I’m sure we would all agree that the best YouTube videos are of Lego people and even on the big screen, wouldn’t you rather watch a blockbuster Lego Movie than one with real people in? But many people would be surprised to learn that Legoland is where some of the greatest writers get their inspiration.
My family are all Lego mad; you never grow out of Lego, you just spend more and more money on it, but it was only this year, after many hints that I got some Lego. You do not need to take the popular Bachelor of Arts in Lego Literature and Creative Danish at the University of Legolandto enrich your writing with inspiring plot lines and character development.
One of my lockdown birthday presents from Team H was a firefighter’s set, aged 4 plus. I just about managed to meet the challenge of building it on Facetime. There is a fire engine, a firefighter, a BBQ on fire and a Lego boy with a complex character – you can turn his head to have a scared face or a relieved face. How did the fire start? What happened next? Fearless Frank the Firefighter and Frightened Freddy became a short story. Then Team AK sent me a boat set, age 7 plus, a real challenge. A boat, two scuba divers, a sword fish and a treasure chest. I built a landing stage and it wasn’t long before the hapless Frightened Freddy was standing precariously on the edge of the water… Frightened Freddy Falls In became the sequel…
I had also ordered myself a lockdown present of a big yellow box of bricks and bits – ages 0-99 so it should last me a while.
If you have had writers’ block during the pandemic, you need the world’s most famous plastic blocks.
Are you inspired by Lego or has Lego taken over your house?
What can any blogger write that doesn’t involve mentioning Covid, Brexit, The White House or the fact that a new year has started? Let us retreat to where most of us are at the moment, home. Home comforts, or what I now call Covid Comforts are keeping us going. If you are reading this it is unlikely you are in a refugee camp, an intensive care unit or a war zone; for that we should be grateful. If you look around your home I wonder how many modern wonders provide your life support system? The internet obviously, books, television, central heating, on line shopping, computer games. Before any of those was The Word, okay so radio came quite a while after the beginning of the Old Testament, but the first modern invention in my life was the radio, long before I could read, even before I could walk or talk music was seeping into my bones thanks to the BBC. Before I was born my parents were listening to programmes that are still being broadcast; The Archers, Desert Island Discs and Woman’s Hour.
Woman’s Hour has just had its seventy fifth birthday and received a letter from The Queen. When Dame Jenni Murray ( a national institution ) announced she was leaving after thirty three years, followed soon after by a similar announcement by Jane Garvey, who has been with the programme for thirteen years, my immediate thoughts were You can’t do this, not in the middle of a pandemic and my mother and husband have just died… As I have been listening at least since our first baby was born forty one years ago, there have been other favourite presenters, the programme will survive. The modern mother can listen on her iPhone while breastfeeding in the dark watches of the night. Many men also listen and people of all ages can hear the programme in the car or when out jogging. Very different from the early days when it was broadcast at 2pm and mothers were presumed to be sitting down for a rest after lunch while their babies were having their nap. There is fun, but there are dark topics. I imagine there is no controversial issue that has not been covered on the programme, Woman’s Hour is where we first heard about FMG. The final quarter of the hour is a serial, there is always something for everyone.
In that 2020 strange sunny spring and summer of isolation, Cyberspouse listened to Woman’s Hour every morning over our leisurely breakfasts in the sun lounge. BBC Radio Four in the mornings is packed with interesting programmes and three different serials. Thanks to Amazon I bought two more digital radios to add to our collection.
There is much more to say about radio; such as why are we fascinated by the shipping forecast… but that’s for another blog. For now here is something cheery, one of my early memories that I just heard on the radio. Light music is what we all need at the moment and there have been memorable tunes composed on both sides of the Atlantic. This is one for writers by Leroy Anderson, though I don’t think he could have written a piece about computers…
Lockdown Three has none of the drama of Lockdown One, though it is more cutting edge than Lockdown Two when schools were open and we thought we still had Christmas to look forward to. In an echo of the brilliant dramatic twist twixt lockdowns when Christmas was cancelled at the last moment, because Covid 19 reneged on its promise to give us five days off, the director instituted a brilliant scene from Downing Street in which the PM closes all schools, not the day before, but the very day after they started the new term ( a sentence nearly as long as lockdown ).
Lockdown Three promises to be longer than Lockdown Two, but with the same advantage of covering winter months, so people will be glad to huddle indoors. Are we prepared? I think it would have been more dramatic if we could be like the French and fill in forms to produce to show we have a good reason to be out. We are allowed out for exercise, to get immunised and to buy food and some people might actually have to go out to work… My freezer now has one drawer full of sliced apple from the tree in my garden; it thrived during last spring and summer’s sunny lockdowns, with no desire to leave home. Another drawer is devoted to the Christmas feast postponed till Chreastersummermas. I still have enough room for regular rations.
As my first winter being a widow it seems apt for normal life to be suspended, not that I would wish a pandemic on the rest of the world merely to take the pressure off me deciding anything. While half the population, from politicians to front line services, are busier than ever, the other half may be shielding or out of work, life curtailed to the banal or at least a gentler pace. There are plenty of positives; new hobbies, putting your CD collection in alphabetical order, having cooking fun. Gardening may have taken a back seat, but you can fill your home with pot plants and cut flowers; perhaps your family will not be able to find you in the jungle when at last they can visit.
There are new experiences for most of us. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra tomorrow starts its second series of digital, livestreamed concerts. You can buy tickets for individual concerts or the whole season on line. We had a camera club zoom party and I won the Bingo; no need to go out on a cold night with plates of food, or clear up afterwards. Every Saturday night I join in a Zoom quiz; a window on the outside world.
If you get bored you can always order yourself more presents from Amazon ( yes I know we shouldn’t, but we all use them because you can find what you want, or even things you didn’t know you wanted, and it always arrives ). Nearly everyone in my family from four to forties is obsessed with Lego ( Lego is certainly not just for children ) and after many hints I was given my first Lego set – Lego Architecture mini London. It was tiny, fiddly, fun and addictive; a total change from blogging and writing. I have ordered myself a big box of Lego bricks and bits so I can make my own creations.
My little real Christmas tree in the front garden has been undecorated, but today I had a Glastonburyish idea; I am going to leave it there and tie a ribbon on every day till we’re out of lockdown.
When we write and post our blogs we hope people will read our words of wisdom, we hope they will read our post to the end. We all have different ideas; ‘how long is a piece of string’ comes to mind. But with varying degrees of success at dealing with WordPress, we might break up our tedious words with pictures or get a little carried away with the colour settings; anything to make sure readers don’t get bored. When we read a paperback or Kindle novel we happily expect to read hundreds of thousands of words with only chapter headings to break up the endless pages, but what if we published our novels in the same style as our blogs?
Chapter One Valentine’s Night
Ellen had never felt the house shake before. It was not unusual to hear the South Westerly driving rain against the bedroom windows. It was not unusual to be kept awake by torrential rain pounding the sloping roof above their heads, but this storm was getting scary. Gary was snoring through it all.
She crept out of bed and peeped through the curtains; in the orange glow of the street lights gusts of horizontal rain glittered and the road was a moving stream. She thought of what they had done the evening before, the man would be getting more than any of them had bargained for. Ellen’s part had merely been to lend the spare key and make sure they found the right number.
Ellen slipped back into bed. She had told no one, not even Gary. It would be foolish for her to go down to the seafront alone in this freak weather. The brothers were going to let him out in the morning with a warning to leave their sister alone. Before the storm, Ellen’s only worry had been that her beach hut would be damaged if the man tried to break out.
Gary was taking the boys to football.
‘Don’t go out in this weather Love, we don’t need any shopping and don’t do one of your “let’s go to the cliff top to look at the high spring tide” – it won’t be safe, they’re warning people to stay away from coastal areas.’
As soon as they had gone Ellen wrapped up and headed out on the five minute walk to the cliff top. In any other circumstances she would have loved the wind stinging her face. The record breaking wet winter had drawn her to study tide times and photograph flooding rivers and pounding waves.
At the cliff top she leaned into the howling wind, safe from falling, clinging onto the flimsy fence to prevent herself being blown backwards. But nothing could have prepared her for what she saw when she peered over the edge. The promenade was piled with wood, beach huts reduced to matchsticks. She was not the only person out; several photographers and distraught fellow beach hut owners struggled against the wind to make their way down the zig zag path. They picked their way past planks with dangerously protruding nails, huge Calor gas bottles and plastic body boards. Waves lapped over the strewn debris; some beach huts remained intact, but at bizarre angles. Nobody could hear themselves speak in the roaring wind, some stood by the empty space where their beach huts had been. Ellen stood where her beach hut used to be and picked up all that was left, the kettle. She looked out to sea and up and down the promenade, dreading the moment when someone would wave frantically and point to a boot sticking out from the planks, or a shape in the waves.
On Saturday morning at 10am, 15th February 2014, Ellen faced the probability she had become an accessory to manslaughter or murder. At 10.02am her thought processes had become those of a criminal. The man might have somehow saved himself, but if he had not, no evidence remained to link his death to her or her beach hut.
Today I welcome another of the occasional guest blogs written by my sister in Australia. This time she reflects on an unusual find near a country town in Western Australia.
A Tribute to Those That We Love by Kate Doswell
It could be mistaken for the dog that sat on the tucker box, 5 miles from Gundagai, but instead, it was a dog sitting on a small concrete plinth, 5 km from Corrigin. Corrigin is a small wheatbelt town, population 800 or so, 230 km south east of Perth in Western Australia, and the red kelpie dog immortalised in stone was guarding the entrance to the Corrigin dog cemetery.
My visit to Corrigin was nothing to do with dogs, but I couldn’t resist stopping and having a look around. It was quite large and surprisingly well kept, considering it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It was surrounded by the flat dun paddocks and the dry stubble of harvested crops, and only a blur on the skyline to suggest the presence of a town.
The ground around the graves was dry and sandy, with hardly any living green, but all the graves were well tended and each was utterly distinct. The owners of these beloved dogs had used imagination and care in designing the graves, and it gave some sense of the stories that lay behind their pets’ lives with the family, and there was no doubt they were family members and friends.
A black poodle statue with surprised eyes sat on a bed of stones, and the plaque told me she had lived for 14 years. Poor Rusty had died the day after his 10th birthday, and his grave was a simple oblong, surrounded by the railings that I had often seen around human graves for those of a higher standing in the community.
The one that touched me most was that of Dexter, who had a cross formed from bricks laid on a simple slab, with a clay scroll into which a child had carved “Dexter – A dog who is missed Heaps”. It was sad to see a little stuffed puppy sitting on the grave as well, and I wondered if this had been Dexter’s favourite toy.
One dog’s family had improvised with a brass fire screen with a scene of Pointers out hunting. There was no doubt that the image on the next grave was of the dog itself, a hand painted china plate with a picture of the dog and words telling of the wonderful companionship he had given for 15 years.
There was even a multi-story grave that housed 3 successive dogs. Some people cannot face the idea of having another dog when the one they have loved for years dies, but I think most people recognise that each dog is loved for his or her own original personality. A point for writers – one of my teachers firmly instructed me that the animals in my stories (usually – well OK – always, about dogs or horses) should be referred to as it, rather than he or she. I have never been able to comply, as I know they are living, breathing personalities who deserve to be recognised as such. Maybe there would be less cruelty if we could all see them in that way, rather than as objects or commodities.
Looking around this cemetery, there can be no doubt that many people see dogs as valuable and much loved members of our families; companions, helpers, protectors and comforters. This cemetery started as one man burying his dog in the 1970s, then others from Corrigin joined him in laying their dogs to rest. Over the years it has attracted the interest of people from far afield who want a permanent memorial to their companion. So it isn’t just the people of Corrigin who feel so strongly about their animals, though this IS the town that set the record for the most number of “Dogs in Utes” – a parade of 1,527 utes ( Aussie abbreviation for utility, any vehicle with an open cargo area at the rear, which would be called a pickup truck in other countries ) each with a barking, tail wagging dog in the back.
We all have our own ways of remembering those that we love. Personally, I have never felt the need to have something tangible to remind me of a loved one – I have lost 3 dogs, and each have been cremated. I have never wanted an urn with their ashes in, though I understand and respect those that do. With my last dog, a close friend came with me to the veterinary surgery for that final visit, as she had looked after my dog many times when I worked away and loved her as much as I did. When they asked me if I wanted to keep the ashes, I shook my head, but as I did I noticed the look of dismay on her face. “Would you like them?” I asked her and she said yes. I was happy for her to have them, I could think of no better person to keep them.
I have recently lost my Mother. She was 94 yrs old and she had lived close by for many years, so it was sad to have to say goodbye. This Sunday her ashes will be placed in the memorial garden at our church, next to my Father’s ashes. There are no plaques, simply a book inside the church with the names of all those who are in the garden. When I think of my father, I don’t think of the garden, I think of the furniture he built, the advice he gave me, the funny things he said. Likewise with my mother, it is and will continue to be, the memories of all the times we had together, the laughs we shared, and the problems we talked over. It doesn’t matter whether we have a grave to visit, a plaque, or nothing solid to see. The important thing is that we remember our loved ones, human or animal. I wonder if our animals remember us after we’ve gone?
Warning – readers may find some scenes disturbing.
Some more melancholia today as we have a traditional carol that is far from the cosy nativity scene; do you know what it is really about?
The Coventry Carol is a 16th Century Christmas carol, performed as part of a Mystery Play depicting the birth of Jesus. The carol refers to the story of the ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’ in which King Herod ordered the mass murder of any child up to the age of two, after hearing of Jesus Christ’s birth. The song is a lullaby the women sing to their fallen children.
The Slaughter of the Innocents is rarely dwelt upon, certainly not in school nativity plays, but it is a tale that that would horrify any mother. I always feel the bible stories are lacking in back story and character development. As Mary and Joseph fled ( eventually ) into Egypt did they know what awful events they had unwittingly unleashed? A modern day reporter on the scene would have undoubtedly asked her ‘How did you feel, Mary?’
Herod the King, in his raging, Charged he hath this day; His men of might, in his own sight, All children young, to slay.
Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee, And ever mourn and say; For Thy parting nor say nor sing, By-bye lully, lullay.
Here are two very different versions, the traditional tune and a different tune so we can include an angelic choir boy.
Christmas always has a touch of winter melancholy, especially this year and one of my favourite carols for enjoying a touch of melancholy is Bethlehem Down, made more interesting and poignant by the story behind it
Peter Warlock was the pseudonymn of Philip Heseltine (1894–1930), his choice of Warlock reflected his interest in occult practices! Bethlehem Down was created in a mood of flippancy due to the impecunious state of Warlock and his poet friend Bruce Blunt – both notorious for their Bohemian behaviour. They hoped to earn enough money to get suitably drunk at Christmas; the carol was completed in a few days and published (words and music) in The Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve. Their plan had worked and they had ‘an immortal carouse on the proceeds’.
But Warlock’s career as a composer, music scholar and critic was cut short; towards the end of his life he became depressed by a loss of creative inspiration and died in his London flat of coal gas poisoning in 1930, probably suicide.
The weather is grey and damp here so what better than an Australian Christmas tree to brighten us up.
But the elf had a trip to the beach hut yesterday where we had glorious sunshine. He is looking forward to some Christmas shopping as we are now out of Lockdown Two and in Tier Two, we can’t visit anybody, but can go to non essential shops, so let me know what you want…
The pandemic has revealed just how many people live alone; we hear and read about well known stars and artists happily living by themselves, presumably as a lifestyle choice. Plenty of ordinary people live alone, perhaps always have done as adults, or since a parent or partner died or after divorce. Many of these are happy living by themselves, self contained. Those elderly people already restricted to home before Covid hit, are not necessarily lonely. A lady in her nineties on our library round told us she was never lonely, as long as she had the twenty books we brought her every three weeks. Of course there are many people who are lonely, young people from broken homes in tiny bedsits, old people who have no family left in the world.
None of these ‘single households’ reckoned on having a pandemic and being prisoners in their homes. Single retired people leading busy independent lives suddenly found themselves described as vulnerable. The people for whom lockdowns and the lack of access to normal activities are so hard are single parents in tiny flats, carers left to cope with disabled children or parents and partners with dementia. Their support network was suddenly pulled out from beneath them.
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. In days gone by lone people might manage a farm by themselves with the nearest humans miles away; being alone really meant that, no radio, television or internet. I can’t imagine what that would be like, but perhaps the company of their dog, farm animals and nature all around was enough. It’s a cliché, but you can be just as lonely in a big city; most of us have probably found ourselves in a new town, at a new job, knowing no one.
When we first moved here sixteen years ago Cyberspouse had a few more weeks working out his notice at Heathrow. When he left for work early on Monday morning with the kitchen flooded ( that’s another story ) I suddenly realised I had gone from a home with five people and a job at Heathrow with thousands of people – I wasn’t actually working with thousands, just moving among thousands each day – to a strange house in a place I knew no one. I wondered if I only existed in relation to other people.
I had time to get used to the idea of joining that large club, widows ( what a medical scandal it is that women are still outliving men ) and the even larger club of women living alone. After the flurry of activity and family visits we are in our second lockdown in England, so now I am officially on my own. Cyberspouse was totally dependable, unflappable and fun, so being on my own was not what I would have chosen, but if others manage to cope so will I. During 2019 we had plenty of time for trips and fun and getting everything in order. In 2020 I learnt to be a carer and the only responsible adult in the house, no more yelling for help when the computer didn’t work. I am cheating slightly, having had family to help out with the official stuff and Cyberson Two, who after doing nothing at school, is now a builder we all depend on, who can turn his hand to anything. The downside is that none of the family live nearby, but it must be hard to truly be on your own.
What else helps? Covid Comforts are what we all need and anyone who has a home and food enough to eat must be grateful. We glimpse on our television screens into the homes of news commentators or our favourite entertainers; they enjoy having the chance to chat and presumably they are coping fine with lockdown. Invisible are those folk in poverty or grieving having lost family to Covid. It may seem to me that everyone is walking around alive while Cyberspouse is not, but 53,000 is our death toll from Covid in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile in my cosy lockdown retreat I live in a nice little road with good neighbours and a garden to keep me busy. We are allowed to go to the shops for essentials and at the local shops I buy fresh flowers regularly, my lockdown treat to brighten the dark days of winter. We can go out for exercise and use our beach huts; I can sit and chat at the beach hut with the one friend we’re allowed to meet outside. We can go out for medical reasons, so I was quite excited to go on the bus to the hospital for a blood test!
Indoors the lifesaver is BBC Radio, it never goes off; if I can’t sleep I can listen to the World Service. During the day there is news aplenty ( too much ), but also intelligent chat, dramas, serials and music. I have a CD player so I am never without music on tap. Television may have plenty of rubbish, but also interesting or cheerful programmes to watch with dinner on my lap. Writing is absorbing, creative and vital. Photography and crafts are other creatives to focus on.
Connecting with the outside world? The good old fashioned telephone is the easiest way to chat to people, but how many of us would want to do without the internet during Covid? We can blog, Facetime, share political and lockdown jokes on Facebook, go on zoom; my only experience with zoom is the weekly quiz my daughters’ friends do, but it’s good to have something fun to focus on.
What will happen next in the world, in our own countries; will Christmas be cancelled, will those of us in the northern hemisphere cope with winter… look out for Home Alone Two.
I never get invited to be in documentaries. I was watching a documentary about a well known artist the other night, admiring her garden as she wandered down the path to her interesting studio. Then into the studio saunters a young man and on the screen appear the wordsFred Bloggs ( not his real name, which I forget ) friend and writer. I have no idea what he has written, perhaps I should have heard of him and read all his work. But it doesn’t matter, he enjoys a certain kudos just by being a friend of a famous ( and infamous ) artist. Did he just turn up or did the producers plan his role and coach his lines to the artist ‘Have you got time for a cup of coffee?’ Luckily she had and they chat about her work, not his writing.
How do you get to appear in someone else’s documentary? It helps to actually have a friend who is a famous artist, or any friends at all. I do have some artistic friends, but nobody has made a documentary about them.
It also works the other way round. I was watching a documentary about a writer last night and lo and behold, we pan to a studio and there is someone else whose name I forget; the screen says Joe Smith, friend and artist. A great asset for the film makers because they can film him painting a portrait of his famous friend. Now I just need to find an artist who paints portraits and wait for someone to make a documentary about me.
If you enjoy visiting galleries, why not visit my Covid safe gallery.