Monday, 11 August 2008

The Fledgling

(when I wrote this gulls were nesting on the roof opposite the kitchen window, the youngest was ready to fly)

They told me that I have to live
Before I come to die
They told me that I have to fall
Before I learn to fly.

They told me that the path is long
And we must learn the way
To live and love and sing life’s song
Before the end of day.

Magellan’s Straits and Hudson’s Bay
I’ve sailed and see them all
I’ve plumbed the depths and scaled the heights
I’ve heard the bell bird’s call.

I’ve sung my way around the world
And laughed to hide my tears
As one by one those that I’ve loved
Are overcome by years.

I’ve lived and loved and run the course
The end is now in sight
I’ve fallen but I’m fully fledged
And ready to take flight.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Frog Prince

I had been in the garden with the dogs before locking up the house for the night. We were all glad to be going indoors for the rain had been falling steadily for hours and the garden was a sea of puddles. The light was on in the sitting room dimly lighting the conservatory and as I opened the door I thought a leaf blew in ahead of us. The younger dog ran ahead, sniffed the dark shape and backed off and I realised he was looking a very smallfrog. Pushing both dogs ahead of me I fetched a soft duster from under the stairs, dropped it over the frog and bent to pick it up. Too late, before I could hold it firmly it had slipped through my fingers and hopped through the door into the sitting room where it sheltered under my desk.
No good leaving it there, I thought, goodness knows where it would be by the morning. I would lose it and it might be months before I would find its small dried-out form behind a book case or some other piece of furniture too heavy to move in the general course of housework.
I waited quietly and eventually the dark stranger hopped out from under the desk making for the hall. It sat and gazed up at me, its dark eyes shining in the lamp light. I dropped the duster again and this time moved fast enough to grab its small form. As I carried it towards the garden door I felt its tiny cold body move in my cupped hand and I murmured ‘Don’t worry little one, I’m not going to kiss you and force you to turn into a human prince.’ Gently I released him into plants that grow around the pond and listened to the leaves rustling as he leaped away.
Will a handsome stranger knock on the door before I lock up tonight, I wondered. Of such things are fairy tales made!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Of Concertinas and Seagulls

I've just about got things sorted since getting back from Iceland although there are still lists of things I've got to get done like getting CRB checked, essential if I want to tell stories to children in libraries even though I will never be alone with them. Apparently I shall also need to get myself public liability insurance and though storytelling must be a low risk occupation premiums are very high and so far I've not found a specialist broker. The hunt continues. However all is not doom and gloom and the age of miracles, trust and generosity is far from over.
Two days ago I emailed a friend saying that as a storyteller I would love to have a small instrument to sing to and, as my ukalele is now only good for a wall decoration since it hit the cabin floor in a force nine gale (and that's another story) perhaps a concertina would be a good idea? Then I added 'am I quite mad?'
Yesterday morning the reply came back, 'No, not mad,' with a contact number. I rang the number and an encouraging voice gave me another number, a young mum called Carole. Half an hour later Carole, who I had never met before, was on my doorstep with a concertina for me to borrow 'for as long as you like!' I phoned a concertina specialist somewhere in the north of England for advice and told him, 'Oh,' he said, ' Concertina people are like that!
After such trust and kindness I've got to settle down and learn how to play it so, having trawled the net I'm printing off a free instruction manual. Fortunately I have a small room at the top of the house where I can practice in private and when I can escape for a few hours I shall be able to take it down to my Writing Hut where only the seagulls will be able to hear.
From the kitchen window I've been watching a pair of gulls raising three youngsters. They are very caring parents and got frantically worried when one chick fell from their nest on a chimney pot and slid down the roof into a gutter . They fed it, cajoled it and finally taught it to fly while still caring for the two remaining in the nest. Now the hen bird is enjoying a well earned rest sitting on the empty nest and gossiping with her friends sitting on the neighbouring chimney pots. Soon she will go too, but she and her life long partner will be back next year.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The land of ice and fire

I have longed to see the home of the Icelandic sagas since I was seven and still have the book that fired my imagination. Faced with fire in the landscape it is easy to understand how, when the first Vikings landed in 950AD they were convinced that the god Thor was in control, bashing out their fate on his anvil close beneath them. Trolls, now petrified in lava weathered by wind and time still inhabit the landscape, their dwellings are there for all to see. For a story teller this was a thrilling adventure.

The Icelandic people care for their fragile environment and waste nothing. Clouds of steam billow gently from cracks in the ground like trails of smoke left by the passing trains of my childhood. Modern technology has enabled them to harness the power underground where water is held at temperatures exceeding 300°C. Standing beside the steam emerging from the power station outside Reykjavik the ground vibrated with the energy of a primeval giant. It seemed as though nothing could prevent this monster from eventually breaking free.

Children don’t begin schooling until they are six and are not hemmed in by warnings of danger, real or imagined. As teenagers they are expected to do paid work for the community during their summer break and can be found cleaning the streets, working in municipal gardens or for older members of the community or, for those suitably gifted, working in museums demonstrating old skills, dancing, reading from the sagas or writing and putting on plays for younger children. I met some students in the museum in Akureyri, their English was excellent and spoke they with pride of their community and culture.

We had an RSPB party on board so bird watching was part of our itinerary. Among the fulmars swirling around our stern I saw a gannet drop out of the sky. Some days we were followed by clouds of artic terns; skuas were among the many birds I had never seen before and when we got to Haemaey puffins crowded the cliffs.

I have to confess that I have always found tour buses rather claustrophobic so I took advantage of an offer of a drive from Reykjavik to Thorsmork in a 4x4. Only seven of us volunteered as the majority didn’t fancy nine hours over rough ground. The truck turned out to be well padded and robustly sprung, very necessary as part of the way was over an ancient glacial moraine with descents into a river where we had to go down stream for fifty yards or so before scrambling up the other bank.

Like all holidays the end came far too quickly. I can’t speak highly enough of the care the crew of Spirit of Adventure took to ensure that every passenger enjoyed the cruise, from the Captain to the youngest steward fresh from the Philippines. Some of my travelling companions were very frail but no one was allowed to feel too old to take part in what ever appealed to them. We set off from Portsmouth into the teeth of storm force winds coming up the channel and met steep Atlantic rollers as we came down the west coast of Ireland. I was able to enjoy the gale, but did find the Atlantic swell a little uncomfortable. However I managed to sit down to every meal and enjoy the wonderful food which tasted even better because I hadn’t had to cook it. The Spirit of Adventure only carries 350 passengers and life on board is far more informal than in her bigger sisters Saga Rose and Saga Ruby. Her small size allows her to call into ports that couldn’t take larger ships, going into Haemaey would have been impossible fohad she been any bigger.

On the way to Iceland we visited Dublin and Tobermory, on the way home we stopped in Cork and Falmouth but to tell you about all of that would make this story far too long.

One thought remains to puzzle me. How did the Vikings manage to carry their sturdy little horses across stormy seas in open boats. Today the breed is still pure, they have never been crossed with any other breed and if one should leave Iceland for competition or sale it is not allowed to return.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

I came home from a holiday all ready and raring to go only to be faced with an overflowing in tray, a thousand emails, a pile of bills and we will draw a veil over the jobs waiting to be done on the domestic front. One thing I have achieved in the past week, I have launched my new web site When I closed Wellbeloved Gallery two years ago I have to confess I was well past the accepted sell by date but was far from ready to retire. The only answer was to create a new career. So far it is proving to be stimulating and fun, I certainly haven't time to be old yet! The only problem in my life at the moment is Muffin, the year old whippet. He seems to have intellectual ambitions. So far, apart from stealing a new pair of varifocal spectacles which will never be the same again, he has tried to turn on the television operatingn the remote control with his teeth (very expensive). He also likes to get to the newspaper first leaving it rather difficult for those who come after to read. Throw into the mix the fact that Sky, the lurcher bitch, has an obsessive interest in pens and biros and you can see that life has its problems.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

I came home from Iceland last week, full of excitement, overflowing with ideas that I wanted to commit to paper before they were lost in the business of daily routine. Then came the news that Bill is dead. We had known each other since childhood, a dear man who with his wife had done so much for so many, giving hospitality and kindliness to all who came within their orbit and suddenly she is a widow. As I sat at my desk feeling the bleakness of her loneliness I picked up the new anthology from Bloodaxe ‘In Person – 30 Poets’ and found myself looking at words by Jackie Kay -

‘And what I didn’t know or couldn’t say then
Was that she hadn’t really gone.
The dead don’t go till you do, loved ones.
The dead are still here holding our hands.’

Everything else must wait for another day.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

We need all the help we can get to save what remains of Portland's heritage for future generations. To learn more go to You will also find an ecellent video made by Stuart Morris, the island's historian on YouTube under 'Threat to Portland's Historic Landscape, World Heritage Site"'. Somehow we must stop the steam roller of commercial greed before it is too late. It may take a miracle but for those who care enough miracles can happen. Last week I wrote a letter to our local paper:-

Councillor Denton White is to be congratulated on his letter ‘We need an Action Plan on Quarrying’ Echo Tuesday 20 May. The fact that mistakes have been made in the past is no reason why we should not try and put them right today before irreparable damage is done. If we fail to act now future generations will be right to regard us as having let them down and allowed their inheritance to be destroyed.
Following the Local Government Act of 1974 unemployment on the Island became a very real problem. By 1978 it was 15%, far higher than on the main land, but our population was considered too small for anyone in authority to be interested. A small body of local people believed that something could and should be done. We raised enough money to buy old Saint Georges School and established a Man Power Services training scheme employing two hundred young people over two years, 80% of whom went on to get permanent employment. We established a Heritage and Community Centre which is still running successfully. We proved that Portland people could improve life on the Island when no one from away was prepared to do anything for us.
I hope that others of vision and determination will rise to Councillor Denton White’s challenge before it is too late.

An Island in Danger

As I get older I fight a losing battle with cynicism – it seems that the views of local people count for very little, that too many politicians, be they MPs, County Councillors even down to Town and Parish level, are only interested in guarding their own interests and lining their own pockets. I am writing this in the hope that some who have visited Portland may read this and wake up to the threat to the coastal strip that runs down to Portland Lighthouse.
Back in 1950 when our nation needed stone the Government over ruled the wishes of the local authority and now, as a result this precious strip of land is under threat of quarrying. Portland has been raped; there is no other word for it. To some it is infinitely precious, a place of outstanding natural beauty, a part of the Jurassic Coast, to others it has become a place to exploit and destroy. This is a wake up call, a hope that somehow the planned destruction can be halted. As soon as I have anything to report, news of action or other sites you can visit to find out more I will post it here.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Fish Surfers

This should really come before the last entry - a quick report on the developments in the last three months. The oral history project is going well if rather slowly, I really need a fourteen day week if I am to fit in everything I want to do. My first subject was an amazing man called George who, at ninety nine, still plays bowls twice a week and has more marbles than I shall ever have. When I called he had everything planned, stories, poems and even songs. I spent two evening with him and have been invited back for a third. Stones Speak, a monthly gathering to celebrate the spoken word is up and running, at our last session there were eighty nine years between the oldest and youngest readers and both read their own poems.
Sometimes I feel like one of the 'Fish Surfers' by David Brookes. Life is great so long as you never let go. Being a full time carer can be both lonely and frustrating. I was amazed to find that there are forty two thousand of us in Dorset alone, so goodness knows how many there are in the country. The majority are elderly, some are young parents with disabled children and some are children looking after disabled parents. Since Christmas we have launched a local carers support group which meets for a couple of hours once a month. Although the reason for getting together is serious and useful information is exchanged, there is a lot of laughter too and I go home feeling lighter and better able to cope with what ever life is going to throw at me next.

The Child Within

And still the rain pores down and the wind howls – yes really howls around the chimney pots. At last I have tidied the garage and the last of the boxes left from moving house two years ago are unpacked and I have repaired the damage done to a half built dolls’ house, a little one which will be an art gallery.
At the end of the war my grandmother’s dolls’ house came out of store and I was allowed to unpack and reassemble it. As a war time child I had been starved of toys but it didn’t matter because if you have never had toys you don’t miss them, we made our own. I had a hobby horse made from a stuffed sock on a bamboo stick, it had a bright yellow mane and angry red eyes – to me it was a magnificent charger which could get me out of any trouble, rearing on its hind legs before galloping through magical forests and over mountains to a palace full of delights where tables were loaded with jellies and cream cakes and clothes were always new and pretty and never hand-me-downs.
The dolls’ house was another sort of magic altogether. It didn’t call for the same kind of imagination because so much of it was real. I carefully unpacked everything a cook would need to be happy in a Victorian kitchen, pots and pans, a dresser and scrubbed wooden table, and plates of delicious food. Even the cook was there, a plump happy person ready to send up dinner to the family in the dining room above. A whole family lived in the house, father in a dark suit, mother in her crinoline, children including a baby in a pram with big wheels, as well as a butler, housemaid and footman. The greatest joy of all was a piano which, if you pressed the tiny keys and listened carefully answered in a tinny voice. After my mother died the dolls’house disappeared. Eventually I discovered some one had burnt it ‘because it had wood worm in the back.’ The shutters came down on my childhood.
Four years ago I had an unexpected wind fall, not a very large one, but enough to build a dolls’ house, not just for a child but for the child in me, to share with my seven year old grand daughter. At first we thought that there would be no people in it, we would inhabit it ourselves but, being rational individuals, we knew we would have to find a way of shrinking to one twelfth of our every day size. We discovered that if you look through the wrong end of binoculars everything appears much smaller, and if you look at yourself in a mirror you can make yourself look much smaller too. Some one whispered in my head the word ‘spyglass’ so I put that into Google and immediately there was my spyglass on eBay; brass, sleeved in mahogany and only eight inches long. A neighbouring teenager advised us and within a week we had the magic instrument we needed and we were able to enter another world where amazing things happened. In the basement of our house is a door which opens onto an ever changing view. Sometimes it is snow covered mountains, sometimes a wild desert, one day it will be a harbour side with a sailing ship about to caste off or it may be the drawer bridge to a fairy tale castle. I have never been able to find a piano that plays but there is a sewing machine with a needle that goes up and down when you turn the handle, a coffee grinder that makes a very convincing grinding noise, an easel and painters palette (Kezia loves painting) and a potters wheel for me and a lap top so I can go there and write about all our adventures.
Gradually other people have joined us in our magic world, the most important is Granny Oldham who sits at her spinning wheel and spins stories. She can see further through a brick wall than most for she has a crystal ball. At Christmas time she has been know to come to the front door to welcome passers by into her home.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Good Intentions for 2008

Resolutions seem to fail almost as soon as they are made so instead I call them my New Year Good Intentions and, to black mail myself into keeping them, I will record them here. They all revolve around writing (what else!)
The first is to clear the work surfaces in my room and I have promised myself to do that tomorrow morning.
The second is to get up an hour earlier every day. 'Earlier tha what?' I hear you say so I will rephrase that and say I will set my alarm for six and write before breakfast. (Having made it a blog entry I shall have to stick with that, won’t I!)
The third is exciting and well under way. I am now committed to recording the folk lore and legends of Portland. Having talked to a number of old friends and got their agreement to being interviewed I telephoned the County Conservationist this morning. I have been invited to meet her and the Archivist next week. I am to be given all the support I could possibly ask for including the loan of equipment and instruction on how to use it. I explained that I have a digital recorder but it seems that there is still some uncertainty about the durability of digital recording and if tapes are properly stored under the right conditions they are still considered preferable. This means I will be able to take a belt and braces approach and use both sets of equipment. I did confess that I had a hidden agenda, that I like to think of myself as a writer and storyteller, and got even more encouragement - all very heart warming and exciting.
Another plan is almost complete. Having taken part in the Speak Easy Club in Wimborne where people who enjoy the spoke word gather once a month to read aloud, either from favourite authors or their own work, I began to dream of something similar on Portland. Stones Speak is to take place in Whitestones Café – Gallery in Easton from 7pm on the first Tuesday of every month. Creative Dorset is sponsoring the first evening and if anyone who reads this is passing they will be made very welcome, whether they want to read or just listen in a café atmosphere where the wine and coffee are equally good.
The Open University has promised a third level creative writing course scheduled to start in September. Finances permitting I am planning to make time for that too. 2008 is going to be a full and exciting year.
There will be no danger of taking life too seriously as my new companion, being a collie cross, is highly intelligent and constantly thinking of new things she wants to investigate. When she stands on her back legs she can reach almost as high as I can so nothing is safe. If she finds a ball of wool (and she has managed to find several) she forgets she was born a dog and thinks she is a kitten - it can take hours to unravel her knitting and restore it to a knot free ball.