Virtual Stress

I’m feeling overwhelmed and I’m only at the beginning of a ten week, ten point, OU photography course. As always with the OU there are forums and because I’m looking out for locals and trying to get the best learning experience I’m reading most of the entries. We all strive to slot ourselves into place in groups, in this case to find where we are on the scale of photo duffer to Cartier-Bresson and having looked at lots of other students work, I feel comfortable enough with my abilities at least.

The course hasn’t even really started yet and already there are 2300 photos on the website and so I’ve given with the national community to concentrate instead on the group of eight that I’ve been placed in, in theory only around eighty photos. We’re all supposed to comment on a few and as there are about fifteen comments on mine I’ll have to try to return the favour. In between that there is a Facebook group for this course, one for a mixed arts group and one for the course I begin in February.

I should, no I hope, to be able to learn how to use the software they sent me instead of my usual bumbling around, guessing how things work and then never being able to repeat a particular way of editing a photo. And these ten weeks are my best hope.

Guess what I’d really like to be doing? I want to be writing my blog, I want to write Lake, Music, Boat as prescribed by Denny Lesniak, and I want to write up a travelogue of Ephesus and another of Cappadocia, to say nothing of reading the blogs I’m subscribed to.

My inbox is groaning under the virtual weight of unread mail and an hour of tonight was wasted on internet banking trivia. It’s 21.07 and I think I’ll have to crawl into my nest (still no time for eyebrow tweezing) and hope that not too much happens in my virtual world before I get home from my real world at 8pm tomorrow!

Three Words from a Crazy Polish Woman

My crazy Polish friend gave me my three words today. She’s a very intelligent woman who is slowly inventing a new language sprinkled with dedeeeee type sounds, and I’d hoped that she would come up with some inspiring choices, or even specially invent some, that I could help to define and progress. But no, she gave me some dull accountancy type ones and I thought twice about whether to bother writing from them.

Walking home in the sunshine I started thinking about the thirteen months I’ve been in this job. I work in a finance office in a large NHS foundation trust, a very small bee in a vast hive and it gives me a real buzz. Unlike previous jobs I’ve had, I don’t carry it home and there is zero stress. My colleagues are a diverse bunch who for their own safety, would probably be best permanently contained in the rabbit warren we inhabit for thirty seven and a half hours a week. We have the class clowns, the stroppy mood swingers, the mother hens, wannabe Romeos and the enfant Perdue’s, they’re glorious and I love watching them act out their roles.

The work itself isn’t challenging and many would think it sounds incredibly boring doing credit control for a big part of each day. The thing is, it’s about working people – quickly assessing how to handle everyone you call to get the best result. With some it means being quite firm and assertive, most just being genuine and once in a while – especially with the Welsh men – a touch flirtatious. And then there’s the call centre in Mumbai, renowned for the difficulty in communicating, but I just sit back and enjoy their accents and dream about being in the heat of India. It’s always about building relationships over a period of time, and I think because I’m quite good at that, I’ve been able to make a difference in my job, when the payments reach the bank as promptly as possible.

I’ve had more responsible jobs in the past, ones that would keep me awake at night thinking about those three words my crazy Polish friend gave me, depreciation, overheads and capital, but those are boring and I’m happy being unchallenged. I have two windows beside my desk, I can see trees just outside and the distant hills. I can drift away with lots of sky and birdsong. Other people can do accountancy, I’ll stick to people persuading for as long as they’ll have me, and find my challenges in other directions.


Things looked good when we met in 1995. I was on a three month placement in Zimbabwe, working as a veterinary nurse, when one morning a sandy haired guy burst in with his arms around a tiny, injured lion cub. The cub was bleeding badly and we didn’t think it would make it. Once it was patched up, we watched it through the night, and in that time we didn’t stop talking. He said later that he decided there and then that he would never let me go. If only I’d listened to him instead of just hearing what I wanted to hear. I spent all my free time with him in the following weeks, and on my last full day he brought me here to Vic falls, the most romantic place in the world. With the rainbow over the Zambezi and the sound of Mosi oa Tunya, the smoke that thunders, in the background, he proposed.

The year we were apart crawled by, we spoke several times a week and emailed daily. If I didn’t reply within a few hours he would get anxious and impatiently ask me where I’d been. I’d tease him and most times he’d laugh, but sometimes he’d get sulky and make an excuse to say goodbye.

My family weren’t overjoyed when he flew across for the wedding. They didn’t like him, a white African farmer was different from anyone they had ever met and they couldn’t bear that I’d be moving 5000 miles from home. He kept on trying to please them, only expressing his annoyance when we were alone. One time I heard him shouting down the phone to someone, he was shaking with anger when he came outside to join me. I’d tried to take his hand but he brushed me off. He always apologised though.

In my new home I struggled to get used to other people looking after the house, cooking and cleaning. I remember holding a white t shirt up and finding a stain hadn’t come out in the wash, he snatched it from me and went to the laundry room.  Hearing a shout, I ran to see what was wrong and saw a girl around thirteen run screaming from the house, he drove off without saying a word and didn’t come back that day.

Each year things got tougher for white farmers, and as political tension increased so did his. I felt more and more trapped, he said it was too dangerous for me to go anywhere, if I went alone I could be kidnapped; if I took a houseboy he might kidnap me. I didn’t argue, I rarely did anymore and besides he was probably right, the workers would probably take me hostage as revenge for the way he had treated them, the younger ones often had bruises. He didn’t hit me, he could always find another punch bag, but I’d learnt to censor my words and when it was best to turn away.

A neighbouring farm was raided and torched as part of Mugabe’s ‘Land reform’, and it was then that he made plans in case we had to leave, but at the same time he wanted to stay and fight. One day he called me to the basement to show me where his collection of guns and ammunition were locked safely away. He made me practice loading and aiming at targets, just in case.

The kitchen girl came in late sometimes, she was only nineteen but had a couple of children of her own, so I’d make a start on dinner. He was livid when he found out. That’s when his fist landed on me. I’d never felt such pain. He apologised and tried to make it better, but my heart was numb and my jaw felt like it was broken. I said I had to go to bed and looking remorseful, he agreed. I slept for a while, but woke needing pills and went to the medicine cupboard. I could hear thumping and shouts so in case we were being raided, I took the pistol from his bedside drawer and crept downstairs.

The kitchen door was open and what I saw made me gag, he had the girl spread-eagled on the table with her hands tied and her clothes shredded. With his hand over her mouth he rammed himself into her rigid body until she saw me, then he turned. He eyes widened with shock as he saw the gun.

And so here I am back at the most romantic waterfall in the world. Mary, the kitchen girl is with me, waiting for the last train to cross the bridge for the night. My bag is packed; I’m hoping to make it to Harare and then a flight to a new life. First though, Mary and I have a task to carry out.

‘I hear it coming Mrs’ she said. The smoke from the train gets mixed up with the smoke that thunders, but the steam train smell, which I’ll never forget, is distinctive. As soon as it disappears over the bridge and into Zambia, we pull the body along the tracks until we are clear of the gorge. It was easier than I thought, one good shove and he was gone, like a bungee jumper into oblivion.

In case you wondered, the lion cub made it but couldn’t be released into the bush. Tafadswa – we are happy – as she is called, is in a zoo in England.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Faces

I’ve decided to post some animals I’ve met in various places for this weeks photo challenge, hope you like them!

She was the ‘beauty queen’ at a camel sanctuary.

Closer to home, in the New Forest, Hampshire UK.

A baby at Kuala Gandah orphanage.

Mole national park, funky beastie!

I’ll never like them but I suppose they’ve earned their place on this planet, Paga, where they are seen as sacred.

If you want your children’s children to be able to see me please don’t destroy any more of my habitat.


In My Dreams

I turned into the campus this morning and slap bang in the middle of the forecourt of the Peninsula med school stood Gok Wan. I’d been expecting him since the last series and he hadn’t showed, but at last there stood this cute, quirkily dressed hero waiting to sort out my image for the new season. No cash management department for me today, Gok was going to whisk me away in the sleek yellow beast I’d just passed parked on Barrack Road.

It was going to be some serious shopping and he was just the man to help choose the very best colour, shape and style to fit my . . . ahem . . . curves to a treat, for every occasion for the next six months. Oh yes he could surely make me look stunning.

I hoped he would agree that purple is me, I love purple, it’s one of the things that makes winter tolerable – oh and magenta, deep red, sapphire blue and orange. All colours I don’t wear in summer but winters drawers on, and they’re a must have. Maybe he can find me some sexy knee high boots, Italian leather in black and purple with bags to match. A sharp black dress with some discreetly visible cleavage and heels, the shoes that is not the dress, and a wrap or something in silver silk? If he could teach me to layer my day clothes like other people seem to manage then that would be good, leggings, tunicy things and I’m sure he’ll like that I do scarves.

I suppose after shopping today I’ll get the full treatment tomorrow. Full spa session, facial, nails – I wouldn’t mind eyebrows and perhaps some of those eye lashes that can stay on for weeks. He may have to bring someone down from London for my hair, I quite fancy Splinters, and going a touch lighter, but I want to stay natural. Princesshay will be doing a fashion show so he’ll come back for that and I’ll have to have the treatment all over again. Last time I was on a catwalk I was about thirteen but it will come back to me I’m sure. Of course he’ll want to tie in my big ‘reveal’ with turning on the Christmas lights in November. They will probably use that big glass front on Next.  It will be gorgeous of course, with lots of VERY expensive satin and lace.

‘Are you waiting for me Gilly’?

‘Uh, what’? Oh hi I was just . . .

‘Ogling that Med student’? He looks like that Gok bloke doesn’t he’? Quite cute.’

‘Oh, uh does he? Maybe a little. Yes I saw your bus go up and thought I’d wait for you. Thank God it’s Friday, I need a lie – in.

Gifts, Secrets, Heart

Gifts to cherish are the gifts of the heart

beauty, both hidden, and the effervescent,

that blooms then fizzles with time.

Treasure the gift of a child, of knowledge, of a God given talent.

The joy of a souls recognition, the prize of a love shared.

Gifts to cherish are the secrets of the heart, a secret shared to a love.

A story entrusted and kept to self, withheld. A breath and then release.

A secret diary of herstory, held for a generation, now whispered.

Next, shout it loud, a tunnelling to the future, an echo.

Gifts to cherish are the gifts of faith in the love

of a heart eased of pain. No longer bloody blood red,

not shattered, but reshaped by the song of a valentine.

A soul reaches, emerges from the diary of gifts,

for-giveness through towers of forgetfulness.

Gifts to cherish are hearts that hold secrets

deep beneath distant landscape they rest.

Shout loudly, resonate, herstory – history colliding

and healed for eternity, intact.

Around the Charity in Thirty Minutes

There was a middle aged man sat on the ground outside the post office when I walked past on my way to the cemetery with the dogs. Scruffy, unkempt, unwashed and down and out. I made eye contact because I hate ignoring people – but maybe doing so was patronising? His eyes saw me blankly before we both looked away. He had a bottle of supermarket white cider half empty beside him, it was 9.45 am. I had never seen him or any other homeless person around my neighbourhood before but times are hard and services have been cut.

I went on into the graveyard, pulled the dogs away from the squirrel hunting spot just inside the gate and headed towards the 1887 theatre fire monument. There behind it I saw a fresh grave with the biggest, most ostentatious pile of wreathes and bouquets I had ever seen. I was instantly stuck by the contrast; our society’s caring more for the dead than the living. I did a quick calculation, there were about 25-30 lots of flowers there, some very expensive, others less so, but about £500 must have been spent. Enough to feed that guy, put him in a hostel for a month and get him some new clothes.

When I die I want a cardboard box coffin or better still a silk sleeping bag liner. I do not want anyone to bring more than one white lily to my funeral; if they want to spend money then they can give it to a charity. How do you choose which charity is most needy these days? They say that charity begins at home and if so then that homeless man and many others like him are right on the doorstep. Alcohol though, many would consider that he does not deserve charity. It’s easy to judge isn’t it? He’s brought his troubles on himself, he’s hit the booze and pissed it against the wall hasn’t he? How often do we stop to ask the cause? Who knows what despair has brought him to the gutter by Ladysmith Road Post Office?

I will always give to cancer charities, like many people I have lost family and friends to the creeping devil disease. The NSPCC have benefited recently when my friend and I had a craft table at a country fair and I regularly get caught for sponsorship at work. One of my pet hates is when teenagers, some as young as sixteen are ‘raising money’ so that they can spend two weeks in a third world country to help build a school or plant a garden, you know the kind of thing? These trips usually cost a thousand pounds or so and no doubt they struggle to get the cash together – sitting in a bath of baked beans, abseiling from somewhere high or eating fifty hot dogs in an hour – but who really benefits? Maybe they realise how privileged they are, they mean well, but do they make any difference? Do they have any skills of any value to offer? Most often they come from middle class families whose middle class friends happily chip in so that said offspring can go on the adventure, but wouldn’t they do better to just send a cow? Or some seed and tools?

One of the craziest projects in recent years has to be the aid programme that decided to help the Turkana people in Northern Kenya by supplying them with equipment to fish and a huge freezing plant. The plan was to both improve nutrition locally and provide an income. The Turkana cooperative allowed themselves to be taught to fish and a new food mountain grew. It’s unfortunate that no one did enough homework to discover that the Turkana are nomadic pastoralists and DO NOT EAT FISH!

Seeing that man with his cider bottle sent my thoughts on a roller coaster, all on a thirty minute stroll through the cemetery. I might have popped into the shop and bought him a pasty, but he was gone by the time I walked back. I hope he found some appropriate help.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Textured

I found this weeks challenge really tough. I decided not to go the route of bark/shell/natural stuff and kept getting texture and textile mixed up in my head! I came close to posting a bunch of alpacas with different states of hairiness though. Anyway I’ve decided on this sculpture that I edited a little. The original is a bronze, about a metre high,  that has been created to look like wood and was at Dartington Hall in Devon, UK.

Okay I’ve decided to add two more photos, the first, alpacas because I love their wool/fur/coat? which has mixed textures of silk, fluff and slightly rough.

and then this one, taken on Dartmoor in the UK. It’s a huge slab of granite with the ten Commandments carved into it.

I Am a Writer, Right?

I am a writer, right? I have a Diploma that says I can write and a blog with lots of hits that shows that real people, like you, read the things I write. But the problem is that I’m a woman of few words (some would say its better that way) and that is not the writers way. ‘Normal’ writers scrawl copious quantities of words and have to edit, chop and further edit their excesses. There was a 5% leeway for the assignments on my creative writing courses and I kept hearing how people had written double the words and were struggling to pare it down before submission. Not me. To reach the word count, I’d have to edit to find three words where I thought one was adequate. The term ‘murder your darlings’ coined by someone whose name I maybe should remember but don’t would never apply to me – I don’t have any darlings! Don’t get me wrong, I love writing words, I love language, to listen, to talk to people and to write is my passion.

At the beginning of my writing studies I bought a lovely little book, ‘Eyes like Butterflies’, a treasury of similes and metaphors, gathered together by Terence Hodgson. I read with delight entries like in the section headed ‘Nipple’:- ‘the great peach thermometer of her nipples’ and wondered who thinks of stuff like that? Joe Coomer in Apologising to dogs apparently. TH has also included Janette Turner on ‘Eyebrows’, ‘her eyebrows knitting together like offended caterpillars’ in Borderline. Is it possible to offend a caterpillar and if so how do we know that the soft centred beastie is offended? Nah, I could never dream up stuff like that.

This lack of ability to waffle on has often made me question my own intelligence but I can’t be bothered with using ‘big words’, if someone needs to go look up a word I’ve used, then it’s taken them from the immediacy of the read. This probably makes my writing seem immature, I don’t know, but I must do something right because I get quite good grades. I do know ‘big words’, lots of them, there’s ‘large’ and ‘huge’ for instance or even ‘etymology’ – now that’s one that I love!

Another thing that fellow students seem to have to do is first, second and even third drafts, in fact the textbooks say you must! Guess who doesn’t? Yes that will be me. Except for when I wrote my final assessment, I just do it, tweaking as I go, a final read through and that’s it. No endless redrafting for me. A few months ago Myslexia interviewed the prolific Susan Hill who said she only ever does one draft, sounds like my kind of woman, hooray! I must give her a read sometime, recommendations as comments welcome please. . .

The thing that I  do is  festering, I work a story in my head for months only making vague occasional notes that I can’t read when I need to, because of my dreadful handwriting. I do it anyway with the faith that the act of the scribble will consign it to my memory, which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t. You know as I’m writing it’s occurred to me that I should try writing books for children, that would be an excuse for not writing very much AND using little words. Um, interesting thought to hold, watch this space.