Us and them

‘Yeah, all right,’ I said, to a cheeky young lad,

The lad was standing outside Cartwright Hall.

Which is in Lister Park.

Looking from the Hall into the park

Which is on the edge of Manningham, in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Cartwright Hall, City Hall, War memorial & Alhambra theatre, National Media Museum. Card by http://www.landscapeandlightphotography.com

I’d been avoiding real world issues for a while, but knew I couldn’t hold out forever. And that ‘yeah, all right,’ or, more accurately, the place, the boys, the context, were a turning point.

Bear with me while I tell you a little about that context. It will make my post longer than usual, but it’s necessary, for it to make sense.

Bradford, with an estimated 534,300 inhabitants is the fifth largest Metropolitan District in England by population, after Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester.

That may come as a surprise to a lot of people (it did to me). We don’t hear about Bradford often. And usually only when there’s a problem.

Of Bradford’s population, 63.9% identifies as ‘White British.’

It has the largest proportion of people of Pakistani ethnic origin -20.3% – in England.

Manningham ward adjoins what was once an affluent, desirable residential area, Heaton.

White* people constitute 14.9% of Manningham’s population.

Pakistanis account for 60.3%.

A further 16.8% of people identifying as Asian* comprise Indians, 4.5%; Bangladeshis, 9%; ‘Other Asian,’ 3.3%.

By religion, the two largest faiths are Muslim at 75%; 12.7% Christian.

Manningham is one of 12 wards in Bradford District which are amongst the 10% most deprived wards in England. It is the most deprived ward in terms of income and employment.

In 2013-2015 life expectancy at birth for both males and females was lower than the District average. Males had the lowest life expectancy rate in the District.

17.8% of households in Manningham live in overcrowded homes, the highest rate in the District.

[All above statistics  from City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council ‘Understanding Bradford’ Intelligence Briefing November 2017]

Lister’s Mill – completed in 1873, sometimes known as Manningham Mills – was once the largest silk mill in the world, famed for its velvet. In 1976 it supplied new curtains for President Ford’s White House.

At one stage it employed 11,000 men, women and children. A strike in 1890-1891 led to the formation of the Independent Labour Party which later helped create the Labour Party.

Bradford’s textiles, its woollen industry, once led the world. This is why so many immigrants from Asia but also Poland, Ukraine and Czechoslovakia (as was) came to live in Bradford. The jobs.

Lister’s Mill closed in 1992. The woollen industry that made Bradford rich had already withered and pretty much died. The city is littered with its vast stone carcases, studded like vacant eyes with broken glass windows.

Lister Park I’ve mentioned before, a place I roller-skated, played and nurtured a fascination for fossils on my frequent visit to Cartwright Hall.

The award-winning park is large, contains a boating lake, tennis courts, a botanic garden, Mughal water gardens, sculpture and more.

The image below is of a road off the back of the park, where seven-year-old-me spent a happy few months. My father had taken a job as head of a new school, which was yet to be built. We lived here briefly while my family sought a permanent home.

The elaborate chimney towering above the road is Lister’s Mill chimney, 249 feet/76 metres high. My teacher (who lived in this road) told me your could drive a coach and horses around that parapet – what an image!

I took the photograph from the edge of the park. Before I raised my camera, several men were dotted around the scene. As I pointed the lens they vanished, in a flurry of long white robes. Probably a coincidence.

Cartwright Hall

In the dying years of the 19th century, Samuel Lister offered Bradford Corporation £50,000 (around £1 million in today’s money) to demolish his old family home, Manningham Hall in Lister Park, and build a new art gallery and museum.

It was named for Rev Dr Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823), who invented the first power loom for woollen weaving but did not gain from it. All future power looms were developed from it, including those used and improved by Lister, who invented the ‘Lister nip comb,’ which allowed further mechanisation of the silk, Alpaca and mohair industry.

Completed in 1903, in a style some call ‘Bradford Baroque,’ it’s a classic example of industrial-era civic philanthropy.

Inside Cartwright Hall, things have changed a lot since I was small.

The fossil and stuffed creatures are gone. In the upper gallery, Asian art now mingles with pre-Raphaelites and grand-old-men in marble.

It would probably have shocked the original patrons to see not only the art in the new-ish Hockney Gallery, but its accommodation of the viewpoints of children.

Hockney’s dog in cartoon form, child’s height peephole reveals he’s dreaming of …

… a littler splash? A few of the animated images behind the peephole

Do I hear grand old men turning in their graves? (Those are Clangers on the wall btw)

It would definitely have shocked them to see the use to which Monty Python put Cartwright Hall in this song.

(Apologies if anyone is offended. Despite being brought up Catholic I find it a hoot)

 

But back to our visit.

We looked at art, we bought cards, we left the building.

Outside, though, I hung back, absorbing the massive scale of the stonework.

Then three boys irrupted into the scene.

‘Tek mi picture,’ yelled the sparkiest, in an Asian-Bradford accent.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘All right.’

One boy ran away, smirking.

The others posed. Such different boys, one evidently the leader.

Thanks, Bilal and Asif, hope I got your names right!

’Well,’ I said, the moment now awkward, ‘want to see it?’

They shuffled over.

‘Looks as if it’s good,’ said Mr Jeans-and-t-shirt and, with a broad grin. And ran off.

It was then that the contrast with cheerful, smiling steam-train-enthusiast William, the day before, struck me.

And I realised, on neither of the occasions I’ve travelled on the old steam railway have I seen an Asian face. Despite the fact that Keighley, at one end of the short train line, has a large Asian population.

Next morning we sat chatting with a friend, who lives in a nearby town.

Her son takes the (mainstream) train from a nearby town to a grammar school, with his pals. He’s not Asian, they are – and they’ve all had to earn their places at the highly sought-after, selective school by sheer hard work.

One day, a white man sitting nearby repeatedly told his toddling child not to go near the ‘filthy Pakis.’

My friend’s son came home that evening and cried.

He’d realised he would never be treated like that, but his friends could be singled out purely because of their colour. Always would be. Always had been subject to such abuse. Their ‘otherness’ was visible.

We discussed how Trump, Farage and co have effectively given such people permission to voice hatred of the other.

I told her about my encounter with the boys. A good sign, I hesitated to suggest?

My friend’s response was blunt.

‘They were probably taken by surprise. Didn’t expect you to respond like that.’

Her face was a mix of sad and angry.

‘Boys like them are told by caring, liberal, white, women teachers that if they work hard everything will be all right. Get your qualifications, behave, be good and life will work out fine. Except it won’t.’

Several years ago my friend worked in a Job Centre. Used to speak to potential employers on the phone, about diligent, punctual boys available to fill real vacancies. When the employer asked for a name, if she said ‘Muhammad,’ ‘Yusuf’ or such, the line would go dead.

It’s obvious where that would lead, isn’t it? Expectations dashed by reality. Shunned by white, establishment world.

Immigration causes problems – has done for generations. Liberals (like me, or more so) try to avoid talking about that – but we must.

And, yes, that includes not turning a blind eye to criminal or other unacceptable forms of behaviour among incoming or established ethnic groups. This cuts both ways.

Keeping a lid on resentment only serves to make it fester. That resentment is then ripe for exploitation by self-serving troublemakers, fomenting division and populist indignation.

We don’t need more of their incitement. We need honesty, not fearmongering. Solutions agreed among mature, responsible politicians, not ambitious, selfish men posturing for personal gain.

But they’re exactly the kind of false prophets who now have arisen. Welcomed by resentful people. People who believed political correctness had gone too far.

It’s over, they said. You can be honest now.

Say what you like, what you really think about anyone – especially anyone who’s visibly different.

Go out there, make your fascist salutes. The President will blame lefty Antifa types. Well, as much as he’ll blame you.

Go ahead, call young schoolboys filthy Pakis, in broad daylight, on our British trains.

We’re taking back control,we’re gonna be great again.

We can do what we want again, now.

And lo, one brave man, freed of the shackles of political correctness, decided to murder an MP because he didn’t like her politics.

Tell me, friends, how do we put that freedom-to-speak-hatred geni back in its bottle?


I thought this Hockney image was appropriate


*It struck me reading this through, that the demographic descriptors in the Manningham Ward stats list ‘White’ but then Pakistani, Asian, etc. This is odd, when you think about it. We whites are identified by the absence of colour – colourless. We used to refer to people of all the Asian origins as coloured, To call those of African origin black was considered rude. Today, in Zambia, people comfortably refer to black and white and in my experience seem to call all Asians Indian. When I spend time there I always leave feeling like a mutant – standing at the airport, having spent weeks in black company, and seeing other ugly, colourless people like me.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Thinking, or ranting, or both, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Say, ‘cheese’

I don’t.

Say, ‘cheese.’

I ask people to say, ‘sausages,’ if I’m taking a posed picture. It makes them giggle, look at each other, appear more interesting.

I prefer people pictures when they’re odd, casual, quirky.

Catching an elusive moment. And anonymous.

Like these, from Southport Air Show in July.

Through a marquee’s plastic window

Well, he’s playing, goodness knows what though!

Yep, that’s me on the pier with my camera

So I rarely take pictures of people posing.  Rarely take pictures of humans at all, come to that.

But something’s been happening lately.

My re-loved camera appears to have a mind of its own.

It lives in an old leather case. Hangs round my neck, looking borderline professional. Attracting attention.

It keeps finding me interesting subjects. Or making them find me.

Strangers sidle up and ask, ‘Seen anything interesting, have you?’

Or, ‘got some good pictures, did you?’

But so far I’ve only had this demand once:

‘Tek mi picture!’

That was my (pathetic) attempt at a Yorkshire accent with a  …

No, I’ll leave the rest for later. When this post has given it some context.

Instead, let me take you on a short ride.

If you’ve read many of my posts, or visited my other site, http://www.maidinbritain.com, you’ll know I like engines.

Steam engines, mostly. And steam trains.

On a less than perfect summer’s day, in August, then, what better way for the prof and I to spend holiday time, than afternoon tea on a steam train?

The station was a-blossom with flowers.

The train had a restaurant car.

Lovely ceiling above us!

We sat at a table, decked with a linen tablecloth, set with linen napkins. We ate scones with jam and clotted cream Drank cups of tea.

Not great tea, but tea.

It’s a short journey, on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (KWVR), from Oxenhope, via Haworth, to Keighley. And a return ticket nicely whiled away a less than perfect afternoon.

I took my camera, not planning to take many pictures, having ‘done’ steam trains before.

But I hadn’t counted with two – no three, really – things:

1 the engine

2 William

and

3 his dad.

I can’t remember now who started the conversation about trains and his badges, me or William. But there wasn’t a hint of shyness, just sheer joy at being so close to his beloved steam engines.

His little cap was covered in badges, including one of ‘big Jim,’ the engine pulling our afternoon tea.

Big Jim is the grey one at the top

The engine was part of the USA’s war effort in Europe. Built in 1945 by Lima of Ohio, for the US Army’s Transportation Corps, it was shipped directly to Poland.

After the war it was absorbed by Poland State Railways, until it was withdrawn from service and went to the Polish Railway Museum in Warsaw. It was bought by KWVR and arrived in Haworth in November 1977.

‘I know a song about Big Jim,’ piped up William, ‘do you want to hear it?’

Did I?

It was a little hard to hear the tune coming from under little William’s hat amid the hissing, puffing and clanging, but he was plainly proud of his effort.

‘I’m surprised he didn’t do the dance as well,’ grinned his dad, later, when I told him.

Now that would have been worth a video.

As it was, we parted for separate carriages on the platform at Keighley and chuff-chuffed our way back to Oxenhope.

Where we were reunited.

William (with his brother, who had now taken a shine to the prof) was lucky enough to get into the cab with the driver.To see the glowing coals in the firebox.

Now that’s a happy face. In with the engine driver! Dad in the foreground (envious I suspect)

To chat with a volunteer down on the track.

And before I left, I felt I had to ask if I could take a proper picture.

The uninhibited joy that shone from his face was captivating. I wanted to put a drop in a bottle, cork it up, save it for brightening dark winter days.

You can see where he gets it from in this picture, can’t you?

Proud dad and young William

 

Well, it was, as Wallace and Gromit might say, a Grand Day Out.

Next day, a trip to Bradford. A re-visit to the new Hockney Gallery.

And an even less summery morning.

It didn’t sound quite so inspiring.

And, in fact, I’m not sure I’d call it inspiring. But it certainly turned out to be thought-provoking.

Not just for me, I dare say, but for two more boys, introduced to me – yes – by my camera.

As you will see in my next post….

Can you see us? Me in the middle, the prof on the left….

 

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Who was Sylvia?

The acrid scent of turmeric prickles tourist noses, where once sooty coal smoke settled in workers’ lungs.

Grey clouds loom over lofty moors, threatening afternoon rain.

People mill through the lunching hours, questing quinoa, gorging on gluten-free cakes.

Hebden Bridge.

Stone terraced houses and cobbles. Car-lined, quaint narrow streets.

Shops selling crafts and candles and soaps. Garments of pastel-hued linen, to camouflage middle-aged-spread.

And underfoot, amid picnic benches and vegan crumbs, the dirty detritus of overfed birds.

A sign points to a clog mill.

But there’s nary a whippet, nor ferret, nor a homing-pigeon in sight.

Yes, I took against Hebden Bridge.

We plumped for a café beyond its pedestrianised streets.

‘Bulletproof Coffee,’ the board boasted, ‘blended with butter and coconut oil.’

Not for the clear-artery minded.

And as for Turmeric Latte…

We drank tea. Ate home-baked focaccia sandwiches, drowning our hunger in salty oil.

A false trail took us to Mytholmroyd – where I thought Sylvia Plath was buried.

She wasn’t.

Back t’other side of Hebden Bridge, a sharp turn took us up a steep, winding road. To a sign forbidding cars and motorcycles entry to Heptonstall, unless ‘for access.’

Were we entitled to ‘access’?

I drove by.  For miles.

Turning, at last, Ms Satnav pointed me down a grassy track, tipping over the hillside. I switched her off in disgust.

‘Abandon hope,’ we agreed.

But descending, in moods, that vertiginous road, another – unqualified – sign for the village appeared.

And in we drove to Heptonstall.

If the cobbled streets of Hebden were narrow, these were biblical-strait.

We halted on crunchy gravel in a social club’s vast, empty car park. Trudged up a weed-centred track.

And there, at the top, was the church.

Or rather, two churches.

And the graveyard.

Or rather, two graveyards.

We entered the more recent burial ground.

A cluster of humans, heads tilted, stood by the grave we sought.

As we approached, a couple left, smiling. Two men in t-shirts wandered away.

One man remained, perched on a gravestone, which I feared might give way any moment.

His right ear was bent beneath his tweed hat. Smartly dressed, with stripy tie, he also wore a camera.

Guardian of the grave. From Monday to Friday.

‘On Saturdays and Sundays I have other things to do,’ he vouchsafed.

We stood, staring at the headstone.

‘Sylvia Plath’ it read, and, scratched out but visible, ‘Hughes.’

The brown earth was fresh – compost brought by two Pennsylvania women. Small plants came from a poet.

A clean patch on the stone was the only reminder of graffiti removed by the guardian one night, with soap and water.

The name ‘Hughes’ enrages some fans, on Plath’s behalf.

Her husband, Ted Hughes, who decided to bury her here, was a native of nearby Mytholmroyd.

In the cleft of a steep valley, it’s not an intrinsically jolly place – especially in grim weather.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, when Sylvia visited, it would still have been wheezing smoke. Oozing engineering odours. Only dissipated by winds diving off the bleak moors, often bringing rain from Noah’s heights – pointed out by our local expert as afternoon drizzle duly arrived.

In her volume, ‘Colossus’ dedicated to Ted Hughes, Plath writes about nearby Hardcastle Crags:

…The whole landscape

Loomed absolute as the antique world was

Once, in its earlier sway of lymph and sap,

Unaltered by eyes,

 

Enough to snuff the quick

Of her small heat out, but before the weight

Of stones and hills of stones could break

Her down to mere quartz grit in that stony light

She turned back.

 

Other poems, November Graveyard, Wuthering Heights, for example, suggest the bleak impression Hughes’ home territory made on the fragile mind of Ted’s young wife.

So why bury her here? Family, perhaps?

I don’t know.

And reading his ‘Birthday Letters,’ I can’t feel the anger those scratchers-out feel, despite the ills he did her. Sylvia’s suicide, their tragedy, lived with him all his life.

Her grave – which in earlier times would not have been allowed in consecrated ground – is touchingly plain.

‘A lot of the visitors,’ says the guardian, ‘expect a marble monument.’

‘I don’t think she’d have liked that, do you?’ I say.

He smiles. We chat.

The guardian was a welder in Hebden Bridge until he retired. He and his 95- year-old sister (in London for her birthday) are the only original residents left in Heptonstall, where the family lived for seven centuries. The rest are incomers.

‘Would you mind if I took your picture?’ I asked, wanting to capture his smile.

‘If I can take yours in return,’ he beamed.

And so we exchanged the recording of memories.

‘I still use old fashioned film,’ he explained. ‘The best quality is cheap now, two rolls for £7.99. I go into Bradford to have it processed, pay £1 extra for the one hour service so I can bring the pictures home.’

I ask his name, he asks mine.

‘Earnshaw, that’s a good local name,’ he approves, ‘I knew a Fred Earnshaw. A baker, very rotund he was.’

‘That’s the way a baker should be,’ I say. He chuckles.

Did he know Ted Hughes?

‘I didn’t know him myself, though I must have seen him around.’

He flits his perch.

‘Would you like to see where his mum and dad are buried,’ he says, ‘I knew them.’

We tread softly through rows of resting souls.

‘He ran a sweetshop, was a travel agent. He sent me to Switzerland in 1969. Very good it was.’

He glances past us. More pilgrims arriving.

I shake his hand, thank him.

We turn to the village. To ruins, legacies, black cats.

Timeless, now, the old church

 

From above, the old church (the new was dull Victorian, not worth snapping imo)

Odd pillars – three rows, each row different in design

Impossible to traverse the old graveyard and reach the ruins of the old church without stepping on souls

A poignant, more recent memorial on a windowsill of the ruined old church

What?

Now this one is all black – I’m used to Lancashire and the idea of witch’s familiars, so perhaps Yorkshire has adopted the red rose county’s ways…

See the next image for the explanation of the name over and beside the door

We wend our way back to our lodgings in an old cotton mill.

Pour wine. Share smiles at new memories.

A man in a tweed hat.

And those …

But that’s for the next instalment.

 



For the guardian: if you see this, I am sorry I didn’t write down your name, I think it was Stewart or Stuart and Burn or Byrne, but rather than get it wrong, I left it out.

And the poet who planted flowers was called Laurence, I think Jess? Note to self: pay attention!

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Supermodel, with Balls

It was raining. Hard.

Long-unused umbrellas opened like reluctant flowers, showering hurrying heads with dust and desiccated spiders.

My new friends had driven me into Haworth for the evening from the refurbished cotton mill where I was staying.

Nestled between two ponds in a lush, tranquil valley, it was the perfect place for me to sojourn solo – and reflect. Until I heard the ghost stories.

The rear of Bent’s Mill at Hewenden where I stayed for a week

That night we were celebrating Emily Bronte’s 200th birthday, at the third of four evening events, with Lily Cole – the supermodel of the title. And the reason I was there at all.

It began when a writer called Nick Holland, who has written about the Brontes (as well as a tortoise – and A Girl on a Bus), resigned over the Bronte Society’s appointment of Ms Cole as Creative Partner for Emily’s birthday year.

‘… what should have been a joyous year with genius at its centre has instead become a rank farce with the news that their creative partner for 2018 is Lily Cole,’ wrote Holland.

He rubbished her new vocation, ‘social entrepreneur (whatever that is),’ and, coincidentally (see evening four and my faux pas) once saw her in a play, ‘the only one I have ever walked out of at the interval.’

Now, I have a bit of a thing about the Brontes, what with being an Earnshaw and having lived in Thornton where the creative four were born.

What better way to express my approval of this adventurous appointment, then, than by joining?

So I did. And here I was. For a showing (not the premiere, which happened later [!] in London) of a film created and co-written (with Stacey Gregg) by Lily Cole. Who is always identified, in the media, as ‘supermodel’ or, ‘former supermodel,’ whatever she now may do.

The film was short and moving.

Made with the Foundling Hospital of London, it was inspired by Heathcliff, the foundling boy given a home by Mr Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights. (Though Heathcliff hailed from Liverpool, not London.)

Lily Cole, film-maker maker and social entrepreneur

Ms Cole – among other things a double-first degree holder from Cambridge – chose to feature the heart-rending system the hospital used to select babies: balls.*

*(Which is also the title of the film.)

Mothers took a ball from a bag. Those who took a white ball went to the next stage – a check on their infants’ health.

Those who selected a red ball were back-up.

Tia Bannon

I won’t divulge the rest.

An interesting discussion followed and for me the other star of the evening was the lovely, Tia Bannon, who played one of the mothers.

Her smile lit up the room.

But panel discussions aren’t really my thing – and the real reason I’d booked myself in for the entire weekend was The Unthanks. Appearing on evening four.

Now, if Emily would have been upset about Lily Cole (would she?), I wonder how she would have felt about The Unthanks?

At least they didn’t do any clog dancing, which I’m pretty sure she would have frowned upon in such a couth setting (a marquee, with gin and wine bar, in a field, on a mild summer evening).

But really, who knows?

No one.

She may have revelled in it. After all, she was a writer.

Anyway. I love the Unthanks.

The evening was soft after the rain, the pale marquee cocooned in opalescent, summery twilight.

Delicious twilight creeping over Haworth

Margaret looking very literary calling her daughter from a field behind the parsonage in Haworth

The Scottish man turned out to be a great conversationalist, not really obsessed with his phone, when he joined me (on the right) – and made a nice silhouette (on the left) before that! 😉

The group’s setting of one of Emily’s poems was gentle, lullaby-like. Words swaddled in the evening’s embrace, gently rocked in a musical cradle.

I met the two female singers afterwards.

Sadness, pain, misery and beauty are, for me, their hallmarks. They sing about tragic matters so hauntingly you can’t help but listen. But as an overly empathetic person I often find myself torn apart by their songs.

We saw them, years go now, in Liverpool. And had to leave at the interval, I was so convulsed with angst.

Now, this isn’t the kind of thing you tell artists, is it?

Love your books – but never get past chapter one.

I like your paintings – but can’t bear to look at them.

Enjoy your music – but left at the interval…

Of course, I did.

‘May I take your picture?’ I asked, to make amends, telling them I really, really, really loved their work.

The very tolerant Rachel and Becky Unthank

 

Afterwards my new friends drove me back to t’mill, leaving me with a sparkler to light for Emily’s anniversary.

Homing in the grey, post crepuscular light to Bent’s Mill

I stayed on a few extra nights after they left, having not done the writing I hoped would trickle out.

But there were other things ahead, perhaps more important in my life’s eye.

A school friend I hadn’t seen for thirty years.

A dear man who taught at my father’s school, his wife who taught me French.

French themed afternoon tea – my old French teacher turns out to be a great baker – madeleines and gougeres home made!

A friend from university.

And – the new Hockney gallery in Bradford’s Cartwright Hall.

Hockney Gallery doors

Hmm.

I wasn’t sure about that, was veering towards disappointment. But then …

I entered the mock-up of his studio.

With a jolt, a memory returned.

For a brief spell we lived near Cartwright Hall. I toiled uphill every weekday to school. Past Lister’s Mill, still weaving, escaped fibre-fairies floating on the air.

At weekends, in Lister Park, I roller-skated and visited Cartwright Hall.

Cartwright Hall

My memory paints it cold. Sees fossils and stones.

The exhibition described how little David experienced his first art here – art I don’t recall.

But there, in his recreated studio, was a glass case of stuffed birds.

Whoosh!

Images came flooding back. Those birds, drawn by young Hockney were the same ones seen by little me, years later, amid the fossils and stones.

Memories.

How many keys are hidden around our worlds, waiting to set them free?

It was a time, my week of exploration, of remembering. Of creating a well of new images to mix in with the old.

I left with deeper, happier ties. New friends, new memories and old revived.

And now, at last, thanks to them all, new inspiration, fizzing away in my brain.

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Limbo

Here I am.

Sitting at my desk.

Anxious.

Waiting.

Again.

After last week’s tense, stressful wait for the prof’s immigration status to be legalised when his first visa reached its end date. (Normally done without too much hassle by contacting immigration, signing papers and paying payments.)

After panicking when he was silent for 24 hours, during which I thought he may have been arrested by the immigration police. (It has happened before, I was with him, well, until they took him away to a police vehicle by the side of a road at a road block, that is. Just so you know this is not my idle imagination at work.)

After finally seeing it all come out right in the end…

… except it hasn’t.

Let me explain why I get involved, for those of you who think I should just stay out of it, let my best-beloved sort out his own problems in the field. Aside, of course, from the fact he is my best-beloved.

First of all, I have no choice but to keep an active eye on our bank balance while he’s away. The Zambian Kwacha is not what you might call a widely recognised currency and he has to pay his way, largely in cash, by taking out large quantities from working ATMs.

I have not used our joint account since he left, so he could have free rein. And luckily I have a small separate one of my own for just this reason. From which I can top ours up if necessary.

I also keep a weather eye on his inbox – with his permission – so I can see any bear-traps in the offing. Sometimes it’s impossible for him to communicate across continents in a timely enough way to get things done when a famed Zambian  ‘just now’ fails the upgrade to ‘now now’ .

Which is why, on Friday, when I imagined all was well, I did wonder about the emails about exports, about invoices, about … university finance replies unopened.

And sure enough, this lunchtime, an email.

Please contact [names supplied].

Tell them the invoice for import agent clearing (an invoice a month old in Kwacha, only on Friday deemed unacceptable, must be in dollars or pounds) and a so far non-existent one for export, have to be paid or he can’t bring any of the valuable kit he imported with great difficulty – and at great expense – back home again.

Which I am guessing means he would have to leave without it as his new, temporary visa says he must “wind up and leave”.  See his latest post here. [Done on Sunday when the bandwidth stretched far enough to cope]

I am always willing to help, if not always happy.

And what I am definitely not happy to do is to sit here doing nothing except metaphorically biting my nails (there’s nothing real left to bite – thanks to all the cleaning 😉 I’ve been doing) while receiving ‘helpful’ advice.

Which is why I don’t usually share such hassles. Because then I get:

“Tell him…”

“Can’t you…”

“Have you tried…”

“Why doesn’t he …”

“Why do you have to…”

Well,  you know what? It’s just not that easy.

If there is no bandwidth there is no email.

If the Zambian phone (which makes lousy connections anyway) doesn’t have enough credit it won’t accept my call.

If he doesn’t have his UK phone on I can’t call that and of course, ditto.

If he’s not in his backpacker hostel (yes, I rang their landline and he isn’t) then I have run out of options.

Forget WhatsApp and Facebook calls and Skype everything else.

We’re talking a place where you can’t depend on electricity at all times, let alone communications.

And today we cannot communicate.

So, yes, I call university finance. They are sympathetic and helpful.

Yes they are ready to jump through hoops to get the things paid. But there are no invoices that are payable.

They cannot pay non-existent invoices.

And the prof cannot write them, the export/import agents have to do that.

And the time is an hour different in Zambia. An hour later there, so the afternoon ticks away…

And I am tired, anxious, fed up and have done next to no creative writing in over six weeks. Haven’t even submitted the novel, the first planned task of this stint ‘alone’, to more than two agents.

‘Real’ writers say, I can’t not write, I will always find time to write, come what may.

Well, I’m obviously not a writer.

Yes, I have set up a website, created a couple of items – words in hardcopy for sale. Organised ISBNS. Bought specialist packaging and all that stuff.

I’ve blogged for six years (though only once in the last six weeks).

I compose in my head the whole time.

But if I were a ‘real’ writer I could be writing.

Not worrying.

Yeah.

And people wonder why I call this memoirs of a husk.

But fortunately there’s a remedy for temporary huskitis.

“Tea tempers the spirit and harmonises the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness.’

Lu Yu, the Sage of Tea, born 733.

Now, just to choose which one.

 

 

Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Words for sale

No easy way to do this, sorry.

I hate selling. But it’s ready now. The new website via which you can buy my re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Little Match Girl.

Sparingly re-titled as, A Little Match Girl, by me.

It’s been lovingly typeset on historic equipment and printed by hand (see this post on my other, nerdy blogging site for more detail).

It’s short, that’s why it’s listed under Short Reads (there’s only one so you won’t get confused).

The Long Read (you guessed, there’s only one) is my Zambia-based crime fiction novel, A Wake of Vultures, which some of you have already bought and/or read, thank you. It’s available on Amazon for Kindle (link on the website) but the paperback comes complete with a tiny ‘chitenge’ bookmark until I run out of Zambian fabric. But since they are so small I doubt I will. Run out.

A Wake of Vultures was published in 2012, so not exactly hot off the presses and I have to be honest, I failed abysmally at the self-marketing thing that is so essential.

But.

The British High Commissioner for Zambia recently read and enjoyed it (I hope he won’t mind me saying) and just this week had an animated conversation with the prof (who’s nearing the end of his field season, see his latest blog post here) about one of the characters (my favourite, I’m not telling who, but it’s male).

Enough.

Here’s the link, please take a look:

http://www.cosiandveyn.co.uk/

 

Posted in Fiction, probably | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Catching no worms

I’m not an early bird, I said, as I bid a fond farewell to three women, strangers to me before last Friday.

They were planning an early walk, today, before leaving the place we’re all staying.

This is where I’m staying, the others were by the other mill through the woods. I’m to the left of the tunnel over the old wheelhouse which was in the glassed in area behind the arch and have beautiful views to the back of the block as well

It wasn’t just the hour. True, 8.30 am sounded rather more chore than fun, but I also suspect they’re hardy trompers. And I’m more of a casual ambler, two miles for me a decent walk.

So we hugged and parted. A sparkler clasped in my hand as I waved goodbye, a souvenir of their companionship and a parting gift to celebrate Emily Bronte’s 200th birthday.

Davindra, Rashda and Margaret, wine buff and explorer, who brought the very special bottle of champagne

Emily was the prime reason we had all assembled at the old mills in the lush valley. And I, fortunate one that I am, stay on.

Of course he interviewed Rashda and Margaret after the last evening’s event at Haworth (wouldn’t you?)

A slightly fuzzy self portrait (right) in silhouette on the marquee as the two are interviewed

But my words came back to haunt me this morning. I woke at 4 am – and half an hour later was still a very long way from the Land of Nod.

I opened the curtains, stared at the grey-green world outside and thought, why not?

Why not throw on some clothes and walk?

Ten minutes later I left my lair and shut the door quietly behind me.

No-one else would be up so early, would they? And I didn’t want to disturb any of the other guests.

But as I stepped into the dawning, I noticed a man, standing on a doorstep at the far end of the mill. I began a smile, raised my hand and quickly dropped it back again.

There was no answering greeting, no twitch of the face or hand. At least, I didn’t see any such acknowledgement. Perhaps, like me, he wasn’t quite ready for his part in reality.

And so I went on my way. Through the tunnel and past the pond, along the path beside the water.

Was it coming on to rain?

I stood a moment. All was still in the water, the dim light reflecting the trees above as clearly as at high noon. But in different hues.

Water lilies still slumbering

Further down the path, Bent’s Mill snoozing beyond the trees

As soon as I moved the ‘rain’ began again and followed me as I padded down the path in my (it will soon become clear why I mention this) blue and white, made-of-textile shoes.

The raindrops were water boatmen, water skaters, detecting me, busying themselves with evasive manoeuvres. Tiny creatures,  but alive and alert.

I was no longer alone – if ever I had been.

I plodded on, trying to notice the shapes of things, the muted colours, the light, the shade. Smelling the air. Listening (in vain) for the owl I heard yesterday.

Accompanied by the chortling brook, cheered, I imagine, by two days of rain.

Darkness still winning – just – beneath the trees

I peered up through the trees, hoping to catch a glimpse of deer between skinny trunks that interspersed others too sturdy for hugging.

To no avail.

Ah well.

Magic comes best unbidden, unsought. Surprise an essential part of the spell.

I came to the end of the broad path approaching the other mill. Saw a little bridge. Turned my steps and bore left.

Treading carefully over chunky gravel, so as not to disturb any nearby sleepers, I left the route-well-trodden.

The sheep were having none of this anonymous nonsense and several raised their voices.

‘Bear,’ they bleated. ‘Bear, we’re here.’

I think Bear’s their pet name for everyone.

Over the bridge the path became a narrow strip of coarse grass cut through a lush meadow. I tromped on, then upwards.

Anyone who has ever sung English folk songs will know that we should beware of the morning dew. And what a heavy dew lay upon the grass this morning. That and the remnants of yesterday’s rain.

By the time I’d stopped several times, to marvel at umbellifers, grasses and teasels, my feet were thoroughly sodden.

Ah well, nothing I could do. And once so wet, they wouldn’t get wetter.

A branch of a tree hung across the path and I debated turning back, but something drew me on.

I blame the earliness of the hour – I wasn’t quite as alert as I might have been.

And anyway, I’d really stopped hoping.

I caught a glimpse of beigey brown, saw branches and leaves roughly ruffled, disturbed.

Heard the thudding of deer’s feet leaving.

Stood a while, willing them not to be frightened.

Frightened? Of me?

But I knew they would not be back, or not soon.

Their magic nestling in my heart like a random gift from a stranger, I turned and squelched away.

And as I sit here writing, I catch a glimpse, now and then, of a speck of gold on my hand.

A tiny heart. A temporary tattoo from last night’s revels.

Random gifts from strangers.

Or not so random.

And not now – the three humans anyway – strangers.

Lucky me.

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Nature notes, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments