Thursday, 31 May 2012

Sorry, sorry, sorry

Oh, I'm so incredibly SORRY.

You see, I'm like Paul in the Bible - I think it was Paul - who said the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

My spirit wants to blog every day; my flesh is sooo weak. BUT I do plead mitigating circumstances, and so I hope you will forgive my absence.

As I mentioned way back at the beginning of this blog, I am one of those euphemistically named "mature-aged students". Yep, this year I commenced university studies. It's really exciting, and I am loving the way my brain cells are sent zinging off in all directions, checking out things which I hadn't even known existed, uncovering details that were covered in the dustsheets of ignorance. It's fantastic, but it's also very challenging.

I have, I am pleased to say, done really well in the two assignments which I have so far completed, and so of course that buoys me up wonderfully. However, tomorrow is my first ever invigilated exam. Oooh, I'm stressing out even about driving to the examination venue - morning stop/start traffic on the freeway, better known as the big parking lot. In my mind is a picture, a vision, of me sitting gridlocked in rush hour traffic, knowing that on the other side of the city the doors have closed, the time clock is set, and I miss out on sitting my exam.

So, here's a plea, friends: send me lots of positive vibes for tomorrow. If you pray, send up a little prayer for me:  (a) that I actually make it to the venue on time; and (b) that my brain doesn't turn to marshmellow but lights up like an Osram and guides my pen to get the words down on paper that will bring in a good result.  

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

 And in return? I promise to be back in a couple of days with thoughts on life, thoughts on books, some great photographs, and day four of our time in Paris - I think you'll like it.

Update 13/06/12: I received my exam result, and I'm over the moon. I received a distinction in both my assignments but wasn't expecting the same in the exam - sitting in a room and writing two 800 word essays. Guess what? Yes, good news, another distinction. So, my first ever university unit, and I gained a distinction for the whole unit. Who's a happy girl? Who's sipping bubbly? Me, me, me. Sorry, but I'm not feeling all that humble at the moment, you see.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

No More Owls, Please.

Image courtesy Microsoft Clipart

 A friend lent me a book to read. This article is not about the book per se, for two reasons: (a), I haven’t finished the book to give any sort of overall “review” or “reaction”; and, (b) even if I had finished it, the book is rather – how shall I put this – rude. Okay, there, I’ve said it, it’s a rude little book. This is not a book which you would give to your granny for Christmas, or to your eight year old thinking that the title, “Rosie Little’s Cautionary Tales for Girls” makes it some sort of guide for surviving childhood. No, it is, plain and simply, as I have pointed out already, rude. It uses rude words, and it deals with rude subjects, subjects best described, even in the words of Rosie Little herself, in Latin.

Okay, we have established that I am not about to endeavour to convince you to buy or read this book, although I do have to say that, should you be a fairly open-minded person, should you be over a certain age and with a certain amount of life experience, and should you love a good old belly laugh, then this book is a delight. You could, of course, buy it for granny after all and look forward to her handing it back to you in disgust. You would then have accomplished two things: done the right thing and remembered granny at Yuletide, and got for yourself a book you will enjoy. However, let’s put all that to one side because, as I said earlier, that is not what I want to talk about here today. I am going to speak about one particular chapter or “cautionary tale” of the book, one which I can really relate to.

Image courtesy Microsoft Clipart
“Elephantiasis”, the second chapter of the book, relates the story of Meredith, a rather large but very personable young school teacher. After extending what, on the surface at least, appears to be an act of generosity to a near stranger, Meredith is rewarded by that stranger with a gift, a small ornament, an elephant. Now, to me it would seem glaringly obvious that giving an elephant to a large person could carry with it the risk of offence, subliminal though it may be. Having said that, I am sure that the world is full of rotund people with a great love of elephants. Meredith was not one of those people.

Image courtesy Microsoft Clipart
That initial gift of the elephant was followed up shortly thereafter by the gift of a second elephant, this one as a thank you present for feeding a neighbour’s plants in her absence. So, here we have Meredith, definitely not a lover of the soft-eyed pachyderm, now the owner of two elephants, and feeling that these objects contain, albeit quite unintentionally, comments upon her own size, or oversize.
Now, I’m sure that you can guess what is coming next. Yes, of course you can.  As friends and family notice Meredith’s two elephants, it occurs to them that the selection of Christmas and birthday presents for Meredith has become so much easier because – obviously – she collect elephants. Within a short space of time, her house is overflowing with their grey, pink, white, brown, mosaic, embroidered, long-stitched, cross-stitched, abstract and post-mo bodies.  Even her garden is not free of them. Everywhere she looks, every birthday card she opens, they are there, seeming to mock her, seeming to say, “Hey, you’re one of us”. Poor Meredith.

Image courtesy Microsoft Clipart
Image courtesy Microsoft Clipart
I am not going to carry on and tell you what turns the story takes, how it all ends for Meredith in this cautionary tale. What I would like to do now is ask you to think about how this applies to your life. Do you, perhaps take the easy option as Christmas approaches and buy some totally ghastly object which you would never have in your own home in a million years simply because you think that some friend or relative is a collector of such objects – and they do tend to be of the animal kingdom, it must be said?

When I was a child my favourite toy was a stuffed owl. When I was a child my Dad used to tell me the little ditty about the Wise Old Owl. When I first moved to England the first thing I bought was a witty, clever little book – which I still have, many years down the track – called Two Owls. I would have to say that I think the most beautiful birds, the ones that I find most fascinating, are owls. Okay? Got that? I like owls.

Image courtesy Microsoft Clipart

So, quite some years back I was passing a shop that sold Mexican giftware. There in the window was an owl. He was beautiful. His colours were beautiful. The expression on his face was beautiful. He was mine, no two ways about it. He had pride of place on my wall unit. Then a birthday came around. A good friend, seeing the owl and knowing how much I loved it, decided that I would probably love a companion for my beautiful owl. And so one became two.

Over the years I have been given owls of such hideousness that they could be used as props in horror movies. There have been birthdays when I have unwrapped gifts to find particularly ugly – and ill formed, it must be said – candles in the shape of owls; I have had to exclaim over, and admire, owls that look as though they are the result of interbreeding of the species; I have been rendered speechless by a large, green, plastic wall clock owl with eyes that moved right to left as it tick-tocked, and whose tail – yes, tail – kept to the beat. I thought that was about as bad as it could get. That was up until the Christmas I received the bad owl to beat all bad owls.

Image courtesy Microsoft Clipart
This owl was so far down the scale of bad taste that I am still stunned by its absolutely horribleness every time I think about it. I’m sure you’ve all seen those frogs that people put by their doors, you know the ones which detect movement and croak. Well, this was something along those lines. It was quite large, painted in rather sinister browns, blacks and greys. It had orange glass eyes. If it detected movement, the eyes flashed and it emitted a noise like something from the grave. It was terrifying in the extreme. I put it in the backyard, reasoning that if any intruder entered therein, one glance from this evil owl, one fiendish utterance, and the intruder would repent of his ways, or at least decamp from our premises. But do you know what? Even knowing that it was out there made my backyard a place I did not feel comfortable visiting.

No, I no longer have that owl, but I’m not going to tell you how I got rid of it – some things should remain unsaid, after all. What I do have is a couple of packing boxes pushed to the back corner of the garage containing owls of every size and material which have been given to me over the years. On my wall unit I do indeed still have a few owls – the ones I like, the ones I have bought or which somebody has bought for me because they thought I would like it, not because it’s a “no-brainer” to buy me an owl.

Like Meredith, I did not set out to “collect” anything. Unlike Meredith, I guess I was responsible for people getting the idea that I did. I have a sister who found herself in a similar situation. She likes frogs. Over the years she bought a couple of wonderful prints of frogs, and received some quite stunning frog ornaments. But as with Meredith and her elephants, as with me and my owls, it was as if the world at large could then, without any qualms whatsoever, buy and present to her frogs of such ugliness that it tested her character not to cry out in disgust when she received them.

So, here is my cautionary tale: just because you notice on somebody’s shelf a little piece of ceramic frivolity, perhaps a dolphin, or a cat, or a giraffe, it is not safe to assume that they are a collector of such creatures and that you are free of any good taste when it comes to gift selection.
Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

Friday, 18 May 2012

Paris - the city, that is.

Through eyes teary from fond memories, I have penned my first post on Beejay's Travel about getting to know the city I love so much, Paris.

My post covers day one of our first trip to Paris and my reactions to the first glimpses of her.

Please pop over to check it out. I hope you enjoy reading it and that you'll be back for more soon.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Fasten Your Seatbelts

Wow, the aircraft is on the runway. The refuellers have done their stuff.  The baggage handlers are carelessly throwing packages marked "Fragile" into the cargo compartment. The Chicken Surprise is warming in the oven. The hosties - sorry, the flight attendants - have touched up their lipstick and are dabbing on the Chanel Mademoiselle.

We are almost ready to go on Beejay's Travel.  I hope you're planning to join me on my travels. 

See you once we clear customs.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

To Heaven With Galileo

I recently went to heaven. Yes, seriously. Would I lie to you about something like this? No, don’t worry, I’m not about to strain our relationship with a story of some near-death experience. No, I travelled – in the company of a few hundred other equally blessed souls – to the heavens, and the experience was one which I suspect will stay for me forever, and which no doubt I will somehow manage to slip into dinner conversation for years to come. 

The Festival of Perth was approaching, and so I was trawling through the programme to see what events may be of interest. My eye was caught by something entitled, “The Galileo Project – the Music of the Spheres”. Now, I had never heard of this “project” but having rather a love for the night sky, I was intrigued. On checking the blurb on the Festival of Perth website I discovered that the Galileo Project is a musical presentation by a Canadian baroque orchestra, Tafelmusik. I needed more information. Oh, isn’t Google just wonderful? There I was, fingers flying over the keyboard to find out all I could about Tafelmusik and this intriguing presentation, and the more I learned the more I fell in love with the concept. Within a very sort time I was on the telephone to the booking agency, “Yep, here’s my credit card details, lady. Only front row seats available? Ooh, wonderful. Thank you; that will do me perfectly” .   
Rose Made of Galaxies

So, what, you are wondering, is the Galileo Project. Well, in a nutshell, it is a sublime, almost divine, fusion of wonderful music – Vivaldi, Handel, Bach – engrossing and enlightening narration, and the sort of science you were never bored with at school.  It excites, soothes, teaches and entertains all at the same time. It is an experience which touches your senses in a way that no normal concert ever could. Your eyes move constantly from the musicians, who move around the stage as if they are planets in orbit around each other, to the narrator, Shaun Smyth, who shares with you excerpts from the writings of Galileo and Newton, to the giant telescope lens which forms a backdrop and onto which are projected images of the stars, the moon, the planets – the heavens. Your ears are captivated, seduced, by the sound of the oboes, the bassoons, the lute, the harpsichord, the baroque guitar, the violins – oh, those violins.  

Blushy Dusty Nebula
How did such a project come about? Well, it’s amazing how these things germinate. Tafelmusik, who – as the name suggests – specialise in period performances, was contacted by Dr John Percy of the University of Toronto, suggesting that 2009, the International Year of Astronomy, would be well served by a themed and imaginative concert, something merging wonderful baroque music and the world of the heavens as opened to us by scientific giants such as Galileo and Newton. The orchestra was keen to take up the challenge, and worked with Dr Percy to create something new and unique. And so the Galileo Project - with music, words and vision - was borne The vision? Thank you NASA, thank you Hubble Telescope: those pictures swirling on the giant lens on the back of the stage truly are the stuff which dreams are made of. And if you happen to be sitting close to the stage – as I was fortunate to be – you notice that there, featured on the stage floor, are wonderful images in blue and gold of the signs of the zodiac. 

The Galileo Project premiered at the Banff Centre in Alberta. How I envy those who were in the audience the very first time. Can you imagine being part of that body of people who were the first to experience this phenomenon? You would feel that you had to rush to a mountaintop to tell the world of the joy you had just experienced. For joyous it indeed is; joyous and wonderful. You cry, you clap, you can’t keep the smile from your face. You look at the musicians, circling ever circling, performing intricate orbiting movements, with never a glance at a sheet of music, you listen to Shaun Smyth reading an amazingly everyday letter from Galileo to his brother-in-law, your eyes are drawn to the smoky nebulas on the telescope lens, and you can’t help but think: if God is looking down right now he will surely be saying, “Ah, this is why I made them”. 

There, I told you I had been to heaven. Now do you believe me? Ah, Doubting Thomas, you want proof, don’t you? Well, check out their website, find out when they are coming “to a venue near you”, or, if you can’t be thus blessed, get yourself a copy of their DVD, take the phone off the hook and allow yourself to be transported as I was. 

Oh, and those beautiful photos I’ve inserted here? Well, the first one is called “A Rose Made of Galaxies”. It is the image of a pair of interacting galaxies, and was taken, of course, by the Hubble. The second one, charmingly titled “Blushing Dusty Nebula”, is a close-up of an area of a part of the Iris Nebula. Why not spend some time being entranced by these photos and more? Just go to the website: 

You won’t regret it, honestly. 

And I must here provide credit for those photographs, as per:
Rose Made of Galaxies, courtesy of NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScl/AURA)
Blushing Dusty Nebula, courtesy of NASA & ESA

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Chat With an Author

I am extremely thrilled to be able to bring to you a little interview which
I have had with award-winning author Justin Cartwright.
I reviewed Justin's book To Heaven By Water (note: it's superb) on
Beejay's Books, and will shortly be posting our chat on that site.

Don't miss it on Beejay's Books

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

It's Not a Long Story

My oh my, I am cruising at about 20,000 feet at the moment. 

A couple of months ago I submitted three entries into an international writing competition, the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction 2012 Competition. Fish holds various competitions each year – poetry, memoire, short story, and flash fiction (300 words or less) – and this year I decided to dip my quill, pen some short pieces and send them off to Fish in Ireland. 

The quality of the winners in the competition is extremely high, and so of course I held out no hope of getting anywhere. I entered because I thought it very important to begin entering 
competitions, just as it is important to write, write, write on a daily basis, to work on my writing skills the way a weight lifter works on his muscles. Thousands of entries are submitted each year, and it must be a terribly difficult task for the judges to go through, sifting the wheat from the chaff, and I assumed that my three entries would be amongst those destined to be condemned by the “delete” key. 

Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart
Last night I checked my emails, and, joy of joys, in my inbox waiting for my attention was an email from Fish Publishing. No, of course I didn’t win. I didn’t make it onto the short list. However, there, on the long list, is my name and the title of one of my short pieces, “Nothing to Say”. Okay, it’s not the Booker, it’s not the Pulitzer, it’s not the Miles Franklin, but it is an international competition, a well-respected one, and I MADE IT ONTO THE LONG LIST. 

Am I wrong to come here to sing about it? No, I don’t think so. When you go through your life harbouring a dream which you think will never come true, when you have more doubts than confidence, to be long-listed in such a competition is just incredible and I want to shout it from a mountain top.  

Where is that piece? Well, keep an eye on this area because I will very shortly be starting a separate area for posting bits of my writing.

Phew, I wonder if I can have champagne for breakfast? No? Chocolate maybe? Okay, if you insist.