Tuesday, 1 August 2017

One of my Poems and Virtual Chinese Whispers

Last month I won a poetry competition organised by a local arts festival. My MA Tutor asked me to write about it for the Department blog. He tweeted and posted on Facebook a message of congratulations with a link to the blog post. I shared on Facebook and retweeted on Twitter and didn't think any more about it until friends and family started phoning in varying states of high excitement. How delighted they were to hear that I'd won a National Award. Why hadn't I told them about this amazing achievement?

Don't get me wrong. It was lovely winning the competition but it was NOT a National Award. It took several weeks for the excitement and embarrassment to subside. Now that things have calmed down, I thought I'd share the post with you, so below is what I wrote for the Leicester University Creative Writing Blog with the winning poem at the end:

We All Belong

The programme for this year’s ArtBeat Leicester Festival was packed with activities. They ranged from Israeli dancing to philosophy in the pub to a Gurdwara visit with curry lunch. I ticked off the most appealing events but I knew that it would be impossible to attend them all. I was going to have to be selective.

The festival theme was We All Belong and this was the topic for this year’s ArtBeat poetry competition. I submitted two poems and fully intended to turn up to the prize-giving event but, as I said, it was a busy week. Did I mention the Lindy Hop or the Indian Folk Dancing or the Maypole Dance Workshop? It was a true test of stamina.

Last Tuesday, with all thoughts of Artbeat behind me, I attended my regular poetry group meeting. I settled down to a morning of workshopping, only to find myself the centre of attention. The Festival organiser had chosen that morning to present me with a certificate, or to be more precise two certificates. To my embarrassment I’d scooped not only 1st but also 4th place in the We All Belong poetry competition.

There is a lesson to be learnt here. If you enter a competition, make sure to give top priority to attending the prize-giving event, no matter how busy your week is. This is the poem that won first prize.

The Top Class by Rosalind Adam
Winner of the Artbeat Leicester ‘We All Belong’ Poetry Competition

It was our morning mantra:
Linda. Here, Miss. Andrew. Here, Miss.
Lee. He’s not here, Miss and we knew
the Board Man would be on his way.
He’d not go round the back like us.
He’d knock on Lee’s front door
while Lee hid because that’s what you did
when The Board Man called.

After the register we all lined up
for assembly in the hall.
Cross-legged by the back wall
we flicked paper pellets and sang
about Jerusalem being builded here
in our green and pleasant land
which was really grey and full of soot
from the factory down the road.

In class we sat at desks with lids,
did handwriting with pens that had spiky nibs
and pounds, shillings, pence sums on squared-paper.
We longed for Miss to say, playtime,
and give out bottles of milk from the metal crate.
In the playground we skipped with the long rope,
and we chose the song, jelly on the plate,
because we were the top class.

We stayed out for PE, for the fresh air,
and spun hoops round our waists,
round our necks when Miss wasn’t there,
but games on Friday was the best,
going to the field, clambering onto the bus,
racing for the back seat and us all singing
Ten Green Bottles and falling about laughing
because we always got the numbers wrong.

Soon we’d sit the 11 plus test
and they’d split us up for ever.
We’d be sent to the sec mod down the road
or the big grammar school in town
where we’d be streamed and given homework,
where we’d have to read stuff by Shakespeare,
do logarithms with a book full of numbers
but for now we were the top class.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Me and Distance Driving…

…Pathetic but true

I have been driving for over 50 years (yes, I'm that old!). This means that I’ve had more than enough time to hone the craft and I am fine around town but distance driving has never been my strength. Last weekend I visited family in North Manchester. I’ve done it before but will I ever be brave enough to do it again? It was so traumatic that I need to share the experience, by way of therapy. Please don’t feel obliged to read to the end. This one’s for me!

The Journey there: I thought I’d try a different route, avoid the dreaded M6, so I went up the M1 and over the top of Sheffield. That’s a pretty road, especially where it crosses the Pennines. I even pulled over on a lay-by for a few minutes to admire the view. I wouldn’t have done that if I’d known what was round the next corner. I’d never heard of the village Tintwhistle before. I have now. I spent almost an hour crawling towards Tintwhistle and then through Tintwhistle and then out the other side of Tintwhistle.

The Journey home: I was resigned to taking the dreaded M6 route but thankfully the motorway was clear… clear for the M6, that is. I transferred from M6 to A500 feeling smug until I reached the A50. There is a large roundabout on that road with signs saying how many lorries have overturned there during the year. That weekend I don’t suppose any lorries were about to overturn because the road beyond was shut, barred with red and white striped barriers.

Any seasoned traveller would have stopped and reassessed. I panicked. I went round the roundabout and drove back the way I had come. I had crazy thoughts of driving back to Manchester but knew that wasn’t an option. I drove all the way back to the M6. I drove South to the A5. I drove through a place called Cannock. I drove through numerous other places that I had never been to before. I was gripping the steering wheel, ‘rabbit in headlights’ mode. I should have stopped. Why didn’t I stop? I drove on for four hours. When I got home I sat on the settee with a substantial whisky and didn’t move for several hours. That night I had flashbacks of red and white striped barriers. Pathetic but true.

Thank you for allowing me to off-load.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Fledgling Alert

So there I was, pegging out the washing, with Charlie the Cat looking on, when the garden became filled with a-screaming and a-squawking. It was a family of blackbirds, mummy, daddy and an unsteady fledgling. The fledgling had come closer to us than it should have done. Mummy and daddy blackbirds were screaming,

      "Get away from the human!" 

      "Avoid the cat at all costs!" 

but the fledgling didn't understand or maybe it was going through that teenage stage of thinking that it knew best.

By now Charlie's taste buds had been whetted. Cats will be cats, I'm afraid. She went into hunting mode, started to creep across the path towards the fledgling but the parents were having none of it. They went for Charlie, pecking at her head and neck. Charlie, who is not as young as she used to be and is now rather small and skinny, fled to a safe place under an acer bush but the blackbirds continued their screaming until I ran out, scooped Charlie up and brought her into the house.

Mummy and daddy blackbird are now sitting in strategic positions calling to the fledgling. I hope it makes it. It doesn't deserve to end up in Charlie's mouth. So far, so good. Charlie has fallen asleep in the house and the blackbirds are still busy outside.

This photo of mummy blackbird on the corner of the shed roof is blurred. It was taken from a distance. I decided that the birds had had enough trauma for one morning.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A Memorial After 72 Years

It is some time since I mentioned the Jewish Gilroes Cemetery website. This does not mean that it is being neglected. On the contrary. As well as keeping it up to date - sadly several members of the community have died since we completed the project - there is also the chance to add to the stories about those people buried there.

Sometimes a very special story comes along and I feel privileged to be the one to bring it to light. It has been written by a very old friend of mine. We both grew up in the small Leicester Jewish community but he moved to Israel and I stayed in Leicester. Recently he told me about an amazing series of incidents that resulted in him going to Berlin for a greatly belated memorial service to his grandparents and the presentation of a very special gift. It's heartwarming to hear about the kindnesses that people do, especially when the news is so filled with cruelties.

I don't want to say any more about his story here because he tells it so well himself. I hope you've got a few minutes to go and read this very special story here: A Memorial After 72 Years

Sunday, 14 May 2017

You can't beat a bit of Pomp and Pageantry

I can't speak for other countries but I must say that the UK knows how to put on a show. I've enjoyed two displays of pomp and pageantry this week and I have the photographs to prove it.

Lynn Moore, the publisher of my latest book, The Children's Book of Richard III, is not only a friend, she also happens to be my local city councillor. So when she rang to ask if I would like to be her guest at this year's Lord Mayor Making Ceremony I jumped at the chance. It was a fascinating occasion full of splendour and ceremony. We emerged from the Town Hall to a barrage of drum music and an opportunity to take photos.

This is Lord Mayor Joshi with his wife, the Lady Mayoress:

And the entire ceremony was overviewed by the Mace Bearer:

Don't they look amazing in their outfits? But two days later I was back in town for the Annual Joint Morris Men Day of Dance which this year was held in Leicester. If you think the Lord Mayor was fancily dressed, take a look at this lot. Wherever there was a space, they were dancing in it.

This dance was taking place in Leicester Market:

Some players from Bury St. Edmonds were waiting to go on next:

Over in the Cathedral Gardens there was a lively group from Solihull, banging sticks, shouting 'Hoy!' and thrusting their sticks skyward:

And finally a member of the host group, one of our very own Leicester Morris Men:

Like I said, you can't beat a bit of pomp and pegeantry.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Leicester produces yet more historical gems

I have lived in Leicester all my life and remember when an area known as Frog Island was buzzing with industry, filled with soot-grimed factories and belching chimneys. Now the factories have closed down and those businesses that have survived have moved to out-of-town units. Some of the old buildings have been demolished, others have become derelict resulting in inevitable fires and vandalism. There are plans to redevelop the entire area but before new foundations are dug the Leicester University team of archeologists led by Richard Buckley (the man who led the team that discovered Richard III) took over one section of land in search of historical gems and once again they were successful.

The area for the dig is just outside the water-bound triangle that forms Frog Island, between Great Central Street and Highcross Street, and was once the Stibbe factory. It is not far from the Jewry Wall Museum where a carefully preserved section of remains of a Roman building housing the old town's baths is open to the public. This is the oldest part of Leicester and so the discovery of remains was not a surprise. What has been spectacular though is the number of well-preserved finds.

First a memory of my own from the area. The entrance to the site is opposite what used to be Leicester's Great Central Railway Station. It was the station where Leicester holiday makers took a train to the nearest seaside resort of Skegness and holds fond memories for many of Leicester's older residents. Only the entrance to the Parcels Office remains (as shown below) but it is evocative of the style of the building which was closed down in 1969, one of the many victims of the Beeching Report.

As for the actual dig, the finds include two Roman Streets, a well preserved mosaic over a hypocaust (underground heating - they were sophisticated in Roman times or was it that they found England freezing cold compared to Italy?) and a variety of artefacts including coins, brooches, hair pins and games. This elaborate woven mosaic is said to be the finest example found in Leicester for more than 150 years.

If you'd like to read more about the archeological dig and findings the Leicester University has issued this statement: Largest archeological excavation in Leicester.

Which just leaves me with one of my favourite ruminations. How did old stuff get to be so low down in the ground. I will elaborate - if the floors from these Roman remains are beneath present day ground level, which they clearly are, then why is it that the nearby All Saints Church is at street level? The church was built not long after this period although the actual date of the build is unknown. It is believed to have been mentioned in the Doomsday Book. So did people climb up steps to access the church? I suppose we'll never know.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

I Have Happy Feet

There's nothing that lifts the spirits more than a bit of escapism and that's what we got yesterday. We went to see 42nd Street at London's Drury Lane Theatre and I have to say that 'escapism' is an understatement. If you get the chance to go then please do. Compared to the film, they paint the love story angle with a very light brush. On the other hand, to continue a painting analogy, the dance sequences are produced in primary, poster-paint colours. They are amazing, truly stunning, a stage full of glittering, tap-dancing stars, all moving in perfect formation, in perfect time with the music. There are fabulous stage effects too, one uses a mirror lowered slowly onto the stage to change the effects of the sequence-style routine. You've got to go and see it, really!

I could enthuse about the dancing all day but there's more. The Victorians really knew how to design a theatre. The ceilings and walls are so highly decorated that as soon as you step into the Drury Lane you feel as if you've entered a fantasy land. It sets the scene so perfectly for this kind of show.

During the interval, in the queue for the ladies, a young girl wearing a pretty, red party frock was tapping away, throwing her arms around, twirling her skirt.

"Do you have tap lesson?" I asked.

"No," she said looking at her mother longingly.

It reminded me of when I was a kid. I used to pretend I could tap dance. I'll let you into a secret, between you and me, I still do, in the kitchen when there's no one else around. Those dance routines yesterday had me wanting to get up and dance just like when I was a kid. I'm convinced that tap dancing is inside every excited young girl and it stays there as we grow old. We just learn to hide it - most of the time.

I'm adding below a link to the official site where you can get a taster of the show with all those famous songs including We're in the Money, The Lullaby of Broadway, Keep Young and Beautiful, I Only Have Eyes For You and of course, 42nd Street.

42nd Street Musical

Cat Update: I've taken both cats off that medication (see previous post) and I have my happy, relaxed girls back again. I've spoken to the vet and he's agreed we keep a low-key eye on them and let them get on with their lives without being dosed up to their little feline eyeballs.

MA Update: Crikey! (polite expletive replacing what I really was thinking!) I've only got another two weeks before I hand in my assignment and I'm barely halfway through it. Best be going...