Note Number 77…The Times They are a Changing…

 

university

My university campus has all but closed down, and from next Monday all lectures and seminars will be online. I’ve been coughing since Friday and have self-isolated. Although, as there is no automatic testing in the UK I could just have a ‘seasonal cough’. .Thank goodness we live in the countryside and only The Man might be within a metre of me. . .

At the moment I can still walk the dog. It’s easy not to meet anyone. But, she has been a bit poorly. The vet kindly carried out a telephone consultation, (with me, not the dog) to diagnose the problem. . . she needed a special diet to sort out her ‘tummy troubles’. After couple of doses of paste from a tube, four ‘special’ (exceedingly expensive) meals. She is — as of this morning — right as rain. Is rain correct word? I think we’ve had a little too much of that lately. (I wonder how long we’ll have to keep on with the exceedingly expensive food? 

 

jpeg garden

Jpeg in happier sunny tummy days ….

diaper-clipart-incontinence-6

Could have done with one of these…

I am disappointed that my uni days are all but over. Now, everything is Skype, WhatsApp, and sharing work via email. I had so enjoyed going to the campus, meeting other students and attending lectures and seminars but. . .

learning

I think, the thing to do in these situations is to turn them to your advantage. I’m not using the car now. So travelling time to Exeter and back can now be recycled into writing time. It’s also making me a much greener person on the planet. Have you read how much difference the ‘lock downs’ are making to the environment already? China has much cleaner air and the canals in Venice are clearer and some dolphins have returned. Is this going to be a massive turning point for the world? I do hope so.

Back to my univeristy work. I have two deadlines, 27th April and 28th April, by which time I need to write two pieces of creative writing of 5000 words each plus one supporting essay and on annotated bibliography.

For the Prose Writing Workshop, I’m dabbling in memoir. For this submission, I also have to write an annotated bibliography using at least five books that I have read. I must give a short descrition of each book and explaination of how the book informed my writing.

My other module is Realism writing. Alongside my creative story, I must submit a 1,500 critial essay. . . I’m not so good at those. I cannot quite get that academic voice going but I’ve been practicing. The best way to learn about writing is by reading. I am at present drowning in novels, short stories, essays, academic how to books and online masterclasses. Phew!

My book shelf

Some of the books I’m currently reading

As well as flights and holidays, so many things are being cancelled. Today I received notification that an event scheduled for this July has been postoned until July 2021. The seriousness of the situation hit home. It’s a strange time to be living through, and it could be a long haul. Keep in touch with family and friends by whichever ways and means you can without putting yourself or others in jeopardy. We have a new grandchild. . . a little boy, but it seems it could be some while before we can give him anything but a virtual cuddle.

 

primrose

Spring is around the corner. . . 

PS. If you notice that this is note number 77 and you thought the last note was 77, you are correct. I had to delete a post from a couple of months ago. I couldn’t stand the numbers being out of sync so had to edit accordingly. Happy Days. x

Note Number 76…Quick Catch-up…

It’s almost the end of January 2020. Already the year is going too fast, and this is a particularly special year for me as I have a big birthday in October. But, before I get to that, I still have two terms of my MA to work through. I’m loving it. There is so much reading and writing to do. Who could complain about that? This will be a quick post because I have to finish reading the last story in Alice Munro’s Runaway, a book of short stories. Every single one was a great read.  I love the way her stories slowly unfold, and because of her ‘relaxed’ style of writing, I find myself easily drawn in and carried along. I never feel panicked or stressed when I read Alice Munro. Short stories are definitely back in fashion and thank goodness for that I say.

Alice Munro

How I Image Alice Munro Writes… How I write!

This term I’m taking two modules, and one of them is a Prose Writing Workshop. There are twelve of us in this module plus the lecturer. Three people each week write their stories and send them to the rest for a critique. I offered to be one of the first to send in work. It was an interesting experience. I sent in 2500 words of a memoir. They didn’t hold back! Everyone seemed to like the actual content, although I got the impression that quite a few thought I had tried to include too much information for a first chapter.  Looking at the suggestions and corrections, I decided they were correct in their comments. I will be able to go back and edit now with more confidence.

I do have a bit of a block about commas and general punctuation. I thought I was okay, but looking at all the ‘red markings’ on my work from my colleagues, I think I need to take a few lessons. Anybody got any suggestions for a good grammar book? Or anyone prepared to take on my ‘commas’ which seem to have a life of their own?

 

comms

 

Note Number 75…Pantomime Visit…and Mini Saga Competition Win…

Not a fan of pantomime? Neither am I, so it was a rather reluctant grandmother (or Nonna as they call me) who took her two granddaughters to see Cinderella  at the Pavillion Theatre in Weymouth. I managed to obtain three tickets in the front row of the balcony but the view was a little restricted because the balustrade was covered in thick velvet so unless you had a very long body you couldn’t quite see the front of the stage. Even with the booster seats the grandchilren could not see over. Anyway, minor problem as they stood on my lap or just stood up.

It turned out to be a very good show. Fast moving, lots of good quality dancing and singing from cast and chorus, bright and stylish costumes — including about 20 changes for the ugly sisters. At the very beginning of the show, the Fairy Godmother came on singing and half way through the song, she rose up into the air. My granddaughters’ faces showed total amazement.  She then floated up and out over the stalls all the kids were completed stunned and I was certainly impressed…I have no idea how they did it. I couldn’t see any wires. If you know how they achieved the illusion I’d love to know.

By elbowing my way through the crowds during the interval, I managed to get a ‘golden ticket’ for the eldest granddaughter, Evie, and she had a wonderful time dancing onstage with about twenty other star-struck kids. Highlight of the show for sure.

Evie Golden Ticket hand

The Golden Ticket!

 

Mini Saga Comp

toast

For the second year I entered the Yeovil Community Arts Association Mini Saga competition run in the Western Gazette and once again I was lucky enough to be one of the winners. *blushes for round of applause*  The theme this year was TOAST and I’ve included my little story here for you to read – especially for those who can’t rush out and buy a Western Gazette today as you live in another area of the county, country, continent or whatever. Just to make it clear, it’s a 50 word story and you are allowed up to 17 words in your title. So basically 67 words altogether.  Somebody suggested this little story might make a good short film. I think it might make a feature film! Remember you read it here first!

T.O.A.S.T – Telling Our Adventure Stories Together. The Evacuees Children’s Club. Five members. 1940 – 1946.

reading B&W

At the farm where we’d been placed. We told each other stories and ate toast. Scary Gothic tales; wild imaginings; exaggerated memories of our families and homes in London. After the war we continued meeting annually. Now, there’s only me left; telling stories to the wind, but still eating toast.

Old woman reading

 

©Ninette Hartley December 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note Number 74…University…O Yeah!

I began this blog a while ago and should have posted it but – university work got in the way…that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. (nice cliché there).

Photo on 20-10-2019 at 12.25

Thursday 19th September was Induction Day for Post Graduate Students and yes…that’s me, folks! I was excited, apprehensive…a little fish in a very big pond. I parked in the visitors’ carpark and paid the fee due (bit worried about this because after all I wasn’t a visitor but a S T U D E N T. But, a kind chap pointed out that they had no idea whose car it was so not to worry.

Queens Building, Streatham Campus. Lecture Theatre 2 was the designated venue for induction. I took my place early, and it soon filled up with PG students studying subjects under the school of Humanities, including, English, Archeology, Film, Creative Writing (my subject) and a few others.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when the Director of Taught Programmes arrived to welcome us. I thought the university must have employed him from an actors agency… he appeared how I imagine a professor should look. Long grey untidy hair tied back in a ponytail, a pair of glasses hanging on a string around his neck, open neck check shirt, baggy jacket, black waistcoat and corduroy trousers…I mean, honestly, it was Michael Caine in Educating Rita!

professor_skwirk_7

I have to admit to feeling my age on that first occasion. Looking around me, everyone appeared to be in their late twenties or thirties, just the odd, older person hiding in a corner or hunkering down in their seat, trying to look inconspicuous. But, I was relieved later in the day, when we were split into our separate groups to find several ‘mature’ students were studying Creative Writing. Phew! A good mixture, I would say.

Reading week was from 28th October. The first weeks have flown by and I am learning a great deal. At least I think I am. I’m certainly reading a great deal. Text books, poetry anthologies, short stories, newspaper articles, plays and scripts. My brain has trouble switching off in the evening.

This term, I’m studying a poetry module and a module in which I will learn, (hopefully) more about plotting – on an in-depth scale. You might be persuaded to think that 4 hours a week attending university is a doddle. . .let me put your right. I am expected to do 300 hours of work in twelve weeks for the poetry module, and I guess the same for the other. That’s 600 hours in twelve weeks. Now, I’m not very good at maths, but I think that works out at about 50 hours a week plus the four hours of lectures.

There wasn’t much let up over reading week either because, for the poetry module, Professor Andy Brown…he’s an inspiring teacher, asked us to prepare a 1000-word document, evaluating our progress to date, and my aims for the end of the module, plus a few poems, to show ‘how I’m doing.’  It’s wonderful, how much creativity Dr Andy Brown has encouraged and drawn out of his students so far.

For the other module, a 1000-word essay about The Map of Desire…a concept conceived by the tutor Sam North about the needs and desires of the protagonist in any story…moves the story on. It’s more complicated than I’ve made it sound, but you would need to read, The Instinctive Screenplay, to know more about it. The essay was written using the play Waiting for Godot…hmm, say no more. What’s the point anyway? 😂

Other News

I was shortlisted in the Charmouth 50-word story competition but not placed. I entered the Bridport Story slam but didn’t get anywhere. I performed at an open mike evening in Lyme and read out one of my ‘new’ poems saying, with great confidence, that it was a Pantoum. Only to realise later that the poem I performed was a Ghazal...haven’t learned that much then!

I had the grandchildren for two days in reading week; went to the Dinosaur Museum in Bridport and to see Farmageddon the Shaun the Sheep new movie. All good stuff. Keeps you young you know, and I have to do that, as I’ve just entered an important year, at the end of which I will be celebrating a big birthday.

 

 

Note Number 73…Sicily…

scopello 3

Scopello

I arrived at St Pancras from Paris, met up with The Man and we headed to Gatwick for an early flight to Palermo. We stayed at an airport hotel, the Hampton by Hilton. It was an average hotel for bed and board, and the best thing was the short walk from hotel to airport terminal, without having to go outside. We were able to check our bags in from 8pm the night before which allowed us to get up at the last minute and stroll to the departure gate in time for a 7am flight.

Sicily was hot, 30 degrees plus, but a dry heat and very pleasurable on arrival. Collecting the hire car was, – as usual, in Italy – a mission, and then driving it out of its parking space took the skill of a car-contortionist – or just a very good driver (me) with the unnecessary input of a back-seat-driver, (The Man).

We made it to our holiday rental home without mishap, only a slight disagreement with the sat nav we’d taken with us from England, so we resorted to google maps, which I have to say, took us around, for the rest of the trip, without a hitch.

I would like to take you on a tour of ancient ruins and wonderful cities, but, actually, despite good intentions to visit Agrigento, Palermo and possibly Ragusa (of Montalbano fame), we actually ended up staying within the confines of our local area, Scopello. We did manage trips to, San Vito Lo Capo, a beautiful seaside resort, with beaches and port; Trapani, a lovely old town once you find the old town; and, finally Castellmare del Golfo – our closest big town, with a port area, restaurants and shops.

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Our house was situated in Scopello, near to a nature reserve, beach and the village of itself, which although touristy, had many local visitors and offered a choice of bars and restaurants. We favoured a bar on the road from our house to Scopello, which had good coffee, great pastries and delicious arancini; a rice ball filled with cheese and ham, or ragu, or anything you like really. Going to try and make them at home sometime.

arancini-rice-balls

Arancini

The pool at the house was amazing…no other word for it…or perhaps ‘painful’ might fit.  It was ‘bio natural’ if you just walked in and swam around it was heaven,  but it had a sand base, (sandpaper more like) and although it wasn’t deep, some side areas sloped steeply into the pool and it was easy to scrape your toe on the side. (I’m still wearing the plaster). Delightfully, because I didn’t mind them, we were joined by some little frogs — shared pool took on another meaning. We bought appropriate foot wear to deal with the problem. Not sharing a photo!

The Pool, daytime, night-time and one of the dear little frogs.

Our experience of Sicily left me with mixed feelings. In the area where we were, the northwest of the island, its hills and mountains are very dry and obvious fire-burnt. Hardly any green vegetation at all, except on private land where watering night and morning was in evidence. We saw lots of little bush fires, either started deliberately or more likely by a cigarette thrown from a car. The fire engines were constantly on the go. Very close to the house there were blackened tree carcasses and singed olive trees. It must have been scary to be there when it was actually burning. We are used to Italy having lived there for several years, but Sicily was something else when it came to rubbish and drainage. The sides of the roads were littered with plastic bags, mattresses and bin bags full of goodness knows what. The collecting bins overflowing with detritus. There didn’t seem much of an effort for recycling. ‘They’re putting the glass and other recycling bins, out on the 1st October,’ we were told. Not a great deal of civic pride in evidence here.

On the first Tuesday we were there the rain came down – it was heavy when we were driving back from Trapani. The drains were unable to take the deluge, but they weren’t just overflowing they were ‘pumping’ the water out onto the roads…gallons of it. Instead of driving back down the main A187 we were driving down a river. Very scary. It appeared the drains were really only a couple of feet deep and covered with flimsy gratings. I wonder who was in charge of the original job?
For a few days, we were joined by a couple of friends from Le Marche, Italy (where we used to live), John and Tiziana – John cooked a couple of meals for us (Take note The Man!) and Tiziana was an inspiration to me – to take more exercise. I was a tad lazy in Sicily. We both walked down to our local coffee shop, and the men drove down to join us, for The Man to eat proper Sicilian Canolli – but hats off to her…Tiziana walked back up the 2k steep road, and almost beat us home! What a gal! It must be all the crisps she ate. I tried that but it didn’t work.

Canolli! – John and Tiziana…Tiziana walking…The Man and I in our favourite coffee shop. 

The Local Grocers…wine 2 euro a bottle…it was good too! 

I’ll leave you with this…don’t know who won and sorry about the bad language at the very end. 

 

Despite the few niggles, Sicily is a beautiful rugged country and I would definitely go back for a second visit. Next time, instead of lying by the pool all day, taking an occasional dip and reading three books. I will honestly get out and visit the ruins and see more of the country. In the meantime, I start my MA at Exeter, tomorrow, 23rd September. I’ve attended induction day already and I am very excited!

 

 

Note Number 72…36 Hours in Paris…27 kilometres walked…

This time last week (Thursday 5th September) I travelled to Paris on the Eurostar with my daughter Emily Rickard. She’s an Interior Stylist/Designer. For the last couple of years we’ve tried to get to MOM – Maison&Objet, a major French trade fair for interior design. At last we made it!

Neither of us had ever been on the Eurostar before and it had been over fifty years since I last visited Paris. Excited! Of course we had to start with champagne and nibbles.

euro star

Our seats weren’t the best, backward facing side by side but we soon moved to a table seat and were able to enjoy the journey with some space around us. A very smooth uneventful journey, except when I flushed the loo, the most terrible noise echoed around the whole train and I thought I’d pushed the emergency stop button by mistake. However the guard assured me it was just coincidence – the noise was something to do with going through a tunnel.

Apartment Building and our Entrance in the Courtyard

We found our Air B&B without a hitch although getting into it was a bit of a mission, the key box was hidden in a dark stairway. It was a loft apartment, on the ground floor, (aparently the description of ‘loft’ doesn’t mean it has to be in on a top floor or in the roof — news to me!). Modern and well laid out — I say that tongue in cheek as Emily had to climb a precarious ladder to her bed, as though in Nelson’s Navy and on top of that, the bathroom protruded into the living area, and had obscured glass walls except for the bottom couple of feet. Weird. If you didn’t know the person sharing your accommodation intimately at the begining of your stay, you sure did by the end. Anyway…enough let’s move on to Paris and the trade show.

Emily ‘feeling’ the floor mounted on the wall and Yes…my feet hurt too! 

It was enormous — several different halls at the Paris Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre, with themes from furniture, household items, gifts, clothing, fancy goods, games etc., exhibitors from all over the world. I was completely out of my depth but followed my boss (I was the assistant) holding her bag and hanging back when she was networking or asking sensible questions. I didn’t go much on some of the stuff she raved about but that’s a generational thing I expect.

Some weird and some wonderful…rabbit chairs? You’re kidding…the little blue one was more my style…not at all sure about the furry bunnies though. 

I really did like these lamps though…but not quite enough room in the Dorset Cottage for any of them.

Couple of Duck/Geese lamps and weird ‘dog-leg’ table 

Getting around Paris on the metro was a challenge, but between us we managed. My foreign language skills revert to Italian when I open my mouth to speak any other language but English. We took one taxi while we were there and the rest of the time we walked. Twenty-seven kilometres to be precise— yes 27 in two days. Amazing!

We went to the department store MERCI — very interesting place. Incredibly expensive but all set out like a second hand shop and jumble sale. There was a recycling theme going on at the time.

MERCI — a glimpse of the merchandise – My arty shot of Emily inside – the recycling fiat 500 outside 

We saw a big chunk of Paris but never got as far as The Louvre or the Eiffel Tower…next time. Enjoy the photos, I thought it was the best way to show you.

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Next blog…Sicily

Note Number 71. . .Seamus Heaney Home Place. . .

Me outside

Last Monday The Man and I were in Northern Ireland, and we took the opportunity to visit Seamus Heaney Home Place. It was the most inspirational few hours that I have spent in a long time. What a prodigious man. Not just a great poet but one prepared to mete out his knowledge to everyone. By coincidence, there was an article about Seamus Heaney,  in the Royal Society of Literature Review, waiting for me on my return from Ireland.  I was interested to read this quote, about his engagement with his thousands of correspondents,

‘. . . I have a feeling of responsibility towards those who want contact with poets or poetry.’

He replied to everyone who wrote to him.

He was, I think, an approachable man, someone who would easily chat to a person like me. Unfortunately, I will never get that chance. Seamus Heaney died in August 2013 at the age of 74. But, I did have the opportunity to visit the museum, in his birthplace of Bellaghy. I was able to listen to his voice reading his beautiful words. I was truly inspired. Sometimes, reading the work of a literary genius can just make you feel defeated, in the knowledge that you could never be that good but somehow, his voice, his infinite words, urged me on, to try and create some good poetry in my own voice.

Words

Dialect words used in Seamus Heaney Poetry — Witney, one of the guides at Home Place, printed out a glossary for me of over 100 words. I doubt I’ll be able to use any of them (I could try) but they make fascinating reading.

 

I’ve got the notebook, pencil, mug and a few anthologies. Time to put them to good use . .