Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is almost over here in Canada and I find myself, this evening sitting here, reflecting on the lessons my mother taught me.

I look back on my childhood and think of the magical moments we shared;  of Mum waking me at dawn on May Day to wash my face in the dew; of her standing behind me as we waved my brother off to work in the shipyards, the windows rattling in the wind, the rain pouring down; of her driving me down to the baker’s on Dumbarton Road to get rolls for breakfast; of standing on her toes as she danced me around the kitchen floor; of standing by the window on a Scottish island and gazing out at the full moon; of watching the deer gathering on the hills at dusk.

My mother taught me about the magic in life.

She also taught me about the hard, cold realities.

Mum was widowed at sixty-three, and lived twenty-two years more on her own before she died. Neither of us realised it at the time, but in those twenty-two years, she taught me how to survive the years after my husband abandoned me.

You get on with things. Yes, you cry and rage and grieve, but you get up and get on with things.  You carve out a life for yourself that is yours.

Yours.

Mum, you were and are the strongest woman I ever met.  You lived through World War Two, bringing up a child, my brother, never knowing if Dad would make it home alive.  And you did it.  You thrived. You were the heart and soul of our family.  Dad might have provided the home and support and money in our lives, but you gave us the support and love.  It was you who made sure our clothes were warm when we ventured out on those cold frosty mornings to school.  It was you who provided those ‘picnic’ lunches that I loved so much.

It was you who, after Dad died, walked that beach, sobbing your heart out, but found that inner strength to survive.

It was you who, at seventy-six – yes, seventy six! – years of age applied for your first job in more than fifty years – and got it, driving a jag around London. (And got two proposals of marriage in the process – which you turned down.)

Oh Mum, you were amazing.  You didn’t think you were… but you were.  You are – and always will be –  the heroine, and inspiration,  of my life.

I love – and miss you – Mum.  Every day of my life.

On Writing

This above all, ask yourself, in the stillest hour of the night:

‘Must I write?’

Delve deep into yourself.

And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple ‘I must’ then build your life according to this necessity: your life, even into its most indifferent and slightest hour, must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.

Rainer Maria Rilke – Letters to a Young Poet.

The Four Ps.

Near the front of my library is a section displaying new books which the librarians believe readers might enjoy. They are shelved under four titles, Plot, People, Places and Prose, and it struck me that is exactly what writers need to ensure is in their each and every manuscript.

PLOT: Michael Hauge says it’s the writer’s job to ‘elicit emotion’ in the reader, so have you structured your plot to achieve that?  If you’re writing a horror/mystery/thriller, have you built in the elements of fear and suspense.  A fantasy?  Wonderment. A love story? Hope, longing, challenges and celebration. A comedy?  Will the reader laugh out loud?

PEOPLE: Are your characters three dimensional or stock?  Have you created well-rounded ‘real’ people who move your plot forward organically by their actions, hopes, fears and choices? Or have you, the writer, moved them around, like pieces on a chess board, to suit your vision of the story?

PLACE: What’s your setting?  Your world? Is it real and vibrant? Have you got the details – eg historical – right? Does your reader feel they are ‘there’. Can they touch, taste, hear, see, smell their surroundings.

PROSE:   I once had the great pleasure to meet the author Maeve Binchy, and now, whenever I read one of her books, I hear her voice in my head in her cadence and description.  Is your voice unique?  Do you show rather than tell?  Is your prose active rather than passive, drawing the reader in rather than holding them at arm’s length.

Get those four Ps right, and you are well on your way to finding YOUR book displayed on one of those library shelves!

The Royal Pavilion – Brighton

The Royal Pavilion in Brighton has to be one of the most unique and fascinating palaces in the UK. Built over 200 years ago as a seaside getaway for the then Prince Regent – later George IV –  it boasts a stunning Indian exterior and exquisite Chinese interior. Unfortunately, I can’t show you any photos from inside – interior photography is forbidden – but you can find some wonderful images on their website.

One of its more intriguing uses was as a Military Hospital for Indian troops during World War One.  According to a booklet available at the Pavilion, At the outbreak of war, Britain’s army was relatively small: in August 1914 it had fewer troops available than Belgium. The allied British and French forces were outnumbered by the advancing Germans, so reinforcements were brought in from Britain’s colonies.  The first Indian divisions arrived in October 1914. 

The Royal Pavilion ceased to be used as a royal palace during Queen Victoria’s time – she disliked the lack of privacy – and is now open to the public year-round. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough. The palace is a feast for the eyes. (And it also hosts a lovely tea room if you’re looking for a feast for something else.)

Brighton makes for a wonderful day trip from London – it’s only a one-hour train journey and trains depart from several London stations.

 

The Kelpies

Version 2

I’ve wanted to visit The Kelpies, in Falkirk, Scotland, for some time.  Of course I’ve seen photos of them, but wanted to see them for myself.  And then, this afternoon, when I was driving along the M9, there they were in all their glory.

I took the slip road and found my way to Helix Park, got out the car and braved the cold and wind to visit them.

IMG_7241

And it was well worth it.  Designed by sculptor Andy Scott, they celebrate the work horses of the Industrial Revolution, a time when huge horses drew barges along the canals and wagons along rough roads.

Proud and beautiful animals.

Well worth the visit.

Version 2

Check out these websites.

Andy Scott

The Kelpies

Masada

I’ve dreamed about visiting Israel for almost forty-five years, so when I got the chance to visit there recently, I jumped at it.

It’s a funny thing about dreams, especially those you’ve held in your heart for almost a lifetime. In their realization they can go spectacularly wrong, but sometimes…. sometimes… they go spectacularly right.

Travelling alone (I will blog about that at a later date) I joined a ‘Holy Land’ tour of Israel which took us to most of the expected sites – Bethlehem, Nazareth, The Dead Sea, The Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, The River Jordan – but the absolute highlight of my trip was our visit to Masada.

My knowledge of ancient history is woefully pitiful. I’d heard of Masada – I knew vaguely that some kind of massacre had taken place there – but I wasn’t prepared for the effect it had on me. It truly touched my soul.

Surrounded by desert, Masada is a mountain fortress built by King Herod the Great. (He’s the King Herod who ordered the slaughter of all infant boys when Jesus was a baby.  It was one of his sons, also called Herod, who was king during the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.)

Built with luxury in mind, note the double floor on the steam room and the remaining evidence of frescoes on the walls.

Although his family spent time there, Herod himself never actually visited the fortress, which was built with both protection and luxury in mind. Temperatures in the desert can reach 50+C in summer, but one part of his private palace was built in such a way it catches a gentle breeze rippling up from The Dead Sea.

Most people have heard of Masada from the attack on the fort by the Romans in 72AD. Instructed by the emperor to put down the revolt by Jewish Zealots, the army commander, Silva, had a limited time span to take over the fort.  He knew his army of 6,000 soldiers and 10,000 slaves would not survive the summer heat of the desert in a long siege. So he first created a supply route from Jericho to Ein Gedi to the eight camps that surrounded the base of the Masada. In the autumn of that year he began his siege, with his slaves building a massive earth ramp up the mountainside. Once it was completed, a battering ram was pushed up the ramp to break down the fortress’ wall.

The remains of one of the Roman forts surrounding the fortress at Masada.

With plentiful food and water to allow the Jews to withstand a siege of several years, how was Silva successful?  The slaves building the ramp were Jews who had been captured in Jerusalem. If the Jews in Masada had poured oil, thrown rocks or shot arrows at those slaves, they would be killing their own.  So they had to watch day after day as the ramp grew larger and closer.

The earth ramp the slaves built up to Masada.

Silva breached the walls late one afternoon. Fearful his soldiers might be walking into an ambush in the dark, he decided against entering the fort until the next morning.

Knowing his people were facing imminent crucifixion or slavery, the Jewish leader, Elazar Ben-Yair, called his men together and they decided to die at their own hands rather than be captured. The men killed their wives and children, then a lottery was held – 10 men were chosen to be the executioners of the rest, with one man left to commit suicide once everyone else was dead.

When the Romans arrived next morning, it was to find a place of death – except for two women and three children who had hidden to escape the slaughter. The Romans allowed them to go free.

House/pet sitting in the UK

I love travelling, but I’m not made of money, so I have to watch my budget and think of ways to travel a little more cheaply.  A few months ago, I offered my house/pet-sitting services to friends and family (free in exchange for the use of their homes in the UK) and am currently undertaking my first ‘job’.

I am thoroughly enjoying myself, but it’s been a huge learning experience. Here are a few of the things things I have learned that will help me (and perhaps you) next time. Most of them are common sense, but they’re always worth repeating.

Most importantly –  If you can, try and spend 24 hours in the house/with the animal before the owners leave.  Ensure you have their contact details.

Wish I could put her in my suitcase and bring her home with me!

LOOKING AFTER THE ANIMAL:

Keep to the animal’s routine, not yours.  (eg Walking, feeding etc.)

Make sure you know what food they eat – where to buy more if you run out – and only give them allowed treats.

Keep to the owner’s rules  (eg not being allowed to climb on furniture etc) not yours.  I’m a big softie, and the dog I’m looking after can sense that, so she’s tried to push a few boundaries. It would be so easy to give in… but that wouldn’t be fair on her. Or my friends.

Know the animal’s health history.  Know any medications and how to give them.  (eg must they be taken with food?)  Know the vet’s phone number, address, opening and emergency hours, and ensure you know how to get there if needed.

Does the owner need to be informed before you take the animal to the vet, or are they willing to leave it to your judgement? How will the vet bill be paid?

HOUSE:

Know who are the spare key holders.  Carry their phone numbers with you when you go out… just in case you lock yourself out. (Haven’t done this myself, but you never know.)

Have a list of all emergency contacts – electricity, gas etc.  Get neighbours’ phone numbers if you can.

If there is an alarm system, make sure you know how to use it and ensure you do, as it could affect their house insurance if you don’t.

British homes can be quite different to North American ones, especially when it comes to the heating systems.  Heat is usually not left on 24 hours a day, so make sure you know how to use and override the timer in case you need to.  I have been asked to monitor the boiler pressure every two days, so make sure the owner writes down exactly how to adjust it.

CAR:

In North America, it’s common to insure the car rather than the driver. In the UK, it’s the other way around. If you are going to be driving the owner’s car in the UK, confirm that it will be insured for you, know the exact dates,  and know where the papers are.

Remember to drive on the correct side of the road.  :o)

A few years ago, I bought a cheap UK satnav because I visit here so often.  If you have one that works overseas, bring it along, just in case the owners don’t have one, or you can’t figure out how to operate it. (Ahem!)

YOURSELF:

I wouldn’t have thought about this except I fell on the street while out walking the dog yesterday, crunched my knees and barely missed hitting my head.  It’s unlikely – but possible – that something might happen to you, so be prepared for a worst-case scenario.

Carry your phone with you.  Consider buying a cheap one when you are in the UK so you don’t have to pay carrier fees, or arrange a plan with your usual carrier before you leave home.  You can buy a basic phone in the UK for about $20 with a pay-as-you go facility.

Buy adequate health insurance before you leave home.

Have someone to call in an emergency.

Have someone who can take care of the animal(s) if you become incapacitated.

Consider house sitting with a friend, so there is someone to take over if anything happens to you.

It’s quite a responsibility looking after someone else’s home and animal, but I have to say I’m loving it as I’m not allowed to have a dog where I live.  It’s a ‘quiet’ kind of holiday. I’m not dashing around taking in all the sights, although I could if I wanted as I have the use of my friend’s car, and the dog is used to being on its own all day. But I’m loving going for long walks with the dog and just… puttering and relaxing. Neighbours and friends have been very welcoming – and I’m enjoying the chance to slow down.