Curiosity and Ageing

“In old age, we should wish still to have passions, strong enough to prevent us turning in on ourselves: to keep life from becoming a parody of itself.”

— Simone de Beauvoir

As my curiosity and ageing antenna have been twitching a lot lately, I thought I’d tackle them together. Obviously, without curiosity, there would be no life. For some, strange reason in my late eighties, I became more curious than ever – probably because I was aware of the clock ticking?!

corn-gdd8be472a_640Oh, how far humanity has come over the years! The ingeniousness of human beings is mind-blowing. Take one of the most basic human needs. Before paper had been invented, leaves or moss was used for personal hygiene purposes. For the Romans a sponge on a stick did the trick, but elsewhere broken pottery and corncobs(!) were made use of. The mind boggles…

The Chinese had been using toilet paper for centuries, but it was not until 1857 that the western world enjoyed the luxury of the first mass-produced toilet tissue, thanks to New Yorker Joseph Gayetty.

poppies-unsplashEarly in the 1800s, two important discoveries were made: in 1804 morphine was extracted from the poppy plant by German pharmacist Friedrich Serturner, and the first modern general anaesthetic was created by the Japanese physician Hanaora Seishu, which he named Tsūsensan.

Time passed, as it does and, over the years, many minds designed and patented wondrous things.

Basic as it sounds, and looks, what a fabulous idea is the zipper. Faster than buttons and so convenient, Trousers, skirts, jackets and cushions, etc., all benefited from the mind of Whitcomb Judson in the year 1891, and just earlier, in 1888 the quill writers must have been delighted with the design of the ballpoint pen by a John L.Loud. And then – surely magic was in the air? – in 1892 exhausted housewives must been ecstatic when Thomas Ahearn invented the first electric oven!

In the 1800s, invention after invention was patented, enough to make folk wonder at the proliferation of it all, and they grew in stature in the 1900s with the first instantaneous transmission of images on the television – with a broadcast carried out in Paris in 1909, by Georges Rignoux and A. Fournier.

1915 saw the very first military tank – nicknamed Little Willie, invented in Great Britain by Walter Wilson & William Tritton. It would be the precursor to the tanks used in the First World War.

10250669-vacuum-advertIn the early 1900s, the first vacuum cleaners were huge steam or horse-drawn machines that worked from the street, with long hoses that went into your home through the windows.

Then, in 1907, department store janitor James Murray Spangler, of Canton, Ohio invented the first portable electric vacuum cleaner. Unable to produce the design himself due to lack of funding, he sold the patent in 1908 to local leather goods manufacturer, William Henry Hoover, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fleming1928 saw a truly momentous medical breakthrough, when Penicillin was discovered by the Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming. For this ground-breaking work, he shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain. 

Penicillin was extremely difficult to isolate, so it wasn’t until the 1940s that it was manufactured on a large scale (in the US), and became more widely available, saving countless lives.

Fast forwarding to 1957, the first personal computer that could be used by one person and controlled by a keyboard was designed by John Lentz at Columbia University. Sold by IBM, the IBM 610 weighed around 800 lbs and cost $55,000. Quite a difference from the lightweight desktop and laptop PCs of today!

For more history of inventions and discoveries, check out Wikipedia – it’s a mine of Information! (and if you can spare a dime or two, do support this great resource).

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022

Editing and additional research – Jason Lennick

Pictures: Unsplash.com, Pixabay.com, The Science Museum (UK) and Wikipedia.

Serendipity and Coincidence

There are, of course, simple serendipities and coincidences – they happen all over the place and at any time. And then there are those extraordinary ones which defy belief. Like the time Mr and Mrs Smythe went, on a whim, to Brazil, and the couple from No. 34 were staying in the same hotel!! And they hadn’t seen them for months…

Naturally, occurrences can either bode well or not for the people involved. Stray from the path, and you could find your ‘blind date’ is actually your wife or husband, as the case may be. Whoops!

“What people call serendipity sometimes is just having your eyes open.”

— Jose Manuel Barroso

jordhan-madec-tube-unsplashI came across the most serious ‘coincidence’ I had ever encountered, while collating facts for my only novel The Catalyst. The book is based on the actual terrorist bombings of several London trains and a bus in 2005, the aftermath and a few fictitious survivors’ stories and fate. Because of the actual dead and injured, the subject was too delicate to write about at the time, and it was several years before I actually wrote the story and had it published.

The Foreword to my tale reads as follows:

“It’s hard to believe in coincidence, but it’s even harder to believe in anything else.”

— John Green (Will Grayson, Will Grayson)

THAT FAR-REACHING ARM Coincidence, which seems to weave its disembodied way through all manner of innocent and drama-filled occurrences and ‘incidents,’ again came to the fore on the 7th day of July in 2005.

Press reports at the time claimed an anti-terror drill was organized and carried out that same day on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, by Peter Power, a former high-ranking policeman and Managing Director of Visor Consultants. Known to only a handful of people, a fictional ‘scenario’ of multiple bomb attacks on London’s underground was, incredibly, being played out just after the time the actual bomb attacks took place, stretching the meaning of coincidence to its utmost limit.

The coincidence of the innocent and the truly dreadful events carried out on that day, was said to be ‘Disconcerting’… but apart from information given to accredited journalists and academics, no further comments were forthcoming from Peter Power because of ‘The Extraordinary number of messages from ill-informed people.’ (Reported on 13th July.)

The news reports fanned the flames of conspiracy theories and high-level cover-ups, so familiar to us today in the aftermath of any major incident or attack.

craig-whitehead-man in hat-unsplashThe press also reported that the former Mayor of New York: Rudolph Giuliani was visiting London at the time of the attacks. He was staying at The Great Eastern Hotel (close to Liverpool Street station ) where TASE: The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, was hosting its Economic Conference. Israel’s Finance Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the keynote speaker. Presumably this was intended as further fuel for the fire of mysterious and sinister goings-on. Newspaper editors and their owners are, for the most part, not usually shy of publishing rumours, gossip or outright falsehoods when it suits their needs.

Eerie connotations lingered, however ‘coincidental.’

But an investigation by journalists at UK’s Channel 4 news found the ‘anti-terror drill’, while certainly a coincidence, was in fact a purely theoretical exercise, and the terror attack scenario was one of 3 possible incidents being examined by a group of business executives. As Channel 4 and BreakForNews.com pointed out:

‘These types of private-sector “risk management” drills never use field staff. Neither do [such] low-level corporate drills have active involvement of police or other security forces.’

alex-motoc-news-unsplashSo, it seems the Press over-hyped the story, perhaps misled by initial statements. Or maybe they just decided to go with a more colourful interpretation of events. Peter Power himself dismissed it as ‘spooky coincidence’. And the chosen date? It was indeed coincidence — but an unbelievable one? ‘Every week across the UK there are probably about a hundred exercises, tests and simulations going on to get crisis teams familiar with their roles,’ Power insisted. ‘We certainly do this regularly for many clients, the vast majority of them paper-based.’

People love stories, and the idea of dark machinations and sinister plots involving spy agencies, government cover-ups and terrorists is the stuff of countless books, films and TV shows.

A good journalist will always try to dig a little deeper to uncover the facts. But not everyone wants to hear the truth, and many people will choose to believe whatever interpretation of events most closely fits with their existing world-view.

Shakespeare described man as: ‘noble in reason and infinite in faculties,’ but, sadly, we are often rather lacking when it comes to reasoning, and rarely in full possession of all those faculties.

The Catalyst is available from Amazon: Paperback $13.99 or Kindle 99 cents.


© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022

Photos: unsplash.com / pixabay.com

What about AND, IF and BUT…

A wise Canadian friend and fellow blogger, called Pamela Quiall (Butterfly Sand), who happens to have Multiple Sclerosis (as she would put it…) has just written an excellent post about that very handy little word ‘and’. It’s value just cannot be overestimated, for what would we do without our fish and chips, Derby and Joan, food-ge14646eab_640night and day, light and dark, et al? It is such a connecting, linking word and crops up all over the place in countless situations. Also, suggesting connecting as it does, it gives one a feeling of continuity and friendship…ie “You and me.” What a wonderful world it could be if we all made friends with each other. Just call me a cock-eyed optimist…

Coincidentally, as I read her piece, I was reminded about one I intended to write about ‘if’ and ‘but,’ for, what powerful words they also are… It is now quite common to use both and, and but to start a sentence, whereas in the not too distant past, the pedants would be jumping up and down in annoyance.

Often, of a winter evening, ‘im indoors and I like watching TV or reading, and now and then, catch a cold-case murder or two (of which there are far too many…) as detective work fascinates me. How many times do you hear the words: “If only the deceased hadn’t taken that lonely road (or hitch-hiked)…” but ofpolice-g59bbff2b3_640 course hindsight and caution don’t always play their roles in real life well, do they?! If only we were more logical, especially when young… There was one particularly tragic case in the United States where a woman living on her own forgot to lock the front door and a passing nut-case calmly walked in and strangled her. A real-life tragedy. “If only…” immediately comes to mind.

Naturally, in everyday life, whatever language we use to describe situations or actions however delightful, desirable or dire, it can mean diddly-squat as far as the truth of the situation itself is concerned, but us writers should give thanks to all the academics who worked on languages to give us such a huge variety of valuable words to use in our often wonderful and entertaining ‘fictitious and true’ stories. Where would we be without them!

Just small, innocuous words, but what an expression is “If only..” It suggests so much more: a vague or deep-felt desire or passionate yearning maybe, that we had answered an important letter, or kept a certain date that might have changed our life. “But I changed my mind…” too could suggest a life-altering decision and be veiled with regret…

Whatever words we use when writing, we should – when thinking straight – use them wisely.

girl-g943318a48_640And what a wealth of other, pleasing, words there are at our disposal. Most writers have their favourites. The following are just some of mine: scrumptious – so descriptive – I can almost taste a toasted bun dripping with butter, or a yummy chocolate cake; glutton: a jolly Billy Bunter type digging in to a huge fry-up…(all of which says a lot about me, except for the fry-up) and Salacious: fondly-remembered… sexual desires (“Ooh, George…”). I could, of course, could go on and on.

“If ifs and buts were buttercups, what a golden world it would be”  Anon.

Suffice it to say, there are so many immediately identifiable words that fit their purpose and it is natural, according to our particular taste, which ones we choose. Then there are words which we cannot take to. To use a word like pulchritude to describe beautiful is beyond me… and antediluvian (old-fashioned), is another weird one. I am no academic, but I’m sure there are many tomes on the English language to dig in to. It’s a fascinating subject.

Whatever words YOU use, may they be lucky ones.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022

Images via Pixabay.com

“You are an alchemist; make gold of that” William Shakespeare

Every now and again, a word, phrase or quotation hovers, disappears only to return again and again, until it becomes almost a mantra on many writer’s minds. A while ago, I became fascinated by the word Labyrinth and it cropped up in reading matter on several occasions, until I found myself compelled to write about it. This time it was the word alchemist and its magical connotations. An alchemist, supposedly, can turn dirt into jewels, cure illnesses…make one actually believe in magic…And then the penny dropped as I recalled the book I’d read about, but not read, called ‘The Alchemist’ written by Paulo Coelho and my curiosity was further aroused. His story is an amazing one!

Paulo picBorn in 1947 to devout Roman Catholic parents in Brazil, Paulo, it seemed, was an unusual, slightly disturbed child, who happened to enjoy writing. For some reason, his parents did not agree that their son should be a writer, but should choose a more ‘worthy’ vocation in life. His rather questionable behaviour thereafter, lead his parents to have him committed to an Asylum for three years. Upon release, he travelled and became a hippie, and then a songwriter and political activist, which lead to imprisonment and torture. His thinking gradually then changed, and he walked the gruelling 500 km pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and felt a spiritual awakening, which lead him to write The Pilgrimage, which eventually sold well, after a slow start. His second book, The Alchemist, was a simple, while inspirational story, about an Andalusian shepherd boy. Sales were also weak, and it was said that he literally begged people to buy a copy….Incredibly, over time, it grew in popularity, until astronomical sales figures were reached and it was translated into 70 languages!.

book - smlPaulo met and married an artist named Christina Oiticica and they bought two homes: one in Brazil and another in France. He became so successful, sales of his books reached 65 million and he started a Charity for deprived children and needy elderly people, much to his credit. One wonders whether his parents lived to see their son’s amazing achievements? He has now written 26 books – one every two years, and continues to prosper.

The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words (Anon)

Oddly enough, though fairly happy with what I had read about alchemy, the word cropped up again in two places and so, I dug deeper, as I sometimes do…(curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat.) Wow!

the-alchemist-discovering-phosporus‘Alchemy’ (from Arabic and ancient Greek) is complicated and obscure and goes way back to an ancient branch of natural philosophy, historically practised in India, China and the Muslim world and in Europe in Western form. It was first attested in a number of texts written in Greco-Roman Egypt during the first few centuries. New interpretations of alchemy merge with New Age or radical environmental movements. Freemasons have a continued interest in alchemy and its symbolism, and in Victorian times, occultists interpreted alchemy as a spiritual practice and the merging of magic and alchemy is a popular theme.

Alchemy also has a long-standing relationship with art in texts and mainstream entertainment. William Shakespeare certainly mentioned it, and Chaucer, in the 14th century, began a trend for alchemy in satire, and alchemists appeared in fantastic, magical roles in films and on television, in comics and video games.

When it comes to medicine, how often has an accidental splash of liquid – or even a tear – combined in a Petrie dish with other mysterious substances, to produce some near miraculous cure? Now that is something to ponder on.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022

Make ’em Laugh

“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone…”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Falstaff smlI wouldn’t mind betting, way, way back, before the fifteen hundreds, somewhere or other, a farm labourer’s worn trousers fell down and his wife laughed uproariously. Such are the simple things which tickle our funny bones. Our most famous bard, Shakespeare, was no fool and soon cottoned on how to get ’bums on seats’ – apart from tragedy, that is! Apparently, satire was regarded as a higher genre than other brands of comedy, and was thought to be morally improving. There is some evidence, though, that rules and conventions in comedy were loose in Shakes’ days. One of his most popular comic characters Sir John Falstaff, was celebrated for his verbal dexterity. As he said: “I am not only witty in myself, but the cause of wit in other men.” (The Merry Wives of Windsor was called “An excellent, conceited comedie of Sir John Falstaff.”). A few more examples of Shakes’ wit: “I do desire we may be better strangers.” (As You Like it, Act 3 scene 2) and “Mine eyes smell onions.” (All’s Well that Ends Well, Act 5, scene 3.) A few, more bawdy quotes, are best left unquoted…

charlie-chaplin-as-the-little-tramp smlFast forwarding to the Silent Movies…who couldn’t take to the diminutive, pathetic figure of Charlie Chaplin known as ‘The Little Tramp’ as he tugged at heart-strings from the silver screen? Charles Chaplin was Jewish and his real name was thought to be Israel Thornstein, but it was never corroborated. Born in London in 1889, he moved to the USA aged 21. He was suspected to be a Communist and was investigated by the FBI, but there was no reason to believe he was a spy. Nevertheless, Hoover blocked his return to the US after a trip abroad. He made such gems as The Little Tramp, The Gold Rush and The Great Dictator, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he returned to the US and received an Honorary Oscar for his outstanding work. He also received a Knighthood in the UK two years before his death at 88. He may have been small in stature, but he left a lot of smiles on a lot of faces over the years as he slipped on banana skins, had vivid, messy food fights with film adversaries and got up to all sorts of amusing mischief.

Buster Keaton was a contemporary of Chaplin’s and his dead-pan acting delivery appealed to many. He was also clever and daring, as he carried out most of his own audacious screen tricks. Then there were Laurel and Hardy, who entertained millions with their humorous nonsense; and the fast-talking wise guy, Phil Silvers.

gettyimages-71494838Leaping forward, what a wealth of fabulous talent we have seen since those early days, on stage, film and TV…It does, of course depend on what lifts your lip corners. Taste is so variable. One of my favourite acting comedians was Gene Wilder. Born in 1933, he is well known for being in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and with the great Richard Prior in Stir Crazy. Wilder’s debut was via TV. He directed and wrote some of his own films, including The Woman in Red. He was married four times; and often worked with another Bright Guy, Mel Brooks.

Shifting away from individuals for a while, we have also been gifted with some highly entertaining TV comedy series. One of my favourite US shows, was Mash – and in particular Alan Alda (who was Christened Alphonso Joseph D’Bruzzo…). Alda won the Emmy Award six times and the Golden Globe Award as Hawkeye Pierce in his TV role.

mash-tv-mash-cast

More recently he has been in The West Wing (with which I am not familiar). Another favourite was Frasier – I was fond of all five of the main actors and the writing was excellent. With Kelsey Grammer as Frasier, David Hyde Pierce as Niles Crane, Peri Gilpin as Roz, Jane Leever as Daphne and the late John Mahoney as Martin, they gelled beautifully. Taxi was also great fun and ‘home-grown’ Brits, the loveable couple, Morecambe and Wise. It would also be criminal to leave out Only Fools and Horses with its great, quirky Cockney humour. And, back to individual talent, what about the attractive Dave Allen and his original humour and the often hilarious Dick Emery and Les Dawson. Also, how can I leave out cuddly, funny Dudley Moore!

joan-rivers- smlFeminists will be champing at the bit at the late inclusion, but there have also been some wonderful female entertainers over the years. Who could not like ‘dippy’ Lucille Ball or her ‘side-kick’ Vivian Vance, crazy Phyllis Diller, or the outrageous Joan Rivers… And the late, lamented Victoria Wood was a force to be reckoned with.

The Goon show was a crazy part of our family for years, as was Monty Python: “It is a deceased parrot!” I am lucky to have a husband and three sons who are all devoted fans of humour. It all helps the medicine go down!!

parrotMany more talented people, British and American have made me laugh like a drain over the years, and last but not clichéd least, is the brilliant Woody Allen. I have guffawed and spluttered over his writing, his films and mad jokes for years. Bring it all on!

 

A final word from Groucho Marx:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read!”


© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

CarolCooks2…In my kitchen…Boulangere Potatoes…

Over here, please Carol! Don’t eat many, but love potatoes, especially New Jerseys with mint and butter. Yum!

Retired? No one told me!

The Potato…a versatile root vegetable that is cheap and easy to grow they are packed with a variety of nutrients and a staple in many households…

Often vilified and banned from many a diet however as with many vegetables it is how you cook them and what you load them up with…

Yes, deep-fried and loaded with bacon and cheese…should be a rare treat and not eaten every day…Me I eat more rice than potatoes or pasta although I like both…

Jersey Royal potatoes are a beautiful thing steamed and eaten with mint and butter…Delicious…Cooked and cooled potatoes are one of the foods which contain resistance starch this means it keeps your gut healthy…when cooked and cooled the resistant starches increase.

Boulangere potatoes are one of my favourite ways to eat potatoes…easy to assemble it’s a one-pot dish just chuck it in the oven to do its thing…

I…

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The Brontes’ World

house_large

The sun slunk behind a threatening cloud as we trudged, slightly out of breath, up the winding, steep hill, past a tea shop which registered and whispered as we passed…My hitherto excited mood, dampened slightly, but I was determined to enjoy the experience. After all, I was about to visit Haworth Parsonage, where a tragic, literary family doggedly wrote their way through too many illnesses and deaths, and a slender-built young woman literally penned one of my favourite books, JANE EYRE.

table smlThe queue was a long one, which pleased me, especially to see so many Chinese or Japanese people there… I wished the Brontes could have known just how far their talents reached! Once inside the building, my spirits rose, especially on seeing Charlotte’s tiny gloves and shoes and imagining her scribbling away the darkening, oil-lit hours, her quill pen the only sound competing with the grandfather clock.

Charlotte was the third child of the Reverend Patrick Bronte and his Cornish wife, Maria, who went on to have a son, Branwell and two more daughters Emily and Anne, but tragically lost her mother and two, older sisters when they were just ten and eleven years old, while still a young child herself. Their aunt Elizabeth Branwell cared for the family thereafter.

How their young minds must have laboured through their tragedies as they bravely fought constant adversity and wrote in such an expressive way, and what a release it must have been at times. Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell often inhabited a make-believe world – the fictional land of Angria – which kept sanity happy, although it was said that the only male of the brood’s behaviour could have been bettered, and he failed to fulfil earlier promise as an artist and writer.

Dress etc smlThe girls were educated with a view to earning their own living, and Charlotte, like Emily, attended the Clergy Daughters’ School in Kirby Lonsdale, Yorkshire, and later continued to educate her two sisters Emily and Anne. Before becoming a governess and school teacher. to improve their languages, Charlotte and Emily also enrolled at the Pensionatt in Brussels where Charlotte formed a deep but unrequited fascination for her tutor Constantin Heger.

Poems by “Currer, Elllis and Acton Bell” (the brother and sisters) were published but Charlotte’s first novel The Professor met stony ground and wasn’t published until after her death. Fortunately, one year after its completion, her novel Jane Eyre was published to immediate success, although it was, at first, presented as the work of Curer Bell.

Emily was recognised as a poet of power and genius, Charlotte a lesser poet, whose talents lay in prose, while Anne’s poetry had a truth and simplicity which elevated her work. Their father Patrick was educated at Cambridge and also wrote didactic poetry, and son Branwell wrote poetry, and his translations were well regarded.

jane-eyreOf course, Emily’s Wuthering Heights is as well known as Jane Eyre but I `preferred the latter. It is known that Charlotte wrote to the Poet Laureate Southey and he replied: “Literature cannot be the business of women, of a woman’s life. And it ought not to be.” What an ignorant man! It was as well she paid him no heed!

I first read Jane Eyre, aged thirteen – when my hormones were racing around as if on Speed… At college, I had recently met my ‘very best friend’ Sheila (Slim) Devo, the same age as me and the most charismatic person I had ever clapped eyes on. She seemed full of confidence, while I was a little shy, she was bold and humorous with it… and great fun to be with. Well… in the book, Jane’s best friend died, and I was devastated and imaged how tragic if my new friend Sheila died too. The fact that she was as fit as a fiddle seemed neither here nor there. Emotions and brains are complicated things, aren’t they, especially for teenagers?! She went on to live a very full and fascinating life, and should have been a movie star… but sadly died just recently, aged 89. May she rest in peace.

Back to Jane Eyre, I again read it as an adult and portions of it recently. It still brought forth tears and had all the elements of a good read within it, but of course the language and mores of the times laboured it a little. Nevertheless, I found the description of the desolate countryside and moors highly expressive, and the emotion in the denouement very moving. To reflect on the fact that Mr Bronte lost his wife so young and all six children before they reached middle age and just after Charlotte found personal love and was expecting her first child, was as tragic as any of their stories and poems.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

Reflections…What did I do? Where did I go?

boathouseWhile appreciating that being on this beautiful, while beleaguered planet, growing older comes with minor aggravations, I of course realize they could be major ones, so the gratefulness multiplies. Many others of my age, have huge hurdles to navigate. One thing, though, which seems in little supply, is energy. Despite eating fairly sensibly, exercising a little, and resting, long walks and energetic house-cleaning dwell in the past. But, as I have said before, at least, I’m doing better than a banana!

Laugharne_Castle smlSo, what is the purpose of this post, you may ask? Today I am tooting on behalf of day-dreaming and recalling the many joys of the past. Travel really does broaden the mind and garners intriguing memories for future use. Take visiting the delightful small town of Laugharne, set on the Taf Estuary in Carmarthen Bay, Wales. Home of a Norman Castle, an annual Arts Festival and twice home to Welsh poet/writer Dylan Thomas – famous for the radio play Under Milk Wood. We – husband and I – ‘came upon it’ while exploring parts of South Wales, in bright Spring sunshine, golden daffodils nodding their heads in greeting on the shore-line of the estuary, while a green tunnel of multifarious trees and bushes rose up to one side: a cool labyrinth leading to a pleasing café, set in a once grand house. En route, we passed the shed where Thomas spent many days and nights labouring over his many poems, and walked the same boards as he did in the Boat House – his former home overlooking the calm waters of the bay.

Thomas called his base, ‘A timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town,’ inspiration for fiction town Llareggub (spell it backwards) in his play.

Dylan_thomas_houseAlthough I was familiar with Dylan’s fame as a writer, I hadn’t read much of his work. A lot of it is for a required taste, but once I dug deeper, the alluring musicality and humour of it, intrigued me. Strangers to Anglo-Welsh (Thomas didn’t speak Welsh) may find it a tad puzzling, but as I am half-Welsh and lived in Wales for a few years as an evacuee in World War 2, it didn’t take long to understand his appeal, more especially his play. It must be said, though, that it does not invite an academic approach with all its many ‘voices’ and the sort of singing and ballads, suggesting a night of maudlin drunkenness and ribaldry. But the intended fun and echoes of laughter are so ’Welsh’ and alluring. .

writing_shed_in_Laugharne smlBorn in Swansea, Wales in 1914, Dylan Marlais Thomas became a Junior Reporter for the South Wales Evening Post, before embarking on a literary career in London. He established himself with a series of poetry collections, short stories, film scripts, and talks, and also lectured in the U.S, as well as writing Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. The forming and writing of his ’voice play’ Under Milk Wood, constantly reworked over a period of ten years, was finally finished just before he left this mortal coil in New York, in 1953 just days after his thirty-ninth birthday. It is a sad fact that his special work wasn’t broadcast by the BBC until 1954, a year after his death, with a cast led by no less a man than the memorable, sexy. Richard Burton. Who better?! It portrayed lust, simple love, and a dream-world of gossip, including the ever open Sailor’s Arms.

Here are some snippets from Under Milk Wood to give you an idea of its gentle, down to earth, humour.

“To begin at the beginning. It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat- bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.”

“The husbands of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard are already at their tasks: ‘Dust the china. Feed the canary, sweep the drawing-room floor, and before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.”

“Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
Come closer now. Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night.”

IMG_8006-1-768x576There was something magical about Laugharne I couldn’t put out my finger on, and we visited on two more occasions when the sun performed on cue, and before returning home, I had written the first page of a proposed story starting: “Long-legged herons, picked their delicate way across the silvered waters of the bay like corned-feet ballerinas…” (I never did finish it…). More relevant, we visited the graves of Dylan and his wife Caitlin Macnamara, on a hill in the graveyard in Laugharne. They had three children and, apparently, spent a very ‘colourful,’ while brief, life, together.

I am sure most writers enjoy ‘dipping’ into other lives from time to time. What better way to learn about the many quirks of human nature? And, apart from authors of ’other worlds’ and purely imaginative genres, would you be a writer if you didn’t?!

A few Welsh expressions:

Ach y fi – an expression of disgust (muttered by Grandma and Mum when some folk didn’t whiten their front steps…)

“Your dinner’s rose.” When dinner was served.

And, in praise: “There’s lovely!”

 

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

The Book of Hours

Rummaging around in old files, I came across a letter I received from The Mayor of Havering, Councillor Harry Webb (Borough office 1999, Essex, UK) regarding the designing of A BOOK OF HOURS to commemorate the imminent arrival of a new century. (Interested and chosen writers had already been instructed to keep a diary of a week in their life to feature – 52 in all). Illustrators and Calligraphers, plus a professional book binder had already been selected too.

The following is the first entry – which I was honoured to write – the premise of which had to include mention of members of your family/friends, a brief history of something relevant and present//future plans, or anything noteworthy. As a later contributor dropped out, I also wrote for another week in April, which was a gift as it included St. George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday. The photograph is of an enlarged copy of the final entry, beautifully illustrated by an artist.

Book of hours - sml1st January, 1999

Being a keen diarist, I felt a strange sense of awe as the realisation dawned that it was the first day of the LAST YEAR OF THE CENTURY!

Memories linger of our first Christmas abroad with close family near Lake Garda, and of fascinating Verona, and a foggy, mysterious Venice.

Cherished recollections of less indulged childhood Christmases surface: of Dad’s Air Force blue socks bulging at the foot of our beds with fewer goodies, and a pillow case containing modest toys. But oh the excitement! There’s our beloved mother hiding sixpenny pieces in the pudding and icing the cake… Love was never in short supply.

The sun shone and several Happy New Year phone calls punctuated the housework. Husband Eric cooked a delicious meal of chicken in a piquant sauce before a televised football match claimed him.

Midnight witnessed the birth of the Euro (worth approximately 70p) introduced and accepted by eleven European countries, excluding Great Britain.

Sorting out bills etc., while listening to Classic FM , came across some scribblings about evacuation to Wales during the last war. It is hard to imagine that flour only cost 3 pence per lb. and cheese 11 pence in 1940, whereas today flour is 20-40 pence and cheese around £3 per lb!

Eldest son, Jason, an artist, rang re the Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition at The Victoria & Albert (coming over Saturday to look at my computer – it may have caught a virus!)

Worked on the third Odes for Joy Poetry Club Newsletter. Must type a piece on Louise Finer – who has M.E and writes poetry fit for a philosopher’s eyes!

Son Robert’s desired ’holiday in space” could become a reality in his life-time (an unmanned space-ship yesterday left for MARS.) An amazing concept!

Wednesday: shopping. Pondered on how much Romford’s 752 year-old market has changed… Can still conjure up the sights and smells… of pigs and cattle in pens as I shopped there as a child in the 1930s.

Will 1999 see son Damon again the proud owner of the Snooker or Pool Post Office trophy?

And will Eric and I ever hear the patter of miniature Dr, Martens?!

Thursday- Yoga – my salvation!

***

You can imagine the amount of work involved as illustrators and calligraphers got cracking and produced some brilliant work. And, as the pages were large, the result was most impressive. When complete, the book was put on display for the public to see and enjoy. Sadly, because of some complicated reason, I never did get to see the finished product as husband and I moved to Spain in the year 2000.

THE BOOK OF HOURS was a religious book, originally written and illustrated by Monks in Monasteries in the Middle Ages, but over the years was sometimes diluted as more of a general diary of people’s daily lives, where religion was pertinent, or not, so the emphasis on religion was optional. Ours was a mix of the two.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

OUT OF THE ARCHIVES…(2)

How well do you know the history of where you live?

Laguna-Salada-de-Torrevieja sml

A willing victim of the writing bug – there really is no cure – and having retired to Spain, I viewed the alphabet with positive eyes I’ll have you working your butts off shortly, I threatened, as any self-respecting writer would.

Recently roped in with other members of The Torrevieja Writing Group, I soon felt at home and enjoyed the company of like-minded people. Open to what was happening locally, I was aware of a writing competition announced by Torrevieja’s Ayuntamiento – great word – Town Hall. It was to be the First International Short Story Competition ever held, so I read the history of the town and wrote a story about its past and the precious commodity for which it is widely known: namely that white substance we can’t do without, Salt.


Excerpts from my entry Worth its Salt:

“…As for me, being older than the infamous Methuselah, and a time traveller to boot (invisible though we may be, there are – surprisingly – still a few of us around.), I daily count my lucky stars. The drawbacks are unimportant here and don’t affect my present quest, which is to take you on a journey backwards and forwards in time…So, gird your loins, or fasten your seat-belts, and come back with me to the year 218 B.C.

Roman soldier“…A column of foot-weary and dusty soldiers and their pack horses approach. At their head is Centurion Marcus (I’d clean forgotten how handsome he is…) See how his body armour reflects the fiery sun-rays as he rides his Barbary horse towards the Salinas: scarlet and gold cloak a vivid gash against the cobalt blue of the sky, billowing behind him. He is off to claim his salary of salt: Sal, a common if precious payment for work well done, and conquerors… Before they leave, one of the Romans will fall in love with a Spanish girl and, until now, only she knew that the child she bore had Roman blood in his veins.”

I noted: ”… Men seemed to have a penchant for war. And, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look at the sky. More centuries than I care to remember, pass. I even hibernated through one! And then Spain attains her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century.” Though… “the Moors left behind them an admirable legacy of some wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, colourful textile designs, outstanding tiles and other objet d’art.” Time moves ever on.

“At the end of the 18th century, King Carlos IV decrees that the Salinas salt works offices move from La Mata to Torrevieja, and plans are later drawn up for the building of a new town next to the existing one.” The town’s population swells to 1,500, industry is buzzing and the first commercial wharf is constructed. Pungent aromas of exotic spices drift up from the holds of numerous vessels, and many of the town’s citizens find work building over 250 ships. You may find it interesting to know that two of the ships are to be used in forthcoming films: ‘The Onedin Line’ and ‘Treasure Island.’ There is much optimism in the air.” Sadly, Mother Nature has something else in mind.

“…now it is March 21, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring Equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. However, around lunch-time there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have beenFerdinand sml 70 worrying days and nights of seismic activity in the area of late. Suddenly, the wind drops, the sky becomes overcast and there is an uneasy calm over all. My palms are damp, my throat dry. I do not want to re-experience the inevitable…I am fearful as the earth begins to tremble and inside Carlos`’villa, plates fall and smash on the tiled floor. Then, a huge tremor wreaks havoc where it strikes in Torrevieja and all the towns and villages in the Vega Baja. In a little over five seconds, 32 people perish. Along with 36 animals, and 67 people are injured. As in many other households. tragedy descends on the Rodriguez family, for Carlos’ wife Maria,is making paella in her kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos in out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – by now a bent old gentleman – is still asleep when the earthquake strikes, a sleep from which he will never awake. I am again overcome with sadness, especially for Maria, who was so full of life. As most of the survivors are now homeless, the reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Ferdinand VII.

King JuanHold tight…forward we go, to the year 1975. So many flags and bunting? And the sound of trumpets? Is my memory failing me? Oh, of course… General Franco has died and Juan Carlos is proclaimed King. I again feel cautious optimism- with countless others. I am sure a Democratic State will succeed.”

“And now, back in 2004. after hovering over ’pineapple palms,’ admiring the colourful Lantana and Oleander: the ubiquitous Bougainvillea… we are in La Plaza de la Constitucion, a delightful, verdant oasis of calm (well, at present). Think I’ll linger awhile. There’s a Welsh choir due to sing at The Palacio de la Musica (excellent acoustics) not to mention an ‘Habaneras’ – a melodious song competition to look forward to. I must haves some ancient Welsh blood mingling with the Spanish and Portuguese in my veins, for I adore Welsh choirs!”

“Unfortunately, I am unable to enlighten you as to the mysteries of being a time traveller, for they are strictly secret. Sufficient to say that, one moment, oh so long ago, I was bathing my feet in the warm Mediterranean sea, while my husband Fernando Rodriguez and young son were picnicking nearby, and the next I was spirited away. They mourned me as drowned. They shed many tears, as did I. However, I was blessed to see my husband and son prosper”plaza

“And now? I am putting in a fervent request – in triplicate – for retirement, for I feel the strong heart-beat of Torrevieja here in the Plaza. It augurs well for the future. A future filled with imaginative plans, hope and optimism. Yes, I think Torrevieja is well worth its Sal.”

The complete story Worth its Salt was published in Torrevieja Another Look, on the festive day of Saint Valentin, 14th February, 2005. My story won First Prize!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021