Sunday

– is the day I never know what to do with – including writing grammatical sentences. It’s a hangover, I think, from early childhood when, once a week, the awful prospect of SUNDAY SCHOOL faced me. As if it were not enough going to school every weekday. In fact, following my first day at school, I was highly affronted that I had to return the following day, nobody had told me that going to school went on for years.

(Left – me pre-Sunday School days, pre-schooldays – see what a happy little poser I am?)

There was further affront on Sunday mornings. They were kind enough people, I suppose, most of the attendant Sunday School teachers, but there was the odd bully – usually a single lady embittered, maybe, by having nothing better to do at a weekend than try to din godliness into snotty-nosed kids* (see Footnote).

Despite this, I became deeply religious – well, not so much deeply religious as fascinated by the stories: Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lions’ den and knocking down the temple, Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt (Fascinating! Nobody explained where Sodom was, though, and how it was connected to the sin of sodomy. Nor did anyone explain what sodomy was to us six year-olds). My supposed religious fervour was aided, somewhat, by someone giving me a pictorial bible, for Christmas, probably. No Gameboys or space hoppers in those days. My fixation lasted until I was about nine when the rose-tinted spectacles shattered and the scales fell from my eyes; I was no longer seeing through a glass darkly. At the local Baptist church we had to watch a film of Billy Graham, preaching somewhere in London, and then were asked to stand up at the end if we’d been saved. Most of my contemporaries did. I didn’t. From then on, my card was marked. Yeah, well it’s my blog and I can be verbose and bitter if I want.

I was still forced to go to church until I became such a stroppy teenager that my parents’ nerves weren’t up to it. At secondary school, I was summoned by the headmistress during assembly one morning – in front of the entire school – to see her in her office immediately after. As I arrived trembling in her musty study, thinking she was going to tell me my parents had been killed in a car crash, she launched into a diatribe about my not paying attention and distracting the other girls. I may not have been paying attention but remember having sat rigid, staring at the floor (we still had to sit on the floor) as I normally did. She’d obviously got me mixed up with another girl – there were over 600 of us. I didn’t dare disagree that I’d been messing about but, in shock and anger, I told her I was an agnostic. At 13, I wasn’t entirely certain what that was but I knew it was something to do with not believing in god.

Then I had to go back to lessons, a soggy (yes, there had been tears), shaking mess, and face the malicious delight of all the other girls. I suppose I should name and shame the headmistress but, as Michelle Obama said so many years later, “When they go low, you go high”. So, I’ll leave her anonymous, but… sod (and I know what it means, now) the headmistress of Wimbledon County School for Girls, hope she roasts in a hell filled with non-believer adolescent girls, all suffering PMT and pungent BO. Even if she doesn’t, I had a sort of revenge throughout my secondary school career, thereafter, staring up from the floor to the stage every Assembly at her fat ankles bulging beneath her academic gown. Looking back, I suppose she had to take out the unkindness of nature on someone.

(Right – me post Sunday School, post-school – by the hairstyle, it must have been Art School Days – with Golden Retriever, Lucy. See what a happy little hippy I am?)

 

 

*Footnote
And more often than not we were – snotty-nosed. Chesty colds were rife in smog-infected London on the 1950s. The fogs/smogs were, indeed, pea-soupers, being a malevolent green in colour and so thick you really couldn’t see more than two metres ahead of you (yards, then, of course). I remember my mother guiding me to school with a torch on winter mornings, scarves wrapped tightly round our faces to filter the filthy air. The Clean Air Act was 1956 – but the air didn’t clean up for long while after that. Reminds me now of the Witches in Macbeth – ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air’ – except we plodded, up Lyveden Road and left into left into Devonshire Road.

And there’s the link. Now, I live in Devonshire and the air is clean as a whistle – most of the time. (Seen here in Paignton with stepchildren Jon & Sarah. See what a happy Wicked Stepmother I am?)  And I still like reading and hearing stories, but not biblical ones any more. Oh, and now I write them, too. And publish them.

Thanks for your indulgence.

Posted in biography, Desperation, Devon, Education, Humour, Life on the edge, Personal, Religion, Writers, Writing, Young Adult | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Needing Greece

Horizon a bit wonky but, then, I had been at Tzouma’s bar on the waterfront at Pandeli for a while. September, last year. If you’re from the south of England, you pronounce ‘grease’ as in ‘Greece’. If you’re a Scot, you pronounce ‘Greece’ – well, ‘Greece’, and ‘grease’ – ‘greez” – with multiple r’s at the beginning, e’s in the middle, and z’s at the end.

The movie ‘Grease’ came out in 1978, just before I went to work in Scotland as Director of The Other Company (the touring theatre arm of Dundee Rep.). The wonderful Helen Watson, Administrator of the company, confused me totally, Sassenach that I was. What was this film she was enthusing about? Took a while for us to meet in the middle. John Travolta was, probably, the catalyst… No! It wasn’t the lovely John – it was Hylda Baker and Arthur Mullard, who made a cover of  ‘You’re the one that I want’. That’s what it was. Take a look. 

In its defence, you had to be there. In the 70s. We were much less sophisticated then.

Anyhow, I need Greece, not Grease or grrreeezzz – and I’m nearer Hylda Baker than Olivia Newton John these days, anyway.

By the bye… (‘By the bye’ is an old sailing term. ‘Sailing by the bye’ means sailing close-hauled i.e. close to the wind direction. If you weren’t sailing on the bye, you would be sailing large, sails out and away from the wind’s direction. To refer to all forms of sailing one would say ‘bye and large’.) …apparently, according to WordPress, Sassenach is a lake in Canada and also:

So there you go, whether you’re into Greece, Grease or grrreeezzz, Scot or Sassenach, or in the middle of a lake in Canada: Échete éna charoúmeno Sávvato (Έχετε ένα χαρούμενο Σάββατο.) Have a happy Saturday.



Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Personal, Writing | Leave a comment

Lightening the refugee trail

This week I met a young man who had escaped the war in Syria and endured terrifying experiences in order to have a better life. Siblings died, his family was torn apart, access between father and children was denied by constantly changing border regulations.

Assad, Russians, Americans and British alike have ensured by a mixture of bombings, privation and political interference that Syria will not recover for many years. Yet Europe, particularly Hungary and Macedonia, and America have, largely, turned their backs on the human distress. Britain, too, has exhibited a scandalous lack of compassion, given its rôle in the rout of the Middle East.

Accusations of irresponsibility are levelled at families who are so distraught and desperate that they will attempt a hazardous sea crossing from Turkey to a Greek island (or from North Africa to Italy or Malta) to find freedom.  If they make it alive from an unsuitable, overcrowded vessel, they are forced to live in the notorious ‘hot spots’ until they are ‘processed’. These reception centres provide prefabricated huts on concrete bases surrounded by chainlink fencing and barbed wire. From the elderly to the newborn, this is the paltry welcome that awaits. The centres are run by armed military personnel but the detainees are supported by generous local people, volunteers and charities.

Thereafter, until they can force their way onward, the only option for refugees is to stay in camps, often with scant shelter from the elements and typically lacking adequate sanitation. Shamefully, profiteers, and not just smugglers but hoteliers, shop and café proprietors, forgers – simply anyone callous and greedy enough – strip assets from those fleeing for their lives.

The whole situation is much more complex than I can explore here. War refugees mix with economic ‘migrants’ who are attempting to escape poverty and hopelessness. They are all victims of circumstance. Given their lives, would we not all attempt the same?

 

 

A child stands, disoriented, in the ‘hotspot’. Leros, Greece, September 2018.

 

 

Even though my interviewee, and a few other ‘lucky’ refugees, have made it to the UK, his life here is far from the one he knew. There are organisations that offer help and support, working hard to help house, educate, feed, clothe and find employment. Balancing this, exploitation by unscrupulous employers can reduce standards of living and self-esteem exponentially. Next time you are approached in a supermarket car park to have your car washed, bear in mind that the person talking to you could be a lawyer, a builder, a teacher or other highly qualified person, who is not able to practise their own skill here. Remember, too, that they may be working a nine hour day for £40 (or longer hours, or less money) and, if you’re feeling generous, give them a little extra on top of what they’re asking. More than likely, they have been through similar experiences to my young Syrian.

I will relate his full interview as a postscript to JIGSAW ISLAND. In the meantime, I can report, astonishingly, that his sense of humour has not been extinguished. He even made me laugh, while deeply moved by his story, at some of his survival techniques. What spirit.

 

Posted in Desperation, Greek Islands, Life on the edge, non-fiction, Personal, Writers, Writing | 1 Comment

Imagine how pleased I was to receive this from Totally4Women in 2016

Dear Lynne
Thank you for sending in your entry to the T4W/Mangle & Wringer Short Story Competition.  We have spent the weekend reading over all the entries and are delighted to let you know that we all loved your story and therefore you have been declared the competition winner!
We will be organising for your prize to wing its way to you soon and your story will be posted up on the T4W website in the next day or so.
Many congratulations!
With best wishes
Imogen

The Prize was a selection of goods from Mangle and Wringer… which never arrived (as if I’d want them, anyway… so why did I enter? A wine hazed Sunday afternoon? Boredom? Don’t remember) . Totally4Women did, however, publish my story on their website which meant that I couldn’t use it for another competition. I did, jokingly, contact Imogen about this, but she never replied. This is the short story I wrote for Totally4Women on the theme of ‘Domestic Goddess’:

I have few household secrets, everyone is familiar with my four second rule for anything that falls on the floor e.g. slice of toast, salmon steak and, memorably, a rice pudding. Similarly, no-one has failed to notice my apathy for dusting. An offspring cheekily wrote the date in the dust on the hall table and I responded by updating it a month later. Skirting boards and stair corners snuggle under dog hair and fluff, light bowls are a cemetery for many species of insect and opaque windows keep the harsh outside world in soft focus.

Another foible is my food hoarding fetish. We are not talking month old cheese in the fridge. That’s for amateurs. I have retained a leg of lamb from the decade before last (which came to light when the freezer broke down) and tinned prunes from before the days of ‘use by’ dates (discovered when the cat gave birth in the corner cupboard).

In my defence:
A/ I am a full-time Geography lecturer, which entails long working hours and regular field trips.1
B/ While, on the grounds of privacy, every member of the family except myself has vetoed the idea of a cleaner, none is prepared to take up the slack.

I do not rise to maternal wrath nor insist on their help. If they find their situation becomes unacceptable they must do something about it themselves.

Quentin Crisp’s cleaning theory that “…after the third year the dirt doesn’t get any worse…” eludes me for one good reason: visitors. The word strikes terror. I initiate a rout to drag the house up to… standard. Children receive cash bribes, husband Alan wields the vacuum with baleful resentment while I scrub grouting with a toothbrush and haul tails of sinister gloop from plugholes.

Throughout their visit, guests2 marvel at our lovely home. Once the intruders depart, we all deflate with relief and sink back into squalor.

That, believe it or not, is my home life.3

Footnotes
1/ field trips I lied about the field trips. I have a lover, George, and thus late night assignations and glorious escapes to Dubrovnik, Sorrento, Nice and the like.

2/ Guests On two occasions, George and his dreary wife – who gets on very well with Alan. Wouldn’t that be convenient…?

3/ That… is my home life Not for long. George has been offered Head of Department at an Australian university and our flights are booked.

McV: Do you think I should sue Totally4Women for loss of cleaning goods?

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Humour, Life on the edge, new writing, Personal, Writing | 6 Comments

Olympia Karayorga

On Leros one day last September, Martyn and I strolled from Pandeli to Aghia Marina for a midday snack and drink. There, we were accosted by a charming Greek lady in a rakish John Lennon cap, who decided to sit at our table and graciously accepted a drink. Very quickly, we learned that she was a published poet and writer and an authority on many literary luminaries. She grew up in Egypt where there was a large Greek community but having lived in America and the UK her idiomatic English was amazing.

Later on, she invited us to her house for tea, a villa on the waterfront of the little bay between Aghia Marina and Milos, the wonderful restaurant situated by the eponymous windmill that sits several metres out in the sea. We spent an interesting afternoon with Olympia (and her cat), reading her short stories aloud. The lady certainly is a writer of class. She wanted to know how her stories could be published. Since these were the only copies I suggested the best way would be to get someone to type them out for her and send them to agents electronically. Plenty of people would, I am sure, offer to help as she is a well known personality on Leros.

As it happened, Anne Tee, a New Zealand ex-pat living in Pandeli (one of the many overseas beauties who have fallen for a Greek God and made their home in the Greek Islands), told me later that her daughter used to go to Olympia for English Literature lessons. Here is an image of a book of Olympia’s poetry on Amazon – sadly no longer available.

 

And for those of you who’d like to see a Greek God – here’s one who monitored our first meeting with Olympia from the fishing boat opposite.

Posted in European Union, Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Personal, Poetry, Remain in EU, Teaching, Writers | Tagged | Leave a comment

Symi

This is one of the many reasons people fall in love with Symi. I set my first novel, TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS, there. My next, JIGSAW ISLAND, features both Symi and, Leros – 6 ferry hours away. Every island has a distinct personality of its own, but they’re all surrounded by the wine dark sea – and these two share a lot of my heart.

You can read an extract from TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS by following this link.

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, European Union, Greek Islands, new writing, Personal, Remain in EU, Writing | 2 Comments

I thought homework was a thing of the past….

“Have you done your homework?”
The question I used to dread on a Sunday night before school. Art School homework was not so much of a chore as it meant, sometimes, sitting up all night surrounded by pencils, paintbrushes, charcoal, gouache, pastels or oils turning out a 2D piece – or fiddling with Stanley knife, cardboard and glue for a 3D assignment (usually without considering how I would actually get it into college). Then came University. Oh, the hours of reading, reading, reading, loving it and ruining my eyes. As it happened, that turned out to be a happy academic result – although I do, occasionally wonder whether they got my papers mixed up with someone else’s.

These days, I set the homework. Next to writing, I absolutely love teaching. Most of it is about instilling confidence, giving a student time and support, and then the tiniest of pushes towards an open door. BUT it means that I, too, have to swat up. Course content changes all the time and, as I teach English Literature, Language and Drama from GCSE to University level, it means keeping up to speed with new and old material and the syllabuses of several boards.

Still, lucky me, still doing something to make my heart glad.

This week I’m teaching:
(Click on an image if you’d like a link to buy)

Posted in Drama, Education, Humour, Personal, Teaching, Theatre | Leave a comment