This post is from the very talented Valerie Fish. Not only is Val a terrific storyteller but she is an absolute star in the world of limericks.
We are fortunate to have in our writing group, the extremely talented, Tessa Thomson, who writes the most beautiful poetry which often induces teary eyes round the table when recited at our monthly meetings…
Then at the other end of the scale, there’s me and my bawdy limericks! Well to be fair, they’re not all like that, although members of the clergy do have a tendency to misbehave…. And there’s a difference between being risqué and downright rude, I would hate to offend anybody.
I have been composing limericks for years, I have hundreds of them, enough for a book, which may be one day I’ll give a try.
What is it about a limerick that I find so attractive? I love that sing-along A A B B A rhyme meter (an anapaestic trimester, I’ve just learnt); I love the challenge of composing something that hopefully will make people smile, and I like to inject something different into my limericks, get that final twist. Sometimes it will take ages to find the right word, not the poshest or the longest, but the right word; it can make all the difference.
Where do my ideas come from? Sometimes I will have a prompt; in my early days, my local radio station ran a weekly limerick competition, incorporating a place in Cambridgeshire.
This was my winning gem:
This is from a while back, when Eastender’s viewing figures were a lot higher than they are nowadays…
At a fancy dress do down in Bury
Maid Marian had a drop too much sherry
It wasn’t young Robin
Who had her heart throbbin
‘Twas Little John who made Marian merry!
I am a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, where it pays (actually it doesn’t!) to be topical.
After Phil’s Christmas cracker with Mel
She decided to kiss and tell
To her best mate Lisa
Who gunned down the geezer
In a classic crime passionelle
And a couple more with a soupcon of Francais.
Late for school, couldn’t get out of bed
I’ve been summoned to see the head
In a fait accompli
No detention for me
Sir’s been given the sack instead
The wife got wind of our affair
When she came across a blonde hair
In the marital bed
(She’s a flaming redhead)
It’s au revoir to the au pair
My poor hubby doesn’t always fare well, I hope he realises it’s ‘what I call’ poetic licence…
It was all planned, a cruise round the Med
Now thanks to Covid 19, instead
I’m stuck home on my tod
Whist hubby, the daft sod
Is self-isolating in the shed
Last night I dreamt of the Azores
Palm trees, clear blue seas, sun-kissed shores
Was lost in a trice
Woken by hubby’s thundering snores
Here are those naughty men of the cloth….
With his sermon about to begin
The priest had to suppress a huge grin
Cos just minutes ago
Out the back with a pro
He’d committed a cardinal sin
Tired of living a life of vice
She went to her priest for advice
‘You must renounce your sin’
He said with a grin
‘But one last performance would be nice’.
Forgive me, father, I concede
I have sinned in word thought and deed
With Sister Theresa,
She begged me to please her
The poor girl was in desperate need
Followed by a few random risques…
The best man was proposing a toast
But he just couldn’t help but boast
‘Today’s stunning bride’
He drunkenly cried
‘Was yesterday’s notch on my bedpost!’
I just couldn’t believe my eyes
I have never seen such a size
There was no topping
Her melons, so whopping,
She waltzed off with ‘Best In Class’ prize
Under the boardwalk of Brighton pier
A drunken encounter cost me dear
I gave him my all
Up against the wall
The little’ n’s due early next year
Said the dentist, clutching his drill,
‘Now just open wide and sit still,
First a tiny prick,
That should do the trick,
You won’t feel a thing – but I will!’
I’ll finish with a nice clean one for all you animal lovers out there, I know we’ve got at least two here in Whittlesey Wordsmiths.
Lay quivering in his bed
Blankets pulled over his head
‘Whizz bang and pop,
Please make them stop
I’m waiting for walkies’ he said
I hope you have enjoyed this small selection of my work, and in these troubled times have put a smile on your face.
This post is another about favourite poems, Jan Cunningham shares some of her favourites and a fond memory.
My go to Poet (ess? who knows these days) is Pam Ayres.
When the black dog visits, when I wished I’d never got up that day, when everything goes wrong, when I keep dropping things to the point I’m screaming —-sitting down and reading a few of her poems soon has me smiling, then giggling, often laughing out loud and I’m cured—- for now.
Her poems are down to earth, about the every day, the small things in life, she is observant, witty and poignant. I cannot choose just a single poem, so I’ve picked two which I think demonstrates her range:
CASHED AT THE CASH POINT
My Grannie was coshed at the cash point
She had only just entered her pin
When out came the dosh
And down came the cosh!
But Gran, not a gal to give in …
Turned round and kneed her attacker,
Saying,” Buster, you’re making me nervous!”
The machine on the wall,
Having witnessed it all,
Said: “Thank you for using our service”.
Poor old babies, row on row,
In the day care joint they go,
Strangers tend them, fill their tummies,
Tuck them in instead of mummies.
There is one particular poem, whilst not being a favourite, haunted me for years because of the childhood memory it evoked and because I could only remember the first four lines. This poem my Dad would recite to me when he was shaving. I would curl up in his big armchair with wooden arms and he would have his shaving mug on the mantle piece above the black lead stove and looking in the half moon mirror would lather his face and begin reciting:
The Sands of Dee
By Charles Kingsley
O Mary, go and call the cattle home,
And call the cattle home
and call the cattle home
Across the sands of Dee
The western wind was wild and dark with foam,
And all alone went she.
The western tide crept up along the sand,
And o’er and o’er the sand
And round and round the sand,
As far as eye could see,
The rolling mist came down and hid the land:
And never home came she.
‘O is it weed, or fish, or floating hair –
A tress of golden hair
A drowned maiden’s hair
Above the nets at sea?
Was never salmon yet that shone so fair
Among the stakes of Dee.
They row’d her in across the rolling foam,
The cruel crawling foam,
The cruel hungry foam,
To her grave beside the sea,
But still the boatmen hear her call the cattle home,
Before we had the Corona Virus, before we were all locked down and isolating Gwen wrote this piece about a recent holiday. Holidays seem like distant memories now.
On a recent journey I could not help but find people’s behaviour fascinating. Some being friendly; others reserved; and others downright aggressive. As the journey progressed observations became very much clearer.
The mum and daughter syndrome: the mother commenting to me, that now she was a widow she could enjoy all things SHE wanted to do, as opposed to her late husband’s dominance. Little did she know she had spawned a duplicate of her husband; a daughter! The daughter was an aggressive type, would barge her way to the front of any queue. Wow betides those poor souls in her way.
The quiet man who gave off the aura of ‘don’t speak to me’ was an interesting personality. He had a partner, whom conversed with him, but his sole intention at the dining table was to eat as much as he could in the time allocated. His partner was quite different. Nice friendly person.
The very tall man, his wife was bent over due to a back problem. Preventing her falling by constantly holding her hand. How dedicated can one be: Never had a chat with him, but on leaving the group he warmly shook your hand saying ‘it was a pleasure to have met you?’
The sad lady who had dementia and caused a lot of anxiety for her friend, who had not realised she was so confused. Her wanderings around the various hotel lobbies very early in the morning asking when the coach was leaving and having her bags packed. She realised on some occasions she was confused. It made life difficult for her friend, most of the group supportive when needed.
The gentleman who requested they change his bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice as this one contained too many pips. He got his way after many arguments. His face was not dissimilar to a beautiful pencil drawing on display in one of the hotel lounges. The said ‘orange juice man’ was extremely tall and as we were in Viking country I would have enjoyed researching his family history.
The various nations with whom we shared our hotels with were varied. One nation in particular took it upon themselves to attempt to clear the buffet of all foods. Hiding loaves of bread, butter pats and boiled eggs into every orifice that was available to fill. Life is very interesting when you are travelling and gives me lots of ideas to write stories about.
A month or so back members of the Wordsmiths shared their favourite poems with the group. As an occasional feature we will publish their individual pieces, this one is by Val Chapman.
Not so much a song but more a poem
There wasn’t one particular poem that I could claim to be a favourite, so I decided to do a bit of research and still couldn’t come up with one that I enjoyed above all others.
It was when I was singing along to myself, as I do, that it occurred to me that songs were, for the most part, poems, set to music.
As I am one of those boring people who like their poetry to rhyme, otherwise it’s prose, this naturally opened up a lot more availability, which I am not altogether sure was a good thing, as I am hopeless at making decisions.
However, these two struck a chord (if you pardon the pun) for different reasons.
“It would never have worked,” I like as it seems to be taking the reader down one path, then veering off down another unexpected one, and finally, down yet another.
“Love song,” I can barely get through without a lump in my throat. I am sure this resonates with so many of our, though perhaps more so, the previous generations when feelings were often hard to express.
— Just a quick note, I don’t know whether it is just a northern expression, but the words “I was tight” indicates a somewhat over-enjoyment of an alcoholic nature! —–
This one in particular came as a bit of a surprise, as they were both written by the same very talented writer, known more for her humour, and this poem is an unexpected offering from her I think.
They were written in 1978 (love song)
1987 (It would never have worked)
By the wonderful Victoria Wood.
Victoria Wood (Photo Credit Wikipedia)
IT WOULD NEVER HAVE WORKED
We missed the bus,
Nice idea, but not for us,
We didn’t click, let’s make it quick and say goodbye,
Don’t hold my hand,
And don’t demand a reason why.
No loving looks, no fond regards,
Tonight was always on the cards.
I wanted champagne and roses, ’cause that’s the way I am,
You gave me vimto,
I wanted love to come and knock our blocks off,
But even Venus takes her cards and clocks off.
Your idea of foreplay was to take your socks off.
Things would never have worked
Rapport is a thing you just can’t manufacture,
You had your pin up girl, I couldn’t match her,
I didn’t want to, it was Margaret Thatcher.
Things would never have worked.
I wanted moonlight, romance and all that silly tosh,
You wanted gerbils,
I wanted love songs but you wouldn’t write them,
My earlobe nibbled, but you wouldn’t bite them,
You’d only fart and then attempt to light them,
Things would never have worked.
We’re not compatible, let’s not get blue here,
At least we see each other’s point of view dear,
I like big, hunky men and so do you dear,
Things would never have worked.
Made your breakfast this morning,
Like any old day,
Then I remembered and I threw it away
I found an old photo,
In a kitchen drawer.
You by the seaside, during the war.
You were laughing at something,
With the wind in your hair,
You were ever so slim then, and your hair was still fair.
And I wanted to kiss you,
But you always laughed,
And I wanted to tell you,
But I felt daft.
Still, we got married,
I was tight,
We both got embarrassed, played rummy all night
I remember the baby, and it’s sticky out ears,
But I can’t single out things,
Over the years.
On Woman’s surgical, sat by your bed,
I knew that I loved you,
But I never said.
I brought you Black Magic,
And they said you’d died,
I had a cup of tea there,
Came home and cried.
Got to go back to the hospital to collect your things,
Your nightie, your glasses, your wedding ring
Made your breakfast this morning,
Like any old day,
Then I remembered and I threw it away.
Thank you Val, I find that every time I read Love Song I get something in my eyes.
Thursday saw The Whittlesey Wordsmith’s first virtual meeting via Zoom. Stephen Oliver kindly hosted the meeting Cathy Cade did much of the organising thank you very much Cathy and Stephen.
Considering it was our writing group’s first attempt, as slightly older members of society, it went remarkably well. A few members were too unsure of their technical skills to try it. Gwen had problems seeing us and being seen, Sandra had synchronisation problems with her device or signal. Six of us started the meeting, five managed it right through.
The meeting followed its usual form in cyber space as it does in real life, plenty of wondering off topic and anecdotes but as usual an interesting conversation. Jane found it easier as she was able to see everyone’s faces and could lip read more easily.
It is was not as good as a real life meeting but it was nice to chat to friends and see their faces. Hopefully we can address the technical issues before next month, if we need to have another virtual meeting.
As an excercise our U3A writing group members each wrote a short piece about their favourite poems and included the poem or poems in the piece. Over the following months we will be publishing the contributions on this blog.
The first piece in this series is by Val Fish, it seems a strange time of the year to use this example but we are approaching spring, a time of renewal, new growth and the hope for better things. We can only have spring after winter the sun can only rise after it has gone down.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
Inspiration for ‘For The Fallen’
Laurence Binyon composed his best known poem while sitting on the cliff-top looking out to sea from the dramatic scenery of the north Cornish coastline. A plaque marks the location at Pentire Point, north of Polzeath. However, there is also a small plaque on the East Cliff north of Portreath, further south on the same north Cornwall coast, which also claims to be the place where the poem was written.
The poem was written in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. During these weeks the British Expeditionary Force had suffered casualties following its first encounter with the Imperial German Army at the Battle of Mons on 23 August, its rearguard action during the retreat from Mons in late August and the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August, and its participation with the French Army in holding up the Imperial German Army at the First Battle of the Marne between 5 and 9 September 1914.
Laurence said in 1939 that the four lines of the fourth stanza came to him first. These words of the fourth stanza have become especially familiar and famous, having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an Exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen Servicemen and women.
Laurence Binyon was too old to enlist in the military forces, but he went to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly in 1916. He lost several close friends and his brother-in-law in the war.
For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Laurence Binyon 1869 – 1943
I was privileged to perform on the stage at The Broadway Peterborough in 2014, in the ‘Sing for Life’ ladies’ choir, to raise funds for a new wing at Sue Ryder’s Thorpe Hall Hospice.
On the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, we sang an adaptation of ‘For The Fallen’ by Rowland Lee.
In the final few bars, we were as stunned as the audience as poppies came falling from above onto the stage. It was a moment I’ll always treasure.
This is a slightly less than enthusiastic review by Jan following a weekend away in Norfolk.
My husband Bill and I escaped to Norfolk for a short break in autumn last year. As the weather forecast was good we thought we’d take advantage of it.
On the Sunday evening we booked a table at the 16th century Royal Hotel Mundesly, for a carvery. Yum Yum, a favorite of mine. As we drew into the car park my mouth started watering.
We were greeted and taken to our table by a young lady dressed in the old style for waitresses: Black dress, white apron and a white coronet in her hair. The dining room was spacious and could easily have served a hundred covers. On the way to our table I noticed various other eating areas and a spacious comfortable looking lounge. It was a large Hotel.
When asked what we like to drink Bill enquired as to what draught beers they had.
“None Sir” replied the waitress.
“OK what other beers do you have?”
“Are telling me that you have NO beer at all?
It was a classic Victor Meldrew moment. I wished I’d had my camera handy. The shock and outraged look on his face would have won first place in any photographic competition.
“I quietly asked about white wine.
She listed three” We have Pinot Grigiot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.”
“Pinot Grigiot will do nicely, thank you.”
She went off to get it. After a good while I watched her walk back empty handed.
“Sorry Sir, we have run out of the Pinot”
Bill just sat ,gave her a special look but never said a word.
“Chardonnay will be fine” I said.
Whilst waiting for our drinks Bill starting singing softly “There’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear than to stand in the bar of a Pub with no beer”
Paying the bill at reception the young man asked if everything had been alright.
“No, it wasn’t” declared my husband.
“Oh, why Sir?”he asked.
“Because you haven’t any beer.”
“Oh. But we do Sir. We have I.P.A. and Pale Ale” he replied.
Bill is partial to a pint of I.P.A.
We will not be returning or reviewing this establishment. Bill’s remarks would be unprintable.
This post is by Val Chapman a reminiscance of her childhood Christmas.
It was never going to be the same again. My father had died suddenly just 3 months ago and although the festive season was upon us, I was feeling somewhat less than cheery.
It made matters worse that it was his birthday on Christmas Eve, and so it seemed that I had been dealt a double blow. The shops seemed to be full of things that dad would have loved to have received. Usually it was a struggle to find suitable gifts for my dad, after all, what do you get the man who has everything? Knowing my dad would appreciate the joke, one year I found the answer to that question and gave him a bottle of antibiotics!
Of course it wasn’t just me.
My mum was understandably devastated and although she put on a brave face, she had little to no interest in anything.
My children, her grandchildren, were a godsend to us both on those dark days, and made us both realise that life does indeed go on.
I am now at the same age my mother was when she was widowed, and I took some ‘me time’ for a little reminiscing.
“It’s ok, I’ve got my gloves. Let’s get going.”
I looked up at my dad and took his hand.
“See you later mam”
We both gave her a kiss and she shushed us out of the house before turning back to busy herself with the Christmas dinner preparation.
This was our usual routine on Christmas morning. My mum sending us off to my Nana’s house, while she peeled potatoes, chopped carrots, made Yorkshire puddings and did everything that made for a perfect Christmas dinner.
I found out years later that mum had always regretted that decision, declaring that “children should not be taken away from their toys at Christmas”. One reason why she never let me bring my children to visit at Christmas. Oh it would have been very different if we had lived close to one another, and could have just popped round for a couple of hours, but as it was it was a 6-7 hour round trip, it meant at least one night’s stay.
A trip we did every 2-3 months, except at Christmas. The very time when families are supposed to be together. So why didn’t they come to us?
Well, mum once again declared that ” you would all have a much better time without us getting in the way”.
I can’t deny it hurt a little at the time, but she was a bit of a ‘home-bird’ and hated travelling. Nor can I deny that actually, she did have a point!
So, there we were, dad and I walking the two miles or so to my grandparents house. Dad didn’t drive, probably couldn’t have afforded a car even if he did, and of course, there were no busses on Christmas day.
I never minded, it always seemed to be snowing, but that is probably just my wishful thinking, and I was spending time with my dad.
I was definitely a ‘daddy’s girl’, and he in turn adored me.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mum too. She was amazing, wonderful and a credit to her firm but fair miners daughter upbringing.
We walked down the path which runs alongside the semi-detached houses, and borders the playing field. Looking across this field we could see the sea, grey and threatening as it usually was at this time of year..
Before long we were at the main road. There were a few people about, often children who had just had a new bike from Santa, determined to ride despite the snow.
We walked beside the road for about a mile until we reached the railway crossing.
It was a place my father knew well. For all of his working life he had been at the docks and spent part of that time riding on the wagons which transported coal from one of the local pits to the docks where it was loaded onto ships to end up who knew where.
Crossing over the line, it was a fairly easy walk to my Nana’s house, past the Londonderry Arms where they were probably getting ready for another busy Christmas, and then turning right, with our destination straight ahead, just before the local working men’s club. A place where later my grandad, at the age of 97, and the oldest member, would be the guest of honour at its re-opening.
There were already some cousins there and we children delighted each other with stories of what Santa had left for us, and handing out presents for my Nana and grandad.
We didn’t seem to have been there for very long before we had to leave for home, with a promise that I would be good for my mum. We always took home a box of liquorice all-sorts, a gift to my dad from his in-laws.
Dad was the only son-in-law who was handed a present at Christmas. It was given by way of a “thank you” for the little jobs he did for them, fixing the toaster, putting up shelves, plumbing in a washing machine when the old twin tub gave up the ghost, that sort of thing.
As the ‘favoured’ son-in-law, my dad was also given the job of ‘first foot’ on New year’s Eve, being ushered out of the house before midnight and with a lump of coal for luck in his hand ready to re-enter once the church bells had struck. So whilst the rest of us were laughing and celebrating in the warmth, poor dad was outside, freezing cold and on his own.
Dad checked that I had fastened my coat up properly and we said our goodbyes and set off for home.
The terraced houses lining our route, normally blackened thanks to the coal dust which settled on the walls, took on a beautiful festive look with glittery snow settling on the tops of garden gates and privet hedges.
Getting back to the warmth of home and the welcoming smell of Christmas, the celebrations could start properly for our little family. Playing, eating, watching television. More or less just as I do today.
I often wonder what my Nana would think if she could see the piles of presents my grandchildren woke up to on Christmas morning. Would she be proud that her family were doing so well that they could afford all of these gifts, or horrified at the expense and ‘show’? I have no way of knowing obviously, but I suspect it would be the latter.
So yes, in a way, Christmas isn’t the same. But in many ways, thanks to children and grandchildren, it hasn’t changed very much, and I still love it, almost as much
This piece is by Tessa Thomson and tells of her love for a favourite book.
After my mother died, when I was about 3 years old, I was discharged from the hospital where I had been since contracting septicemia at 9 months. I was taken to live with my grandparents. When I was about 8, I was introduced for the first time to my two half-sisters, Margaret and Anne, who were twins and had been living up to that time in a children’s home. They had reached 16 and their time at the home had come to an end, and they were now to fend for themselves. They stayed with my grandparents for a very short time but both were quite wild and wanted to be up and away to the bright lights of London. From photographs that I have found over the years, it seems that the twins did visit my grandparents during their time at the children’s home and the group photos show me to be about 4 or 5.
I had no more contact with my sisters until I was about 12 when Margaret came to see my grandparents. Margaret, by now 20 was living and working in London although I have no idea at what. But amazingly she bought me a book. It was called Trilby and was written by George Du Maurier. My grandparents home was devoid of books unless you count my grandfather’s Zane Gray western paperbacks.
It was a substantial book for a 12-year-old and it took some years before I appreciated its dark overtones. The cover of the book was a luscious green and the pages were edged in gold. It had a few illustrations. One I remember to this day was of Svengali, the one character in the book that stirred my young imagination the most.
Trilby was one of the most popular novels of its time. It was originally published serially in Harper’s Monthly from January to August 1894, then in book form from 1895. It sold 200,000 copies in the United States alone.
The book is set in the 1850s in an idyllic bohemian Paris. Though the book features the stories of two English artists and a Scottish artist, one of the most memorable characters is Svengali, a rogue, masterful musician and hypnotist.
Trilby O’Ferrall, the novel’s heroine, is a half-Irish girl working in Paris as an artists’ model and laundress; all the men in the novel are in love with her. The relationship between Trilby and Svengali forms only a small, though a crucial, portion of the novel.
The novel has been adapted to the stage several times; one of these featured the lead actress wearing a distinctive short-brimmed hat with a sharp snap to the back of the brim. The hat became known as the trilby and went on to become a popular men’s clothing item in the United Kingdom throughout various parts of the 20th century.
The book became my constant companion. Every few months I would dip into its pages. When I was older Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier became another treasured book and my favourite film. Asked by my family what I wanted for my 70th birthday, I remembered seeing an advertisement for a watch called Rebecca made and styled by Ben Du Maurier, George’s great-grandson.
This piece is written by another of our Wordsmiths Sandra Hughes. I suppose the subtitle might be something like unintended consequences.
First public embarrassment (that I know of)
Mum’s love of fancy dress
The first humiliating fancy dress for me, was as a baby when my mother dressed me as
For those unfamiliar with the Nursery Rhyme-
‘Bye Baby Bunting
Daddy’s gone a-hunting
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap the Baby Bunting in.’
Fortunately, it was not a rabbit skin I was dressed in. My mother, an intelligent, imaginative, resourceful woman, played with the word ‘Bunting.’ She made me a costume out of what looks like a flag (heaven help her if she mutilated a Union Jack) red, white and blue, which of course was decorating everywhere for the occasion. A hat, with ears, completed the ensemble.
We then joined with many other local children and mothers, celebrating the Coronation, of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, I hasten to add. This year, we found a photo taken at the event.
Last year, whilst helping my Mother sort through boxes, we unearthed said Baby Bunting costume.
For reasons known only to herself, my 24-year-old daughter decided she wanted to keep it. I just hope any future grandchild is not going to suffer the same ignominy as I did. You can work out how old the costume is.
I now confess, I followed in my Mother’s footsteps and often dressed my children in fancy dress on holidays and for school. These days, it is much easier with costumes in shops or online. However, my eldest daughter has continued the family tradition, but gone too far greater lengths than I ever did, kitting her children out in some amazing outfits she has made herself. (she is quite competitive!).
Looking at the group photo of the Coronation Party was quite emotional, contemplating how long our Queen has reigned and wondered what happened to all the people, seeing my grandmother and mother, no longer with us. A wonderful occasion, where everyone came together to celebrate.
Jan’s piece is about a recent U3A trip to a Buddy Holly tribute concert. Many of us of a certain age remember Buddy Holly with a mixture of nostalgia, gratitude and sadness, gratitude for his music evoking for many of us a fondly remembered youth, a time of optimism. Sadness that such a talented young man along with J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens died so young, all three were in the same plane. A sadness echoed later by the death in similar circumstances of Otis Redding.
Last Wednesday Bill and I went with a merry bunch of U3Aers on a charabanc to Northampton to see “The Buddy Holly Story”.
Leaving Whittlesey at 10.30 am and arriving in Northants at 11.45am left us plenty of time to look around the town and have lunch as the show didn’t start until 2.30pm.
On our walkabout, we noticed a small, old fashioned pub called the Wig and Pen. Ambling back, we wandered in looking for lunch. Inside was a long bar on one side and opposite were small wooden round tables with stools, in front of cushioned bench seats for people to sit and enjoy their pub grub. At the far end, up three steps was a smoking area with wooden tables and chairs in a modern style, (me, being me didn’t appreciate that fact even though there were ashtrays on the table, Bill pointed it out to me later).
We sat down and were immediately attended to by a delightful young waitress who was pleasant and helpful. Suddenly we were startled by rain falling on a wide area of corrugated plastic roofing above us, making a deafening noise like rounds from a machine gun. We remarked to the waitress that we hoped it would stop before we left as we hadn’t come prepared for rain.
She replied with a laugh that we needn’t worry about that as she would give us an umbrella from behind the bar. Apparently, they have quite a collection of forgotten brollies. Fortunately, the rain had stopped when we left.
The show was excellent. It told the story of Buddy Holly’s musical career, how he started and his rise to fame, eventually becoming a worldwide success but only for a short time as he died in a plane crash in February 1959 aged 22 years.
One time Buddy Holly was invited to perform in Harlem. In those days it was unheard of for a white man to play to a black audience. Two black ladies who were present at the time laughed rolled their eyes and told him “You’ll never get off that stage alive. They’ll eat you.” Buddy just shrugged “A gigs a gig” He performed. The audience was stunned when he first went on stage but by the time he finished they were completely won over. A small victory for racial integration.
The young man playing Buddy Holly was exceptional, as were his three “Crickets”. I was quietly singing along to the songs remembered from my youth as I think so were plenty of others. The whole cast danced and sang with energy and enjoyment.
At the moment in the story when Buddy Holly dies the curtains were closed and a lone guitar was spotlighted centre stage for a few moments.
Then the finale which was fast and furious, pounding out favourites hits and encouraging the audience to join in. Some members stood up, waving, clapping their hands and singing along. I’m sure a lot of us had our own memories of the fifties. I was fourteen years old and had just discovered jiving. Oh Boy! did I enjoy dancing.
As we left the theatre happy and contented, I wondered if the lead singer, when he was playing his heart out in the finale, giving the music and dancing his all, whether in his mind’s eye he wasn’t seeing us but imagining the bright-eyed, young girls who would have been swaying, swooning, screaming, crying at the front of the stage of his idol Buddy Holly.
At the U3A meeting in Whittlesey yesterday I did a book signing session for my first book, The Railway Carriage Child. Over 100 members attended and the afternoon was a great success. I hope that is encouraging to all would-be writers who may be having doubts about stepping onto the public platform with their own creations
About two years ago I joined the local U3A Writing group as its third member. At my first meeting in Whittlesey’s Not Just Cafe, I was able to read a chapter from Wendy Fletcher’s autobiography. It was unfinished and hadn’t a title but it was for me a work of exceptional quality. Today the first-ever print copy was delivered to Wendy she brought it to the Writing Group (Whittlesey Wordsmiths) meeting opened the envelope and together with Wendy, we had the first sight of it.
This is the foreword
Against a backdrop of the Cambridgeshire fens, lies the
small market town of Whittlesey. Here are many features
of historical and architectural interest, including two
medieval churches, a 17th century Butter Cross and rare
examples of 18th century mud boundary walls.
Less well known, but still quite remarkable, are the pair of
Victorian railway carriages which stand just outside the
Originally built for Great Eastern Railways in 1887,
they have been home to Wendy’s family since 1935.
Now, for the first time, Wendy shares the fascinating
story of her childhood, growing up as a Railway Carriage
Child in the mid to late 20th century.
With a wonderful memory for detail, she paints a
picture so vivid that we are there with her.
Through the eyes of an exuberant child, whose
imagination outpaced her years, we meet the characters
central to her life: an ancient Granny, still governed by the
old fen traditions of an earlier era, a domineering Mother,
a long-suffering Father, and Grandfather who died before
her birth but still inspires her dreams.
With the humour of hindsight, Wendy brings alive a
time when life moved at a gentler pace.
The final chapter follows Wendy as she returns to live
in the carriages as an adult, continuing the renovation and
preservation, to ensure that they survive for another
She shares her thoughts on people watching and how the way they interact with each other and their surroundings. These thoughts inspire her stories that form from the pictures in the mind’s eye. An interesting piece, an observation on observations.
Wendy’s new book, The Railway Carriage Child is launching soon for details follow this blog or follow the link to her site at the end of her post
I started watching people having conversations and wondered what they might be saying to each other.
Poetic licence allowed me to record these conversations without ever hearing a word.
Body language played a big part in this.
Were the couple on a bench leaning in close?
Were their knees touching?
Did they hold each other’s eyes as they talked?
Another couple in a restaurant looked far more distracted. He pushed his vegetables around with his fork. She wiped her mouth nervously with her napkin.
A man with a dog sat in the park. Every time he threw the stick, the dog bounded back, dropped it readily and waited for a fuss. The man leaned over and gave him a hug; not just a pat but a real hug.
Here were characters for a story.
Without eavesdropping, without intruding, I could incorporate their unspoken dialogue into an imaginary scene.
Maybe the young couple were being drawn closer together by some adverse reaction to their relationship. Did they face opposition from parents who perhaps thought them too young for a serious commitment?
Could the older couple in the restaurant be those parents, could they be disagreeing about handling the situation?
And the man in the park; probably Granddad, lonely after the death of his wife, relying on the closeness he feels with his dog, but about to realise how much his wise words are valued by his family as he steps into the role of mediator; to listen to the concerns of his daughter and son-in-law, to feel the pain of his grandson, torn between teenage love and parental concern.
Yes, the idea is growing. I can meld together this family of characters who have never met.
This post is from Stephen Oliver author of “Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting”. It gives inspiration and practical suggestions for those suffering from Writers Block. It is a long post but difficult to condense and yet retain his useful advice.
Dealing with Writers Block
A couple of years ago, I received an email in connection with a post I made on the TUT Writer’s Group on Facebook. The writer asked me about how to become a writer and how to deal with writer’s block. The following is based on my reply.
When it comes to writing, I would like to know where your writer’s block lies, so that I can give you more targeted advice. However, I can give you the following points, to begin with.
What sort of writing do you want to do?
Are you intending to write fiction or non-fiction? I do both, and each needs its own way of looking at things.
If you want to write fiction, do you know what sort of story you want to write? Is it romance, general fiction, erotica, fantasy (science fiction, dark fantasy or horror, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, to name but a few)? Is it a novel or a short story? Whatever type you want to write, you need to do some reading in that genre, just to get a feel for what is acceptable to the reading public. I, for instance, have read all of the above-mentioned fantasy types for years. You don’t want to copy them, of course, but you do need to know the kind of stories that are available.
Sometimes, a story you read will trigger an idea of your own. You might like the story and want to know what happened next. Why don’t you write about that? This is where a lot of fanfiction comes from.
If the story took place years ago, why not rewrite it into modern times? West Side Story is really Romeo and Juliet set in 20th century New York, for instance. The Lion King is a modern take on Hamlet. One of the short stories I’m about to publish is my take on Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. And so on.
At other times, you might think to yourself “I don’t like the way that story turned out.” So why not write your own version, giving it the ending you would have liked?
Or you read a story and imagine something completely different, that’s still somehow connected with the original, like my story about a modern Frankenstein.
Television and movies are other good sources of ideas. Just as I mentioned above, they can trigger thoughts and ideas that lead to a story.
I’ve also had ideas that have come from dreams and daydreams. You just have to be open to your thoughts. There are stories that I have started writing with nothing more than a single phrase or concept.
To throw a couple of ideas out to you:
What would it feel like to be immortal? You know that everyone you love will one day be gone, while you have to carry on without them forever more. How will you live? What will you do? Is there a problem with boredom, because you’ve done it all before? If they reincarnate, will you seek them out again?
How about someone whose job is to protect a city, like a superhero, except he can’t remember who he is until the city is about to be destroyed? How does he react until he realises that he’s the one to save the day? How do the inhabitants treat him because he’s always so late coming to the rescue?
Or how about a woman who can’t find her car keys, until she remembers that she never learned to drive? Why does she think that she has keys for a car she doesn’t own? Is she suffering from amnesia? Does she have a split personality? Is she channelling someone from a parallel world? Or is a ghost trying to contact her? The possibilities are endless.
What is the exact meaning of a company name, like Blue Dog? Does someone have an unusual name? Why do they have it?
These are a few ideas that just popped into my head while I was writing this. Be prepared to think strange things and follow them up.
If you still can’t think of anything, google “writing prompts” with the genre name. You will find thousands of entries to get you started. Amazon also has large numbers of prompt books, often for only £0.99, or a little more.
If you do decide to write, I suggest you keep some sort of notebook to write your ideas down. Personally, I use a program called Evernote (https://evernote.com), which you can get for free. It runs on the PC, Mac, iPhone and iPad, any Android device, etc. What you do is download it on any device you use and then set up an account with them or Dropbox or iCloud, or some other cloud service. Once all devices and their versions of Evernote are synchronised to the same account, if you write something down on one of them, it will be available on all of them within seconds. You need never lose an idea again. Except in the shower; I still have no idea how I can do it there.
If electronic devices are not your thing, and I know people who still prefer old-fashions methods, buy yourself a small reporter’s notebook with an attached pen or pencil. Keep it with you at all times and jot down any ideas you get. Every so often, say once a week, write them up in a bigger notebook or school book. Give it a title like “My Great Ideas Book.” Cherish the ideas as they come, accept them as the gifts from whomever or whatever you think of as a higher power, and they will keep coming. They will increase, and you will soon wonder why you never had any ideas.
Although all that I’ve written about above is as true for non-fiction as it is for fiction, non-fiction has a few extra points you need to keep in mind.
First of all, how much do you know about the subject? If it’s something you work with every day, and you know all about it, then you’re set. You just need to work out how to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
If you know a bit, or even nothing at all, then you are going to have to research. There are books available on just about every subject under the sun, many of them cheap or even free, if you know where to look. Try Amazon’s free books, for example, or check out Project Gutenberg for books that are out of copyright. Google the subject and follow any leads you find. Just be aware that there is a lot of useless or even false information out there. As Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction writer, once said: “90% of everything is crud.”
As you’re doing your research, keep making notes of ideas and concepts that you want to include in your book. As I noted earlier, a notebook or some electronic aid such as Evernote, is an excellent way of keeping everything together. You can even cut and paste whole web pages into it. It doesn’t matter whether everything is neat and tidy, or just a bunch of scribbles and phrases, as long as they make sense to you when you come back to them later.
Once you start writing, you will have to find your personal style. When I’m working on a non-fiction book, I always write as if I’m actually talking to the person. If I’m teaching someone how to use a computer program (and I have written a user manual), it’s as if we’re sitting down together in front the machine and I’m telling them what to type and where to click. This is my style, and I know that there are people who prefer other styles, such as impersonal teacher dishing out commands.
My fiction style varies, depending on the needs of the story.
Whatever you found during your research, don’t write it exactly as you noted it down in the first place because you may find that you are plagiarising someone else’s words. Instead, write it down in your own words, as if you are trying to explain to someone else what it is that you’ve read. Don’t worry if you think you have nothing new to say, it may be that someone else needs to hear it put the way that you can uniquely do it. Say it your own way, and it will be new to someone.
Don’t talk yourself out of an idea just because it’s been done before. Put your own spin on it. Bring in your own personal experiences. You will have your own stories to tell, which will make it unique.
Dr Joe Vitale
Now, let’s look at one or two problems more carefully.
Ideas are blocked
If you think that your problem lies with writer’s block, try this little trick. If you prefer to work by hand, get a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil, and write the subject you want to write about at the top of the page. Underline it or draw a box around it, whatever makes you feel that it’s important.
Now, let’s establish a couple of simple rules. First of all, when you start writing, don’t stop! Secondly, you are only allowed to write from left to right and top to bottom. You can’t go back and correct something at the moment; that comes later.
Now, just keep writing whatever goes through your head on the subject. If you find that nothing relevant to the subject comes out, just write whatever you are thinking about, even if it’s about the problem you’re having writing anything down. The idea is to disconnect your creative process from the critical process of editing, silencing your Inner Critic. Once you’ve been writing for five or ten minutes, or whatever feels comfortable, take a break or stop completely
Now is the time to go back and look at what you’ve written. Don’t change anything yet, just read it from beginning to end to see what exactly you have created. If you find something you would like to alter or even delete, make a mental note to come back to it later. If you prefer, mark where the change should be, but don’t actually make the correction yet.
Once you’ve reread it, you can go back and make the changes you thought about earlier. When you’ve finished, use that as a basis for your writing. You can repeat this as many times as you like, until you’re satisfied.
If you’re a computer user and can type fast enough, create a new blank document and start with that. I’ve even used dictation software to get ideas down as quickly as possible.
This is a combination of two different methods that I personally use. The first is Free Writing, where you just allow words to come out of you without censoring them in any way. The second method includes the first as its first stage. This method is called the Disney Strategy and is named after Walt Disney. It’s the way that he and his team of creators brainstormed new ideas for films and features.
Another suggestion I can make is to have multiple projects going on at the same time. For instance, right now I am doing the final clean-up on a collection of science fiction short stories, another one in multiple genres looking for a publisher, two more of the same that are awaiting editing, a fourth collection of stories being written on the same theme, and one other collection as a work in progress. I also have a fantasy novel I’m working on, and a follow-up book to the one that I just mentioned above. If I run out of ideas, or find myself blocked on one of these projects, I simply switch to another one and continue working there. I do this because I’ve come to realise that it’s not really a block, as such. It really means that what I’m working on at the moment isn’t quite ready to be written down yet.
No ideas at all
You said that you have no idea where to start? Is this because you have no ideas? Or is it because you have no idea what tools to use?
If the first one is your problem, please look earlier in this post, where I’ve given you a few pointers on how to start.
If the second one is where you’re stuck, any word processor, such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages, will do perfectly well. I wrote my first book using Word, and it did the job fairly well.
These days, I use a product called Scrivener, which is specially designed with the writer in mind, allowing you to structure your work any which way you like, moving stuff around if it makes more sense that way. You can download a free trial at http://www.literatureandlatte.com, which will run for 30 days of use; if you use it only once a week, it will work for months. If you decide you like it, it only costs about $45 to buy the full licence. There are versions for the PC, Mac, and iPhone and iPad. It even comes with video tutorials available straight from the programme.
If your problems lie more in the realm of the actual publication of your writing, we can talk about this on another occasion.
I hope this helps you in your quest to become a writer.
I wish you lots of luck in the future and look forward to hearing from you soon and reading your writing
This piece is Written by Val Fish another of our very talented prize-winning authors.
This was written for a challenge to imagine yourself at a famous event in history.
In my case, I didn’t need to imagine, I was there…
I woke up around six am, after for the first time in my life sleeping on the pavement.
It was the 6th September 2007, the day etched in history when the whole world said a sad goodbye to Princess Diana.
A friend and I had come down the night before and as we walked down the Mall that evening I remember the sweet fragrance permeating from the thousands of flowers laid along the route.
We’d managed to nab a prime spot right in front of the railings. As the clock ticked on that morning, the mood amongst the crowd began to change, I think we were all still in disbelief as to what we were about to witness.
The realisation hit us when we heard the sound of approaching horses’ hooves, that’s when the wailing started.
The sight of that cortege will stay with me forever, the bouquet of lilies on the coffin, the boys with their heads bowed. I remember thinking ‘We shouldn’t be there, this should be private, that’s their mother.’
It was impossible not to cry…
The service was relayed on a loud speaker; the crying now was more subdued, and as the choir began to sing ‘Libera Me’ from Verdi’s Requiem, I thought it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.
And then it was over and once again the cortege passed us, this time the coffin in a car, and everybody was throwing flowers.
And then she was gone…
I felt almost honoured to have been there that day; I was one in a million.
Later this year Wendy will be sharing her long-awaited autobiography with the world. The publication is planned for September and work on the nuts and bolts of getting the book ready to face its readers, on time, is well underway.
The book is beautifully written, evocative of a time now past and Whittlesey a place much changed. Those of us who travelled along different paths but during the same time will recognise and remember the many experiences we all shared.
Unfortunately, her mentor and friend Edward Storey died as Wendy was finishing her book, he did, however, comment on it earlier, “we share Wendy’s journeys and experiences, her descriptions are so vivid we are there with her, sitting by her side.”
This is a first glimpse of the book’s cover, it may change a little before publication but this is it at the moment. There will be further posts once we have a price and firm publication date.
In this post, Val Chapman is sharing her thoughts on the changing world of school and aspects of life the young encounter now. Things that passed us by when we were of that age. A lovely thoughtful piece thank you, Val.
I was looking at a photograph of my neighbours’ grandson dressed up ready to go to his ‘School Prom’.
When did this become a ‘thing’?
We were lucky to get the occasional disco. It was always in the school hall though, no fancy hotel or stately home for us. I dare say the idea was the same, dressing ‘up to the nines’, one or two of us having a sneaky drink or cigarette before the teachers found out. Not me obviously, I was a real goody goody. Well, mostly…….
It felt quite anarchic, dancing in the school hall without it being ‘The Gay Gordons’, or ‘Dashing White Sergeant’!
I was born in 1957, so by the time my school discos came along, platform shoes and miniskirts were the order of the day.
That suited me fine though, I was a size 10-12, about 5’8″, and most of my height was in my legs!
Oh, how the mighty have fallen……….., and no, I’m not just talking about boobs here, my bum is definitely nearer the ground than it used to be.
See, that’s the thing though, isn’t it? ‘You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,’ to quote Joni Mitchel, a favourite from back in the day. I was a bit of a hippy, so she was right up my street.
Then again, my musical tastes varied hugely. I would happily dance around to Mott the Hoople, Cream, Bread, T. Rex, Free, Stevie Wonder. Diversity doesn’t come close. Maybe I was just trying to find “my” band, but the truth is I just enjoyed being with my friends and didn’t have any particular favourite.
Anyway, back to the Prom.
It seems to me, that this idea has spread here from ‘over the pond’. It appears that we do pick up on more than a few American ideas.
Take Halloween for example.
Have you seen the stuff in the shops for Halloween from about August?
It will be taking over from Christmas soon! And as for the ‘trick or treat’ idea.
To my mind, it’s just getting money, or sweets by extortion. ‘Give me the goodies, or else’. I may be a killjoy, but I don’t want my children or grandchildren thinking this is a respectable way to behave.
Oh dear, I’m sounding more and more like my parents.
If you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, doing ‘the funky chicken’ to something ridiculous.
Wendy’s interesting perspective, it really is another way of seeing things.
Val’s piece about Plagiarism probably touched a nerve with most of us. We do not write in isolation, somehow screened from the real world and its influence.
When I first learned to write, aged about four, I traced the shape of letters that had been designed by someone else; A, B, C and D were not my invention.
Within a year or so, I was putting those shapes together to write my first words: C-A-T and D-O-G. Again, there was nothing original here.
It is just a myth that we writers produce anything original. We are not the proverbial chimps sitting at a keyboard and likely to produce a masterpiece if we are given enough time.
The secret of good writing and, perhaps more importantly, staying out of trouble, is to be inspired, influenced, led by others, but to build our own framework on which to hang these snippets.
An analogy might be that we see leaves blowing in the wind and scoop them up, then drape them on a branch where they form an interesting and unique pattern. We don’t uproot whole trees.
With this in mind, I would like to tell you about my latest collection of leaves.
I have been unable to drive for the last three months and have relied on public transport. The conversations that I have overheard have been an eye-opener of some magnitude. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in the Fens.
So, if you have been travelling in East Anglia, over the last few weeks, you might want to see if you can spot a few words from that lengthy discussion you were having on the bus.
“Well, it was only this morning I was saying to my ‘usband………’
We are a diverse group of writers shaped by our experiences, this is another autobiographical piece from one of our U3A writing group members. Tessa writes about her mother, the mother she never had a chance to know.
My mother died at the age of 31. She had been a young bride, an abused wife, a mother of four, a WAAF, a lover of some, a prisoner, and at the end, a consumptive. I never knew my mother; I was three and a half when she died but her life had an enormous impact on her four surviving children. The consequences for us all were huge. The expression most used about my mother when I was growing up was “spirited”.
My mother was born on October 6th 1917 in Limerick, southern Ireland. She was christened Teresa although when it suited her she could and did, change her name. She was the eldest child of six children. A seventh child died in infancy. My grandfather was with the Royal Engineers based in Ireland at the time of my mother’s birth. My grandmother helped her mother at a guest house near the camp. My grandparents had a long and happy marriage mainly because my grandfather agreed on everything with my grandmother. There was one exception to this however, my mother. Despite her many failings, and indiscretions, my mother was without doubt my grandfather’s favourite child, something that would be tested many times.
My mother enjoyed the freedom of the large encampment and in particular the dances. She loved the dances. Actually my grandfather forbade her to go to them and her younger sister was supposed to ensure she was at home on the dance nights. But my mother always managed to sneak out and stand by the door of the dance hall. She was rarely caught and frequently managed a dance.
My mother and the family moved to England and to Welwyn Garden City sometime around 1932. She would have been about 15. In 1938 aged just twenty, and three months pregnant she married. She gave birth that year to twin girls. I cannot say if this was an unhappy marriage from the start. I do know from things I have learned as an adult that her husband was a violent man whose drinking would frequently result in abuse, both verbal and physical towards my mother. In 1940 she gave birth to a boy. With her husband away in the army I think my mother; young as she was must have found life very tough and lonely. She must have yearned for the freedom her sisters enjoyed, as they were yet to marry.
That freedom came with the soldiers on leave, looking for relief from the fighting. In Welwyn Garden City at that time was a large pub with an even larger ballroom. Dances were held several times a week. My mother would frequently leave the children in their cots, with glass bottle feeders and a roaring fire in the grate, and go dancing. It was reckless but it’s hard for me to condemn her. I have some sympathy for a young woman in uncertain times wanting to have some fun. It was usually left to my grandmother to respond when the neighbours heard the children crying in the house.
Sometime in 1942 my mother left her three children in the care of her husband’s sister and joined the WAAF band as a girl drummer based in Chivenham in Devon. How she was able to do this, with a family left at home I don’t know but I imagine during war time anything is possible. My mother’s life must have changed dramatically. She was in uniform; she had many friends, though most seemed to be men. She came home on leave with stories of the great time she was having. My grandmother kept in touch with the children but at some point, and I am unclear as to when, my mother’s husband placed the twins in to an orphanage, and the boy he gave to friends who later adopted him. During this time my mother changed her forename and linked it with her married surname, gave her status as single and dropped her age by five years. She had a number of affairs judging by the number of young Americans in particular, who came to my grandmother’s house asking for her.
In July 1944 at The Parish church of Emmanuel, Compton Gifford near Plymouth she married a 22 year old Leading Airman in the RAF. He was one of triplets, and was known to my family. Of course my mother was still married. On the front page of the Western Evening Herald dated Monday July 24th is a picture of the happy couple with a guard of honour of airmen and women. Had my mother lost her mind? The wedding certificate states that she was a spinster, aged 22 and single. She had to alter her father’s name to bring it in line with her own and gave his employment as a Company Sergeant Major in the Royal Corps of Signals. I’m sure my grandfather would have been tickled pink by that.
Whatever happiness she may have felt at this time, was soon dispelled. Her real husband was told of the marriage and informed the police. On leave, and visiting home she realised the game was up and went on the run. She appears to have been AWOL for at least 8 or 9 months during which time she must have had a relationship with someone as I was born in December 1945. Whether my mother gave herself up or was caught I don’t know. Where she was during that time is also unknown. But at sometime during the summer of 1945 she faced trial for bigamy at the Old Bailey. My grandparents both attended the trial which, with the journey alone must have been quite a trial for them as well. She was sentenced to nine months imprisonment deferred until after I was born. By the beginning of January 1946 my mother’s sentence began at Holloway Prison. My mother never saw me again.
She left prison sometime in late 1946. I’m not sure exactly when or whether she had time off for good behaviour. But whilst in prison she contracted tuberculosis. Meanwhile I was in hospital suffering from septicaemia. Because of my mother’s illness I had an extended stay in hospital and didn’t leave until she died in May 1949.
The twins stayed in an orphanage until they were 16. Their lives were severely blighted by that experience and neither of them lived happily. The boy was adopted by people who were unkind and at times cruel. I met him for the first time a few years ago and we keep in touch. As for me, well my life has had many tragic moments and times I would rather forget. Most of my childhood is blocked from my memory, and that which I can remember I would rather not. As to my father, who knows? My mother did of course and asked my grandmother if she wanted to know. But she said no.
Gwen Bunting is a recent recruit to the Wordsmiths. This is her fascinating account of her sixty odd year friendship with a friend in Holland.
I have been writing to Lilian Boogaard in Holland since we were thirteen-year-old schoolgirls it wasn’t until we were both aged twenty that we first met, this was in 1963.
I flew from Heathrow whilst waiting to board a KLM flight to Schipol Amsterdam thinking back to when I was younger. Standing then in the Queens Building as a young child with my mother, watching the aircraft land and take off. I made up my mind whilst watching the planes that one day I would fly from Heathrow myself.
It took me all year to save up for the trip. The flight was about £16 but hard to come by when you only earned a third of that amount weekly and had to pay your board at home.
The day duly arrived and my dear brothers drove me to Heathrow overnight. Having my passport and Guilders for my big adventure. They left me at the departure gate and I was on my own. A big step for me, but I moved on to the correct area and boarded the flight which lasted about an hour.
Landing in Schipol I followed the signs making my way through passport control answering their questions. We were not in the common market then. I was duly stamped and moved through, collecting my case from the carousel. Walking through into the open area looking for Lilian. No one was there. I cannot remember how long I sat waiting. She had been given all the flight details but she was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, they arrived and we drove off to Loenen a small village about 30min drive from Amsterdam. Their English was stilted and my knowledge of Dutch much the same.
We went into Lilian’s mother’s house a tobacconists shop with the most wonderful smell of cigars, the Dutch are big cigar smokers. When we sat down to have a cup of tea they were surprised when I put milk into mine. This is called baby-tea they drink theirs weak and black. The other comment was that I did not speak like the Queen, I said very few of us do.
I stayed a week with my friend we lived with her brother and sister in law, who was pregnant. The things I remember and hold dear are my first taste of plain yoghurt which I still do not like; the delicious cakes I bought at the baker’s next door and visiting a windmill in the village.
I was able to help make a dress for Marijke my friends sister-in-law. Her baby was to be named Michael and they wanted the English spelling.
Other reminisces are eating chips with mayonnaise instead of vinegar. My friend’s father was in the Dutch Resistance, but he never spoke about the war. The family stuffed four gold Dutch gilders inside a toy dog belonging to my friend’s brother. He was told never to let anyone have his toy. The dog was to go everywhere with him. These gilders were later retrieved and made into pendants. I was so envious of these necklaces, knowing the history attached to them.
Lilian’s father worked on farms inseminating cows, this was hard to explain in English. We accompanied him on several visits, him donning long plastic gloves. He jokingly asked me if I would like to shake hands. This was my first chance to wear clogs, they used them on the farm. Happy memories.
I visited again the following year and taught Michael to walk I am told.
Sadly my friend suffers from severe arthritis, causing her to retire from work early. She had been a physiotherapist with the largest clinic in Amsterdam. Lilian lives with Henk who is a doctor. They have no children, but I am pleased that after all these years we are still in touch.
In the last two years, I have visited again, being taken out on the boat along with the family and Michael who was there to steer the boat. more than fifty years later, happy memories.
Val Chapman tackles the issue of plagiarism in this post, raising issues and giving us her thoughts
……They accused me of plagiarism. Their words, not mine……..
I do sometimes wonder if I should include certain quotes in my stories. Obviously, I do not want anyone to think I have knowingly ‘stolen’ someone else’s work, passing it off as my own.
I have a little book where I write snippets of conversation I overhear, perhaps an interesting sentence or story I may read in a magazine. I look through this from time to time, looking for inspiration.
Sometimes it helps, mostly it does not.
But because these little prompts are ‘second hand’, should I use them at all?
I do wonder at times what constitutes plagiarism?
I think ‘knowingly’ is the keyword.
Surely we have all, at some point, used words from another body of work we have remembered and used in our own efforts, either consciously or unconsciously?
I assume that to be classed as ‘plagiarism’, it refers to a whole piece of work and not a few words or sentences here and there. Let’s face it, if it referred to ANYTHING then we wouldn’t be able to write at all!
So I’ll just continue along, in blissful ignorance and hope I don’t incur the wrath of someone with far more talent than me.
This piece is by Val Fish one of our talented Wordsmiths.
I’ve had a love of words and stories since my school days; my primary school report said ‘Valerie has a good imagination’, and a fantastic English teacher at grammar school was a great inspiration to me. English Language was one of only two subjects I was any good at (the other being French).
I was a big Blue Peter fan in my youth, every year I would get the annual as a Christmas present and was lucky enough to win two Blue Peter badges in their competitions.
As I grew older, I entered the world of consumer competitions, having to complete slogans that usually started something like ‘I shop at XYZ because’, in 12 words or less.
I won hundreds of prizes over the years, little and large, among them a few holidays; my biggest successes were the much sought after prize car; a Mini Metro, and a conservatory worth a massive ten thousand pounds. One of my prizes of least value, but providing much amusement, was a frozen chicken, worth a measly £1.50 at the time. The winners had to go to the store to collect their prize, and we were photographed all holding our chickens aloft. I did feel rather silly and particularly self-conscious as I was eight months pregnant at the time.
I could go on and on about the wondrous things that I won, but that’s another story to be told.
Although of course, the prizes were great, for me it was more the composing of the slogans that brought me pleasure. Trying to be witty in so few words and to stand out from the hundreds of others was a challenge I’d always relish. Maybe that’s why these days my forte is flash fiction.
As this type of competition began to die out, it seemed a natural progression to turn to creative writing.
So these days my words are somewhat longer, no big prizes to be won; in most cases, it’s simply seeing my efforts posted online, which gives me just as much pleasure
I couldn’t imagine not writing; it’s good therapy for me, all my cares and woes are temporarily forgotten. And an added bonus, it keeps those grey cells ticking over, much needed at my age. I like to think I’ll l be writing as long as I’ve still got my faculties, however long that may be.
This piece is by Tessa Thomson, a member of our group who’s poetry is truly outstanding.
Inspiration (noun; the act of inspiring; stimulation by a divinity; a genius, idea or a passion).
A writer finds inspiration everywhere. Putting it down on paper is the difficulty. Sometimes I hear a phrase, maybe a couple of people chatting will say something I can use, or just being out in the garden can give inspiration for a piece of work.
Usually, inspiration comes during waking hours at night. That’s when I remember that I forgot to put the notebook and pen back beside the bed. But then a friend recently said she was frightened of being sent by the well-meaning family into a nursing home. Inspiration!
I’m frightened did I hear you say, of being all alone
Of being sent so far away to someone else’s home
To some grand house to sit around with others of your age
Like gilded birds of paradise inside a gilded cage
Recently I was watching my husband working in the garden, getting it ready for winter. Inspiration!
I’ve cleared all the leaves from the garden,
I’ve planted some bulbs in the beds.
I’ve rescued the tenderest flowers,
And cut off the dead flowering heads.
Our own memories probably provide the best inspiration but can sometimes provide the saddest.
My own poems can be very dark, but they are my stories. In the end, whether it’s a story or a poem, how it’s told and how it touches the individual is what makes good writing. Inspiration is the starting point; it’s what happens next that takes the reader beyond the imagination.
Recently someone wrote in a thank you note to me “our shared love of your daughter will ensure we meet again very soon”. Whilst I found the sentiment unsettling it did provide inspiration.
You say you seek a shared love with someone I hold dear
But how can that be possible; the obstacles are clear
The love I have is borne of pain; of risk and much besides
Of waking nights; of memories; of tears, I always hide.
My love is tough and gentle too but never harsh to bear
It’s that which gives such grace and joy and content to my heir
By this great love, her life is traced from childhood up to now
But you would seek to feel that love; to harness it somehow.
As Samuel Johnson remarked in 1799
What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure
This post is from one of our writing group members. We have all been asked to give our thoughts on writing. We all approach writing in different ways and we are publishing these pieces ad hoc over time.
These are Teresa’s thoughts on the subject.
Writing has never come easily to me. However, possessing a vivid imagination and a peculiar sense of humour ensures a diverse source of subject material is readily available.
Being given a topic to write about focuses my mind and channels my enthusiasm. The Whittlesey Wordsmiths have encouraged and supported my return to writing.
They could do the same for you.
Whittlesey Wordsmiths will be at the EnGage in the Morning February meeting at the library Monday February 18th at 10.30am free tickets available at the desk
Does anyone else get as irritated by bad spelling as I do?
Don’t get me wrong here, I freely admit to having to use help to check my spelling frequently.
The thing that bugs me though is, if I can do it, why don’t lots of other people?
I know I’m not the only one who sometimes needs help, and indeed there is plenty of help out there (thank you Alexa)
I have been looking at a lot of adverts online recently, where people try to sell things they no longer have a need for, or have made and want to sell on, and have been so frustrated, disappointed, and frankly quite angry about basic, relatively easy words which have been spelt incorrectly.
If people are unsure about how to spell something, why don’t they find out? Especially if you are putting it in the public domain. I’m not talking about a shopping list here.
It just strikes me as being lazy, and to be perfectly honest, If you can’t be bothered, I really don’t want to buy whatever it is you are selling, thank you very much!
I have been known to walk past a greengrocer’s shop to go to the nearest supermarket because the sign in the grocer’s window read ‘Collies 80p’.
And no, they weren’t selling dogs.
Talking of dogs, it was a website selling dogs that I was most recently annoyed by. The number of people who can’t spell ‘miniature’, ‘puppies’ or even the name of the breed they are selling was, in my opinion, shocking.
Someone was selling their shih-tzu, and yes, they did spell it the way they obviously say it, sh## zhu.
Anyway, rant over. I try to be forgiving, but sometimes, just sometimes, I despair of people’s lazy attitude towards English. Well, the spelling of it anyway. Apostrophes and grammar can wait for another day.
My biggest problem is what to write in the first place. Given a free rein, told to ‘Write what I like’ and I’m lost, the page as blank as my mind.
I have tried the notebook / people watching/ eavesdropping ideas with varying results.
I travel fairly regularly by train and two incidents spring to mind.
My first encounter was, sitting across the aisle from me, a girl with long flaming red hair, she was so striking, I enjoyed conjuring up a character profile for her, and this developed into ‘The Girl Across the Aisle’
I once had the pleasure or misfortune; I’m not quite sure which, to be sitting opposite another girl on a train, on her mobile phone discussing who was going to donate their kidney to her, which she was in desperate need of. Believe me, I got every gory detail. She was either oblivious to me sitting there, or more than likely just didn’t care ( It seems to be the norm nowadays that people are happy to have what I would call private conversations in public, for all and sundry to hear). My story; ‘The Girl with the Kidney’ is still waiting to be written.
Fortunately in my local U3A Creative Writing group, at the end of each meeting we are given that month’s homework. Even with that much needed prompt; I struggle for ages before coming up with something half worth developing. While my fellow wordsmiths are posting their valiant efforts, the deadline getting nearer and nearer, still nothing.
And then finally ‘Eureka’; more often than not, at three in the morning when my brain has been unable to switch off.
The funny thing is once I’ve started, that’s it, I simply can’t stop, frantically scribbling, editing, re-editing, never quite one hundred per cent satisfied which what I’ve done.
But in the end I have to let it go. My finger hovers over the ‘Send’ key before making that final decision to let it go.
And then spend the next few hours worrying about what everybody’s going to think of it!
I would like to pay tribute to Edward Storey, a fellow Whittlesey resident and writer. I am sure many of our followers will be familiar with his books which brought recognition to our Fenland area, capturing the very essence of our history and culture.
I first contacted Edward over ten years ago when I started to write my own autobiography and continued to correspond regularly with him until this September when his health was beginning to fail. During those years he gave me so much support and guidance, encouraging me to develop and expand my writing. This gave me the confidence to set up the Whittlesey U3A Creative Writing Group which has evolved into the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Last month we published our first book and I had signed and wrapped a copy for Edward before I heard news of his death.
I would like to express gratitude for his inspiration; to Edward, A Fenland legend, who made our dreams a possibility and then a reality.
This is a link to Edward Storey’s Biography on Wikipedia
Reading is a means of switching on the imagination. The pictures drawn in the mind, the voices heard and the drama that unfolds can be as real to a reader as anything encountered in life. In many ways it is a better reality, one that is acceptable on the reader’s terms, limited by what they want to take out of it or see within it.
As writers we grope around for the switch that lights the imagination of our readers. The words though must first paint pictures in our own minds, we are after all the first reader. Hopefully these pictures will be seen in the mind’s eye of our readers. We know they will see different pictures to ours, pictures on their terms. The voices too they hear will have different accents to the ones in our hearing, although the words are the same. As long as it paints that picture, produces that voice and above all else entertains we will have thrown that switch.
Whittlesey Wordsmiths are proud to announce the publication and launch of their new book Where the Wild Winds Blow.
It is an eclectic collection of poetry and prose, outstandingly well written and superbly entertaining.
Where the Wild Winds Blow, can be bought through Amazon either in print or as an E-book If you are local to Whittlesey and would rather buy the book directly from the Wordsmiths please click on the “Where the Wild Winds Blow local orders” link to order.
This post is by Tessa a wonderful poet and a member of our Whittlesey Wordsmiths writing group, look out for her work it is outstanding.
I love words. I love how they sound most of all. I was born too soon for children’s stories on tapes but when my daughter came along we would sit in bed with an ear piece each and listen to books read mostly by actors. I love the timbre of the words. How different they sound depending on who is reading them. Some stories I prefer to have read by the author, some not. I love how single phrases said by different people can have a different inference. “I need you now”; can sound demanding, romantic or just plain whiney depending on who is saying it.
Most of all I love words that rhyme. Poems are my favourite thing. Writing them sometimes seems trivial because the words come easily. But then I can get stuck on a single word and change several lines and make new rhymes.
The spoken word only becomes harsh to me when spoken not in an accent but irreverently. English is glorious when spoken well. I hate slang, I hate don’t, didn’t, whatever. I hate “did yourself know that” Who are these people who think it is fine to change the English language.
My grandmother always said you could tell the quality of a person by the shoes on their feet and the words in their head. My grandmother knew a thing or two.
Cathy wrote about screens and sunshine Wendy followed up with her thoughts on the same subject.
I’ve read advice never to start a story by describing the weather, but it’s what I notice first when I get up. Perhaps it’s because of where I live, in the UK: we can’t rely on the sun waiting around till we’re free to enjoy it. Before retirement I mourned for every sunny day when I had to work. The weather was certain to deteriorate for the weekends.
Retired, I have the freedom to spend every sunny day outside, but my laptop isn’t garden-friendly.
It’s the screen that won’t co-operate. Sitting in shade, adjusting screen brightness, giving the cursor a trail and making it bigger… nothing makes computing alfresco easy. My solution this year has been to edit off-screen. There are advantages to taking my red pen outside.
Most notably, I’ve taken more time over it, in order to spend as long as possible in the fresh air without feeling guilty. I’m not rushing through the final scenes because I’m fed up with editing this story for the fourth (fifth, sixth, seventh…) time.
I print on single-sided scrap to save trees, and manage with single spaced printouts, but to save even more paper, you can send your work to your Kindle, if you have one, by emailing the file to your Kindle email address with convert as your email title. It is possible to make editing notes on your Kindle version, but I still prefer editing onto paper.
Nevertheless, reading from the Kindle seems to throw up different errors compared to reading from a printout, or a word processor. I also read aloud sometimes, if there’s no-one within hearing range, to listen how the writing sounds. (When reading my story to the writing group, I’ve found that making notes on the fly tends to interrupt
Typing up my hard-copy edits only seems like half a job – the thinking’s already been done. Sometimes I’ll change my mind again and revert to the original, but that happens anyway, and it’s quicker when ‘reverting’ means ‘not changing’.
I plan to continue the off-screen edits when the sun finally flies south for the winter.
How do other writers cope with the lure of the sun in the few weeks Britain calls summer?
Summer and Technology
The incompatibility of summer and technology is an ongoing issue for all us would-be authors.
My solution is to be creative with my pen and paper at this time of year and save the typing for dark, winter nights.
I can wander along the beach, feet cooled by the surf, a notebook in my rucksack. There is always a handy rock where I can sit for a few minutes to jot down odd words that spring to mind or dally for longer if inspiration takes hold.
Come winter, I can stoke up the fire, huddle over the lap top and type from the notes, with the added advantage that I see it all now with fresh eyes. The ideas have had time to mature, making revision much less challenging and the whole experience more rewarding.
This post is by Val Chapman a member of Whittlesey Wordsmiths.
I enjoy a lot of different subjects to read about, but if I had to choose, my preference is for psychological thrillers or crime novels, often the gorier the better.
Why is it then, that I have never even attempted to write one?
I know “they” say “write about what you know”, but to my knowledge, I’ve never murdered anyone, and wouldn’t know how to get away with it or solve it if I had, so how could I write a “murder mystery”?
My musings are almost exclusively in the ‘light and fluffy’ section.
I tend to write as I speak, so nothing too taxing there then!
Oh, wait, that may be a clue to the answer to my question!
I’ve never been keen on hard work….
I do admire those people who are committed enough to their craft to travel the country, if not the world, researching, checking, and researching again to make sure any writings are as plausible, and as factually correct as possible.
Maybe it’s because I just write for my own amusement, so I don’t need it to be too accurate or truthful. I just like to have a beginning, a middle, and hopefully an end. I tend to prefer my stories to make the reader say “ahh” instead of “huh?” when they’ve finished reading.
And that’s often how I tend to plan.
Start at the end.
If I have an idea where the story will end, I can plot how to get there.
And I like to be given an idea to work on. (See? Get someone else to do the thinking, -hard work-)
Left to my own devices, I’m not sure I would ever have started this very enjoyable hobby I now have.
Which is why I’m very grateful to all of the members of Whittlesey Wordsmiths. With their encouragement, I’ve really had fun exploring my imagination a bit, and have even started writing a little differently at times. Now, I don’t always have to find the ending first. Sometimes I’m even brave enough to just jump in and see where it takes me.
I even occasionally prefer to write rather than read.
Who knows, I might even ramble on enough to write a whole book!
I just need an idea……………..
Sometimes these memories are the inspitation for writing we all tend to weave our memories and experiences into our work, whether consciously or not.
Normally I am fairly indifferent to entertainment at the U3A open meetings. Having joined the committee and a shortage of people during school holidays I found myself at a meeting I probably wouldn’t have normally attended. The two talented musicians Dave Bailey and Steve Gibbs, The Boatmen, entertained our audience with their own compositions together with covers of more well known numbers. A rendition of The Chain, a Fleetwood Mac number, was one I really enjoyed, this song started the hare running through my memories.
During the sixties, whilst Peter Green was still with Fleetwood Mac, the band performed at the Ramsey Gaiety, a dance hall, one Saturday night. Their very last number after several encores was “I Hear You Knocking But You Can’t Come In”. At that time this little Fenland town hosted some of the biggest music names of the sixties. I was able to see, amongst others The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Cliff Bennet and Zoot Money all at the Gaiety . To my lasting regret I missed Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, the night they performed.
In Ramsey on a Saturday night, Great Whyte was filled with a long line of double decker buses parked from one end of the road to the other. These buses brought in young people from all over the Fenland Towns and villages. For many of us, in our teens, the sixties were a time of magic. The music and the sense of optimism was something that for many of us has never been repeated. On another occasion I remember hearing Martha and the Vandellas, “Jimmy Mack” for the first time, whilst I watched a line of short skirted, long legged girls on the floor of the Commemoration Hall in Huntingdon, dancing to it.
The news of Aretha Franklin’s death is just another reminder of the sound track that accompanied those best of times. It would be good to see some magic return, just some.
Inspired by a visit to the coast, I wrote the first few sentences of my novel on the beach. Then I formed characters who would play the major roles and started a file for each, noting details that I might wish to refer to later.
I imagined conversations that would take place throughout the novel and wrote these in some detail. They have formed the skeleton on which the story will hang.
As I create the scenes which lead up to each of these conversations, I feel a sense of freedom to meander teasingly slowly or rush ahead, hopefully carrying my future readers with me.
After spending several years writing an autobiographical account of my childhood, I am savouring this opportunity to enjoy the liberation brought by writing fiction; the chance to just introduce another character, explore a location that I have just invented, or introduce a twist that neither the characters or I saw coming.
I now have a beginning, an end and a lot of loose bits to tie up in the middle, so onwards to the beach.
Our book Where the Wild Winds Blow is in the garage having its final bit of tweaking. It is jacked up off the ground. Cathy and Wendy are wandering about underneath, attractively attired in nice white overalls with lead lights in their hands. Cathy pokes out rogue commas and semicolons with a very large screwdriver. Whilst Wendy has a big spanner in her hand tightening up any loose phrases or sentences dangling underneath. Very soon we will have the sleek new cover fitted and be ready for the off.
Stephen Oliver is making progress with his novel and anthologies, Stuart Roberts with his next book. Cathy Cade, Val Chapman and Val Fish have contributed to the 81 word challenge, I suspect other members have too but don’t know yet. Going on past form Val Fish has probably got entries in the limerick competition.
The Whittlesey Word Forge is ringing with the sound of writing being hammered into shape.
Wendy has asked me to write a piece about our writing as a group.
At our last meeting Whittlesey Wordsmiths discussed writing, not just the generalities of it but how we each approached the task. In the past, two of our members explained their different working methods one was able to work while the television was on and manage with the distraction, another needed complete silence. Some members work best at night, others early in the morning.
Personally, I prefer relative quiet, either at home, early or late in the day, during the day at a library or even as yesterday in a pub. Breakfast at a Wetherspoons, a large empty table my small laptop/tablet computer with free coffee top-ups, while my car was at the garage.
We discussed also the acquiring of ideas, the overheard phrase or sentence, an ending to a story then filling in the events leading up to that finale. At least one of our number describes himself as Pantster, “flying by the seat of his pants”, writing down the thoughts as they form in his mind. Judging by his output it works very well for him. Within our group we are fortunate in having a diverse pool of talented writers. Our work in progress; “Where the Wild Winds Blow”, is nearing completion and showcases this talent.
Every one of us works differently. Each has their own way of finding inspiration, a method of working, marshalling thoughts as they are turned into the written word. My own stories are shown to me as a video played out in my mind, whilst I try valiantly to record the unfolding events. Later I return to rewind, stop, pause and touch up the pictures. Adding in the barely seen detail, amplifying the quiet words or thoughts of the actors. As the rough chapters increase to become what will hopefully be my novel, it has become essential to make a chronological plan. The events need to have a semblance of order. Cycle rides and walks help me add flesh to the bones of ideas and concepts. Clarifying and touching up the parts of the pictures that need it.
As my novel is set mainly in Cambridge, trips to the city have been necessary to clarify memories, to fill in the gaps left unseen in maps and on Google. Walking the route a character takes in the plot, enables it to seen, as it appears to that character, a touching up of the detail in the video.
The key to unlocking the potential to set your goals and work towards reaching them with the help of clear text and helpful diagrams. Stephen shares his experience and encourages the reader throughout this journey to success, a lesson for us all, Stephen.
Today I finished reading this book by group member, Stuart Roberts. I started reading it yesterday which gives you some idea of the ‘couldn’t put it down’ factor. The suspense grows throughout the story, around characters that are realistic and well rounded. An excellent read, Stuart
We are the Whittlesey Wordsmiths, a group of writers based in the Fenland market town of Whittlesey. The group was set up in February 2017 and now has eleven members. We are currently working on an anthology of short stories and poems, a collection of fact, fiction and fantasy. We are planning to publish the book in time for Christmas 2018. Updates as we progress with this, Wendy