The Spirit of Level Playing Fields

I recently checked out the results of a writing competition I entered a few months ago and was dismayed yet again to discover that the first prize had been won by a well established writer with a string of publications and awards, a lecturer in creative writing etc etc. The prize was a week at a residential writing retreat and a great incentive for we aspiring writers, but I’m not sure what this particular winner was hoping to gain from this type of prize. So, why enter and leave little hope for the rest of us? It’s like Usain Bolt turning up at his kid’s school sports day to see if he can win a trophy in the parents’ race.

I’m not saying the winning piece was not good. It was excellent, and why wouldn’t it be? It just doesn’t seem fair not to give lesser mortals a fighting chance. It is a fact that very few make a living out of writing. But for those that do, please give the rest of us a break.

OK, this is a whinge and a classic cry of ‘It’s not fair!’  But as the saying goes: ‘All’s fair in love and war.’ I have to ask myself  would I continue to enter smaller competitions if I were a successful professional writer? I suppose the answer must be ‘Yes’. So it is mere envy that I feel. I should therefore use this to spur me on to greater things.  Not the usual incentive I seek!

 

A Fine Balance

My creativity can be measured

As a point in which the clarity

Of mind allows a freeing flow

Of finely focused thought.

My usual relaxation is a leisured

Glass (or two) of wine, but parity

A balance, as all of us should know,

Is a goal that is not easily sought.

 

And a soothing picture to calm me down:

Leith

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Safe Haven

I’ve been in my current house for just about a year now and have been able to study the seasonal changes in the garden here in the eastern counties of England. It was last year that I decided a lot of vegetation and shrubs which had been neglected for some time would need cutting back.  One of these was a fairly large mahonia tucked into the far corner of the back garden.  The appearance of bright yellow spikes of flowers, however, gave it a late reprieve from my saw and shears.  It was a welcome splash of colour on grey autumnal days.

mahonia

Despite this attraction, its spiky foliage is hazardous when tending to other adjacent plants, and its increase in growth was such that I determined to take drastic measures in reducing it this year.  That was until I discovered the blackbird’s nest tucked deep within. Such a secure, safe and secluded place to choose.  I have assumed that this will be a favoured nesting place next spring, and so the mahonia survives intact once more.  I shall therefore just stand back and admire its flamboyant show.

Intricacies of weave and weft

With twigs and leaves and moss,

Fashioned as a chalice. Deft

Beak building skill. I’m at a loss

To understand this artistry,

Which for me remains a mystery.

 

Backdrop

Peruvian Andes

I was considering changing the backdrop to my Twitter page but then remembered the exact moment when I took the picture, which is part of the Andes range in Peru.  It was in May 2014 when I went on a holiday I had wanted to take for about fifty years, and finally achieved in my retirement.  A sort of pilgrimage.

On the same trip I visited Machu Picchu and later came across poems by Pablo Neruda, with wonderful imagery and descriptions of the magical and mystical ancient Inca kingdom: Alturas de Macchu Picchu.

Y el aire entró con dedos

de azahar sobre todos los dormidos:

mil años de aire, meses, semanas de aire,

de viento azul, de cordillera férrea,

que fueron como suaves huracanes de pasos

lustrando el solitario recinto de la piedra.

 

My translation which does not do justice to Neruda’s language is:

 

And the air came in with fingers
of orange blossom over all those who slept:
a thousand years of air, months, weeks of air,
of blue wind, of iron cordillera,
that were like gentle hurricane footsteps
polishing the lonely boundary of stone.

 

So the background picture remains as a beautiful reminder of a beautiful moment in my life.

Nothing Like a Dame

A couple of months ago I posted a piece about my having joined a local drama group (A Measure of Success) in which I talked about the fun of performing Shakespeare in open air venues. I had hoped at the time that in any future productions I might be given a bigger role to get my teeth into.  They say be careful what you wish for, and this has never been truer in my case.  Traditionally, for Circle67, the said drama group, winter brings about the pantomime production.  This year it will be Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and I went along to the first reading to see if there might be a suitable part for me. I am always ready to take on a challenge, but being offered the role of the ‘Dame’ was something I was a little unprepared for.

For those readers unfamiliar with the traditional British pantomime, these are productions of popular children’s stories, Cinderella, Aladdin, Snow White, to name but a few, and as well as the traditional story line will contain jokes, songs and dancing. There is always a hero, defined as the ‘principal boy’, usually played by a girl, and the ‘dame’ played by a man (in this case, me). Confusing, eh?  There is always a villain who never wins in the end, and a happy ending for the hero and his girl (sometimes a princess).

Suffice to say, I have never dressed up as a woman before (honestly!), although a comic role, as this is, gives great licence to how it is played. My greatest fear, however, is the fact that I shall have to sing! Over the years my singing voice has not enjoyed the greatest of appreciation by those unfortunate enough to be in its range, although those occasions were usually alcohol induced  with my audience in a similar state. The prospect of singing solo – and sober – in front of a paying audience has filled me with dread.  Hopefully I shall win over the audience other than with my songs. Rehearsals are now under way. No turning back.

Example of a dame    Dame 1

Write Back in the Groove

Given the dearth of any meaningful writing I have accomplished during the summer months, it is a welcome return tomorrow to the restart of the local writing group, when I might be prompted, prodded and pushed into some more creative writing. It is the encouragement and common purpose of being amongst a group of like-minded people that gives me the impetus to get on with my writing.  Towards a more positive outlook I have enrolled on a weekend residential scriptwriting course next month which I sincerely hope will be worth the investment.

I had a nagging feeling that as a group we had each been tasked with producing something during the summer months. And I had a vague idea that it might have been to produce something prompted by a piece of art.  So, inevitably at the last minute, I have selected a painting by Cezanne: The Card Players, and tried to interpret what might have been occurring in what has been termed ‘human still life’.

the card players

No words are passed between. So serious.

The studied focus of their cards imply

A wordless wager. Each impervious

To the songs and sounds nearby.

He, on the left, with dapper hat and tie

Suggests success. The casual pipe of clay

Confidently clenched. The other seems to sigh,

His downcast, haggard face a giveaway

To what he holds. Upon the table

No money, coins or tokens are seen.

The card play may merely be amicable,

Where their hands have little between

A friendly shake, exchange of names

And a ‘Thank you, for the games.’

Home Comforts

Having travelled to various parts of the globe in my life, I have surprised myself in recent months by exploring places much closer to home, and I am surprised and amazed that I have not done so before.  It was my youngest daughter’s suggestion, when I asked where she would like to accompany her old dad on a trip, that Dublin might be a good place. I was not disappointed. The city is as friendly and lively as I had been told, and not only because of the Guinness.

It may have been the realisation that a holiday does not have to entail several hours in a cramped aircraft or queuing for a car ferry, that made me decide to spend a summer holiday in Wales. Or, to be more specific, in the delightful city of St Davids on the Pembrokeshire peninsula.

St Davids

OK, the car journey was several hours, but with the opportunity at stopping at places en route.  For example, a small detour took us to Laugharne, where Dylan Thomas lived and this is a picture of me outside his writing shed, hoping I might acquire some inspiration from being there.

Laugharne

St Davids was absolutely delightful and only a couple of miles from a breathtakingly beautiful coast.  Enthused with the enjoyment that can be found on one’s own doorstep, so to speak, I recently travelled with my daughters to Edinburgh. Learning the lesson of hours of driving busy motorways, I elected to go by train, which proved to be a very sound decision.. Glorious countryside and views from the comfort of a train seat.  Edinburgh itself is enthralling, and, once again, I wish I had visited the place earlier in my life.  There is so much to see and enjoy, especially as the ‘fringe’ festival was in full swing when we went. Again, the beauty of the scenery and the coast was entirely captivating.  Whilst I am not a big fan of the word ‘staycation’, I have found that there are plenty of places to see and explore in one’s own country, and avoid the hassle and tensions that are an inevitable part of foreign travel.

Leith

 

 

A Measure of Success

When I moved to this part of the country last September I had it in mind to involve myself in community activities as much as possible, but little did I know that I would end up performing Shakespeare in front of audiences in pub gardens and a castle.

Joining the amateur dramatic group Circle67, who are enjoying their fiftieth anniversary this year, has been a joy. When I attended the meeting for the reading of the summer season Shakespeare play, Measure for Measure, I had no idea that I would be taking part and performing outdoors in the summer evenings to appreciative audiences. Despite my role being small (two lines!), the involvement in rehearsals, the costumes, locations and the friendly members of the group have made the experience one I am eager to repeat.

Of all the locations, the ruins of the ancient castle in the town of Bungay has to be the most special for performing Shakespeare.

Bungay Castle

A lot of fun and teamwork makes the week long ‘tour’ the success it is, as indicated by the reaction and comments from the various audiences. I can’t wait to be a part of the next production which will be the winter pantomime, but hopefully not outdoors!

M4M

The cast waiting to go on ‘stage’ in the pub garden at Laxfield, Suffolk.