to the Kindly Elves at WordPress my account was restored in under 24 hours. Thanks, guys! Although can I say I am slightly disappointed not to be considered a radical threat to society after all…

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

 

EBL’s One and Only Style Guide

Lately my mind has been distracted by thoughts of writing. Ooh, look, pretty, pretty writing!

In particular, by thoughts about my own writing, why it is so rubbish, whether I have the capacity or intention to improve it.

Let me take you, back, dear friends, to last November. I finally succumbed and signed up for NaNoWriMo because an idea for a novel had been rumbling in my brain and I had managed to work out what that novel was. I wrote like a demon, in the sputtering glare of candles made from the tallow-grease of bankers, my quill dripping scorching acid on the vellum of politician hide. I wrote my quota, oh yes. It was all about the numbers.

Now I would quite like to turn my carefully numbered words into beautifully crafted words, but I don’t know how. I read and re-read. I am occasionally struck by a passage and think, “Not too bad, that bit!” Then I remember Johnson’s sage advice:

“I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: ‘Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.'”
Boswell: Life of Johnson

My heart sinks. How can I know what is good?

I read all the advice and guidance, I read the blogs. So many of you write so beautifully and so wisely about how to write. I yearn to emulate your creativity. I started to try to write every day, and to read more, paying attention to the structure and craft as well as the story. I bought John Banfield, for heaven’s sake!

What I have learned is:

  1. Writing here almost every day is fun and means I can avoid my novel
  2. Writing here almost every day relates to my novel very little
  3. I enjoy writing here more than writing my novel

I write in this blog in a stream-of-consciousness, conversational, devil-may-care way. It’s not supposed to be great literature (which is just as well), and it’s not supposed to be eternal (also just as well, although ironically thanks to Internet caches it may well outlast some novels). It’s a bit of fun, a playground to try out new things occasionally, and a chance to share toys with other kids.

I have written in a number of styles: academic texts and papers; work reports and strategies; letters; teenage poetry (not so much a style as a hormonal imbalance). I can do them all fairly well (except the poetry), and have been told so directly so I am confident of it.  I have never written a novel, although I have read thousands.

The styles, my dears, are not at all the same. This is not a Huge Revelation, but what I am learning is that I may prefer blog-style, and may never finish my novel. I am a little sad about that because I am still quite passionate about the story and I would like to share it. It still perturbs my thoughts and prods me to pay it attention.

I have too many hobbies, and no matter how I structure my life I must decide whether to focus on a Great Work, or dabble at the water’s edge, tracing lines in the sand. My confidence suggests dabbling is less risky; I can’t really fail badly at it, or if I do, it doesn’t matter. This approach has driven my life, but lately I am more inclined to take greater risks and reap greater rewards; I am starting to grow into my purple.

Fear, as we know, is the source of conflict (hey, bloggers4peace – got you in again!), and I am conflicted.

And I enjoy your company so very much.

Namaste.

 

Share the love

I have been messing about in the blogosphere for some time, and only recently started to take it more seriously and build it into the fabric of my routine. Well, I say “routine”. Anyone who visits EBL more than once will realise that I am using the term in a very loose sense here, as in “not really a routine at all”.

There are a few blogs I read regularly which I find interesting or inspiring or just downright entertaining. Recently one of these writers suggested writing a post about why I read her blog regularly, what I liked and what I wanted from her in the coming year. Step forward, bottledworder!

It seemed a great idea to spend time thinking positively about other blogs rather than whinging about my own. So here we go.

The main reason I enjoy reading BW is that the posts are well constructed, clearly signposted, planned and full of good ideas and suggestions I can consider for my own writing. The failure to translate this wealth into quality blogging is all my own, but I have been adapting some of those posts for the Great NaNoWriMo Endeavour, and generally taking posting a bit more seriously. Some of us are born to blogging, others have it thrust upon us. I just kind of fell into a blog-pit and am planning to build an escape ladder with words. Life, eh?

Back to the purpose of this post, though. I like it that BW writes about her writing in an accessible way and shares her experiences generously with the rest of us. She engages readers very directly and pertinently – something I am yet shy to do as I am still nervous of blogging. I love you all for reading, but am terrible at telling you so.

So far, so fan-girl, and a bit dry. Honestly, just go read it. It’s good.

And yet – there is something else I enjoy about blogs that I would like to see more in BW in 2013. It is present, but not as extensively. It is this: more emotional intelligence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s there. Just not as often as the helpful, but factual and relatively unemotional, tips on blogging. Give me passion, BW, with ripped bodices, heaving bosoms and heart-stopping tension. Well, maybe not all those, but as the most popular stories to share are allegedly positive and emotion-rich, perhaps it is a strategy worthy of pursuit and conquest.

I enjoy reading bloggers for their ability to share experience of life, of how they feel, how they perceive the world (good or bad) and how they resolve the questions of existence. They might not put it like that, but that is how I, in turn interpret their writing.

The reason I pick up on this is because recently BW’s readers were commenting on what they like about blogs, and again the emotional connection was a recurring theme.

By reading a blog regularly and potentially by engaging through comments I start to meet new people and find new perspectives. I do a fairly mundane job, live a privileged life in a comfortable house with a great partner. Generally I am pretty OK. There are challenges, as with any life. Dementia, depression, redundancy, social conscience, people not doing what I want, lack of time, lack of ability, lack of choice, lack of cash, lack of public transport, not always getting my own way.  Blogging connects me to others going through or having survived all these and more. It can give me hope or strategies or tools to get through the day.

In fact, my dears, the more I think about it, writing a blog feels like trying to meet the needs of others, but it’s the reading of other blogs that’s all about me and what I need. I would have thought it was the other way round before I began this journey.

So, BW, I enjoy sucking your soul dry. In exchange, you are welcome to consume my little aura if it should please you.

And not one to shirk a challenge, what can EBL offer you, dear, patient reader, in 2013?

The great thing about blogging is that, like love, the output is infinite, if variously effective: if one reader takes it all away to read, yet still it is left behind for everyone else to consume as well. It’s a kind of magic.

Namaste.