Megan’s UK dairy: The green spaces of Sheffield

Getting lost in new places is wonderful. In fact, I rather make a point of it. This morning I went for a jog, paying little attention to where I was going, just darting right or bolting left as the whim took me, because that is how I discover the best, most unexpected gems.

Today I managed to do a loop (loops being life-giving, backtracking the opposite), starting from Walkley and finding my way down the valley into Philadelphia and Upperthorpe, areas that are new to me. En route I found a charming warren of pedestrian paths in and around a housing estate (first moment of self congratulation), then I came across the Philadelphia Green Space, a small, elongated stretch of forest, footpaths and playgrounds (second moment of self congratulation).

“Phil”, the little bird on the educational signs dotted around Philadelphia park, told me all sorts of interesting things during my stint in his park, like the fact that 1/3 of Sheffield lies within the Peak National Park, and that although Sheffield is very urban and industrial, the city prides itself on its ubiquitous green and open spaces and is the greenest city in Britain.

IMG_1256

My mum, who was born in the 50s, remembers how in the decades after WWII the rose bay willow herb could be seen everywhere, from bombed buildings to wastelands, being a tenacious sort of plant that will settle in the most unlikely of places, like this one here, which has planted itself in a roof gutter.

 

I realised as I jogged about, smelling the damp, cut grass and smiling at the tiny white daisies that have already shot up in the short grass, that I always talk about how I love to travel when in fact I detest travelling. I’m a motion ninny, for one. Moreover, who doesn’t lose their joie de vivre when unable to sleep on an overnight flight? But what I do love is having all the travel behind me and then getting to explore new places. And Britain is one of my favourite places to explore, having so much in such a small space and containing things like public footpaths (the lure of which cannot be understated), ancient, crumbling buildings, Starbucks, and bus drivers that call you “love”.

So travelling:

thumbs down

But exploring:

thumbs up

Whenever it’s time to wind my way home after an explore, I crouch down and study my footprints, sniff the air, lick a finger and put it up in the breeze … no, just kidding of course, I read the signs and if necessary stop a local and ask them to share their knowledge of local topography and road names.

I’ve realised that a neat and effective trick when it comes to exercising is to charge off downhill at the beginning, when you’re still full of energy, life and bravado. Eventually, when you start to feel somewhat weary, you consider that it might be time to turn around and find your way back. The hike then begins, and by the time you finally reach your destination your muscles are nicely kaput. You can then pull yourself across the threshold of your abode, climb up a kitchen chair and slide into a nice bowl of cereal.

IMG_1257

My blogging spot while in Sheffield

Advertisements

Megan’s UK Diary: Chatsworth House forever

IMG_1331

I have something of a love affair with Chatsworth House, but you’d have to know me very well to know that. So when I met up with an old friend today, and she suggested several things we might do, I stopped her after the mention of Chatsworth with an understated, “Oh, that would be nice – let’s do that.” So off we went.

Driving through the Peak District has to be one of the most pleasant experiences a person can have. Purple heather was everywhere, pinky-purple rhododendrons were everywhere else, and the sun kept breaking through the clouds as though to say: I know you’ve travelled far to be here, so I won’t let them nasty clouds ruin your day.

We reached the car park and decided to walk through the grounds instead of going inside, all the more to embrace the perfection that is an English country estate in summertime. We thought we would walk to the folly on the top of the hill, but the dirt road we followed never quite wound its way there, and so we enjoyed green lawns and grouped deer instead. By the end of our walk, my friend and I agreed that we’d not only caught up on the past 3 years, but had, in the chatty manner of girlfriends, set much of the world to rights 🙂

Here are some photos from our stroll:

IMG_1323

The golden entrance gate

IMG_1313

An Austenesque house

IMG_1318

Not only the biggest mushroom I’ve ever seen, but also a concave, chalice-like one!

IMG_1307

I’m trying to get close to them deer, but they had the measure of me…

~

I’m in the UK for 6 weeks, and have decided I’ll write some “Megan’s UK Diary” posts. I’m in Sheffield at present, heading to the Edinburgh Festival tomorrow, and then many places besides. I’ll keep you posted with anything interesting I see or learn. 🙂

Book review: The Honk and Holler Opening Soon (by Billie Letts, author of Where the Heart Is)

Cover of "The Honk and Holler Opening Soo...
Cover of The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon is set in the small, ‘nowhere’ town of Sequoyah, Oklahoma. More specifically, it focuses on a roadside diner originally intended to be called The Honk and Holler, but known as the Honk and Holler Opening Soon because the owner made a drunken phone call to the company tasked with making the roadside sign, and so consequently, 14 years later, the diner is still known as The Honk and Holler Opening Soon. An eclectic cast of characters work or dine at the Honk, and it is their interrelated stories that drive the narrative.

The cast

In terms of our main characters, there is Caney Paxton, the 40ish paraplegic Vietnam vet who is the owner of the diner and who has never left its walls since he was wheeled in after leaving the hospital.

There is also MollyO, his surrogate mother who waitresses at the Honk and pines after her runaway teenage daughter.

Then there is Vena Takes Horse, a homeless Crow woman who rocks up just before Christmas with a three-legged dog she rescued off the highway. Vena muscles her way into a job by showing her skills as a revenue-garnering carhop.

There is also the sweet-natured Bui Khanh, a Vietnamese refugee looking to find a way to bring his wife to America. Bui, who becomes the Honk’s handyman, is also homeless and he sneaks into a local church at night for shelter.

Finally, there is an assortment of other folks who pepper the story with local colour, problems and humour – many elderly, some rather nosy, a few with disabilities, and at least one downright dangerous. These men and women come to the Honk daily for coffee, meals and gossip, and the narrative thus never lags or lacks for storylines.

Why I like it

Letts’s writing is imaginative and skilful. She knows how to tell a story you will care about, but her writing is far from sentimental and she doesn’t wallow in anything – the pace is steady and you are quickly caught up in a handful of interconnected plots. And it’s certainly refreshing to read a story set in Oklahoma.

Thinking about it, you know what else is refreshing? Reading a story wherein none of the A- or even B-level characters is described as beautiful, stunning, handsome, gorgeous, rugged or even pretty. There is just a host of ordinary-looking people whose appearances affect very little about their lives, yet they still have stories worth telling. I like it.

I think what I perhaps loved most about the novel, aside from its humour, is the way that Letts avoids writing cheese while at the same time refrains from writing soul-destroying flint. She describes the dire – people at the bottom of society, desperate situations, all-too-familiar personal tragedies, and some really cheap, Slumsville settings – while still managing to impart a sense of optimism. She does not shy away from describing cruelty, darkness and hardship, and yet cruelty is always ameliorated by kindness, darkness by light, and hardship by hope. Letts somehow leaves the reader feeling that their eyes have been opened to the world and yet they have also been affirmed in the goodness of humanity and the possibility of redemption. I think that rather masterful.

An extract to help convince you to read it

Here is one of my favourite passages, written just after MollyO’s daughter Brenda once again runs away (having first, of course, stolen cash from her mother), which showcases Letts’s humour as well as her heart:

MollyO came on to work the next morning, weepy and exhausted. She hadn’t slept for twenty-eight hours, but it wasn’t the first time she’d spent a night walking the floor in despair.

When Caney found out what Brenda had done, he was so furious that he raged around the rest of the morning, his anger splattering like bacon in hot grease. He banged around the kitchen, slamming skillets onto burners, hacking the meat cleaver into the cutting board, knocking cans of corn and peas from the pantry shelves and cussing onions and eggs as if he’d found them sneaking around telling lies.

But once, when MollyO came back to the sink to wash her hands, he grabbed her around the waist and buried his head in her chest, held her without a word, then rolled away and smacked five pounds of ground beef, punishment, perhaps, for whatever grief that cow had brought to its mother.

I really loved this book. It has a strong sense of place and is funny, imaginative, tense, and heart-breaking and heart-warming at turns. It has a cast of interesting and truly individualistic personalities that you quickly come to own as your own, and so follow their stories with interest and concern. I read it flat-out it was that fun, engaging and easy to read.

~

Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Someone said to me the other day that I should try writing book reviews. It’s not something I’ve ever really concerned myself with (not since the days of forced book reviews in high school).  But I do find myself wanting to share with others when I’ve read a book I really enjoyed. I’ve never really kept up with the latest books, so any book reviews I do stand little chance of being current. But good books surely stand the test of the time, so I won’t worry myself with that. Hence this review of a book written 15 years ago! If you haven’t read it before, I hope you can lay your hands on a copy and that you too will have some fun hours of reading.

~

If you enjoyed today’s post, you would probably also be interested in The 25 best novels of all time, A ditty was promised, so a ditty must be written! Also, a love poem, an old railway advert & Gibson Girls and What have I been reading?.

A picture worthy of a story. The day Shelley became brave

3cbf3490be49ffe066e98ab15fcd7550Shelley wasn’t the bravest seabird that had ever lived. Far from it. In fact, she was the only storm petrel she knew who lived on the mainland, preferring the stability of her life in the big horse chestnut in Mrs Kowalski’s sprawling garden – with its view of the ocean and the sturdy fence that kept out mammals – to a life at sea, roaming up and down the Atlantic. She had visited her cousins’ rocky, summertime home just once as a fledgling; she had found it desolate and inhospitable, and, after one particularly fearsome night of hunkering down as the small islet was buffeted by winds strong enough to pluck the feathers off any little petrel girl, had vowed to never return.

It was lonely, to be sure, living the years by herself in that big old chestnut on a quiet stretch of Ireland’s coast, and when the colony was far away she had to do her trawling on her own, but Shelley’s parents had raised her with the injunction to be true to her nature, and she had always determined to do just that, even if her nature made the other storm petrels call her names like “deviant”, “landlubber” and, possibly most hurtful of all, “weirdo”.

Feeling shunned by her own, Shelley made an effort to converse with the other genera in the surrounding trees, as well as with diverse and seasonal passers-by. Some would give her strange looks, but others were friendly and the hen two trees over always made a fuss of her when she visited.

It was this mothering friend, called Helga, that Shelley visited the day of her fifth birthday. Helga knew a thing or two about standing out from the crowd; she had once told Shelley that she believed her family to be the only Fea’s petrels in the land.

Shelley had cleaned herself particularly well in mark of her birthday; the backs of her wings glistened jet black in the weak sun and her square tail fanned out neatly as she made the short trip. A moment later she hopped onto the branch leading directly to Helga’s home. “Happy birthday, Elskan,” Helga said when she spotted Shelley, making use of the Nordic endearment she’d adopted for her young neighbour. She fluttered her wings in Shelley’s direction, inviting her to come further in.

“I’m five today, Helga,” Shelley said without any to-do, shuffling along unsteadily on her thin little legs. An unexpected wobble had entered into her voice when she spoke, and she had to swallow hard to repress it, hurting her throat. “I’m getting old.”

“Not so, Elskan,” Helga insisted. “Still lots of time to find a mate and have a chick.” At this juncture she nudged her own hatchling further back into the nest with her beak.

“You really think so? Even for a ‘weirdo’ storm petrel like myself who doesn’t get out much?”

Algerlega – absolutely.”

Shelley smiled gratefully at the firmness in Helga’s voice. Knowing her to be a forbearing friend, Shelley added forlornly, “But I never meet any other storm petrels, not now my parents are gone. I eat with them, but none ever talk to me. So how am I supposed to meet a good-looking young petrel who isn’t already partnered, or even just a girlfriend of my own age?” She suspected she already knew what Helga’s answer would be.

“By being brave, Elskan, by being brave.”

Shelley started to tear up. “But I’m not brave. I’m the opposite of brave – I’m, I’m … a chicken.” There was a short pause, then they smiled at one another over the little joke.

“Thankfully you are far too pretty and dainty to be a chicken. Look at you – you’re a sweet little catch. And maybe you haven’t been especially brave up till now – but you will be. You can be.” Helga batted a moment with the naughty hatchling. Then she faced Shelley again and said, “You’ve spoken to so many of the other birds around here – some of them big, rough types. Other storm petrels really shouldn’t be so terrible after all that. I even saw you talking with a big, testy Northern Fulmar last autumn!”

“It’s not the same,” Shelley pouted. “They – you – only expect me to be whatever it is I am – you don’t know what a storm petrel is supposed to be and do. Other storm petrels do, and I don’t fit in.” She sighed. “At least almost none of them remember me now and I can go feeding near them without having to endure the insults and knowing looks.”

“You don’t think I get looks, a Fea’s petrel in Ireland? Lots of birds are a bit different, a bit … unanticipated. Interesting birds, like us,” Helga said with a brisk devil-may-care shake of her head feathers. She then settled back down and gave her young friend a long searching look, before finally saying, “Why not stay on the waters a little longer tonight? Don’t just fly home as soon as you’ve eaten. Stay. Chat. Mingle.” Shelley nodded dolefully in response. “You don’t have to do much more than that. The right storm petrel will see you with time and he’ll take it from there. You must just let yourself be seen. Baby steps, Elskan, baby steps – tonight, just stay on the water for a little bit longer. Agreed?”

Shelley sat still, her face down, thinking, then she looked up and nodded decisively, a tiny spark in her stomach making her realise she could actually do it – if she decided to do it. There was nothing stopping her, she told herself. She was tired of being alone. Yes, she was living on her own terms, in her own way, but it was lonely. She wanted something more.

“Tonight I will be brave, Helga. I will make you proud of me.” She shuffled away, back along the branch. Just before she leapt off, she looked over her shoulder to smile at her friend and say, “Thanks, Helga.”

“Any time, Elskan, any time. You just hang in there. And Helga will be here to cheer you along all the way.”

~

That evening Shelley flew out to sea with a light in her eyes. The sky was dark with clouds, and a fresh north-westerly breeze carried her easily along her way. A short while later she dropped down onto the surface of the ocean, cold as always but with waves that were relatively gentle. No excuses, she told herself, and proceeded to nibble on the first piece of plankton that floated her way.

When her hunger started to abate, she slowed down her feeding and looked about furtively in between mouthfuls at the group of nearby storm petrels, all chattering with each other as they ate. They made it look so easy, and Shelley felt the recognisable anxiety wrap itself around her like seaweed around one’s feet. She contemplated abandoning her plan and just flying home. Her stomach was full enough. But then she remembered what she had promised Helga about being brave. The flicker of determination in her belly was still there, and she focused on it, urging it to grow bigger and help her.

Expelling saltwater through her nostrils, she lifted herself up and resolutely pattered across the water towards two youngish-looking birds on the fringe of the group. Having reached their spot, she plopped down into the water next to them, clearly taking them by surprise.

“Hi,” she said. “We’ve never met before. I’m Shelley.”

It turned out the two petrels she had chosen were brother and sister – Bonnie and Ioan – and they had just been discussing their next trip to Malta. Shelley asked them about it, and instead of making her feel embarrassed because she hadn’t been herself, they began to tell her about it. Bonnie described the warmth of the waters and the colours of the flowers on the trees, and Ioan told her about the taste of the food there, and the gentleness of the air. They asked her about her life, and then listened interestedly as she told them about her horse chestnut and the garden. Before she knew it, all the other birds had left and it was just the three of them that remained, talking. She had outstayed them all!

As she said goodbye to Bonnie and Ioan, having promised to meet them the next evening, Shelley felt lighter. She didn’t know if she was any closer to finding a partner – Ioan was a little young at just three years old – but she had been brave, and she knew it. Shelley-level brave, at least. And her future started to open up in her mind’s eye at the prospect of the other brave things she might surprise herself by doing.

A picture worthy of a story. Jemmica.

Jemmica always knew who she was, where she was going, and who she would admit into the company of her life. I never knew her to stutter, falter or second-guess herself. She was Confidence in very high heels and smoky eye shadow. I and my old fraying book bag and baggy jeans hadn’t spoken with her in years.

One day, I was walking to the grocery store, my scarf wrapped around my head to fight the cold, and I saw Jemmica across the street. She was bunched over, one hand propped against the gnarled tree outside Mr Grobalt’s double-storeyed house. I assumed she was fiddling with a problematic shoe, and wondered abstractedly if she was ruining a manicure. Then I heard her cry out.

I did a hasty ‘right then left’ before running over the road, almost wiping out on a patch of ice. I reached the pavement and leaned over next to her, asking, “What is it, Jemmica? Are you okay?”

She moaned and leant forcefully against me. I had to brace myself to hold us up.

“What is it?” I repeated, bewildered and increasingly fearful. Her hair was slipping out of its band and partially curtaining her face, but I could see that her cheeks were flushed, and she was sweating.

“It’s gone,” she whined painfully. “I got rid of it.” Then my strength gave out and we collapsed together with a hard thud onto the ground. I grimaced but didn’t make a sound, just held onto her and looked up and around for help.

She leaned into my chest, and started shuddering. “I’m so sorry,” I muttered into her head, horrified at what it was I suspected she had revealed to me. I stroked her forehead soothingly and made subdued sounds. She continued to keen, and I rocked her on that cold pavement as though she was one of my little boys.

~~~

Please note: This story is of course complete fiction, and has absolutely no real-life connection with either the photographer or the model. I found the image on Pinterest, pinned by storage.uhqmodels.ru. If anyone knows the photographer’s and model’s names, please let me know so I can make proper attribution.

A superlatively random collection of 11 very short, quotable quotes

1. I just speed-read War and Peace. It’s about some Russians. (Woody Allen)

2. Life reeks with possibilities. (Lauren Bacall)

3. Remember, candy is dandy, but fruit makes you poop. (Kim Possible)

4. It might have been […] chance, or its more flamboyant relative, destiny. (Carlos Ruiz Zafón)

5. You have a tremendous grasp of the obvious. (Wipeout)

6. Competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. (L. Peter & R. Hull)

7. If you want to forget all your troubles, wear tight shoes. (Anon)

8. Whether they find life there or not, I think Jupiter should be considered an enemy planet. (Jack Handy)

9. There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good. (Edwin Denby)

10. I woke up this morning in the mood to not be awake. (23thorns)

11. I have learned from my mistakes, and I am sure I can repeat them exactly. (Peter Cook)

A ditty was promised, so a ditty must be written! Also, a love poem, an old railway advert & Gibson Girls

One of my readers – Sean Smithson – spotted an error in my “About” page; the underlined “as” had been accidentally omitted: “If you read my posts you’ll inadvertently learn probably as much as you would like to know about how this mind of mine works.”

Well spotted, I say! I promised the reader who found a mistake a ditty, and so the below is what I devised.

But first, in case some of you don’t know what a ditty is, it’s simply a short, simple song or poem (from Old French ditie – poem).

Here’s mine:

A ditty (that embraces the silly)

Oh, run away word,
where have you gone?
Your home is right here,
are you going to be long?

Sean S., the word catcher,
caught the thing in its haste;
that word was sent packing,
and now sits in its right place.

Perhaps after that I should share a ditty or two as penned by the pros, so as to highlight all that they can be!

A Ditty (by Sir Philip Sidney)

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one to the other given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven:
   My true-love hath my heart, and I have his.

His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his because in me it bides:
   My true-love hath my heart, and I have his.

Now, for an example from the early C20th, the image below is one of a series of advertisements used by the Lackawanna Railroad in the eastern US to capitalise on its use of anthracite, a kind of hard coal that burns cleanly, not creating the soot and cinders that normal coal does.

The advertisers came up with the fictional character of Phoebe Snow, whom they used to promote the line they accordingly dubbed The Road of Anthracite.

1024px-Phoebe-Snow-ditty

The quote below, from Steamtown: Special History Study, explains how the railroad developed this advertising strategy:

Early in 1899, […] Mark Twain, wrote the company after a trip to Elmira that he had worn a white duck suit and it was still white when he reached his destination. [The company] seized upon the idea of taking advantage of the line’s clean-burning coal in advertising for passenger traffic and adopted the slogan for the Lackawanna Road as “The Road of Anthracite.” As a symbol, probably for the first time in 1901, the railroad seized upon the image of a demure “Gibson girl” dressed head to toe in sparkling white, and published a seemingly endless series of jingles or poems.

Three more of the Phoebe ditties go like this:

Here Phoebe may
By night or day
Enjoy her book
Upon the way
Electric light
Dispels the night
Upon the Road
Of Anthracite

Says Phoebe Snow, About to go
Upon a trip
To Buffalo:
"My gown stays white from morn till night
Upon the Road of Anthracite.

A coach or sleigh 
Was once the way 
Of reaching home 
On Christmas day 
Now - Phoebe's right - 
You'll expedite 
The trip by Road Of Anthracite

To read more, you can click here.

During WWI, anthracite was needed for the war effort, so trains couldn’t use it anymore and Phoebe Snow disappeared.

220px-Gibson_Girl_by_Charles_Dana_Gibson

An archetypal Gibson Girl

Phoebe was drawn as a Gibson Girl, and Gibson Girls, I’ve just learned with interest, were designed to be the epitome of supposed feminine beauty at the time: gracious, curvy, fashionable, independent, at ease with themselves, and possessing a fragile outer beauty.

300px-Gibson_Girls_seaside_-cropped-_by_Charles_Dana_Gibson

More Gibson Girls, who were popular images in the late C19th and early C20th

The Gibson Girls creator, Charles Dana Gibson, had this to say about his drawings: “I’ll tell you how I got what you have called the ‘Gibson Girl.’ I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores […] There isn’t any ‘Gibson Girl,’ but there are many thousands of American girls, and for that let us all thank God.”

– Quote from Marshall, E. (1910-11-20). “The Gibson Girl Analyzed By Her Originator”. The New York Times.

Camille Clifford, a Belgian-born American actress who was the most famous model for the Gibson Girl drawings

Camille Clifford, a Belgian-born American actress who was the most famous model for the Gibson Girl drawings

~~~

If you enjoyed today’s blog post, you might also enjoy

Horses sweat, men sweat, and ladies sweat just the same

Quotes for writers

Lindisfarne: A Holy Island

Patrolling the streets of this blog: The quest of a deranged cop

toonvectors-2654-460One of my jobs is editing and proof reading, and when operating in that role I have the excitable, obsessive tendencies of a crusading, steroid-popping policeman. When I sit down to edit, I am working off the grid – tasering spelling mistakes, eradicating typos, roughing up formatting evils, bombing inconsistencies, not to mention roundhouse-kicking indecent grammar and breaking the kneecaps of all other content-related bad asses.

So naturally I hate it when I hit that “Publish” button on a post, and then at some future date (often only seconds later) come across a devious typo or a word stoned out of its mind. It makes my patrol car come to a screeching stop, my coffee spills on my lap, and my mouthful of doughnut sticks in my throat.

But mostly I hate typos and their cronies because they steal the reader away from the content, rudely dragging him or her into the warehouse of linguistics, where they must endure the reality of clanking semantics swaying in the rafters, and have scar-faced goons from the wrong side of the shift button breathe heavily into their face. I work hard to maintain streets that encourage wanderers to contemplate the beauty of the green words on the trees, lose themselves in the lyricism carried in the wind, and relax into the encouraging warmth of the environment. A kidnapping detracts. Always.

So while cruising through yesterday’s avenue of thought (WWII, Socrates, Rwanda & personal boundaries) in an historic part of the local campus, what do I see but this sly malfeasant of a letter sidling up next to an innocent Private Eye:

“It do not consider it necessary or even helpful for me personally in my lifetime […].” What?! Hands up, you low-life, you stinking interloper of a ‘t’! I arrest you on the spot for trespassing on the property of Prof. Reader.

So this is my proposal to all my readers: I will be keeping an eye out for any typos or mistakes in my neighbourhood, but if any of you (citizen of the blog or tourist) should spot one and point it out to me first, then that person will receive the honour (?!) of having a ditty written either about them or with their name in it. I will make a post of it. Your fame will reach to all of my half dozen readers!!

I have no idea if I can write ditties on command (I’ve only ever written one ditty-ish thing that I can think of – Ode to a posy of flowers sitting on my desk), but should the occasion arise, I will do my best, and then we can all muse over the outcome.

So now that I’ve invited you to partner with me in my cop car, hopefully we’ll clean up the streets of Living my write life in no time, and we will all be able to take pleasant Sunday-type strolls anywhere we want, enjoying the peace of mind that comes from a world completely free of typographical thuggery.

~~~

A note: I am not inviting a traditionalist/prescriptivist scrutinising of my grammar – I don’t want to hear about sentences that start with a conjunction, etc. Sometimes artistic concerns must prevail. I am, however, inviting you to alert me to typos and mistakes because I want those to be as foreign to my streets as tanned legs are to a Scotsman.

Searching for Sugar Man

searching-for-sugar-man-posterI recently watched the captivating documentary Searching for Sugar Man. It’s about a talented American singer-songwriter-guitarist of the 70s called Rodriguez who couldn’t sell any records in the US, but who was, completely unbeknownst to him, a mega hit in Apartheid South Africa.

Rodriguez’s music inspired liberal-minded SA musicians in their anti-establishment efforts, but his fans here knew NOTHING about him as a person. He was a total enigma, and rumours abounded. Eventually, in the 90s, two South African fans began to investigate …

I won’t give anymore away, as it’s an excellent film and I don’t want to ruin it for you. I just want to promote it further for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it. South Africans in particular will find it intriguing.

~~~

Only very marginally related to the above, but I spotted this the other day and think it funny:

ca57e45501486e1fd997343cd60db3ac

Thank you, Pinterest, for the laughs!

How to ruin a pleasant morning jog in the bush

How best can you ruin a pleasant morning’s jog in the bush, aside from incurring an injury? Well, for me, you post this sign on the door of the little outhouse alongside the foot trail: “Please keep this door shut unless you want to meet the 1.5 metre python”. Boom. Done. My petit exertions in the gorgeous autumn […]

Abortion and mental/physical disabilities

I’ve just read something and I am horrified. I don’t normally delve into very controversial topics, but I’ve been editing a paper on Down’s Syndrome and it included these stats from K.B. Brown (2012): 90% of mothers in the USA with an unborn baby diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome (DS) are choosing to have an abortion, […]

Lindisfarne – A Holy Island

I was chatting with a friend the other day and I mentioned that I’m going to be visiting Lindisfarne (or Holy Island) later this year. She said she’d never heard of it before. That gave me pause, and started me wondering how many other South Africans and folks elsewhere have perhaps missed hearing about this […]

Quotes for writers

Today I thought I’d simply share some of my favourite quotes concerning the art of writing.  I find them excellent touchstones in the writing process. Less is more * As he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off; a continence which is practiced by few writers …. (John Dryden) * […]

Shorty on the ski slopes

Until the age of 15 I was a head shorter than all my friends. I just hated not looking my age. It led to all sorts of gross injustices, like forever being told I’m ‘cute’, even by girls younger than me! Oh, the silent fuming! The most memorable occasion when my height did me in […]

What have I been reading?

Books, glorious books … Right now I’m struggling to re-enter the world proper after three very good reads in a row. This past month I’ve been to C17th England, C20th Easter Island, and C14th Siena. I’ve been burning the midnight oil many nights, in keeping with: So yes, I’ve been rather bleary-eyed most mornings of […]

Favourite quote #7 “The best moments in reading are when …” (Alan Bennet)

This idea is similar to how C.S. Lewis describes friendship: And that’s one of the best things about reading – having your own thoughts, which often you’d never even fully articulated to yourself, set down in ink before you, showing you that you are not alone in thinking or feeling as you have done. Suddenly […]

Favourite quote #6: The trouble with real life …

“The trouble with real life is that there is no danger music.” ~ Chip Douglas  South Africa has some pretty serious crime. It affects us all, in more ways than we probably realise; a lifetime of looking over your shoulder is not without effect. But we’re pretty good at making fun of things, and I […]

Post Office Queues (the daily dental operation of life)

There’s nothing quite akin to a POQ (post office queue) to force you into an untimely examination of your life. Have you ever noticed that there is always a large clock placed up front? The effect being that in that hushed atmosphere typical of post offices, one can hear its loud ticking, driving home the […]

The 25 best novels of all time

There are countless lists on the Internet claiming to offer the definitive 100 Books to Read before you Die, Sci-Fi’s Top 20, The 50 Greatest Romance Novels, and so on. The problem is that they generally aim at being terribly impartial and eclectic so as to cover all bases, meaning they benefit few readers since […]

In a corner apartment on the eighth floor is a lean man bowing low …

In a corner apartment on the eighth floor is a lean man bowing low as he faces northeast and quietly beseeches Allah to protect his family living in the Sudan. His hands are rough, his nails unevenly bitten. The grey-haired woman in the flat above him deftly pulls her legs into the lotus position, closes […]