Welcome to this 3rd Edition of "FROM THE WINDOW" a worldwide magazine inviting contributions in the fields of journalism, poetry, travelogues and experiential writing from people in all walks of life and all parts of the globe.
We are a non-commercial internet magazine following a quiet path away from the soundbites and manic zing of mainstream net, promoting understanding of the breadth of common human experience, celebrating a joy in language and run by a pretentious and pompous crip child...
The format of this magazine is to present all of the current edition in one hit so that although it may take some time to download to your screen it can then be read in its entirety or printed out for sharing. The Editor therefore suggests that when you click on "mag" (below), you then zip off to make a cup of coffee, a shopping list, cut your nails or what have you.
The contents are divided into: firstly, a Guest Column (where we publish contributions from eminent writers and other prominent people), Collected Writings (arranged in alphabetical order by author's name), The Editor's View (that's stuff I write), Filched & Pilfered (stuff I've enjoyed), Coming Soon (next issue) and Poster & Bumph (acknowledgements etc).
This time our Guest Columnist is Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, who has sent me a personal letter. New this edition (by request) is a list of contributors which I could not resist annotating.
Past editions are still available:
Our 2nd Edition has as Guest Columnist the contemporary composer John Tavener, who had recently reached a wider audience with the playing of a piece of his at the funeral service for Princess Diana. It also carries articles on, inter alia, being a crew member in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race; pieces on identity: being "Irish"; being a member of two different minority groups ie Gay and Disabled; the death of one's parents; childbirth; an adopted child's first encounter with her biological mother; a day in the life of a violinist. There is a motley selection as usual of "No Can Do" correspondence. I have refrained from publishing my fan mail.
The 1st Edition's Guest Columnist was the poet Ruth Padel and articles therein are on a variety of topics such as fear of boats; a newcomer's response to Zimbabwe; the emotional impact of surgical versus congenital amputation; imagination and the prehistoric cave paintings of Peche Merle; the death of a cat; and a day in the life of a family therapist.
I hope that everyone will take note of the new web address. I am also developing my own website at
I am desirous of this magazine becoming less lamentably ethnocentric and reflecting a broader range of lifestyles, backgrounds and experiences. Therefore I am currently seeking contributions for the next edition from sources across the globe and very much hope that surfers reading this now as a result of my letter-writing or as a result of fortuitous roaming will wish to add their own voices to "FROM THE WINDOW".
MAG 3 CONTENTS LIST:
The Secretary General of the United Nations has sent a personal article for this magazine.
She wrote before (mag 2) about the experience of childbirth. Here she tells of experiencing an armed robbery.
Playwright, and only a playwright.
The natural history broadcaster is off to Venezuela, that's his excuse, & he doesn't like writing anyway...
Lord of the realm and film director is delighted to contribute. Fine but where is it?
The Canadian novelist & poet has sent an article on being 16 and becoming a poet.
Broadcaster and artsman. He has sent an article on his out of body experiences as a child.
Still (see mag 2) contemplating her roots as Irish or Ulster-woman.
She's appeared in mag 1 writing about congenital limblessness, mag 2 writing about dykes and disabilities, and now gives us a journey across the top of Australia, Cairns to Darwin.
Only writes for cash and suffers from constipation as far as I can see.
looks back now as a parent to being sent to boarding school when he was a child.
Regrets being portly in style if not in build, or some such.
Reminisces about a rural Kentish childhood in the 50s.
The contemporary Glaswegian composer, recently with a festival of his music at the South Bank (London) and Composer of the Week on Radio 3, writes in response to John Tavener's Guest Column in mag 2.
A young London actor writes about kettles.
An executive writing about success in business.
Administrator of Glyndebourne Opera writes about her year, and the drawbacks of working at Glyndebourne as she sees it (ha!).
Self-defined as a prolific writer with over 100 books to his credit, his contribution for FROM THE WINDOW could scarce be shorter. Is it poetry one asks oneself?
is a Scottish physiotherapist who has lived in the Middle East for nearly 10 years and is currently working with disabled Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Her article is a description of her job.
In mag 1, I described the pain of being disabled and the realisation as a child that it is a permanent state. In mag 2, I waxed lyrical upon the elemental joys that buoy me up. Here, in part 3, I deal with Oxford Envy.
this edition (3) / poster / 1st Edition / 2nd Edition / Editor's Homesite
This site was last altered on 6th June 1998 but is checked weekly.
Dear Hero Joy Nightingale,
I am writing in reply to our letter of 24 September 1997. I understand that Mr. Ahmad Fawzi, Director of the United Nations Information Centre in London, informed you that the Secretary-General would be pleased to contribute to the guest column in your internet magazine.
As promised, please find attached a message from the Secretary-General along with a brief biography. I hope you will be able to use it in your magazine. I would be grateful if you were to let me know when you expect it to appear.
Please accept my congratulations on this very interesting initiative. I have no doubt that the magazine will be a great success.
Executive Office of the Secretary-General
I am very pleased to contribute to Miss Hero Joy Nightingale's Internet magazine for students and young writers. Learning and writing are the most important gifts that we receive from schools and teachers, gifts that enrich all our lives and make us see the world anew. My own school Mfanstipim in Ghana, was an extraordinary school, which did so much to prepare me for life. Mfanstipim has always been distinguished by the extraordinary teachers and staff whose devotion to their students and to opening their minds is without rival. I vividly recall the words of my Headmaster F.L. Bartels and other members of the Mfanstipim faculty, Eric Otoo and Reverend Branful, always encouraging me to excel and to believe that knowledge itself was a gift for life. They taught me lessons that I have shared with friends and colleagues for forty years, lessons about how we view the world around us, and how it views us. Once, I remember, Reverend Branful took out a large white sheet with a black dot in the middle, draped it over the blackboard and asked us: What do you see? We all answered:- The black dot. Why only the black dot, he responded, why only the negative? What about the vast white spaces around? He was reminding us to always look beyond the obvious and beneath the surface, to bear in mind the larger picture, not to focus just on the blemishes. He was teaching us also to remember that there is more than one side to a story, and more than one answer to a question. I am convinced that you have learned similar lessons, and that you will take them with you into whatever lives you create for yourselves, for your families and for your communities. Allow me to share one more lesson, that which I have carried throughout my life: be tolerant with yourselves, your loved ones, your communities and with the strangers that may live among you. The displaced, the refugees, the different are the ones who enrich all our lives, and your tolerance and openness toward them will open new worlds for you, and make you welcome wherever you go.
Kofi Annan was elected Secretary General of the United Nations on 17 December 1996 to serve a five year term of office. A national of Ghana, he took up the post after more than three decades of high level service with the world Organisation. His previous positions include Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Controller and Assistant Secretary General for Human Resources Management. In addition to serving at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Mr Annan has served in Addis Ababa, Cairo, Geneva, and Ismaili (Egypt), and he has carried out sensitive diplomatic assignments in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia.
A FORTNIGHT TO HELL & BACK
New beginnings, new life. Off to London where the streets are paved with gold. We packed up all our belongings wrapped in a spotted handkerchief, over the shoulder with a heavy sigh and drove up the M.2. to Charlton borough of London S.E.
My husband had been training hard and now been offered a shop to manage in Charlton. "You have do London for a year or so" we were told, innocently we believed, then you transfer to a nicer area back to the coast maybe??
I didn't want to go initially. I looked at my 3 year old, she was happy at playschool, happy with life, I had a job, I liked my home and my family and friends were near. But you do anything for love.
So I patiently went through a painful process of closing down chapters of my life, saying goodbye and locking away memories.
To add to the turmoil I just discovered I was pregnant and I'm not sure whether stress or upset provoked a threatened miscarriage. Two days before the "MOVE" I had a scan and the bitch scanning me coldly told me she could't work out if I had an eight week pregnancy shrivelling and dead or by my dates I was not very far gone. Thanks a lot love you really made my day - top prize for tact.
dirty streets, paved with people, litter and dullness hung in the air.
We were thrown in at the deep end just before the Christmas rush. My husband had to start work next day. The shop. an off-licence was old fashioned run down, but it had a warmth and character. We were somewhat suspicious of the iron bars and protection needed to lock the shop at night time though.
The flat above was now home, big spacey, high ceilings, 3 bedroomed On closer inspection plaster hung from walls, damp patches, leaking gas fires - got the picture? But it was home and things slowly got sorted and life brightened up.
My daughter began inner-city play school, but she bounced back and adapted as kids do and she enjoyed shop life especially when a chap named Valentine paid a visit, a very smart gentleman, Fred Astaire almost well mannered, well groomed. I half expected him to start tap dancing on the counter. Charming, he would buy my eyes popping child piles of choclate and crisps in return for a smile - no problem - !
The shop took shape. We cleaned it up, window displayed and sifted our way through the mess the stock was left in. It was classed as a grade 1 shop on the quality of wine we sold, in other words bottom grade, it was a beer and pop shop. People here lived life hard and drank hard. But never say die, there was plenty of room for improvement and upgrading judging from our cliental, folk would queue up for opening and produce their penny jars to buy one can of super strength beer, so we didn't kid ourselves. All in all the people of Charlton welcomed us they were friendly and being opposite a train station we caught passing trade. as the wine upgraded so did the interest of the city commuter.
Before long the shops turnover improved by 50% per week.
Thursdays was my husbands day off and bit by bit we ventured out to discover Londons culture. Catch the bus up the road 5 miles!! To Woolwich or Greenwich park to feed the tame squirrels with monkey nuts my delighted daughter would have them come right up in her lap and shoulders, then they'd scurry away tell their mates "grubs up!" and return in droves. Train into Central London 10/15 minutes away, museums, sights and most importantly my big sis.
8 weeks later after the move... my first check to confirm pregnancy, the doctor could find no physical evidence on examination of any sign of P.G. so I immediately had to drink pints of water, throw it all up, start again and in under 45 minutes there she was my little floating gem in black and white hiding low in my pelvis 15 weeks of unborn by measurement and my stomach as flat as a pancake. What a glorious day!!
A few shadows were niggling us my husband heard gossip about trouble the shop had experienced recently before our time, like till snatches. credit card fraud was rife and being on route in and out of London we caught numerous but we felt we had things under control.
Nightmare fortnight began on a Friday.
My daughters 4th birthday came and went about a week later the snow came, it was the first snow she had ever seen and she was thrilled. (London snow is dirty snow.)
The shop was busier than ever people think you run out of alcohol as well as milk
Friday night, the water pipes had all frozen, we had no running water it was baltic cold, we all camped and slept in the living room with the fire on low to keep warm
Saturday night 7pm I popped downstairs to give working hubby a warm cuppa. My daughter followed sharply declaring "There's a big monster in the front room!"
"Don't be silly mummy's just coming up" she refused to come up with me I went upstairs and as I turned the corner I saw the front room door closed but blackened, I turned back down "I can smell smoke." my husband immediately said, nodding at him (worryingly I couldn't smell smoke) I grabbed my baby and my husband ushered everyone out the shop & dialled 999. Customers complained bitterly at not being able to just let us buy their goods!
We huddled together on the street below and locked up. the windows above the shop were black and smoke billowed out the walls, glass cracked. The fire crew arrived in minutes, big heavy men and big heavy equipment crashed through the shop. Everything was soaked to dampen the flames and heat, no electric, no nothing. In the space of 10 minutes we lost our whole front room, bedding birthday presents gone. Since that night possessions mean absolutely nothing to me and I will always feel this.
I cuddled my baby and my unborn. Live life for today.
"Losing money for the company" we to re-open the shop though our hearts weren't in it my husband made the effort.
A busy night, the shop closed at 10pm. I would go down at this time to help close up and keep company during book work chores etc.
This night I had my daughter in my arms, scared to be alone from the previous nights events. I heard my husbands voice, it was different somewhat panicy. I called out and began to descend the smoke stained stairs
"What ever you do don't come down, I'll speak to you in a moment" Obeyingly, babe in arm I proceeded only to come face to face with a sawn-off shot gun: A coloured man on his own in the shop and one man outside. He was edgy aggressive and abusive, demanded cash - My husband gave him what he wanted - Money is nothing, your life is more valuable. They left, the robbery lasted 7 minutes, the police CID came and went. Head office paid us a visit "The next time" (NEXT TIME??) "it happens and it will" we were told "You must tell them all the money is banked and give them the till." We apparently gave the money away too easily!!
One week ...two days later
We have a chap helping my husband to get over nerves of the robbery added male presence and support for a fortnight he was ex-army and called Adrian. The company allowed us to vary closing time to fool would be robbers!!
9.45pm on a Tuesday night. I came downstairs my baby's asleep and stupidly offered to bring in the outside swing sign in from the pavement. Cautiously I flit around a man stands opposite on a corner. My husband is now paranoid about everyone even sparrows hopping by. The man stares at me but I will not be un-nerved. Eventually I continue and have decided to enter the shop and just lock the door, side step out of range and tell my husband. As I turned to my horror two more customers have nipped in the shop in the meantime. I'll lock it anyway I remember thinking. As I pushed the door I felt something hard and sharp thrust into my back "get in shut up" I was roughly pushed forward.
My husband was gayly chatting like he does and I tried desparately to attract his attention with eye contact. I think I blurted out the fact we had more visitors in the end. His face colour drained, all of us including Adrian were bundled into the shop office. The customers were made to lie face down on the tiled floor 2 gents and a sobbing woman.
"Money.. "It all been banked, all I've got is the till, take that" hubby dutifully stated
BANG with the butt of the gun went my husbands head. Guns, I realised suddenly, with 3 customers, unconscious hubby oh yes + Adrian. Sod this I thought.
I reached for the safe keys and passed the buck if you like to Adrian. "open the safe Adrian and give them everything." The men were very violent I could have told the other lot to go home to their mothers compared to these blokes. One bloke went to the safe with ex-army Ad. who kindly said "don't push her shes pregnant". Now I was pushed by the neck to the till. The balaclavered eyes looked at me, and I then felt his gun prodding my stomach "Open it then" he leered.. I paniced, try as I might I couldn't open it, then I remembered to ring off the mid-sale and then press the magic button, He greedily grabbed the dosh and left my side. I was shaking not with fear, with anger.
In a flash they were gone the police pulled up seconds later, the womans boyfriend was waiting outside and witnessed the robbery and phoned the police. I was glad they were too late. The customers never came in again. My stitched and sore headed husband physically recovered, emotionally? Neither of us have.
We even were escorted to Scotland Yard to look at photo fits to try and identify the robbers eyes! We recognised a lot of folk mainly customers but to no avail and we then calmly had a smashing afternoon at London Zoo that day.
Oh yeah Adrian, he didn't re-surface - this ex-army man was found quivering like jelly in the cellar too scared to move crying he left us that night.....
.....he left the company days after.
.... Not for long now.... So did we.
kiss the ground back home again..
-> from Russia With Love.
- Anon - Aged 30yrs. born and bred in Canterbury. Two daughters one ten going on twenty the other six 'n' a bit.
(Don't drink, don't smoke, what do I do?)
28 March 1998
Dear Hero Joy Nightingale,
What a wonderful name. What a remarkable letter.
I am now going to fail you as I am not going to come up with an article for From the Window.
Yes, I do enjoy writing but only writing plays. I dislike having to produce prose and only do so under duress.
I am also in the midst of directing a new musical and attempting to meet a fast approaching deadline for a young people's play. I hope this will go a little way to explain my miserable response to your worthwhile request.
Long may the magazine and your own writing flourish.
All best wishes,
Alan Ayckbourn is a well-known contemporary playwright and is Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, Yorks. He sounds nice. HJN.
Dear Hero Joy Nightingale
Thank you for your letter. I am sorry not to have been able to reply to it before now but it arrived while I was away filming.
I hope you will forgive me if I do not supply you with the article you ask for. I am not, as it happens a user of the internet, though I realise, of course that that would not prevent me from becoming one of your contributors. The reason is that at the moment I am overloaded with writing commitments. I am struggling to complete a book, against some particularly savage deadlines; I am also having to write detailed scripts for a series of ten one-hour programmes that we have been filming for the past two and a half years; and I am leaving for Venezuela on another long filming trip at the end of next week. And on top of all that (I might as well admit it) I loathe writing. I find it very hard to produce sentences that are anything other than humdrum and cliché-ridden and sit staring miserably at a blank sheet of paper or - come to that - a laptop screen.
Needless to say, I wish you every success with you magazine, even though I am not able to contribute to it.
With best wishes
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH CH, FRS
David Attenborough is an extraordinarily influential maker of natural history tv programmes and it would have been nice to have heard more about his travels. HJN.
Richard Attenborough Productions Limited
TWICKENHAM STUDIOS . ST MARGARETS . MIDDLESEX
20 October 1997
Dear Hero Joy Nightingale
I am writing in response to your letter of 26 September.
I have discussed this with Lord Attenborough and he is more than happy to provide an article for your internet magazine guest column. I'm afraid he is rather busy at the moment acting in Shekhar Kapur's new film "Elizabeth I" as well as starting pre-production on his next project as a producer/director. However, as soon as he has a moment to compose something for your column I will fax it to you.
Apologies for this reply by post but I'm afraid our computer technology is rather basic and we are not on the internet!
With best wishes,
Polite chasers haven't got any reply from the peer or his p.a. HJN.
Dear Hero Joy Nightingale,
Thank you for your lovely letter to Margaret Atwood. She's out of the country for
some weeks, so is unable to answer you personally, but I know she would want me
to thank you for thinking of her.
I wonder if you are willing to consider using a piece of hers that has already been
published (although only in North America)? There's an interesting piece called
"Under the Thumb: How I Became a Poet" which was published in a few magazines
and seems to suit your needs.
I'm afraid I don't have a computer file copy to e-mail you, but if you're interested, I
could ask my assistant to enter it so we could e-mail it.
Please let me know if you would like to see this piece. In any case, we wish you all
the best in your courageous
Assistant to Margaret Atwood
Under the Thumb: How I Became a Poet
I recently read an account of a study that intends to show how writers of a certain age - my age, roughly, attempt to "seize control" of the stories of their own lives by deviously concocting their own biographies. However, it's a feature of our times that if you write a work of fiction, everyone assumes that the people and events in it are disguised biography - but if you write your biography, it's assumed you're lying your head off.
The latter may be true, at any rate of poets: Plato said that poets should be excluded from the ideal republic because they are such liars. I am a poet, and I affirm that that is true. About no subject are poets tempted to lie so much as about their own lives; I know one of them who has floated at least five versions of his autobiography, none of them real. I, of course, am a much more truthful person than that. But since poets lie, how can you believe me?
Here, then, is the official version:
I was once a snub-nosed blonde. My name was Betty. I had a perky personality and was a cheerleader for the college football team. My favorite color was pink. Then I became a poet. My hair darkened overnight, my nose lengthened, I gave up football for the cello, my real name disappeared and was replaced by one that had a chance of being taken seriously, and my clothes changed color in the closet, all by themselves, from pink to black. I stopped humming the songs from Oklahoma! and began quoting Kierkegaard. And not only that - all of my high-heeled shoes lost their heels, and were magically transformed into sandals. Needless to say, my many boyfriends took one look at this and ran screaming from the scene as if their toenails were on fire. New ones replaced them: They all had beards.
Believe it or not, there is an element of truth in this story. It's the bit about the name, which was not Betty but something equally nonpoetic, and with the same number of letters. It's also the bit about the boyfriends. But meanwhile, here is the real truth:
I became a poet at the age of 16. I did not intend to do it. It was not my fault.
Allow me to set the scene for you. The year was 1956. Elvis Presley had just appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, from the waist up. At school dances,
which were held in the gymnasium and smelled like armpits, the dance with the most charisma was rock 'n' roll. The approved shoes were saddle shoes and white bucks, and the evening gowns were strapless, if you could manage it; they had crinolined skirts that made you look like half a cabbage with a little radish head. Girls were forbidden to wear jeans to school, except on football days, when they sat on the hill to watch and it was feared that the boys would be able to see up their dresses unless they wore pants. TV dinners had just been invented.
None of this - you might think, and rightly so - was conducive to the production of poetry. If someone had told me a year previously that I would suddenly turn into a poet, I would have giggled. (I had a passable giggle, then.) Yet this is what did happen.
I was in my fourth year of high school. The high school was in Toronto, which in the year 1956 was still known as Toronto the Good because of its puritanical liquor laws. It had a population of 650,509 people at the time, and was a synonym for bland propriety, and although it has produced a steady stream of chartered accountants and one cabinet minister, no other poets have ever emerged from it, before or since - or none that I know of.
The day I became a poet was a sunny day of no particular ominousness. I was walking across the football field, not because I was sports-minded or had plans to smoke a cigarette behind the field house-the only other reason for going there - but because this was my normal way home from school. I was scuttling along in my usual furtive way, suspecting no ill, when a large invisible thumb descended from the sky and pressed down on the top of my head. A poem formed. It was quite a gloomy poem; the poems of the young usually are. It was a gift, this poem - a gift from an anonymous donor, and, as such, both exciting and sinister at the same time.
I suspect this is why all poets begin writing poetry, only they don't want to admit it, so they make up explanations that are either more rational or more romantic. But this is the true explanation, and I defy anyone to disprove it.
The poem that I composed on that eventful day, although entirely without merit or even promise, did have some features. It rhymed and scanned, because we had been taught rhyming and scansion at school. It resembled the poetry of Lord Byron and Edgar Allan Poe, with a little Shelley and Keats thrown in. The fact is that at the time I became a poet, I had read very few poems written after the year 1900. I knew nothing of modernism or free verse. These were not the only things I knew nothing of. I had no idea, for instance, that I was about to step into a whole set of preconceptions and social roles that had to do with what poets were like and how they should behave. I didn't know yet that black was compulsory. All of that was in the future. When I was 16, it was simple. Poetry existed; therefore it could be written. And nobody had told me - yet - the many, many reasons why it could not be written by me.
At first glance, there was little in my background to account for the descent of the large thumb of poetry onto the top of my head. But let me try to account for my own poetic genesis.
I was born on November 18, 1939, in the Ottawa General Hospital, two and a half months after the beginning of the Second World War. Being born at the beginning of the war gave me a substratum of anxiety and dread to draw on, which is very useful to a poet. It also meant that I was malnourished. This is why I am short. If it hadn't been for food rationing, I would have been six feet tall.
I saw my first balloon in 1946, one that had been saved from before the war. It was inflated for me as a treat when I had the mumps on my sixth birthday, and it broke immediately. This was a major influence on my later work.
As for my birth month, a detail of much interest to poets, obsessed as they are with symbolic systems of all kinds: I was not pleased, during my childhood, to have been born in November. November was a drab, dark, and wet month, lacking even snow; its only noteworthy festival was Remembrance Day, the Canadian holiday honoring the war dead. But in adult life I discovered that November was, astrologically speaking, the month of sex, death, and regeneration, and that November 1 was the Day of the Dead. It still wouldn't have been much good for birthday parties, but it was just fine for poetry, which tends to revolve a good deal around sex and death, with regeneration optional.
Six months after I was born, I was taken in a wooden box to a remote cabin in northwestern Quebec, where my father was doing research as a forest entomologist. I should add here that my parents were unusual for their time. Both of them liked being as far away from civilization as possible, my mother because she hated housework and tea parties, my father because he liked chopping wood. They also weren't much interested in what the sociologists would call rigid sex-role stereotyping. This was beneficial to me in later life, as it helped me to get a job at summer camp teaching small boys to start fires.
My childhood was divided between the forest, in the warmer parts of the year; and various cities, in the colder parts. I was thus able to develop the rudiments of the double personality so necessary for a poet. I also learned to read early - I was lucky enough to have a mother who read out loud, but she couldn't be doing it all the time, and you had to amuse yourself with something or other when it rained. I became a reading addict, and have remained so ever since. "You'll ruin your eyes," I was told when caught at my secret vice under the covers with a flashlight. I did so, and would do it again.
Like cigarette addicts who will smoke mattress stuffing if all else fails, I will read anything. As a child I read a good many things I shouldn't have, but this also is useful for poetry.
As the critic Northrop Frye has said, we learn poetry through the seat of our pants, by being bounced up and down to nursery rhymes as children. Poetry is essentially oral, and is close to song; rhythm precedes meaning. My first experiences with poetry were Mother Goose, which contains some of the most surrealistic poems in the English language, and whatever singing commercials could be picked up on the radio, such as You'll wonder where the yellow went / When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!
Also surreal. What yellow? I wondered. Thus began my tooth fetish.
I created my first book of poetry at the age of five. To begin with, I made the book myself, cutting the pages out of scribbler paper and sewing them together in what I did not know was the traditional signature fashion. Then I copied into the book all the poems I could remember, and when there were some blank pages left at the end, I added a few of my own to complete it. This book was an entirely satisfying art object for me, so satisfying that I felt I had nothing more to say in that direction, and gave up writing poetry altogether for another 11 years.
My English teacher from 1955, run to ground by some documentary crew trying to explain my life, said that in her class I had showed no particular promise. This was true. Until the descent of the giant thumb, I showed no particular promise. I also showed no particular promise for some time afterwards, but I did not know this. A lot of being a poet consists of willed ignorance. If you woke up from your trance and realized the nature of the life-threatening and dignity-destroying precipice you were walking along, you would switch into actuarial sciences immediately.
If I had not been ignorant in this particular way, I would not have announced to an assortment of my high school female friends, in the cafeteria one brown-bag lunchtime, that I was going to be a writer. I said "writer;" not "poet"; I did have some common sense. But my announcement was certainly a conversation stopper. Sticks of celery were suspended in mid-crunch, peanut butter sandwiches paused halfway between table and mouth; nobody said a word. One of those present reminded me of this incident recently - I had repressed it - and said she had been simply astounded. "Why?" I said. "Because I wanted to be a writer?"
"No," she said. "Because you had the guts to say it out loud."
But I was not conscious of having guts, or even of needing them. We obsessed folks, in our youth, are oblivious to the effects of our obsessions; only later do we develop enough cunning to conceal them, or at least to avoid mentioning them at parties. The one good thing to be said about announcing myself as a writer in the colonial Canadian fifties was that nobody told me I couldn't do it because I was a girl. They simply found the entire proposition ridiculous. Writers were dead and English, or else extremely elderly and American; they were not 16 years old and Canadian. It would have been worse if I'd been a boy, though. Never mind the fact that all the really stirring poems I'd read at that time had been about slaughter, battles, mayhem, sex, and death - poetry was thought of as existing in the pastel female realm, along with embroidery and flower arranging. If I'd been male I would probably have had to roll around in the mud, in some boring skirmish over whether or not I was a sissy.
I'll skip over the embarrassingly bad poems I published in the high school yearbook (had I no shame? Well, actually, no), mentioning only briefly the word of encouragement I received from my wonderful grade 12 English teacher, Miss Bessie Billings: "I can't understand a word of this, dear; so it must be good." I will not go into the dismay of my parents, who worried - with good reason - over how I would support myself . I will pass over my flirtation with journalism as a way of making a living, an idea I dropped when I discovered that in the fifties, unlike now, female journalists always ended up writing the obituaries and the ladies' page, and nothing but.
But how was I to make a living? There was not then a roaring market in poetry. I thought of running away and being a waitress, which I later tried but got very tired and thin; there's nothing like clearing away other people's mushed-up dinners to make you lose your appetite. Finally, I went into English literature at university, having decided in a cynical manner that I could always teach to support my writing habit. Once I got past the Anglo-Saxon it was fun, although I did suffer a simulated cardiac arrest the first time I encountered T.S. Eliot and realized that not all poems rhymed anymore. "I don't understand a word of this," I thought, "so it must be good."
After a year or two of keeping my head down and trying to pass myself off as a normal person, I made contact with the five other people at my university who were interested in writing, and through them, and some of my teachers, I discovered that there was a whole subterranean wonderland of Canadian writing that was going on just out of general earshot and sight. It was not large: In 1960, you were doing well to sell 200 copies of a book of poems by a Canadian, and a thousand novels was a best-seller; there were only five literary magazines, which ran on the lifeblood of their editors. But while the literary scene wasn't big, it was very integrated. Once in - that is, once published in a magazine - it was as if you'd been given a Masonic handshake or a key to the Underground Railroad. All of a sudden you were part of
a conspiracy. People writing about Canadian poetry at that time spoke a lot about the necessity of creating a Canadian literature. There was a good deal of excitement,
and the feeling that you were in on the ground floor; so to speak.
So poetry was a vital form, and it quickly acquired a public dimension. Above ground, the bourgeoisie reigned supreme, in their two-piece suits and ties and camel-hair coats and pearl earrings (not all of this worn by the same sex). But at night, the bohemian world came alive, in various nooks and crannies of Toronto, sporting black turtlenecks, drinking coffee at little tables with red-checked tablecloths and candles stuck in Chianti bottles, in coffeehouses - well, in the one coffeehouse in town - listening to jazz and folk singing, reading their poems out loud as if they'd never heard it was stupid, and putting swear words into them. For a 20-year-old, this was intoxicating stuff.
By this time, I had my black wardrobe more or less together and had learned not to say "Well, hi there!" in sprightly tones. I was publishing in little magazines, and shortly thereafter I started to write reviews for them too. I didn't know what I was talking about, but I soon began to find out. Every year for four years, I put together a collection of my poems and submitted it to a publishing house; every year it was - to my dismay then, to my relief now - rejected. Why was I so eager to be published right away? Like all 21-year-old poets, I thought I would be dead by 30, and Sylvia Plath had not set a helpful example. For a while there, you were made to feel that, if you were a poet and female, you could not really be serious about it unless you'd made at least one suicide attempt. So I felt I was running out of time.
My poems were still not very good, but by now they showed - how shall I put it? - a sort of twisted and febrile glimmer. In my graduating year; a group of them won the main poetry prize at the university. Madness took hold of me, and with the aid of a friend, and another friend's flatbed press, we printed them. A lot of poets published their own work then; unlike novels, poetry was short, and therefore cheap to do. We had to print each poem separately, and then disassemble the type, as there were not enough a's for the whole book; the cover was done with a lino block. We printed 250 copies and sold them through bookstores for 50 cents each. They now go in the rare-book trade for $1,800 a pop. Wish I'd kept some.
Three years or so later - after two years at graduate school at the dreaded Harvard University, a year of living in a tiny rooming-house room and working at a market-research company, and the massive rejection of my first novel, as well as several other poetry collections - I ended up in British Columbia, teaching grammar to engineering students at eight-thirty in the morning in a Quonset hut. It was all right, as none of us were awake. I made them write imitations of Kafka, which I thought might help them in their chosen profession.
I taught in the daytime, ate canned food, did not wash my dishes until all of them were dirty - the biologist in me became very interested in the different varieties of molds that could be grown on leftover Kraft dinner - and stayed up until four in the morning writing. I completed, in that one year, my first officially published book of poems and my first published novel, which I wrote on blank exam booklets, as well as a number of short stories and the beginnings of two other novels, later completed. It was an astonishingly productive year for me. I looked like The Night of the Living Dead. Art has its price.
This first book of poems was called The Circle Game. I designed the cover myself, using stick-on dots - we were very cost-effective in those days - and to everyone's surprise, especially mine, it won the Governor General's Award, which in Canada then was the big one to win. Literary prizes are a crapshoot, and I was lucky that year. I was back at Harvard by then, mopping up the uncompleted work for my doctorate - I never did finish it - and living with three roommates named Judy, Sue, and Karen. To collect the prize, I had to attend a ceremony at Government House in Ottawa, which meant dress-ups - and it was obvious to all of us, as we went through the two items in my wardrobe, that I had nothing to wear. Sue lent me her dress and earrings, Judy her shoes, and while I was away they all incinerated my clunky, rubber-soled Hush Puppies shoes, having decided that these did not go with my new, poetic image.
This was an act of treachery, but they were right. I was now a recognized poet and had a thing or two to live up to. It took me a while to get the hair right, but I have finally settled down with a sort of modified Celtic look, which is about the only thing available to me short of baldness. I no longer feel I'll be dead by 30; now it's 60. I suppose these deadlines we set for ourselves are really a way of saying we appreciate time, and want to use all of it. I'm still writing, I'm still writing poetry, I still can't explain why, and I'm still running out of time.
Wordsworth was partly right when he said, "Poets in their youth begin in gladness / But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness." Except that sometimes poets skip the gladness and go straight to the despondency. Why is that? Part of it is the conditions under which poets work - giving all, receiving little in return from an age that by and large ignores them. Part of it is cultural expectation: "The lunatic, the lover; and the poet," says Shakespeare, and notice which comes first. My own theory is that poetry is composed with the melancholy side of the brain, and that if you do nothing but, you may find yourself going slowly down a long dark tunnel with no exit. I have avoided this by being ambidextrous: I write novels too.
I go for long periods of time without writing any poems. I don't know why this is: As the Canadian writer Margaret Laurence indicates in The Diviners, you don't know why you start, and you also don't know why you stop. But when I do find myself writing poetry again, it always has the surprise of that first unexpected and anonymous gift.
Margaret Atwood is the author, most recently, of the forthcoming novel Alias Grace (Doubleday).
From This Magazine (March/April 1996).
Margaret Atwood is the author of more than twenty-five books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, and her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. Her most recent novel, Alias Grace, was published in 1997. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
27th January 1998
Dear Hero Joy Nightingale
Many thanks for your letter which was extraordinarily impressive.
What I would like to send you would be an article about an Out of Body Experience which I endured when I was just a year or two older than you are now. This article first appeared in The Times but if you want to use it then please have it with no copyright connections. I also enclose a succinct CV and a photo copy of my current entry in Who's Who.
It is very odd indeed that I am writing this letter to you on the day I am travelling to see John Tavener as we are making a South Bank Show film about him. It is due to go out on 12th April 1998.
Very best wishes and congratulations on a tremendous initiative.
Yours sincerely & good luck
Out of my mind with terror
For years Melvyn Bragg secretly lived in fear of "out of body experiences". For the first time, he tells how he overcame his nightmare
They began when I was about 13 and continued upwards of two years, at times intensively. They faded away slowly, but still at 18 or 19 I was apprehensive that they might return, and in force. They did, briefly, at the end of my twenties, but since then I have been spared.
Usually they came at night. I cannot recall the first time, but I do remember the first onslaught. My parents kept a pub and they would be downstairs from about 5.30pm until after 11pm. I would have been out at choir practice, the Scouts, swimming, playing football, whatever, and come back to take it on. Having eaten a quick snack in the bar kitchen downstairs, I would go up to my bedroom - I would be alone in the flat above the pub. I would know that it was waiting for me, but I had no alternative but to go upstairs, although I would feel distraught.
I used to say my prayers then and yet I never mentioned this fear in them. For one thing, that would have been to extemporise, and the prayers I said were set ones, spoken twice on Sundays in church and most mornings in school assembly. There was no room for individual additions except to bless parents and relations, but that was something allowed for. What was not allowed was to tell anyone what was happening.
I cannot remember before or since being anything like as terrified. I remember the fact of it now, and even a little digging into memory gives off something of the taste of it. I would simply lie in bed waiting for it to happen, screwing up my eyes as tight as possible, hoping that I would be felled by instant, merciful sleep or somehow left alone. When I was, the relief the next morning was momentary before the fear began to build again.
What happened was this. Not part of me, but what I was left the boy's body on that bed and went above - it seemed to the corner of the ceiling next to the window. It hovered there. It stayed there. It, that thing, that object, was me. The huddle on the bed was controlled by it. There was no will in the boy's body. There was only, as it were, a holding state uninhabited, save for a possessing aura of terror. Whether the terror was in the body or in that thing which, at times, I thought I could make out and describe, I do not know. But the experience was terror.
If the thing moved away then the body would be finished. It would be no more, because that thing not only controlled the body but gave it life. The desperate fear was - would these two fuse again or not? What did this presence want the body to do besides lying inert and being a void? Somehow an invisible helpline would be thrown and the two would come together - and usually by that time I was exhausted and went into sleep of a sort.
This became the secret obsession of my life over those years. The noise from the pub downstairs, which could be lulling or, sometimes on Fridays and Saturdays, rather threatening, would often be a help. But when the pub closed and my parents had cleared up and settled downstairs for their final talk, the silence intensified the dread.
On spring and summer nights they would often go out for a walk after they had cleared up. I wanted to rush down and beg them not to after the cheery "We're just off for a bit of fresh air", but of course I would have been ashamed to have done that. I dare not. Left alone was the worst possible state. And so I would track their walk. I knew the route. I would try to time it. I would try to "be" with them.
Down Burnfoot past Scott's, where they used to have the funeral horses, to Joe Hill's on the corner with a shed in the garden where he slept for his asthma. Then into Birdcage Walk, along the cinder track past the allotments, with the pigeons silent as the pub, and on to the West Cumberland Farmers' warehouses. I feared I was always ahead of them and forced myself to slow down. Past Toppins field, where I used to sledge and where I used to play when I used to live in Council House Yard. Toppins field, with its great beech tree and its bomb shelters dug in the war. Then the Redmaynes clothing factory where my mother had worked as a girl.
Then they would turn into Station Road opposite the factory and slowly up the hill back into the middle of the town, left around Blue Bell corner, past Tickle's Lane and Plaskett's Lane and down towards the pub. I was always ahead and so I'd go over the route again trying to pick out more and more details until I heard them coming down the hill and, finally, the key turned in the lock and there would be some comfort.
These experiences, or attacks, were never anything other than utterly terrifying. I have read other people describing analogous experiences in terms of happiness and hope; that was never mine. In its most intensive period, they began to happen in the classroom, on the street, everywhere, and I seemed to spend my entire time constructing strategies to evade them or endure them.
It was impossible to talk to anyone about it. My parents could not have been better or kinder, but it was inconceivable that I could discuss this with them. How would I describe it? What would I, literally, say?
It has taken me this long to write about it openly and autobiographically, although it was part of the main character in my first novel - when I was 25 - unconsciously as it were.
I was still convinced that I had never admitted to it when, consciously, I made this state part of the underpinning of the main character in a later novel when I was in my late forties. But it was when I found myself referring to it in a recent interview about religious belief, in which the possibility of a duality and a soul was introduced, that I wanted to begin to put on paper something of that experience.
I could not talk to my parents, as I have said. I was not ill, so there was no need of a doctor. It was totally off the radar as far as friends were concerned. I just had to get through it, although at the time I thought simultaneously both that it would never end and that this attack could be the last.
I am sure that there are a number of plausible explanations. We know that people with an amputated arm can be driven to a frenzy at the pain in their missing fingers. We know from those who have been almost dead but just "returned" that similar experiences to mine are not uncommon. A. J. Ayer described one such most vividly.
There are fantasies within the human condition and in the casebooks of many analysts - Oliver Sachs is just one example - which furnish explained instances of circumstances much more bizarre. I am sure that materialists of consciousness will bring forward proof and so on. And there is the undeniable, unpredictable pressure of adolescence.
But at the risk of building far too much on this slender base of personal experience, my current thinking is that what I experienced is evidence of a duality, of a split, in Christian terms, of a distinction between body and soul.
It is relevant perhaps, and it could take away from my case that I was brought up as a strong Christian and the religious experience was, with me - as is common - especially strong in early adolescence. But the solidity of the thing which was undoubtedly outside my body, and the number of times it happened, and most importantly, the fact that it was the life, the intelligence as it were, is something I cannot, and do not want to, deny.
I'm prepared to be told that this evidence is too personal and too slight, but for what it is worth I hold on to it and find in it a duality which magnetises my earlier, schooled, received faith.
Perhaps these experiences would have faded away on their own, but at about 15 I realised that I had to attack them. At the same time I was not doing well at school and I knew that I had to study or leave and get work. I began to overwork and to write and to do as many other things as I could manage. Most importantly, I stayed in that bedroom studying on a chopped-off table which was wedged between the bed and the wardrobe. This was a conscious attempt to face up to it, in the very place where I had experienced it most violently and frighteningly. Gradually, I grew a bit stronger, although even in my late twenties I could feel fragile and vulnerable.
It is something that I would like to understand more. I would also like to gather up the determination to attempt to go through that experience again, but that will take a build up of energy and nerve which another part of me says it would be foolish to do. To seek to uncork a part of the past now blessedly gone would be not only painful but dangerous.
Melvyn Bragg, author/broadcaster. Born 1939. Educated locally and at Oxford where he read Modern History. Published his first Novel - For Want of a Nail in 1965 and his latest Credo, published in 1997 and On Giants' Shoulders to be published March 1998 accompanies the Radio 4 series. He has written over a dozen books, mostly novels but also a biography of Richard Burton and an Oral History of England - Speak for England.
He has worked in broadcasting since 1961 and is currently Controller of Arts at LWT, Editor and Presenter of The South Bank Show and Executive Producer of several other arts strands. He introduces Start-the-Week on Radio 4 on Monday mornings, he is President of the national Campaign for the Arts, Governor of the LSE and he writes a weekly column in the Times every Monday.
I have explained before why I now say to people that I am from Ulster rather than Ireland, and I said I would write about the meaning of that to me another day.
Just as people had 19th century images of Ireland so they have media images of Ulster. They assume the country is as seen on the news - wet, dangerous, dingy and very unhappy.
Ulster is all of these, but it is also a beautiful, quiet, peaceful and serene place too.
The people are the most generous in the British Isles. They give more to charities and they support independent missions abroad freely when compared to England and Scotland.
They also spend more per head on the lottery than any other region.
The dilemma is agonising. Such warm hearted people who have such cruel cold-hearted actions carried out in their name.
All Ulster people carry the burden of this. We yearn for a peaceful way of life but each community want that on their own terms.
To return to what Ulster means to me. It is my childhood.
My memories are of another way of life - in the country. The backdrop is the sea, mountains or fields - the weather stormy, wet or sunny.
In recent years it is full of family times, where I sense intense feelings of national isolation, alienated from the world by the media stereotypes of Orangemen, banners, dreadful murders and violence.
This isolation has also preserved many things of value. A home-based family way of life - an extended family system of support. Less petty crime; less traffic; fewer developments and no tourists.
In the 2 years of the peace treaty multinational stores began to build; day tourists crossed over from the Republic of Ireland in coach loads and crime began to rise.
Such is the dilemma. How does a beautiful country and a more relaxed way of life stave off the outside pressures to "enjoy" the benefits of a 21st century way of life.
I suspect a peace settlement will mean great and fast changes for Ulster - just as their neighbour is experiencing. Young exiles will return and bring another way of life with them.
However to me my Ulster will stay in my memory and I am the richer for having experienced my Ulster country childhood.
I am 47 years of age. I have worked as an Occupational Therapist within the NHS for nearly 25 years, after training in Edinburgh, Scotland.
I have been married for 22 years, and share interests in literature and gardening with my husband.
Subject: Re: hi!
Well, that was direct:
>the self-set deadline went by
>ding a ling
And of course you're quite right. Whoops! I've been battling a gut flu and
visitors - excuses, excuses, but here goes:
(Could you come up with a title - I've been pondering for hours - and just
can't get it - good luck!)
My country's pretty huge - the size of the USA, but with less than 20 million people rattling around in it, mainly around the coast, so when my broadcasting buddy Suzanne suggested she take me for a ride from tropical North Queensland on the east coast through the centre of Australia and up the Northern Territory to our northern-most city Darwin - a distance of some 3000kms in an 18 year old baby-poo brown palomino Holden Kingswood - how could I resist? No-one I knew had ever done such a thing.
There are heaps of myths about Australia's centre - that it's wild and ghostly - a place to lose yourself in; that there are monsters like bunyips and yowies; that rednecks roam with rifles at the ready - and although these seem like stories to amuse tourists with, the reality is our city folk kind of believe 'em as well. So I didn't know what to expect - having grown up in Sydney my idea of wilderness was a National Park with neat sign-posts and clipped native shrubs. Boy, was I in for an adventure.
Suzanne was waiting for me at the airport in Cairns as I flew in late on what had been a Winter's day in Sydney. In that amazing way Oz is famous for, Cairns was hot as sitting in a meat pie and as muggy as swimming in a beer-glass. It was a huge shock to the system to walk out into the armpit air in woolly clothes and feel the urge to strip them off immediately. Cairns is getting pretty close to the tip of eastern Australia - a place of crocodiles, impenetrable rainforest and flat muddy beaches. The Great Barrier Reef and its network of beautiful islands just off shore keep the surf flat as a tack and rather unappeallingly brown - not one's idea of a tropical beach at all.
Cairns is tourist city and the place is chocka with those sort of wide-eyed burnt-to-a-crisp-and-loving-it Europeans who feel like they're in Paradise. It's a place where you can wear virtually nothing all year round and still sweat madly every day. It took a little getting used to, but blessedly Suzanne and I were only going to stay a few days before heading southwards to hook up with the mega highway that was to carry us to the Centre.
If you go to Cairns you just can't miss the opportunity of heading a little north of the town up into the wilderness that is the Daintree rainforest. Stretching for thousands of kilometres the forest has stayed virtually pristine compared to the ravishing of most of the rest of the country because the tropical conditions over centuries have nurtured a forest so thick over hills and gullies so steep that not even the keenest farmer or developer has been able to do the deed fully.
We took a bus to the Daintree and whizzed along the Daintree road, a site of famous protests just a few years before that had been obviously lost. Because the Daintree is one of the few remaining sites where the rainforest meets the sea, environmentalists had determined from other road ventures that the run-off of both soil and pollutants from road excavation clogged marine life and disrupted the delicate balance of the coastal strip - so the road should be prevented from going through. Despite nationwide publicity and tying themselves to trees and other actions, the road had been built. I spent most of the journey reluctantly thrilling to the glory of the scenery, feeling the heartbreak of the land as well.
Picture huge green hills, dense with foliage and wearing on the tops giant cloud masses that never seem to move. Picture a forest so wet and hot and alive that it whickers and whirs and hums and throbs with life, but you can't see a thing moving - the birds are way up in the canopy - and there's no sun creeping through the ceiling of vivid green to show their presence.
It was somewhat claustrophobia-making staying at one resort deep in the forest. The vines and the trees and the understorey merged into walls of growth wherever I looked. I didn't see the sky for 3 days until, armed with just a few dollars, I persuaded Suzanne to leave with me and ran screaming to the nearest exit sign, taking with me the souveneirs of the forest on my skin - a mass of mosquito and sand-fly bites.
I was to learn to loathe sand-flies on this trip - they're the most loathsome tiny-weeny almost microscopic white flying tropical insects that bite viciously, leaving an unconquerable itch that nags for weeks. I'd been savaged unawares one morning when I couldn't sleep and I was out in the forest writing a manic poem about how the foliage was sending me insane with its smothering luxuriance.
But before I could completely lose the plot Suzanne and I packed our things together and found ourselves in much better spirits in the car headed south to our next stop, Townsville. One thing that even the slowest tourist works out about North Queensland is that they grow sugar-cane there in great quantities. Indeed for most of that trip south, sugar-cane was all we saw - a telling reminder of just how much monoculture farming practices have trashed the land, seeing dried up fertiliser and pesticide-polluted streams and nary a tree in sight, after the wild and crazy green loopings of the forest.
Half-way to our first destination though we turned off from the endless cane-fields to stop at Murray Falls. What a fantastic spot that was - not a stick of cane in sight - a gentle rolling hill - perfect for camping and a pristine river complete with roaring waterfall. We splashed about and did the camping thing, Suzanne and I laughing at the antics of the other campers as they collected wood and built fires and stoked them and cooked their meals where we just lit our gas stove with one easy movement. OK, we were slack, but it did save time for staring off into space and feeling the leaves uncurl on the gums high above our heads.
Townsville is a classic example of one of Australia's boring big country towns, a place to "do your washing in", as one of our better known travel commentators, David Dale, has penned as his big town put-down. For us though the town was also the perfect opportunity to pick up another fellow-traveller, Anne, who was keen to go to Darwin and unlike me, could relieve Suzanne with the driving.
So now that we were 3, I had better describe us for you. Suzanne is a snappy dresser, strawberry blond, average height with a great sense of humour and a very direct way of expressing her feelings. I'm short with half my left arm and half my right leg missing - due to a congnital condition - with dark curly hair and I too love a good belly laugh - and I have a good belly for it too. Anne is a totally stunning tall dark-haired woman, as slim and as striking as a model with a very practical approach to the world. She's spontaneous and warmly funny. I tell you, we were then and remained the sexiest goddam chicks on the road and turned heads wherever we went.
And we were off! I won't bore you with the funny little pit-stops and camping evenings we spent on our way to the centre - suffice to say I'm in no hurry to indulge myself again in the dubious pleasures of north-west Queensland. Think flat, think dusty, think provincial blink-and-you-miss-em towns and you've got it in one. Just one funny story - a country pub with just one other customer and me. I asked for a cocktail - OK, I was pretty hopeful - and the barman looked at me blankly. An array of beer - I hate the stuff - good only for cleaning out a sink, in my opinion - leered at me from behind the pub's huge fridges. We ran through my options together, this helpful barman and I, and we settled on Kahlua and milk. He got quite
excited and dashed off into a back room to emerge with a dusty bottle of Kahlua which he presented with a flourish, wiping off the dust and opening it with aplomb. I drank as much as I could to be polite - he set it before me like Humphrey Bogart with a Scotch bottle - and kept pouring it out. Eventually I staggered off and he sadly put the bottle back after sharing observations on the rural life. I know with absolute certainty that if I ever go back there the bottle will come out - and be at the same level as when I left it - and it will need another good dusting.
As you tool out to the centre the landscape changes. It gets drier and even dustier and populated with giant termites' nests - taller than me and three times as wide. In fact those nests were sometimes the only things we did see for hundreds of km's and in a desperate bid to get some ispiration from the passing scene I started to imagine that they too told a story. The nests changed from place to place - they'd be all brick-red and twisty for a while, then they'd all change to lumpy sand-coloured ones. As I was musing on what their message was we came across the last outpost of civilisation in western Queensland before the Territory opens up - Mt Isa.
What can you say about a town that's been built around a slag heap, whose presence is felt about 200 kms away by the plume of ash and steam that is its 24-hour air-born marker? The plume jets up into the sky, the end-point of the mining project that is Mt Isa, and most of the time, or so the mining bosses told us, the poisonous plume's contents are borne by the prevailing winds away from the town. Indeed the contents of the plume's pollutants have been registered as far away as Indonesia.
Mt Isa is a company town, as one doctor told me when I was vainly trying to see if a rumour of lead leaching into the water table from the tailings of the mine was true. I was also asking about asthma rates in the town - meant to be one of Australia's highest. My mistake was in saying I was a journalist. I cleared a whole pub there with my requests for information - remarkable because we were the only women within miles, surrounded by love-starved men, who whizzed off in extraordinary haste after I started asking around about the mine's operations.
Tragically, I left the Mt Isa story with the town, maybe to be revealed some day by someone braver than me. As we headed off further west to our next destination - an outpost called Three Ways - slap bang in the middle of the Territory - we only had a last couple of petrol stops to make before we would see no civilisation of any sort whatsover for 400 kms. You get used to carrying around big containers of water, but we loaded up some extra petrol containers as well, because our chances of making it the whole way with just one tank of petrol were only fair.
It was a huge haul, but we made it, using the spare petrol as well. When we oodled into Three Ways - the camping and service station stop that marked the half-way point of our journey - it was wonderful to finally be in the Northern Territory - our least populated, most mythologised State. It was a shock to see the prices for food and petrol there, but the owners knew they had us by the short and curlies - there were no other options so out came the wallets cheerfully enough. I was amused to read one of the menus for the restaurant - crocodile and kangaroo steaks, wild buffalo and barramundi fillets were all up for grabs - not regular city fare I can tell you! But I couldn't quite bring myself to tuck in, preferring our pasta and pesto sauce made with love and slapdash skill back at the camp-site.
We made a quick trip south just to visit the Devil's Marbles the next day for one night's stay. It was a very strange scene - huge boulders in piles like pyramids and scattered about this flat plain. No water, no trees, just these almost perfectly round rocks. As the sunset they went all colours - purple, bronze, green and deep blue - like opals. We had a bit of a fright though. We set up our tent and settled in and then saw something that had evaded our notice so far - the perfectly preserved corpse of a deadly scorpion. Of course at first we thought it was alive, but soon realised it was awfully still and colected it and mounted it on the dashboard as our little mascot for the trip. It was also that night that a small furry animal tried to run off with my boot, but thankfully a cherry-red 10-hole Doc Martens boot is just large enough to deter even the keenest critter so we found it the next morning a little distance from the tent, but covered in scuffly claw marks, as was the ground around it.
We had perfect weather for our trip - clear, bright and warm and breezy, while way back in another universe, or so it seemed, my home-town shivered and sneezed its way through the wettest June for some time. We headed up the Stuart Highway and marvelled at how different the scenery was from our expectations. Don't ever let anyone tell you that the centre of Australia is bare of beauty. As we left the deep centre further behind us within a remarkably short time we were surrounded by gum forests with as many brilliantly-green palms as gums, wafting their delicate fronds around beneath the gum cover. My termites' nest stories started to weave their way through my imagination again as yet again their bizarre shapes seemed to be trying to whisper something important to me.
We made camp at some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I will never forget Edith Falls - an oasis in the middle of a wilderness, where a dusty car park gives way to huge ferns and palms which get thicker and more juicily bushy until you come across a huge crystal clear pool, bordered with grasses and festooned with freshwater crocodiles - which are relatively harmless, but still have right of way in anyone's books! - and the most beautiful expanse of sandy bottomed swimmer's fantasy - a sandy bar in the middle and a huge waterfall at one end, crashing and leaping its way into the cool water. I just drifted in it and felt the freshness of the water wash the hours of road travel away.
We had mishaps with huge spiders, faulty petrol guages, a broken radiator and food that had gone off, but nothing dimmed our delight in the wonders of our discoveries. Everywhere we went we met other travellers - mostly men and older couples. We were the only all-women team and some older ladies had tears in their eyes as they told us how much they envied us and how they wished they'd done the same thing when they were younger. We were a mighty team - good cooks, fun-lovers and rough and tumble enough to enjoy our primitive camping gear - and as the older women envied us our simple arrangements, we envied them their whiz-bang 4WD vans with mobile phones and fax machines and trail-bikes, but they thought we were the lucky ones. And we were.
On our great trek north we made two more stops before Darwin. One was the fabulous natural hot springs at Mataranka. Imagine spongy soft ground - a quick-sand phobic's horror - leading to little sandy pools with permanent bubbles coming up - hot on the bottom and cool on the top - ohhh...those springs just wouldn't let me go. I'd still be sitting there in a daze of pleasure if it hadn't been for Suzanne threatening to steal my prosthetic leg if I didn't get out. You could lie back and float in circles, feeling the warm bubbles tickle your back and watching the birds flit through the branches of the trees overhead. There was something prehistoric about it - a little camping ground with a half-circle of ponds of varying size and heat dotted through the trees. In the night I could almost hear the sacred ceremonies that would have taken place here - almost catch the whispering and the dancing and far, far off I heard the cries of dingoes lilting in the warm breeze. The steam from the ponds wound its way through the trees and became all shapes, all peoples who had sat here and felt the magic.
Not far from Darwin - only 30 kms to the south of the city - you find the hidden splendour of Howard Springs - a fabulous spot to do the nature thing for the last time before facing the noise and bustle of the city. It's a series of ponds and small streams that flow over volcanic rock - smooth to the touch and looking a bit like the natural version of those slippery dips you see in amusement parks. The rock feels alive when it's warmed by the sun and the pools are a perfect contrast to the heat - freezing cold and surprisingly deep and clear as a bell. I spent two days jumping in and crawling out, jumping in and crawling etc in that contented easily-satisfied manner of the traveller who's forgotten all about working and deadlines, traffic and television.
And finally - Darwin - the city that survived a devastating cyclone in the seventies that smashed just about every building - so it has a rawness and a newness you won't see in any other Australian city. It was great to see it and sad too, because it was the end of the line for me - my flight was to take me from there back to Sydney, leaving Suzanne and Anne behind. We spent a couple of days wandering around - seeing the flat surf so reminiscent of Cairns again - only swimming in it is inadvisable in Darwin despite the heat because of the saltwater crocodiles and the deadly box jellyfish which plague the coastline for most of the year. The Darwin folk were obviously used to the strange living conditions. Not me. Again the air was thick and tropical, again the streets whirred and whizzed and clattered with natural life - geckos, possums, flying foxes, snakes and insects - unheard of in my definition of what a city was.
I felt renewed, I felt as though I had seen something rare and special and precious, as I boarded my plane to take me back home. As I waved good-bye to Anne and Suzanne I felt that I had left a part of me on the road, in the springs, in the sunsets and the whispering of the leaves, a Kath in awe of the beauty of this land. I'm planning to do the journey again in a few years with a few new friends and I know it will be completely different again, another totally new and wild story.
Kath Duncan is a 36 y.o. free-spirited freelance journalist, based in Australia. She was born with limbs missing, but has gained a lot of magic, good friends and great meals along the way - although the leg and arm are still missing. She has worked in radio broadcasting, film and video soundtrack and now print, but is open to all the new experience life can chuck at her.
Hero Joy Nightingale
The problem with me is that I am a professional writer. I write for money, and when money has been paid I have to supply text. Which doesn't mean that I just crank it out - I have to make sure that it is the best I can do. So I write all day every day. People often think that this is as effortless as, say, shitting. It is like shitting because you prepare for it all the time, processing what you see, hear, read, think, and then, grunt, you extrude the product, text.
Asking me to write for your web-zine is like asking a silk worm for yet more silk. I don't have it in me, especially not now when I have a big book due on Mayday.
So you will have to excuse me for now. When I have time I will try to find your web-zine.
is an academic and author settled in UK of Ozzie origins, best known for forthright views on feminism. HJN.
Going to Boarding School
I was sent to boarding school at the age of nine. I cannot remember knowing in advance that I was going there, though my parents must have told me. I remember an odd conversation with my primary school teacher. She asked me questions about how I would feel going to another school, and she also asked me what I thought of her. I thought she was permanently bad-tempered. I think this was an assessment of suitability for boarding school, but it may just have been her seeking assurance that her pupils liked her from a boy who was leaving. I told her she was bad-tempered. Perhaps I knew I was leaving after all.
I must have known in advance, because I recollect my parents buying a big brown trunk to pack my clothes in to go away. I wanted a black metal trunk, like my elder brother's. He already went to the same boarding school, and I had taken him there with my parents many times previously.
If I knew however, I did not understand. I remember arriving at school, and saying goodbye to my parents. A woman asked a boy to show me round. He showed me where to put my sweets. I had one packet of chocolate raisins. He had a box full of all kinds of confectionery.
I do not remember missing my parents at all, or being unhappy for a moment. Because my brother was at school (though I hardly ever saw him, boys not talking to those in years below them), I thought that everything was normal. I remember being bored frequently, and towards the end of term counting the days until the holidays. I was bored in the holidays as well, though, because all my primary school friends had gone their own separate ways, and forgotten who I was. It was difficult to keep in touch with them.
Now with two children of my own, I find it an odd idea to send children away to school. My parents sent me to boarding school, and believed it to give a better education. They expected to have to move, and did not want my education disrupted. Some parents told their children that it made them more independent younger, and was good for them. The school remains full, so that I presume the same beliefs continue to prevail. I cannot tell how I would have been had I not gone to boarding school, but I am sure I would have been different, as noone can be unaffected by lack of family and the unavailability of anyone with whom to discuss personal feelings for long periods. Family provides the most natural upbringing and anything else is likely to do more harm than good.
Robert Hill is a 43 year old solicitor living in High Wycombe. He is married with two young children.
From The Rt Hon Lord Lawson
House of Lords London SW1A 0PW
23 March 1998
Dear Hero (a nice and unusual name, which many years ago I gave to one of my daughters),
Thank you for your letter. I am so sorry to learn of your disabilities, and full of admiration for the remarkable qualities you undoubtedly do possess.
I am very busy at the present time; but if and when I do find myself writing something sufficiently unboring for your internet magazine, I will be happy to send it to you.
Best wishes and good luck,
Nigel Lawson was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Mrs Thatcher's Government in the 1980s. Since resigning he has written a book on slimming (which he has very successfully done) and he is grandfather to a child with obvious special needs. HJN.
Growing up in the country
I was born in a little village on the outskirts of Canterbury, called Bishopsbourne on the 27 - 7 - 48.
I was one of six children, I had two elder sisters and two elder brothers, and another brother born two years after me.
My father worked on the estate as a forestry worker, and mother was busy looking after all of us children, and doing seasonal work out on the land when she was able. I remember going with her, doing hop picking bean picking blackcurrant picking, potato gathering, and pulling sugar beat. which was feed to the sheep and cows on the local farm. We also went snowdrop picking, as these grow early on in the year it was a very cold job, sometimes having to pick them through the snow. Mum used to have to make up pack lunches for us all. When we went hop picking on the way home we would have to stop and pick blackberries, for making jam and making pudding's. The money she earned would go for buying our cloths.
We lived in a house situated by the old railway line which ran from Canterbury to Dover, there was a long tunnel nearby, where they kept the big gun they used to fire across the channel in the second world war. We would often play on the banks of the railway sliding down them on a piece of old tin. My father still lives in the house now, Mother dies twenty years ago, it was a great loss for all of us. The house only had 3 bedrooms so it was rather cramped. We had no hot running water, and no proper bathroom. the water was heated up in a copper which was situated in the kitchen, this was also used for washing cloths, it used to take Mum 2 days to do the washing, she would boil up all the whites in the copper one day and do the coloureds the next, it was difficult getting the washing dried in the winter. But in good weather it was hung on a washing line which stretched the length of the long garden, were Dad used to grow all of our vegetable's, he also kept chicken's for their eggs, we had a little village shop which sold everything, the bread was delivered, also the meat, and a fish man would call once a week, so their was no need to go into town. very often only to buy cloths and shoes when Mum could afford them. There was a little village school which 1 of my brother's and two sister's went to. But it closed before I went to school so the rest of us started school in the next village going towards Canterbury called Bridge, this school closed some year's after, and they built a brand new school there, which my oldest sister now teaches at, and will soon be retiring after many year's of teaching there
We did not have a proper bathroom until I was about 8 yrs old, bath night was Sunday night ready for school on Monday. We would have to bath in front of the fire in a tin bath in the winter, In the summer we would have it out in the wash house, in a full size bath, but the water still had to be heated up in the copper, then transferred in buckets into the bath. We did have a flush toilet but it was across the yard, in winter it was very spooky. we had a bucket upstairs at night if we needed to pass urine etc. (Yuk)
We didn't have a television until I was eleven yrs old, which Dad brought from money he earned picking apples on his holiday. Before we had T.V. we had to amuse ourselves. In the summer we would play outside nearly all the time, climbing trees, skipping, cricket, rounders, ball games, hide - seek all sorts of things, there were lots of children in the village, and we would play well together most of the time, we soon made up if we were unkind to one another. In the winter it could be boring at times, we had some toys, board games, and we did anoy each other at times and fight, it must have been very hard for my parents at times.
The winter nights were very cold, the only heating we had, was and open fire in the living room, and a arga in the kitchen which Mum cooked on. The bedrooms were very cold, and dad would heat up house bricks in the oven, wrap them in newspaper and put them in our beds, so they were warm for us to get into.
When I look back and compare my childhood with my own children, although we didn't have all mod cons, computors etc, I think we were more contented than children today. I don't feel that we missed out, but benifitted from living as a child then, being able to appreciate what I have now.
we had a lot of love and warmth from each other, and village people allway's looked out for each other, unlike today, people can hardly say gooday to each other.
Carol Long, now 49 years old lives on the outskirts of city of Canterbury, with her husband and her two youngest sons the elder is bying and living in a house in Faversham with his fiancee.
Her family our the most important part of her life, and enjoys family life.
Her job as a health care assistant in a local nursing home, were she is well liked, and often complemented on her kind caring attatude, and friendly smile, she has for everyone. She also does caring in the community with the elderly and some younger people, one being a mother's help to a dear, talented handicapted child, which gives her great joy and hopes she can continue helping this family for sometime...
You asked me for a contribution for your magazine From the Window.
It is attached (hopefully). Let me know if you have any problems opening
Hope you enjoyed Mull.
After reading John Tavener's fascinating article on music and religion, I thought I would send a few ideas of my own on the subject. I get asked to talk about these things regularly since my own music is inspired by spiritual and theological matters. However, on a wider dimension, the contemporary music scene is a battleground of conflicting ideologies and aesthetics. Composers and critics are drawn in to take polemical positions on matters of style, their attitudes to the avant-garde, modernism, post-modernism and various other divisive issues.
To some people the debates are fascinating, but to a composer whose energies should be principally directed to the writing of music, the conflict can be diverting and tedious. I, personally, have grown a little reluctant to raise my head too high above the parapet in fear of being caught in the crossfire. However, for the purpose of this contribution, it might be useful to analyse the opposing polarities of the debate, characterised by two very different types of composer - one who is over-concerned with the world around him or her, and one who ignores the world around him or her.
The first type of composer is animated by the debate about accessibility, believing his music to be communicative, audience-friendly, marketable; the second type disdains any notions of commercialism, revels in the essentially abstract nature of music, and is contemptuous of attempts to accommodate the lower common denominators of popular taste.
When one sees some composers today selling hundreds of thousands of discs, generating pop-style crazes and cults, and attracting the passing, promiscuous attention of "the media" one can see clearly that for some the composer's position in our society has changed radically. The twentieth century has, after all, charted the increasing irrelevance and marginalisation of the serious composer who has become more distant from the concerns and interests of the classical music audience as well as the wider community. It is not a very comfortable feeling being on the periphery of something and the all-pervasive power of popular culture has peripheralised the serious arts, especially classical music. Any art which requires extensive concentration, abstract conceptualisation, respect for history and tradition as well as delight in the boundless mystery of creative imagination is increasingly on a collision course with today's cultural values. And in the periphery of classical music, the contemporary music scene is on the periphery of a periphery.
Therefore, it is understandable that certain recent developments in contemporary music have gradually absorbed various aspects of popular culture. The influence of jazz, rock and world music on the minimalism of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars is an indication of their reluctance to remain on the periphery and their desire to engage with a wider popular culture. Some may feel uneasy at the musical results, but it is still possible to understand the cultural and artistic impetus behind this development. For centuries popular culture has impinged on art music and there is no reason why it should be different today. But the commercial success of these composers has led to the inevitable accusations of jumping onto the bandwagon of media-led fashionability.
The unease felt in some quarters about this new phenomenon of accessible contemporary music is based on a deeply-held suspicion that any accommodation with popular taste and the commercial activities of "show-biz" can only lead to a trivialisation of the serious, even transcendent potential, of contemporary classical music. Advocates of modernism deliver stark warnings about the abandonment of the higher principles of European musical culture and the dilution of the integrity of musical material in its most abstract form. Popular culture thus becomes a seductive distraction from the true essence of art music, accessibility thus becomes an opportunistic digression.
The world and its concerns are thus distantly irrelevant from the fundamental principles of music-making. Of all the art forms, music has always seemed the most self-absorbed and remote from the real world. The work of a composer can seem like a monastic, ascetic and forbidding activity. It also leads to a somewhat trainspotterish obsession with the minute details of composition. The modernist composer is easily caricatured as suffering from a fetishism of number and unnatural fascinations with the most peripheral parameters of music.
I think it is worth emphasising at this point that my attitudes to the opposing camps mentioned earlier are fairly neutral, seeing advantages and disadvantages in both positions. I feel for example, that it is desirable for a composer to be accessible only if his or her music is powerful enough to communicate beyond the confines of the new music ghetto. Flirtations with popular culture are fine, as long as they do not blind the composer to the necessity to achieve more than the mere minimum; that in absorbing popular elements there is an obligation to push further than the cosily recognisable towards something genuinely illuminating and challenging. Sometimes there needs to be an element of discomfort in the process of enlarging one's intellectual and emotional horizons. But I also feel it is perverse to seek out discomfort for discomfort's sake.
I also feel it is perverse to maintain that contemporary music should have no connection with the world around us, that the concern to achieve integrity in the abstract is somehow an activity which exists in blissful amoral isolation. In shunning the empty transient delights of commercial and media success a composer should also resist the desolate and soulless self-absorption and narcissistic self-orientation which characterises the avant-garde. Music has an awesome power to reach out from its constructivist self-confinement and speak to us in our deepest secret selves. The momentous life-changing effects of music should not be the preserve of a select group of initiates. All mankind has right of access. Communication in contemporary music has as much universal potential as any music from the past because music is a primal reality - as primal as speech, sound and silence.
For this reason it is found at all times and in every culture. Historically it is intimately connected with the experience of the sacred. It is only comparatively recently that music has emerged as a purely secular reality. Yet even here there is much to suggest that it provides experiences that are at least implicitly religious. Because a composer is a temporal manipulator of these mysteries or perhaps because he is an historical channel of this primal reality his role in relation to humanity and the divine is the same now as ever it was - to put into temporal, musical, poetic and symbolic shape the means of feeling, rather than understanding, a universal sense of the sacred.
Many have argued that composers have a special responsibility to open windows on the hidden and the divine. People can decide how to approach these phenomena only when they are made aware of their existence through revelation. Music is especially able to do this. Because it is a non-literal language, because it communicates at a fundamental level without words or images, because we seem to know in our hearts that music speaks fluently and powerfully, but in a way we cannot logically and consciously explain, because we hear and understand what music says to us but cannot put into mere words what it is saying or what we understand it to say - because of all this, I believe music to be the most spiritual of the arts.
Revelation of the divine occurs because music opens doors to a deepening and broadening of understanding. It invites connections between organised sound and lived experience or suspected possibilities. In the connection is found the revelation, a realisation of something not grasped before. Such "seeing" offers revelations about human living and divine relationships that can affect changes in our choices, our activities and our convictions.
I have for a long time seen music as a striking analogy for God's relationship with us. The Jesuit John McDade wrote recently that "music may be the closest human analogue to the mystery of the direct and effective communication of grace". But if music is, on one hand, such a spiritual experience why is its impact so physical, so carnal and visceral? We hear music through our ears, but we also feel its pulse throb through other parts of the body. The perception of harmony is a sensual experience and the mind is stimulated through active hearing. These are the physical portals to our spiritual core. If music is a spiritual experience the human condition is nevertheless fully engaged by its deeper entry into the physicality of hearing. John McDade says that "the spirit is reached through the body".
Music therefore provides a totality of experience where the whole person, mind, body and soul, can be engaged. When this totality is disrupted and there are attempts made to compartmentalise the constituent elements of music, or hierarchical choices are made regarding notions of superior and inferior perception, then the balance between the physical and the spiritual is undermined. The current craving for popularity and widespread accessibility usually leads to music which only reaches the first rung of engagement. Composers who revel in easy inoffensiveness have cut themselves off from a fuller potential of communication by shunning more hazardous steps up the ladder of intellectual expansion. They have also turned away from the abyss, where deeper more disturbing and more truthful realities could be found.
We live in a time of bewildering change when apparent certainties are being challenged and are crumbling. The mists of error which descended in our twentieth century with such tragic and soulless consequence are now clearing. Artists with a knowledge of the love of God have never been more needed or listened to. Outsiders to our society like Schnittke, Gubaidulina and Ustvolskaya are sometimes described as prophets or seers who can disturb their listeners as much as comfort them. Is it possible now to talk of the sacerdotal role of the composer?
These personal observations spring admittedly from a particular world view. It is a standpoint which sees music as a phenomenon connected directly to the work of God and which enjoins men and women to touch what is deepest in their beings, but with some abandon, and in the interaction to release God within them, whatever form that takes. Such is the essence of the creative process for the composer, the performer and the listener.
Music enables us to see beyond the obvious to what lurks in the crevices of human-divine experience. Music offers an unmatched source of history as well as a resource for transformation. To reap its benefits requires risk, imagination and courage, qualities we know are present in music, qualities known through the activity of God with humankind, qualities which sustain our spiritual lives and qualities which composers should strive every day to make their own.
is a composer of music and a native of Glasgow. He has recently had a week-long festival of his music at the prestigious South Bank in London (where I met him) and was this year also featured on BBC Radio 3's Composer of the Week programme. He is daft about football, is married and has 3 young children. HJN.
Dear Hero, Here is the article as promised. i am worried that it is not terribly long but i have been very busy lately. hope it is sufficient and that i will hear from you on receipt of this E. Paul xxxx
The Millionth Muse.
The Millionth Muse Dead dog tired now Tongue slapping stupid song Broken back aches deep Senseless and beyond sleep Yours my toil is Mr.Tax His lazy bones Feeding off my eager own Sapped of spirit regularly When shall the creeking soul Dapple in creative creek Sing or dance for sanity? Mistress mine you pay my rent Cut my wages Treat me bent Puppet poor I circle dance Life's a ball with strings attached Bloody Bill you bully strong Pin me Point my payments My painful pins walk to the point I punch my PIN. Two weeks ago, during my weekly trek to Sainsbury's, I found myself in a dilemma; Should I start buying multi-vitamins to supplement my junk food lifestyle or get some descaler for my poor suffering kettle? And important decision for the single Nineties man who likes his tea as much as his skin condition but cannot afford to pay the gas bill. The kettle won but i did buy my face a banana as a consolation prize. Now wouldn't you think it the simplest of chores - getting around to descaling the kettle after six months of Limescale Leaf? Yes, so did I. No. As I filled my gleamingly clean kettle with fresh bubbly water I soon discovered that the limescale had been holding the damn thing together, and I stared in disbelief as the water dripped down the cupboard door. Since then i have been astounded by my friends' irritation at my refusal to replace The Chrome Culprit; - Have you got a new kettle yet? - No, I'm using a saucepan. - Why, a kettle only costs £20! - I don't have a spare £20 knocking about, sorry. They don't believe me. They have a sneaking suspicion that it's about me being a writer, not buying a new kettle. Far too busy dipping into Roget's Thesaurus to think about electrical appliances. Bollocks. It stands to reason that if I had a microwave i could live off crap TV dinners, thus leaving more time to dabble with Drabble and less time chopping onions! I originate from Kent. I was born in a sleepy little village just outside Canterbury. And as I grew, so it did and by the time I moved on it was transformed from hamlet to suburb and you could walk into town instead of catching the bus. Now I live in London and am not a hermit, despite what my friends believe. I do not live in a shed without the use of running water - although whilst decorating recently I discovered that the walls of my Walthamstow flat are made of cardboard ( ! ). I abhor the thought of fourty-six television channels (Frankly, I am currently abhorring the standard four television channels.) and i have no need of a SEGA, a Fiat Brava OR a kettle. I'd rather buy a book. However, I am constantly spotted with a mobile phone attached to my ear and have been known to display knowledge of the difference between a scanner and a copier. And that is because I have to. When one is in full-time employment and aspires to act, write, sing and produce successfully in the near future there are certain attachments one cannot do without in keeping up with every other up and coming Olivier, Winterson, Lemper and Greenaway. I have learnt this can cause a problem. Primarily because of the evil green-backed pound, but also due to the fact that there is part of me who wishes he could live in a hut in the middle of nowhere with a stack of books and some nice sharp pencils and paper. That seems like apipe dream right now. Somehow I have materialised in London bumbling about like a million other frustrated people, all trying to pay bills and loans and feed the cat on time. Time and Money, my only two drawback. Since leaving my family home I am constantly surprised at how much of the day is spent on thankless tasks which seem to have no fruition. It teaches me again and again how much my Mother, seen by many as an unmoveable lump in an armchair, actually did in our family home. Like the shoemakers' little elves, she worked invisibly. A clandestine caretaker, back in the armchair by tea-time when we all came lumbering home. I have discovered too, since working in an office environment, how such little work is achieved in comparison to the manhours spent in the bleeding place! Never before in my life have I seen so much paper shuffled about from one point to the next, and back again, until one glorious day somebody signs the bottom of it and it is shuffled off to another corner to be filed away forever. Time and Money. Like my Mother and her armchair they are inexplicably linked. But if we had enough money we would not waste out time working for other people. There is something to be said for self-employment. And in London in particular, so many of us sweat and shuffle, mirrors of our own application forms, trying to get somewhere that has gone on strike. I do my best, try and utilise the three hours spent every day on the tube by reading. Bundle and barge past the French school trips to see the Bonnard exhibition. But after the tiring, heavy dirt you encounter endeavouring to get to these places, even the most enchanting Burne-Jones can be lost on this Musuem Potato. London is not a place to live, merely visit. And, like my sleepy hamlet in Kent, we are all swarming closer toward the sprawling metropolis. So, when you have read this article, do yourself an almighty favour; Turn off you PC and turn on your brain. Go and find a soothing somewhere and join this misguided Muse in the search for something tranquil. -
is a young actor whom I met many moons ago when he still lived in Canterbury. HJN.
Not the greatest piece of original thinking - up to you to decide whether you want to include it.
Some random thoughts on trying to be succesful in business...
It is the act of creating efficiency that renders you obsolete (sometimes).
What I mean by this is that for a business to remain succesful, if the management are only focussed on making their current business more efficient at doing what they are do, they usually forget the basic reason why their customers buy the products. There is continual pressure to make what you are doing more efficient - sometimes it is better to accept inefficiencies as long as it keeps your focus on your customers...
Examples of industries and companies that have got it wrong are:
British motorbikes - who concentrated on making their bikes faster and more powerful. The basic reason people bought bikes was for transportation, so the Japanese made simple bikes that required low maintenance.
Holiday companies concentrating on the Home market only - their competition came via the jet engine - making foreign holidays affordable. So this is why Skegness, Margate and Southend are in terminal decline - because of Frank Whittle's invention.
Bingo Halls - focussed on making sure that the halls were well run - their parent companies should have been looking at the reasons why people went to Bingo - for leisure - and so when the technology for TV came along, they should have moved into that arena.
What these industries share in common is a focus on their products - and not on the customers needs. Extending this forward, I believe that the following industries/professions are at risk:
The Car Industry - threatened by PC's and Telecomm's. I hate travelling to work - and as I spend a lot of time working at my PC, it wouldn't take much to set me - and millions of people like me - up at home with PC's. People don't need to travel - so less cars!
Supermarkets. Again - with Home Shopping taking off, wouldn't it make sense to have 1 warehouse with 1 delivery van for every 500 customers or so - which means one man replaces 500 separate journeys - why do we even need a store - when it is available on PC? This analogy could be applied to almost any form of retailing. The petrol industry - not from declining usage, but from demand for other ecologically friendly substitutes. There is only so far that the internal combustion engine can go, but the oil business focusses on oil - it is the car manufacturers who are leading developments in new fuel types.
Universities - who needs them? An on-line University would provide much of the benefits of the current system - at very low cost. Ideas could be spread much more quickly and access could be opened up to more people. The only benefit lost will be that of mixing and sharing ideas with ones peers - but that one benefit will work out rather expensive! The development of on-line editions of academic journal is but a step on the way.
The Post Office - isn't E-Mail so much quicker and cheaper than letters - so the Royal Mail will have to shrink!
So what is the answer?
The answer is to look at the basic reason why customers buy your product - for the Royal Mail for instance it is to communicate - and people find their own way of doing that. By focussing on basic human needs - heat, shelter, light, communication, leisure - there is a chance that todays succesful business will also be tomorrow's.
These thoughts are not exactly original, (Ref. Messrs. Levitt and Maslow), but their validity seems to be proved more each day.
COLIN McKELL REDWOOD
is a mid-thirties manager of friendly disposition working in industry. HJN.
Dear Hero -
Here is my article on floppy. I've saved it in 2 versions - Word 97 and text only (with line breaks). I hope this is OK - one version at least! If not, let me know what format you need.
MY VIEW OF MY JOB
I am very fortunate in having a variety of windows to choose from - the only problem is that they are all in the middle of the country, with wonderful rural views (mostly of the South Downs) and I am a city person longing for a townscape vista. Having said that, there is something fundamentally nourishing and calming about a country view, so perhaps it is better for the soul.
I work in the middle of the country, in an opera house, Glyndebourne. There is nowhere else quite like it, and I am very lucky to have a challenging and fulfilling job working with people I respect and enjoy. It would be impossible to talk about every element of my job and my life in one short article, so perhaps I should concentrate on a gallop through my working year. Much has been written about opera as an art form, but I will concentrate on the organisation from my point of view as a manager.
At Glyndebourne I have two jobs. One is Director of Artistic Administration of the Glyndebourne Festival. My department looks after all the artistic planning including repertoire planning, scheduling from the first outline plan of a season down to each day's detailed rehearsals, all things musical including orchestras (3), chorus (festival and tour), casting (festival and tour) music staff, music library and staff directors. Within my department also falls our all-important Education and Community section, Glyndebourne Education, which dreams up and organises projects throughout the year ranging from massive community operas, through to repertoire related study days and workshops. My other job is Administrator of Glyndebourne Touring Opera (GTO), which includes all those areas, but aimed at touring, plus organising our annual tour (about seven weeks on the road after some three weeks of performances at Glyndebourne in October). Crucial to me in all of this are my fantastic departmental heads, each expert in their own field.
My working year divides neatly into three sections, with overlapping responsibilities in a more or less clashing way at different times:
January and February are, theoretically, the quiet months, though in reality they are rarely anything other than hectic. This is the one time when I have no immediate responsibility for rehearsals or performances, and can therefore travel to see performances of other companies at home and abroad, also to have meetings and attend auditions. Ours is essentially an international business and, very often, huge distances have to be covered just to get an appropriate group of people together for an hour's discussion. Within the last six months I have had to arrange meetings with my fellow GTO artistic directors in places as varied as Heathrow (a very dreary hotel room), Rheinsberg (a day trip via Berlin which involved much travelling but a delightful lunch outside on a sunny day, and a lot of important decisions made) and a cold but useful and enjoyable couple of nights in Bologna in January (including two fabulous dinners in a typical Bolognese restaurant and some very disappointing auditions). I am much in London in these months, attending our regular auditions and getting to as many performances as I can. As flights are cheaper at weekends it makes sense to stay over Saturday nights, and therefore there is little time at home, though at least I can rely on some evenings off ! As we start rehearsals for the Glyndebourne Festival in early April or even late March I usually take my main holiday of the year in March to set me up for the rigours of the summer season. I need sun at this time, so usually try to get far enough away from the UK to ensure at least a slight tan !
At the beginning of April we start rehearsals - all the work we have done in the last few months has been to prepare for this point. The principals, music staff and chorus arrive, and shortly afterwards the directors. Designers come after that, and a few weeks later the orchestras. Most people stay around Lewes, and our accommodation office will have spent many months organising cottages, flats and houses for the singers, conductors and their families. A small number of people (mostly music staff, conductors, directors and designers) will be staying in the main house at Glyndebourne, the home of the Christie family who started it all, and who are still very involved in everything that happens there.
This early part of the season is very important to us. It is now that relationships are forged - we are a seasonal company and all artists and many of the staff are engaged per season or per opera. This means that we have to get to know each other from scratch in a very short time, though of course some people come back on a fairly regular basis. One of our strengths is that we really can gear the forces we engage to each project. This makes for a lot of work, though, and much of the winter is spent organising and issuing contracts for staff as well as artists. April and early May are times when we can socialise a little with new and old colleagues - we are not yet tied into the routine of performances, which means that many of us will be working the majority of evenings as well as being in the office or rehearsals all day. During this time I am hopping between office and auditorium, trying to keep up with preparation work for the tour and also for future festivals (we are well into planning 1999, 2000 and even 2001 at the time of writing) while also being around for the performers and production teams and seeing how the work is evolving.
Before we know it, however, we are into early May - dress rehearsals are looming (including the catering dress rehearsals, when the company act as patrons for the restaurant staff to rehearse on - serving eight hundred diners in under an hour and a half is no joke, and there is no leeway if the audience are to catch their train to London at the end of the evening !). Then we open the season and from then on it's seven-day- a-week working, with the occasional part day or even full day off on a day when no-one else is available to play with ! My working day normally starts around 9.30 a.m. in the office. Rehearsals begin an hour later, and I try and take a lunch break at 1.30, but this may well be taken up by a meeting or an audition. Rehearsals start again at 2.30, and if there is a performance that may start any time between 3.45 and 6.30, depending on the length of the opera and the day of the week. This is because we time the shows to end in time to catch the last London train, and of course our performances always include the famous dinner interval (about an hour and a half) when the audience take their picnics into the garden or eat in one of our three restaurants. If we, the staff, need to go into the public areas of the theatre or grounds we are expected to change into evening dress by 3.30.
During the performance, if I am not actually watching either from a seat or one of the staff boxes, I am often in my office catching up on paper work or having meetings. I regularly stand on the side of the stage to monitor how the performance is going, or to listen to a particularly favourite bit. If an understudy goes on I always listen from the auditorium to judge how they are doing, as they are one of my particular areas of responsibility.
After the show, particularly if there are any official or personal guests, we tend to congregate at the long bar in the foyer until most of the public have left. After that I usually change back into ordinary clothes and go to the staff pub for a more relaxing drink before heading for home, which fortunately is only a mile away !
All this time preparations for the tour are progressing. Booking in the various theatres opens between June and September, and we are constantly dealing with enquiries and sorting out the detailed arrangements for touring a company of between 120 and 160 people around the country for seven weeks. Theatre contracts are negotiated and signed, funding from the Arts Council of England, regional arts boards, local authorities and sponsors is confirmed, and deals are struck with hotels and transport companies. Press and marketing activity hots up, and by early September, when we start rehearsing for the tour, everything is well under way.
Meanwhile the Festival progresses - all six productions are rehearsed and opened, and by late August we have given some 75 performances and are ready to drop ! The worst time for all of us is late June and early July, when we have all six productions either rehearsing or performing, and everyone's nerves are stretched to breaking point. By mid-July we have gained our second wind, and then the end of the Festival gives us hope to hang on to.....except for those of us closely involved with the tour (which is a lot of Glyndebourne people), and we know that we have to hang on until December ! Actually some of us get a short break, somehow, between Festival and tour, otherwise we wouldn't survive. I normally take ten days or so in late August to visit Italy, where I have relatives, and just collapse. They understand that I need only to rest, and it gives me enough energy to face the long hard autumn.
We then go through the same rehearsal process as before - except that this time we are rehearsing only three shows, but all at once. The pressures are different - we are going to keep the same people all together for the next three months, without a regular turnover as one opera finishes its run and another comes into the repertoire. We have a few weeks at Glyndebourne to create the company spirit, and after about two months, having opened all three productions, we head out on to the road. Each week then takes the same pattern: Monday is a technical day, with the staff moving into the theatre. Sets and lighting are installed, and wardrobe, wigs and tour administration settle in ready for the artists to arrive the following day. We have a short rehearsal on stage on Tuesday afternoon with orchestra and full company, and perform on Tuesday night. The same thing happens on the opening day of the second and third operas (usually Wednesday and Thursday), and after Saturday night, having done five performances, we vacate the theatre and move on to the next. Sunday is a travel day/rest day for those who remain out on tour.
My job at this time is again schizophrenic. I try to split myself between the tour and Glyndebourne, where work is well under way for the following year's festival, and auditions are happening in London and elsewhere for next year's chorus. I am out on tour for between three and five nights a week. The actual number depends on cast changes, sponsorship and VIP entertaining, official guests, events for our GTO Freinds and many other reasons. I seem to spend a lot of time on trains and planes or in my car, and am very grateful for the technology that has, in recent years, provided us with mobile phone, pagers, laptop computers and modems. As I send a fax to my assistant from my hotel room at 2.00 a.m. I often try to remember how we coped in the old days. Somehow it never seemed quite so hectic.
As we crawl to the end of the tour, by then with glassy eyes, befuddled brains and a permanent polite smile on our lips we are upheld by the fact that we will get some time off over Christmas. My experience is always that I sleep through this, with a few moments of time for my family and friends, and a lot of resolutions about tidying up my flat, organising my personal filing and having a few select dinner parties, none of which materialise. The year has gone by in an exciting, panicked rush - I am a year older, not much wiser, and wondering what happens next.....except that I know. Any minute now it will all start again, with only minor variations in routine, but a whole new lot of people, which is what our business is about, and what makes it all worthwhile, despite the temperament and the tantrums, inevitable in our business - and not just the artists ! I am very lucky to have one of the best jobs in the world in one of the finest opera companies around at the moment, in a fantastic opera house in beautiful countryside, with wonderful colleagues. I just wish that the view from my window included Battersea Power Station !
Sarah Playfair started her working life in 1968 as a substandard mathematician, spending two years as a computer programmer while she researched methods of getting into theatre as an administrator. This research led her towards a theatrical career which started in touring theatre and led through contemporary dance, eventually to opera (not only the most complex of performing arts forms to administer, but also the one with the highest laughter potential when it all goes wrong). After two happy years as an operatic stage manager she fell almost by accident into the artistic planning department of English National Opera where over a period of eight years she learned the trade which has since taken her through senior posts at Scottish Opera, Welsh National Opera and eventually to Glyndebourne, where she has worked since 1989. She loves theatre, music and dance, and quite likes opera (but not often for relaxation). She is addicted to soap operas, reading, snorkelling and deserts.
Dear Joy - Here's a little something for your mag - Best wishes, Stewart
If a website is a foot
Adapted for the pond,
Then a webzine is a net
Touched by the morning's wand.
© Stewart Ross, 1998
After several years teaching in Britain and elsewhere, Stewart Ross became a full-time write some nine years ago. With almost 100 published titles to his credit, he has become one of Britain's most prolific and versatile authors. As well as prize-winning books for children, both fiction and non-fiction, he has written two popular novels and several widely acclaimed historical works. He is a frequent lecturer and broadcaster, and visiting lecturer at ICES, Roche-sur-Yon, France. Stewart lives near Canterbury with his wife and four children, and each morning escapes domestic hubbub by commuting ten yards to a large hut in the garden.
(He blows a trumpet well too. HJN.)
14 Jan 1998
At last, a few words put on paper. This is by way of an introduction. Hopefully within the next few days I will describe more of the hands-on work but felt that some background information to the work and to my commitment to it should be given.
Again, sorry for the delay but the volume of work that needs to be done here is overwhelming. I have just completed a typing tutor programme so am still painfully slow.
Best wishes for 1998 to you and your family and many thanks for the boots from which the children here benefited.
With love from
Deep snow surrounds what has been our home for the last 4 years in the hills in Jordan. Unable to go out, I am taking time to put few reflections on paper. Jordan is a land of contrasts, in more ways than one. Climatically, there are wide variations, from the warm temperatures of the Jordan valley, the lowest place on earth, to the arid desert in the east. We are situated between these 2 regions, high above the valley and are fortunate in being located in the most pleasant area, with its 4 distinct seasons. Spring here is like an annual rebirth and a joy for a botanist. Species of flowers, which in the U.K., we take endless pains to cultivate, bloom freely here. For those with an archeological bent, or interest in old testament history, Jordan is the place to live. We live In the very area where the prophet, Joshua gathered his armies before his adventures in Jericho.
The other great contrast in the country is the vast difference between the capital, Amman and the rest of Jordan. Most of Amman is new, with modern shops, new cars, big houses and obvious signs of prosperity. Not so in the rest of Jordan, especially in the rural villages and the Palestinian refugee camps.
My job remit was to develop a service for the population with physical disabilities in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. Prior to me, physiotherapists from Oxfam and 1 Dutch physiotherapist had carried out some training in small community based centres in the camps. My contract was to be for 4 years.
Most peoples vision of camps is one of tented places and mine was no different and this they were originally. The first influx of refugees from Palestine arrived in 1948, with a second arrival at the time of the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. The camps are no longer tents and the majority of the children are now third generation refugees. Their homes are basic single storey dwellings, all having the services of water and electricity and drainage. They are small, usually spotlessly clean and most have an entrance yard with a toilet and a wash-basin, Most have 2 rooms, which double up at night for sleeping areas. Kitchens are very primitive to our standards, some without sinks. Roads in the larger camps are surfaced but are still rough in the more rural camps.
In all there are 10 camps, with a population estimated to be 1.5 million. The total population of Jordan is just over 4 million, so the percentage of Palestinians may be as high as 4O%, taking into account all those who have moved to towns and villages.
Before my arrival the need for services for people with disabilities had been established and the policy of community based rehabilitation was adopted. The first aim was to change community attitudes towards disability. The communities were encouraged and guided to form committees, key members of which should themselves be disabled and they should mobilize whatever resources the community had and so become self reliant. This policy should implement international policies on disability - the main points being, prevention, rehabilitation and provision of opportunities.
Technical input and training was to be provided by a team of specialists provided by non government organizations. This is where I fit into the programme. I work with experts in other aspects of disability, namely teachers of deaf blind, low vision and for learning disabilities.
My first 6 months were given to intensive Arabic language study. Even now my greatest disadvantage is my limited ability to communicate. In a clinical setting I can question and understand, however at meetings with cross conversation I am lost and to form relationships through meaningful conversations or dialogue is beyond me. Without doubt, it is more difficult for an older person to learn and retain new language skills.
In my next communication I will describe a normal day at work.
A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF ISABELLE STEPHENS, OUTREACH PHYSIOTHERAPIST IN JORDAN.
Rise to bright but cold day. First of all, check that car will start. Fortunately it does at the second try. (The car is a 1982 Peugeot and my monthly rnileage averages 2000.) Not surprisingly parts keep wearing out.
Leave home at 8.0 after a good breakfast. This is the month of Ramadan when all Muslims fast during daylight hours. Work doesn't start until 9.0 and few home visits are done.
My usual country road is closed because of last weeks snow, causing a landslide, so have to skirt around the city and make my way towards the east to Marka Camp, built from 1967. Hero they have a new community rehabilitation centre, purpose built. Unfortunately there is no access by car so I have to park in the main road1 outside a chicken shop. The owner is not pleased as he feels my parking will restrict the parking of potential customers. I pretend not to understand. I make my way up deep irregular steps. How do the mothers manage to get their non ambulant children to this centre? The centre is on the first floor. They have a lift shaft but so far no money for a lift. Shops occupy the ground floor and the renting of these generates income for the running of the centre.
After greeting all the volunteers I make my way to the physiotherapy section. We have 2 trained volunteers there. One is quiet and gentle and the other tends to be authoritarian and prefers older children who will do exercises at her command. Omar the physiotherapist who has worked with me for 3 years, has asked me to see children on whom he wants my opinion.
Our room is small, with basic furniture-floor mats, 2 standing frames, parallel bars and some rolls and wedges, all locally made. Toys are not part of the culture, and in spite of part of our training course including the importance of learning through play and toys, there are very few here, however they have drawn some excellent posters illustrating methods of carrying and positioning.
1st boy Abdullah 6 years.
He has just been attending for 3 months. He has cerebral palsy with extremely spastic legs. Ho attends the small class in the centre for children with physical disabilities. The volunteer teacher there is excellent. She is a trained teacher and has a brother whom she taught at home with cerebral palsy.
Abdullah's mother is understandably, desperate that he should walk, but he is not ready yet for walking as he stands on tiptoes and his legs cross. We explain that if he is to walk in a good way he needs to-do many more preparatory activities first. I hope she is convinced.
2nd boy Rakkan
Another boy with cerebral palsy, very severely affected and about 8 years old and never had any treatment, the 6th of 8 children. The family was visited at home at their request. Omar thinks their most urgent need is a chair and I agree as at least then he will be able to see what is going on around him. Fortunately we have a basic wooden chair, which, with some padding and straps to keep his pelvis symmetrical, will be reasonable. Unfortunately the tray in front is small. Had it been larger he could have been encouraged to straighten his arms a bit more. We schedule a home visit by the volunteers and spend time with them ensuring that they know exactly the purpose of the straps and padding and where it should be fitted.
The majority of the families here are large and I always marvel at how the mothers manage to cope with so many children.
3rd boy Mohamed.
Mohamed also has cerebral palsy. He is about 2 1/2 years but is the size of a year old child He is extremely spastic and has a dislocated hip. He screams at the site of yet another person wishing to examine him. He is the only child in the family. We discuss positions to place him in to make it easier for him to reach and touch things and to enable him to hold his head more upright. We show his mother different ways of how to carry him, and, most importantly we stress the importance of introducing different types of food as at present he is only fed milk from a bottle. He looks anaemic so we suggest he visits the camp doctor with we have a good relationship. Maybe he will prescribe mineral or vitamin supplements. The volunteers will home visit for a month, and ... become used to being handled by other people. His mother covers completely in a blanket before taking him out.
4th boy Lowal.
A sociable boy who tells us his exact age, complete name and date of birth and where he was born. He has spina bifida and is almost 7 years old. He has no active movement in his legs. He is just the opposite of the previous boy and definitely overweight. He attends the education class and the plan is that he will join mainstream school next year. Omar is not convinced that his walking brace is suitable. he is right - it is poorly made and the joints of the brace are not in line with the boy's own leg joints. His legs are splaying and he needs a rigid pelvic band. Given a suitable walking brace, he would be able to walk reasonably well. Oh for better orthotic services. I write what I hope is a tactful letter to the orthopaedic doctor at the government hospital.
Mohammed, a 8 month old boy
He is brought by his mother who used to be one of our volunteers. She is concerned as Mohammed is not yet sitting alone nor is he moving on the floor. She is right to be concerned and we are all pleased to see her. We examine the baby and ask about how much time he spends on the floor. Like most houses here, their home is extremely cold with a stone cement floor and in fact in recent months, he has not been on the floor. he seems perfectly all right apart from being late in moving. We agree to check his progress monthly. I note that his mother is expecting another baby.
The clinic doctor comes in and we discuss some other children with him, particularly those whom we feel may be able to transfer to the mainstream schooling the future though we know full well the difficulties; classes of 40 children, toilets often outside and of the Arabic type i.e. in the floor so you have to be able to squat to use them
This is the month of Ramadan, which is a holy time for Muslims and they fast during daylight hours, so few home visits are carried out during this month and today we have only one.
The volunteers are supposed to accompany us on all home visits, the idea being that they will assist the family in carrying out home programmes and generally supporting them, however today all our volunteers have to go straight home to prepare for the "iftar", a family meal when they break fast together. Fortunately Omar knows where the home is. Finding a home can be a major problem for us as none of the streets have official names.
the man we are visiting today is 70 years old and he had a severe left sided stroke about 5 months ago he is a widow and lives in a second floor flat with his brother and brother's wife, together with one of his sons, who has a severe psychiatric disorder and sits motionless throughout our visit. His other son has emigrated to the U.S.A. The man himself had worked for many years in Brazil, and, seeing me as being foreign, speaks to me in Spanish. My knowledge of Spanish is even less than that of Arabic. We set a simple home programme with his brother and hope he can carry on until Omar can visit again in about 2 weeks time.
Depression is the main enemy following a stroke and this man, understandably, is no exception. The family is so grateful our visit and for the little help we can give. Personally I feel so inadequate as the help that we are able to give is not nearly enough.
We hear about the family history, which is always interesting and are shown old family photos of about 40 years ago when both brothers had been in the Palestinian army in Jerusalem.
I drop Omar off where he can get a bus home. The Ramadan fast is broken at dusk - about 5.0 p.m. this year and everyone rushes to get home by that time so the driving is frantic and I am glad to leave the town and the traffic behind.
I drop into the deaf school to see how my annual report is progressing. This year I wanted a diagrammatic map illustrating the numbers and distribution of children for whom we are responsible. It is progressing well. I may also have it enlarged and have it as part of a poster.
I arrive home at 6.10 p.m. Tomorrow I have to make a presentation to the board members of Al Hussein Society on the subject of community based rehabilitation, so I do a final check and put the slides in order.
The house is freezing. Maurice, my husband is away for a few days so I miss the usual hot soup he greets me with. So ends another day.
I am a British chartered physiotherapist with many years of experience of working with children in England (17 years at the MSC in Canterbury) and have worked for 9 years in the middle east.
Recollections: Part 3.
In mag 1, I described the pain of being disabled and the realisation as a child that it is a permanent state. In mag 2, I waxed lyrical upon the elemental joys that buoy me up. Here, in part 3, I deal with Oxford Envy.
3. Oxford Envy
The curtains on the cafe windows prevented any view of the covered market with its trendy clothes and fruit & veg and game (complete with dead deer) and pet and bag and coffee shops and its rather hurried marching shoppers determinedly intent on fitting in some objective - quite unlike markets up North where shoppers tarry and seek and have an "if" in their heads not a "must". Neither seems to have the sociable pleasure about it of the open air summer markets abroad or in the self-same towns and lack altogether the excitement of fictions: markets appear on tv frequently and seem wildly happy colourful burstingly lively places, full of a personal contact that is supposedly lacking in our supermarkets and our high street stores. The reality is that markets are a pastime for people with nothing better to do, a place to go and wander about, maybe pick up something, maybe buy something you didn't really want just so as not to go home empty handed, and to feel less alone with one's self. Busy people don't shop. And when they do they hurry. Somewhere in between the two is a happy medium of enjoying shopping occasionally, and briskly buying the necessities of life in a local regular store (of which more anon).
What I notice in Oxford is that I feel like the only person there without purpose. It's not full of tourists like my home town of Canterbury, not full of slow friendly retired folk like Herne Bay with its shingly shifting beachcombing drab assortment of bric-a-brac and homespun. It's not chic and showy like Kensington with flash cars and snazzy parading posturing commercialism. It's not down at heel and dilapidated with yawning holes and brave-faced plans and everyone in rather sombre unimaginative attire but for media migrants as Glasgow seems to be. It does not lope along with laid-back rasta grins and swagger like Peckham, or mish-mash into a tedium of new developments like Wigan or Chorley, or hold its head high and yet retain the tweediness that is Edinburgh. It is not anachronistically suburban and busy with trade as Oban, and not as understatedly up-to-date as Cambridge. Oxford is a city that is much more than just a university but it's a city made beautiful by its university and made dear for the warmth of the longstanding friends I have there.
I met an artist who rented 2 rooms in an inner city terraced house down towards Cowley, where there were clockwork toys and threadbare rugs and spartan chairs and tea making facilities, and books and pictures aplenty. I sat in a rather meagre room enthralled by rich conversation and a painting of sand. She held an exhibition at a boathouse on the river full of sculptures by another friend which sculptures dazzled my thinking into coherent form - and the river shimmered in late afternoon sunshine as we walked back along the tow path. She got married in Wadham chapel with photos in the quad and a splendid romp through the town on foot in morning dress etc to the dancing and feasting in the town hall where I parked my small self near the accordian player and imagined myself fiddling merrily to make everyone's feet dance to my tune my tune my tune.
I was writing screeds of music in my head by then but noone knew - my cute exterior hid me trapped me locked me inside myself....it was 3 more years before out it struggled note by spelt out note....then I met a young madrigalist who one day brought round a young man entwined around her and led me into new friendship though hers with him (another artist) faltered. I first went to visit him (his name is Tom) in Oxford on the day of my godson's christening (for I am godmother to my lady artist friend's first child). He carried me up 5 flights of steps up into New College innards and sat me in an enthusiasm and a grin that encircled the room. People dropped in and wandered out and my friend opened up his portfolio for me and I saw his walls draped in his work, and I was happy.
That same day I had met a theoretical physicist whom more than several people had wanted me to meet for ages. What had been supposed to be in my own mind an anticlimax, was instead a meeting of kindred spirits and the beginning of lifelong palship. She wrote to me straightaway about how she felt and visited often, standing in the hall of the Royal College of Music waiting for my day to finish there so that we could journey together into Kent to talk and absurdly take tea fresh brewed by my mother in a bluebell wood littered with childhood memories and remnants of discarded religions and sunbeams yelling of mighty gaious god within me all the while.
Further trips to Oxford revealed too much to me of social and intellectual and artistic possibilities. I adore the cloisters of New College set right in the heart of urban drone yet still.... yet still silent honeyed intricacy, arching flagstoned pathways proportioned with exquisite sense -
o never to leave this place o nay never, o let me be here forever and a day, don't drag me from this delicate flower of city perfection...
I adore the lane winding dark through the colleges' back walls to emerge into a torrent of roaring surprise on the High just by the Ruskin (partying partying and art art art) -
o don't let me leave this place don't break me into pieces and despatch my bleaker self far flunged breathless out, if e'er breathes the man here are my blue forgotten hills, a centre, a birling bright hope of companionship....
I adore the stone.
I can't leave the stone, it is so hot with years of sun it burns me with its textured trumpeting, echoing echoing echoing stark heat, hot white music here...
I journeyed deep into intellectual playgrounds when I needed a German translater for a song I was writing. Amidst the cream cakes and newborn babe and stripey pepped-up unbrattish chatterbox boy and Russianist's laid back charm and hospitality, I heard explanation of the poetic rendition and the yelling out 3 times of the selected words from my German-speaking host and warm invitations to come to stay (which I do).
Caroline my physicist friend died sadly and abruptly not long after her fortieth birthday.
She died of malaria contracted on a holiday to South Africa.
She was found dead in her room in Christchurch....
The German song I had completed as we walked in Christ Church Meadow the previous year was a song of catastrophic news of death brought with the ululating wail of agonised despair to a distraught uncomprehending mother. It was sung again at Caroline's memorial service in the cathedral of Oxford within Christ Church gate, a furiously fast piano exposition of the first two minutes of woeful grief with gasping alto voice....
* * *
Now I sat in the cafe with my friend Tom (the artist) watching him eat his very first poached egg on toast. We had been at his Finals private view the previous day and on to New College bar and a pizza restaurant in a herd of 40 young hurly burlies who carried me up the spiral stair to the reserved seats, and welcomed me the outsider in. I'd met some of them on previous visits but had failed to see the end nigh. 3 years. It wasn't enough for me. It's not nearly enough for me. I haven't finished what I've begun I need to dwell longterm here. Find a foothold. Inch my way in. All British cities are not the drab grey places that my e-mail Oz pal suggests I hunger for a place within the stone within the quiet encircling stone where I could be more me less hurt.
HERO JOY NIGHTINGALE
I am an eleven year old girl with a locked-in syndrome caused by a profound apraxia of all my muscles and the retention of dominant babyish reflexes. I am a wheelchair user and need complete care. I cannot make voluntary sounds and therefore cannot speak. Spelling is my greatest delight as it affords me the freedom to direct the course of my life. I crave acceptance as a really quite ordinary person, with an artistic temperament and a nice enough personality. On the whole I prefer adult company to kids', and my own company to 'most any other. I am bloody-mindedly independent and rarely acknowledge the wisdom of my mother's grey years.
I live in England, in the same town as I was born in but I love my mother's native land of Scotland even more. I also find Venice hard to eradicate from my mind, it swims like a tantalising mirage on my horizon informing my tastes and swelling my longing need to be truly me. I yearn to visit with people beyond Europe but have not a lot of dosh available for such sojourns.
I need quiet. I hear music in my head a great deal of the time in a way I have come to accept is unusual. I was a composition student on a part-time Intermediate place at the Royal Academy of Music in London, participating alongside the undergraduate and graduate students when I was 9 years old, but they abruptly terminated my place and thrust me into a terrible depression.
I am currently looking forward to holding an exhibition of my installation art and to seeing this magazine flight forward with some life of its own. I also am starting to out the visual aspects of the two autobiographical ballet scores I have completed, and am exploring the possibility of performances of my poetry. I have recently been invited to become a BBC correspondent with Video Nation, and I have accepted - of course!
I rarely am brave enough to admit my age. For me this is my "coming out".
Our next issue's Guest Columnist is George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury
Contributions alphabetically arranged including articles on T. S. Eliot's twisting and turning imagery; photography as art; a Buddhist pilgrimage; and a most entertaining inshore rescue operation.
A photocopiable poster so that you may advertise us is reproduced on the next page. Please download it and pass it around or pin it up in a prominent location. It is designed to be easily photocopied in black and white and therefore omits our usual logos.
It may also help our circulation if you were to print a hard copy of this mag and make it available to colleagues, family and friends.
We are also happy to receive suggestions for hypertext links.
In addition, our selected authors may wish to plug their contributions and thereby increase site visits.
We are seeking contacts to act as correspondents in UK Oz and USA or indeed any elsewheres: eager beaver students (eg on creative writing courses) may wish to submit suggestions as to how they could participate on the Editorial Committee.
The Editor would like to thank Canterbury Christ Church College, and Kent Education Authority for providing resources in the past that enabled this magazine to be launched. I continue to be extraordinarily dependent upon my dear Mama who is a most excellent slave. My friend Chris Young continues to help with the IT.
Past editions may be read by clicking on the appropriate logo below: