Half An Inch Lower

I have a scar on my left eyebrow. I don’t think many people know it’s there, because it’s overshadowed by a mole. Even I forget, until it’s time to pluck my eyebrows and then unlike the right one, which hurts like eyebrows do when you pull them, it has this strange tingling thing going down. Every time I remember its existence I’m catapulted back to the day I acquired it when I was a young girl living in a very different society. I lived on the edge of a rough neighbourhood that grew up when the local council built hundreds of homes in the 1930’s. They cleared the slums in the wet quarter of the city and dumped 2500 people in a soulless area that became infamous for vandalism.

There was no-one to play with in my road but one girl in my class at school lived inside this troubled circle, we were friends and as soon as I was allowed to spread my wings it was to her I flew. I never ventured to the park – that was far too dangerous; we’d hang around on street corners instead. In time the next phase of building began, this time private homes were built on the broad fields where I’d been taken for Sunday afternoon walks as a very little girl. A building site was very tempting to Linda and I – don’t ask why, I haven’t a clue what made a couple of eleven year old girls want to snoop around there. Maybe the risk of getting caught scrambling through breeze blocks and unframed doorways imagining the room they would become. It was always sunny back then, we all say that don’t we? When I was a kid summers were long, hot and dry. Well on that day it was and in the early evening we were looking for some trouble to raze when it came to us with a bang.

First came the shouts, ‘Oi blackie,’ ‘nigger,’ ‘gollywog,’ ‘we’re going to get you.’ Worst of all a ‘joke’ from some disgusting TV comedian of the day, ‘What’s black and lives in a hedge?’ I’ll leave the answer to your imagination or memory. Jokes like that were commonplace back then before the Race Relations Act was introduced and Alf Garnett argued that Jesus was English rather than acknowledging that he may have had some interesting skin tone.

I was a feisty little thing; I’d had to defend myself a few times so that night I turned to look at my tormentors, hands on hips. I even watched one of them pick up a stone a hundred yards away and take aim. I watched its arc through the air towards me, closer and closer, one of those moments when that air was pre storm silent. Ten feet, five, one, bang. Into my head, I spun with disbelief and shock.

‘Run’ Linda said and pulled me along. I tried to shake her off and somehow lost several minutes. I was vaguely aware of her returning with adult voices. I was taken, bleeding and dazed to hospital, an echoing, high ceilinged place with slamming doors where they shone bright lights to check my eyes and I could hear them say ‘Half an inch lower and she would have lost her eye.’

I enjoyed the attention at school the next day, showing off my stitches, but I didn’t play on building sites again.

Verbal racist abuse continued through my early and mid teens. I was never physically attacked again, but those years when skin heads ruled the town at night coincided with my night club age. I could never just relax and I still hate being around town after dark, I look out under my scarred eyebrow, over my shoulder.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

The theme of family was a tough call for me, I came close to choosing a photo of a family I met in Kuala Lumpur. In the end, I decided to go with a very personal one that few people have seen.

I spent a long time trying to find the other half of my family who are scattered around the world.  This is my brother Mitchell (Uzoamaka), the one that took me longest to track down. I knew he was there, in New Jersey, but it took several years of Facebook for him to come out of the woodwork. It took him a while to send me a photo, but now that he has I can see myself looking back at me. We have yet to meet, so I didn’t take this photo, but I hope to change that soon.

Across the Thar, Bikaner to the ends of the earth with prickles in my salwar kameez.

Until I began researching the idea of a trip to India I didn’t know Jaisalmer existed, but once I did it had the most powerful allure. I have tales to tell about the places en route out of Delhi, but that’s for later. We left Bikaner early, to travel 200 miles across the great Thar desert, a place so hot it burns inside your nostrils when you take a breath. After some 15 miles on NH15, signs of life became scarce. We stopped for a stretch and a photo opportunity, and when the engine was cut we stepped out into the most complete silence I’ve never heard. The landscape was empty, vegetation was the odd scrap of scrubby weed, with an occasional bug burrowing around it. It was my first taste of really dry heat – the closest feeling I can compare it to is a hair dryer on dry hair, and yet I loved it. It makes little sense to be able to get so much from . . . nothing, but I could have stayed at looked at that nothing for hours.

The good Mr Singh had other ideas, and rounded up travelling friend and I into our jeepy thing, where our body temperature gradually normalised. Half way across the desert the little huts started to appear occasionally, with boys persuading a goat or two with sticks. A government restaurant was our lunch venue with an indifferent Thali – because it contained the dreaded gobi – and apple juice, for one hundred rupees. More desert road, and just as our eyes were growing heavy, looking at beige-gold sand, Magan slowed down to negotiate his way through a crowd of people. There was nowhere, no homes, enclosed land, McDonalds or anything, but somehow around twenty people had appeared, to argue over who had run over, and killed, a camel. Someone had to compensate the owner and somehow it had to be moved. It was macabre, just like hearing sirens on the motorway.

Magan must have watched our expressions in his mirror instead of watching the road, either that or he read our minds, because he always stopped just when we spotted something interesting. Later in the journey we became cynical, thinking that he had stopped at the very same place countless times, where the very same group of women always wore their best saris, for the delight of his western tourists. This time we had chosen a couple of striking brick and thatch houses a hundred yards from the road. As we took pictures some children came and invited us to visit their homes. Newly built and tiny but with a bed for each person, some shelves for clothes and one had a fire to cook.

Outside, another charpoy bed was under an open sided, four post shelter. In all there were three adults and seven children, the sum of their possessions would have fit under my kitchen sink but they were so happy and proud.

To celebrate Dussehra they had painted a Rangoli, a bit like a mandala, in white on the pressed ground that was their courtyard. The oldest child, a girl around twelve asked for shampoo but as Magan said we should not start a precedent, we gave them only sweets and they were very happy.  He told us that they would tell the story of our visit for the rest of their lives, we would never forget them either, it was an encounter to cherish.

The countryside from then on was sprinkled with villages and a few military bases, including an area where nuclear testing was carried out in the past. In the greener areas there were castor oil plants and kedgeree trees. We knew were approaching civilisation when there was enough irrigation from ‘tanks’, concrete reservoirs, to grow water melons. Rather than the red we are accustomed to, these were white fleshed and Magan smashed them against rocks for us, a welcome treat.

Magan had a wealth of knowledge to impart including about turbans:-

Men wear them to protect against heat.

They can be used as a towel

They can be tied to trees to use as a hammock.

They can be used as a bag.

And, different colours represent different families.

Our last stop before Jaisalmer was when we saw some women working in a field, Magan thought we wanted to take more photos, but before he noticed, I started to stride across to talk to them. I’d gone a little way when I heard him call me so I turned to wave and carried on. He called louder and sounded quite panicky, but because he was such a mother hen worrying about his Western chicks, I ignored him. He ran after me and looking like he was going to cry, pointed at the bottom of my salwar kameez. I was covered in hideous, prickly, seed heads that had buried themselves into the fabric and were agony to remove. He was mortified, poor man.

We arrived at a point just outside Jaisalmer, an ancient city at the end of the earth and stood to absorb the view. But you’ll have to come back again to hear more.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Breakfast

Mine would make a very dull photo so here is someone else’s! Taken at Sepilok, if you would like to learn more take a peep at my earlier post

http://wp.me/p1zqCM-n

Is this how you do a pingback?

http://2011onthebench.wordpress.com/tag/weekly-photo-challenge-breakfast/

 

 

 

Ten Things that Puzzled Me Before Ten o’Clock Today

 

  1. A young woman out running at 8am in just Lycra shorts and cropped top. It was cold and although she would have been working up a sweat, how can it be good if so much skin is exposed and cold-burnt red?
  2. Seeing that a man I know of is still working in his mid seventies. He is probably close to being a millionaire and has been really ill in the last couple of years. So why not kick back and have some fun while he can?
  3. Young women that are kilogramily challenged still have waists, older women usually don’t. Why, how is that fair?
  4. When workmen speak to me they have the sort of look of respect on their faces reserved for wise old crones, when did they stop with the leering look?
  5. I can understand people buying sandwiches I do it myself sometimes – with some unusual filling if I’m away somewhere. But why pay £2.50 from the corner shop for a round of simple cheese and pickle when for a fiver you can buy the ingredients and make five rounds and have leftovers?
  6. There’s a black cat that crosses a complex crossroads with four crossings and traffic lights all over the shop. Mademoiselle  has various routes but whichever one she’s taking she always stands and waits until the little man goes green. Do you think someone could install a push button at cat level and make it a little cat going green instead?
  7. How people are in such a hurry that they aim and dash through traffic on a busy road with pushchairs – in front of them!
  8. Why those children are pretending to be med students when they should be revising for their GCSE’s.
  9. Just how many tired people the hospital can spit out after a night shift, to be replaced by all of us bleary eyed day types. Several thousand manage to slot into their roles on the campus with hardly any confusion, how is this possible?
  10. There was an exception to number 4 above, when I was quite definitely flirted with by a doctor, who wasn’t even vaguely grotty.

 

Answers for the above on a postcard please – virtual of course. I really need help with some of the many things that cause me confusion.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wonder

Ephesus in Turkey is a site of many wonders, here are just three photos for the challenge.

A mosaic pavement.

The library of Celsus.

Detail from the library.

Pingback:http://hurtlingtowards60.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/the-weekly-photo-challenge-wonder-better-late-than-never/

Gallipoli and Anzac Cove, in remembrance

I was privileged to visit Anzac and Gallipoli on the Dardanelles earlier this year and found it an incredibly moving experience that remains with me still. As tomorrow is November 11th I thought I would share some photos I took there. I think you will agree it is beautiful, the Turkish people have made it a protected area with only people whose families have farmed there for generations allowed to do so. They are a very generous people with no bitterness only a deep compassion for those lost.

My Photographic Journey

I had a disaster yesterday. At least what amounts to a disaster in my little world. I went out for the afternoon to try to get some decent photos to use for my course assessment and took two lenses. Now, I hate carrying things and try my best to travel light, but you know how women just have to have certain things with them? So yesterday instead of taking my main handbag that weighs a ton and slides off my shoulder whenever I try to take a picture, I took a tiny little bag that has lots of sections and padded it out to take my zoom lens along with the usual essentials. Going outwards on the walk in Shaldon I used the camera with its standard lens and at the furthest point, frustrated by my crappy shots, I changed to the zoom and put the standard into the camera case. Got some slightly better shots but not really what I was hoping for, the views across the estuary to Teignmouth were invaded by industrial warehouses.

Shaldon was a delight to wander around though, there was a decent butcher and a divine bakery (I’ve just had their tomato bread warmed and filled with cheese for lunch) with lower than supermarket prices. Back at the Ness car park, having snapped all the way, and in too much of a hurry, I rummaged for the zooms lens cap in the camera case. Unfortunately the case was at a funny angle and out fell the lens, landed with a clunk on the tarmac and rolled into the verge. I swore as I bent to pick it up, there was a brief moment before it fully registered and then I burst into tears when I heard the rattle of shattered glass. I cried all the way home and for most of the evening.

If you know me well, you’re probably wondering why I’m making such a fuss about something material that can be replaced. You may be thinking that it must be insured. Well I’ve had it three years and never had a problem before – believe it or not I’m very careful – and when it was due for renewal in June I decided that two hundred pounds to insure the camera and its lenses was more than I could afford. I’ll now have to spend that much to replace it, sometime.

So why the strong reaction? I’ve never been a dropper or breaker of things, been tempted to be a thrower of things at times, but as I have a scar over my left eye from having a stone thrown at me, I never will. It took me a while to work out the cause of my tears, it wasn’t something being broken, it was about a photographic item being broken. I had my first camera when I was about eighteen, a Kodak Instamatic no less, a cheap, simple to operate little thing that produced small square prints. I couldn’t afford to take too many photos, the cost was prohibitive and continued to be for many years. But even then I had a good eye and could see many, many photos crying out to be taken. Being a mum was the priority for many years and I was never in the position to own a camera. Just before the dawn of digital I bought a nice little compact 35mm followed by my first canon digital with just 3.2 megapixels but I took some good shots with it. That was in 2003 and two years later I upgraded to a 5 megapixel Canon and then I was away, teaching myself to use Photoshop 7 and using my photos to make cards, some of which I actually sold!

In 2008 a dream came true when I got an eos 450d with two lenses and the following year a third. I’m still learning to use it and I think I’m getting there because it’s set to manual these days. My ‘eye’ has grown faster than my techie skills could ever keep up with and if I’m honest there’s a limit to how much interest I can drum up in the ‘sciencey’ stuff I’m supposed to be learning on my Open University digital photography course. That’s where I am right now with photography. I wonder how much more skilled I would be by now if I had been allowed to use the equipment that had been in my house for most of my life? But I wasn’t, instead I was always told to leave it alone, don’t touch it you’ll break it, it’s too complex, delicate and expensive, and the  bottom line YOU’RE TOO DAMN STUPID TO USE IT.

And so there I stood yesterday in shock as my expensive, delicate, complex lens crunched to the ground and shattered. Is it any wonder that I cried? Now I’m okay, for the first time ever, I have by my carelessness, allowed something to break, but it really isn’t the end of the world.