Friday, 23 December 2011

The Last Post

2011 has been quite a big year for me, in a few ways. So I thought as the end of it is nearing (and there’s no way I’ll remember to do it next week), I’d do one final blog before starting my seagoing rambles in January. Below, split into numbered sections - not in order of priority - is a round up of my year. Probably not of interest to anybody but myself, and maybe my parents whom I don’t tell much in real life, so if you decide to read on, good luck and thank you.


One - Job.

This time last year I was living at home, working in a boring hotel and waiting for the next canal boating season to start. A summer working on a hotel boat was something to look forward to but finite in its reach - I’d applied to join the merchant navy and was waiting to hear whether I had a chance at a career, and if I didn’t, I had no clue what I was going to do. This time this year, I’ve completed a good first phase of a cadetship and am being sponsored by a great company. I’m qualified in first aid and firefighting amongst other things, and in January I get to travel to Singapore to join a ship which will visit lots of other parts of Asia and Africa. For the first time in a number of years I’m motivated, interested in my job and having a great time.

Two - Books.

I have spent a lot of the year reading and writing, and there have been four books (none of which new) which had a particularly big effect on me:

The Autobiography Of A Super-Tramp, WH Davies - an old edition of this was an extremely well-thought-out gift from someone who meant a lot to me at the time. I loved the true tale of the hobo writer who beat and worked and tramped his way across countries and oceans, lost a leg and didn’t seem to whine much about it, and eventually became a success. A precursor to Kerouac and the like.

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, Italo Calvino - see here for details.

Blindness, Jose Saramago - being blind is my biggest fear, and I’m already halfway there without my contacts in. Therefore it goes without saying, although it appears I’m saying it anyway, that this book in which all but one of the nameless characters loses their sight absolutely terrifies me. Saramago writes simply and clearly and this only enhances the horror.

The Time-Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger - in terms of the way I see life, I reckon I’m approximately quarter past Generation X. This is jointly due to time of birth, age/interests of friends and a brief but memorable late-teenage Douglas Coupland obsession. As a consequence of this I’m not particularly emotionally available when I read (and in life, but I’m working on that); I revel in detachment, observation, irony and sarcasm instead of personal involvement. But The Time-Traveler’s Wife had me in tears, floods of actual tears, several times. During work breaks, which wasn’t too convenient. Beautifully heartbreaking, funny, tragic, gorgeous story, which the film didn’t go a long way to justifying. I was left broken.

Three - Harry. 

Boy meets girl. Boy undoes girl’s bra in the library. Girl gives in to the incessant pestering. Boy and girl work out all of their arguments and problems in the first few weeks. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl hopes that four months of separation will be OK due to technological advancements such as email. Girl misses boy a bit just now.

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Those are the major changes. Other memorable bits include a week I spent early in the year that I can't really talk about, coming face-to-face with bison in a zoo (they're frickin' mental looking. I want one as a pet to scare off Jehovah's witnesses), an entire summer making cakes and contending with awful guests with my new friend Debbie, camping and climbing a mountain with the rest of the Maersk cadets, steaming the skin off my fingers, trying to explain quantum physics to a seventeen-year-old, meeting loads of Twitter folk in a tiny bookshop in London, and drunken bonfires on the beach with new friends. My 2011 has been fun, exhausting and extraordinary. I hope my 2012 will be equally so plus more, and I hope the same for you.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Phase One Complete

Well, it's been a while, hasn't it? I must admit I've been distracted the past couple of months, both by work/studying and personal things... but today marks a significant point in my new career so what better time to take up the blog again? I probably won't do much over the Christmas period but I've been given my ship's details for January so then I'll be blogging again in earnest, hopefully complete with pictures and all sorts from the exotic places I'm visiting - but more on that anon.

So it turns out I'm actually pretty good at this college stuff. Today is the day I move out of Warsash student accommodation (I hope never to return - not exactly my ideal living situation, and I've already paid a deposit on a flat with two friends for next year when we get back from sea). Over the past few weeks we've had short courses - I'm now qualified in basic first aid, basic firefighting and a few other things, and I have an Enclosed Space Entry course to do on Monday which I assume entails crawling around in tiny spaces. We've also had exam results - 97% in maths (joint highest over two classes!), 82% in navigation (the important one) and 85% in ship and port operations. All in all a pretty good term... but I'm very aware that it's the bits of sea-based training which will show me whether I want to do this or not. It's taken me a while to find this career, so I really really hope I like the practical stuff as much as the learning stuff.

We have a lot of support in this industry. We've had numerous talks from people such as Nautilus (the seafarer's union - at £12 for a year's subs as a student, it's a no-brainer), we're repeatedly told where we can go for help if we need it, and to top it all off I've just received a letter from my new mentor as part of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners' mentoring scheme. This is where they pair a cadet or new recruit with a captain (either working or retired) in order that they can share their experiences and offer personal advice if and when required. I really do feel very looked after, which I reckon is important in such a scary job - just last week we were told that we're in the second most dangerous profession in the world (the first being deep sea fishing). They're really drumming into us the importance of safety onboard - it really hits home when they start talking about a cadet who studied here a couple of years ago who died on his first sea trip due to not being given adequate training on his ship.

But brushing all the scary stuff aside (easy peasy, right?), my first sea phase should be amazing. I join the Maersk Kendal, a container ship, in Tanjung Pelepas on 19th/20th January, and from there we travel round South Africa then back up towards China. If you want to have a little peek at our schedule and have five minutes to spare you can look it up here.

I have a month off before I leave, in which time I have to fit in a megaload of things! Harry and I are going on our first little adventure together, involving a road trip up and down Britain to visit various relatives and fit in a short course that I missed due to a lung/ear infection the other week - it's up in Fleetwood near Blackpool but luckily enough it's directly between two other places we need to visit.

It's been a properly up and down year - next blog will be an end-of-2011 thing, before the ship adventure starts. Enough of my rambling for now, probably. Have a good Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

October 5th 2011

The first weekend in October, after the latter half of summer not being particularly glorious, was the warmest I've experienced since the start of the hotel boat season back in April/May. I spent a long time on the beach, both during the day and at night, and got pretty much nothing done. We keep hearing that we must make the most of our first phase here, as it's the easiest work-wise – I'm all too happy to take their advice. I know I'll have to cut back next month (not that I'm in this for the money, but I'm REALLY looking forward to getting a proper wage instead of this sponsorship allowance) so this month is full of trips to see friends elsewhere. If you see me around London, say hi as I'll be going into hibernation shortly!

Work is still going well, and I'm pretty much keeping on top of it. My classmate Sam and I are having fun doing some video editing and hearing about staff/lecturers' memories as research for a presentation on Crossing The Line ceremonies, which occur when seafarers cross the equator for the first time (thus changing from 'pollywogs' to 'shellbacks'). Usually it's a fairly rough – or mock-rough – ritual over which King Neptune presides along with his queen Amphitrite and Davy Jones, wherein charges are read out, 'medicine' is given, the seafarer is shaved and then dunked into a pool as a sort of baptism into Neptune's domain. I'm looking forward to mine! There's so much ancient tradition in the navy, and I think it's pretty cool that the ceremony is something which hasn't really changed in hundreds of years (albeit with slightly more concern for health and safety now – they used to be dunked into the sea!). Today we started looking at the details of passage planning as well. All very exciting – that bit is what makes me want to learn all this in the first place, the figuring-out of where and when to go, how to solve the problems, looking at charts and being able to read them like I can read music instead of squinting at all the little symbols like I'm doing at the moment. It'll come with time!

I got the library student ambassador job that I applied for a few weeks ago, so I'll be working a couple of nights a week in there from next week. Should be fun, although the services are reduced when we're on duty so there's not too much actual work to do – perfect time to revise, I reckon. It will also prevent me from drinking and watching films until the early hours, which will work wonders for my productivity. I hope.

We're going to steak night at the local pub tonight. Truly living the dream. Sayonara.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

September 24th 2011

Today has not been the most satisfying day. I woke up early to commandeer the DVD player in the TV room so we could watch The Thick Of It; that was good. We had lunch and coffee in the bar. I then left some of my friends to watch F1 while I tidied up the room a bit, then thought I'd try to do some writing. Nothing. Read for a bit, had some sleep. Still nothing.

My shoes, purse, favourite bracelet and most of my books were gifts from friends. I'm very quiet, because I've been surrounded by fascinating and clever people my whole life and I figured out early on that if I just shut up for a minute, I'll learn something. I always cover my ears with my hair before I sleep because of something that happened in a TV show I saw when I was a kid. I can handle drinking spirits a million times better than I can wine or beer, due to working at TGI Friday's when I was a student the first time round and putting many, many hours into exhaustive cocktail research. I'm terrified of guns and feel uncomfortable if they're referred to even in jest, because I grew up in a place where something horrific involving a gun happened.

In short, we are products of our environment. So what do we do if our environment feels...unproductive?

I've been lucky in that inspiration has often come to me. I haven't had to think about forcing it, because it's never that long before it strikes again. My situations and homes have usually been in lovely places with interesting people. Now I'm in a place that (although beautiful if you look in the right direction) feels slightly oppressed, rigid and bland, and I have to figure out how to change my mindset so as to be more productive. The reason I'm here is nothing to do with it - I love the work, and I'm excited beyond belief about getting out there and doing it properly. But when I want to think about something else, nothing happens. 

So this week I will be working on feeling inspired. Working out a different way to approach things will be inspiring in itself, but I hope I can regain some productivity along with it. Wish me luck.

Friday, 16 September 2011

In the middle of the night, the fire alarm of my building went off. We duly went outside to wait for it to be switched off. Some of us were considerably less dressed than others, and we were all pissed off. Turns out someone had smashed the glass in one of those boxed wall alarms. Lovely. To be fair to the culprit, he confessed immediately (otherwise ten millionish firemen would have turned up. Shame), but it meant an extended wait outside while they located the smashed box and sorted it out. 

He's been given a final warning. I'm surprised he wasn't fired/expelled. Hopefully that will ensure it doesn't happen again. By the time we all got back in, I was wide awake again and so haven't had much sleep. Very glad it's the weekend now.

It's my birthday on Tuesday so I'm going to London tomorrow to see some friends and get my first tattoo as a birthday present to myself, a little treble clef on my spine to mark a definite end to the music-focused bit of my life. Maybe when I finish my current career I'll get a little anchor or boat...

I've been sent an application to be a Junior Associate of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners. If you want to have a look at what they do, visit HCMM's website. I also have an interview for that library ambassador job next week, so things are starting to get a bit busier.

Next week I'll blog a bit more about what we're actually learning, as it's really interesting. For now, have a good weekend!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

September 15th 2011

The realities of being away from everything I know are starting to set in now. All around me after the weekend I could hear fellow cadets talking about missing their families/partners/pets; it’s all still new and exciting, for most, but doesn’t stop you wishing for a second that you were among old friends again. It’s a different thing to being at sea; on a ship there’s no option, you’re literally disconnected from loved ones. Here we’re just quite far away, and the theoretical possibility that you could get to someone if you had to makes not being allowed all the worse.

The lack of facilities and space is still getting to me a little. I want a kitchen; I like to cook and don’t want to queue up with a plastic tray for three meals a day that I don’t want, or feel guilty for not doing so because it’s already paid for. I want a room of my own; my roommate is lovely and considerate but there’s nowhere at all where one is guaranteed to have peace and quiet, especially with echoey corridors. But these are little gripes, only thought about when I have nothing else to do. To be honest we’re well looked after and have everything we need, if not everything we want. I’m sure if I were 18 I’d have no complaints.

Having said that, the lectures are getting good now we’re over the initial stages. Maths especially is coming on at a fair pace – we’ve got an excellent lecturer who knows what she’s doing and does it efficiently. Any problems which occur there are entirely our own fault, such as yesterday when I and another cadet were stumped for at least ten minutes, baffled as to why our answers were so close but not quite right. It turns out that 365 is the number of days in a year and definitely not the number of degrees in a circle. At least it wasn’t just me...

I’m getting on with my writing, or at least tidied up my brain and computer a bit so I know what needs to be done. I’m hoping I can get the “main” novel/book/story (never quite sure what to call it) finished by Christmas, so I can use my sea time for another - which gives me about three months to do 40,000 words. Easy, right? Easy. Yeah.

The uniform is starting to feel more comfortable, although I reckon I look like a policewoman. Maybe I’ll get my roommate to take a picture soon for me to share with you all.

Monday, 12 September 2011

September 12th 2011

We had our first classes today. Predictably, as we hadn’t met most of the lecturers before, it was yet more introductions and general course descriptions – but the very fact we’re in timetabled lectures makes me feel like I’m actually doing something, which is good. I’ll describe the subjects in more detail as we go on, as I’m still not sure exactly what comes under which title. We got straight into maths. All very basic but probably for the best considering how long it’s been since I’ve done it! Looking forward to it getting more complex though, and the lecturer seems like the type to want us to move on quickly, instead of going over and over topics until they’ve lost all meaning. All in all, a good first day. Especially since I had a parcel arrive full of Tunnock's goodies and a boat drawing from some friends in Edinburgh!

I couldn’t sleep last night. Maybe the coffee I had after dinner (I’ve cut down dramatically on my normal intake since being here, partly due to the lack of close-to-desk facilities) or maybe excitement about lectures starting, maybe just too much sleep the night before. Either way, I started composing some piano music in my head. Inspiration only hits sporadically so it was nice to be thinking in a different way to my recent mental state – although it did make me pine for the days when I could get out of bed at 2am and go and play the piano. Ah, for a home of my own... Today, one of my classmates heard in our oft-repeated introductions that I used to study music, and told me that he and some others were planning to visit a practice space soon, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to join them and actually play something.

On Saturday, a group of us visited Greenwich as a “school trip”, which was amazing fun. We went to the Observatory and Planetarium – WELL worth a visit if you haven’t before, and even if you have, as their recent photography competition winners are being exhibited – and then the Maritime Museum (very cool especially if you like poring over ancient brass navigation instruments like I do) and a wander round Greenwich Market, which has the most incredible smells from its food stalls! We found out at the Planetarium that the next big meteor shower is on 21st October, so maybe I’ll gather some folks to sit and have a midnight picnic outside while we watch.

Friday, 9 September 2011

September 9th 2011

Today was the last day of our first week. We spent it firing pellets of paint at each other in a woodland.

Paintball isn’t that enjoyable, in my experience. I’d never done it before, and – as was pointed out to me by a fellow cadet – there aren’t that many activities which can include 200 people at the same time in the “teambuilding” sort of vein. So paintball it was. We were given camouflage to wear, and heavy plastic masks which made breathing a bit of a chore. Split up into groups of 50, we then went through the gun/paintball explanations and began our first game. I’ll be honest, I’m not much interested in running around and being fired at with little balls of paint. It’s just not my idea of a good time. I have trouble seeing anything to do with any kind of gun as a pleasurable activity. I made it through two games, during the second of which I was hit on the back of my head by a member of my own team (it happens – armbands can be hard to make out – but it doesn’t make it any less painful), and thought maybe that was enough. I sat with a few others of the same mindset who I hadn’t spoken to previously, so that was nice. All that running around is a bit tiring, so when we got back in the middle of the afternoon, my roommate and I and no doubt several others went straight to sleep for a while.

I’ve had a quiet evening – washing uniform, watching Superbad in the TV room – but it’s probably just as well as I have an early morning tomorrow for this Greenwich trip. I’ll report back on Monday, after my first class!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

September 8th 2011

And so the last day of welcome presentations has come to an end. Tomorrow we have a team building event, and then proper classes start on Monday. I’ve got a trip to Greenwich on Saturday and a parental visit on Sunday (they’re bringing me a few more of my belongings, which I hope will brighten up my room a bit). No time to rest! I’m planning to work a bit on my writing over the weekend too, that is if I’m not distracted by Co-op visits and walks along the beach...which may surprisingly end up in a pub.

Some of the presentations today were really interesting – notably one from a captain about his entire career at sea, which involved some cracking photos of 90s attire, and one from a couple of Police Community Support Officers. For non-Brits, these are people who work closely with the police and are supposed to be a more visible local presence. They have some powers but are mainly around to try to keep the peace. We all assumed the presentation would be along the lines of “don’t drink in public, don’t cycle on the pavement, don’t annoy the neighbours” which was of course included, but we were also warned about alcohol, rape and their consequences and made to listen to a 999 call from a girl who’d been assaulted and didn’t have a clue where she was. I think many of us were slightly taken aback at the seriousness, but it was pointed out to us that their examples were all things which had happened to cadets and locals recently, so... fair enough, I guess. Alarming to hear the statistics, to say the least, and it does make me worry about the young age of some cadets and what they’re being exposed to by being away from home for extended periods. By no means do I want to think or act like a parent but when I was sixteen – even eighteen - although I thought I could handle everything fine, I was so unaware of (or unconcerned about) my own limits when it came to things such as alcohol. You can’t help but hope they’ll realise that just because something’s available, it isn’t necessary.

Onto brighter things. Tomorrow’s team building event is paintballing, which I’ve never done before. Those who have are warning everyone that it hurts, so I’m planning to have no bare flesh! I’m sure it will be fun, and it sounds like a nice (?) end to a week of meeting lots of new people. Although I can’t remember most of their names.

September 7th 2011

Only a half day today – we were taken on a little tour of the main Southampton Solent University campus (of which Warsash is a faculty). They seem to offer a big range of things to do in our spare time, including lots of sports. I might have a look at a club or two, although the watersports short courses here at Warsash are a bit more appealing at the moment. We’ll see how I feel when the weather starts getting worse though, a nice game of indoor TV-watching might be a bit more beneficial to my mood... I picked up a leaflet about becoming a course rep as well, which means representing any concerns your class has in monthly university meetings, so I’ll have a think about that.

I’ve signed up for a day trip to Greenwich Observatory on Saturday. We were told to give priority to the people who didn’t know London well, as there were only a limited number of places, but nobody else seemed to be putting their hand up and I absolutely love observatories – so hopefully I’m not doing anyone out of a place. There’s another trip to see a warship and Southampton Boat Show in a couple of weeks with lots more available spaces. Maybe I’ll try to put my name down for that too. Although when am I going to get this lie-in I’ve been promising myself since April?...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

September 6th 2011

We’ve been given loads of information today, and it’s all whirling around in my head. I can’t remember what I’ve been told and what I still need to find out; this is what comes of sitting in lecture halls all day with various people reeling off seemingly unending lists of instructions and suggestions! I do know that I’m very excited about starting the proper lessons. We’ll be learning about ship and port operations, lots of maths, a bit of marine legislation, the actual navigation stuff and plenty of other things. At the end of the term we’ll have to complete a series of short courses including firefighting (genuinely terrified about this) and lifeboat skills. Fun in the December weather! Everything I hear, though, makes me want to do it more, which has to be a good sign.

Our maths assessment was this morning. It wasn’t a pass/fail thing – it was more to determine which of us will need to take extra lessons. I think I did fairly well considering I haven’t done maths properly for about ten years! Not certain when we’re getting the results, but hopefully they’ll decide I’m fine without the extra lessons, as I can pick things up much better by working them out myself than having a teacher try to explain.

Library inductions were also today, and they’re looking for “library ambassadors” to help with later opening hours. I think I might apply, as it’d be (sort of) fulfilling a childhood ambition – I wanted so badly to be a librarian as a kid. I assumed they could sit and read the books all day, which is apparently not what happens, but I’d still like to try it...

We’ve got a pub quiz tonight in the bar. We’re given a dining card with money preloaded for food during the week but it can’t be used for alcohol, which is probably a good thing – I’ll be answering questions fuelled by tea instead of brandy. We can buy drinks ourselves of course, but I’m determined not to spend any unnecessary money this term - it’ll be good practice for when I’m on a ship and not allowed to drink any alcohol at all, at any point!

Monday, 5 September 2011

September 5th 2011

The first day of my new college life is over. Technically, of course, it’s not; this is the Freshers Week, full of tours and presentations and explanations (and one maths exam, tomorrow), so the first proper day of classes will be next Monday. Warsash seems a nice place, we have most of the things we need here and there are few distractions – a gym, a small bar – so it’ll be easy to get my head stuck into studying and assignments and the work I should be doing. I’m nearly 26 and I’ve done the Uni thing, so I don’t feel pressure to be out drinking most nights and all the other things that the kiddies do. On one hand this is great for the aforementioned actual work; on the other it feels a bit isolating, at least at the moment. I’ve got no desire to get drunk or rush around giggling or get up to mischief. I just want a nice quiet place to get my qualifications. Student halls might not be the best place for that – and although Merchant Navy cadets are by nature slightly more staid and appropriate than normal students (we are employees, after all), and they all appear perfectly lovely at this point, I’m fairly certain I won’t want to live with loads of them in the next phase.

For those to whom I haven’t properly explained what the process is, I’m being sponsored by Maersk to study here at Warsash Maritime Academy near Southampton for the first phase of my Deck Cadet training. It lasts a term. From January until next September, I’ll be in a sea phase, so I’ll be assigned to a ship and will do practical training onboard. This cycle repeats itself until three years have passed, and I’ll have gained the right qualifications and enough sea time to get a proper role onboard a seagoing vessel (or a shore based job, if I’d prefer to apply for something on land).

As I explained on Twitter earlier, my room and its posterboard are looking quite sparse and unloved. I came straight from my job on a canal boat to here by public transport so there wasn’t the time or space to gather favourite photos and things. My parents are visiting me this weekend to bring some extra belongings but if you have the inclination to write or draw me something I can put on my wall... I’d bloody love that. Send me a message and I can give you an address.

Like I said, we have a maths exam in the morning, so I’m now going to go and revise. It’s strange coming from my rigidly-structured summer job to being a “normal” person again and having to arrange my own time. Strange but nice.

I’m going to try to blog every day about the things I’m learning and doing – I assume most days will be more eventful than filling in enrolments forms. So: More tomorrow!

Monday, 1 August 2011

If On A Summer's Night A Reader

If On A Summer’s Night A Reader

You go into a bookshop with the express intention of buying a book. You find yourself in front of the Translated Fiction section and your gaze falls upon If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. You recognise the title; it’s a much-lauded work, one of those you really should get around to reading one day. Something stirs in your memory about the writer’s name, too. You don’t think you’ve read anything by him before, it’s something else, something else... then you realise that you know it from a conversation you had with your friend Andy about people whom you may have been in a past life. Calvino happened to die the day before you were born, putting him in your soul’s possible theoretical past. You pick up the book and read the blurb. It makes you laugh; it seems a good concept. You keep it in your hand and look over the shelves again. There are a number of books there you intend to read, some day, but you live in a small space and can’t take them all. You settle on the Calvino book and another called Blindness by Jose Saramago, because you’ve been thinking about blindness a lot recently.

When you return home to your small space you look at the books and realise that they each fall into a separate category. Some books you know need a long time to digest, you want to savour them, really understand what is happening and take your time in doing so. Blindness appears to be one of those books. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller is the other kind; the sort of book you need to devour instantly, that you want to be immediately enveloped by and for it to occupy all your waking thoughts in a short amount of time. You start reading the Calvino book and soon get into its rhythm, predict its structure, laugh out loud at the games the writer is playing. In your small space you like to look around as you read, and your eye reaches the tiny round window covered in a crocheted lace doily, as is the tradition. Two insects are caught; or rather staying still, trembling, waiting, not understanding that they are not caught, that it is not a spider web. The image reminds you of a tale you read when you were small.

Happening Upon A Lace Spider

The first thing to note about the Lace Spider is that she is a hushed little thing, silent, you might say, and she doesn’t like attention. She is so set on not attracting attention that I have to write this very quietly or the Lace Spider will get upset. She travels around at great speed and with determination; her tasks are many and secretive.

What the Lace Spider does with her time is weave, weave, weave. She creates lace structures, shapes, doilies, decorations, window pieces. She does this with the special lace that her body creates, which makes her a very different animal to normal spiders which create silk. She is a little larger to accommodate all the lace and so has to try all the more to stay hidden. Without you knowing she will weave around you, between you, quickly and silently and all of a sudden you are surrounded and captured and because you haven’t seen it happen, all you can think is that maybe you’ve always been surrounded and captured. If children around the world knew that spiders were manufacturing these lacy masterpieces, and their grandmothers were in fact sitting in their rocking chairs trying to untangle themselves most of the time as they don’t know how to crochet, the world might be a very different place. It is for this admiration and curiosity about grandmothers that the Lace Spider must remain in the dark.

The Lace Spider comes up with an idea, for example a mat for underneath the fruit bowl, and then begins her work. At night is usually the best time; children are fast asleep and parents don’t eat fruit in the darkness. She scurries around, here and there, back and forth, weaving and intertwining and knotting and running and repeating and circling until there is a fully patterned mat underneath the fruit bowl. As usual, when the family wake, they will see it and think maybe it has always been there, it must have been something grandmother crocheted a long time ago that they had never noticed, as there is so much lace around nowadays that it is easy not to notice one little mat. Grandmother will see it and smile her little smile, trying to remember the last time her arthritic hands allowed her to use crochet sticks, and she will silently thank the Lace Spider.

Shapes In Her Mind

As you continue reading the Calvino book your mind is on two tracks, one reading the words and being confused but happily so at the plot and twisting your brain around the various nooks and crannies of the bit about infiltrators, the other track wandering to where the Lace Spider might be creating more window pieces and laughing (ever so quietly, of course) at the insects who enter the quasi-trap and assume they cannot fly away whenever they wish. You think about lots of shapes in your mind, different types of mats and doilies, and wonder if the Lace Spider would ever make a triangle. But still the book you are reading is drawing you in, lessening those other distractions which normally occupy your mind and building up an entire world of hypnotic confusion; you have to furrow your brow to think about what’s happening, and you think how very clever, how genius this writer is to have started writing many stories and found a way not to bother finishing any of them; he is your new hero. You are impatient to reach the end, although you want to enjoy each second. You understand there are more beginnings to come and you start not to care about the endings, unlike the people in the book, you just want more and more beginnings, and although you know the beginnings will soon end you are racing ahead, insatiable, needing the next thing, the next thing.

Fantastic Feelings

The need for speed, they call it. Adrenaline, pumping through his body. He has climbed a waterfall, he has nearly fallen down the waterfall, he has saved himself at the last minute and he wants to save himself again. He thinks. His heart is racing, his breath sharp and quick. Go. He runs, he has to run. He runs across the cliffs and rocks, next to multiple waterfalls, jumping over slippery stones, burning, racing, not against anything but his pulse. He is forced to stop for a second and gather his thoughts, but they are scattered too far, too wide, to collect them all. He has no emotion, no feeling except the urge to continue. Where is the next waterfall? He needs to climb, he needs his body to take over the obstacles and to have no time to think and to be near catastrophe and to somehow rip his way through to the other side, to safety where he can once again begin. He sees a waterfall and leaps at it, at the boulders below the rushing water, grabs hold and pulls his legs up. He’s doing it, he feels secure, he aims for a rock he doesn’t think he’ll get, he needs to save himself again. His fingers slip off the stone and he falls backwards. He grasps at air with both arms but the top half of his body is now too far away from anything to avoid falling. His feet are pulled off their secure stations and he drops backwards into the roar of the foam. Cold water covers him, he’s still going down, still going down... there is a tightness around his shoulder and he is yanked up out of the water. A face is looking at him, angry, concerned. Idiot, the face is yelling at you. You breathe, you smile, you laugh.

It Has Been A Success

You have finished the book and you put it down, a big smile on your face. What a great book, you think. I’ll need to tell my friends about this, you decide. It has only taken a day of your life but it has made you want to write again, something you momentarily lost while being too busy thinking about your future, and you think maybe I’ll review it, maybe I’ll write a review of this book so I can adequately explain the enjoyment, although you haven’t written a book review since you were made to in high school and you like talking about books but never have the patience to write about them, you’d rather be reading them or writing new things, but If On A Summer’s Night A Reader, Happening Upon A Lace Spider, Shapes In Her Mind Fantastic Feelings, It Has Been A Success. And if it has been a success for you, it will no doubt be a success for other people too, and so you’ve written a review in order that they may understand.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Outward Bound

Would you like to know about my weekend? I did these things:

Left the boat for five days (five!)
Met lots of other people who will soon be Maersk-sponsored cadets
Went gorge walking
Ate food that I didn't cook myself, and didn't have to serve others
Had LOTS of coffee (to be fair, this is pretty standard)
Sat on minibuses and coaches for a long time
Slept in a tent for the first time ever
Climbed a mountain (Bow Fell)
Went orienteering
Had to tell a sixteen-year-old that Cumbria isn't in Scotland
Got dressed up in my navy uniform
Had a room all to myself
Was offered heaps of cake and some free beer
Found my perfect shower
Got up four levels of a Jacob's Ladder
Watched a million presentations about Maersk
Got excited about my new career
Made some very, very dodgy custard while camping. It was basically yellow vanilla water with powdery lumps
Took some photos (I'll put them up properly soon, check Instagram if you have it though)

... and generally had an ace time...

Roll on September!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Personality Crisis

Tomorrow, I’m escaping the world of hotel boating for a few days to meet my fellow merchant navy cadets at an Outward Bound weekend in Cumbria. Exciting, right? I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages, actually – there are plenty of reasons but none more surprising than the fact I really, really want to mess about in the mud and (probable) rain and expound loads of energy on assault courses and the like. Surprising because I’ve never thought of myself as that type... but it’s funny how people change. A guest on Tranquil Rose said to me a while ago, after I explained what the weekend was about, “Oh, doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but you’d love that, wouldn’t you?” Would I? Yeah, I would. How do YOU know that? In this job I must come across as quite active and sporty. Goes with the job to an extent, but you see plenty of unfit people on the canals. Within the first few weeks of the season someone asked (in all seriousness) if I was in training for the Olympics. OK, it was by a doddery old lady who marvelled at us walking over lock gates, but still. I think I give off an impression that I never have before, which is slightly mystifying. This week I was described as hard-working and disciplined. I laughed and immediately told someone who knows me pretty well. “You are,” came the reply. Oh. Really? Nah, I can’t be. I’m lazy and I don’t like working. Do I? Shit, maybe I do.

Anyway, my point was this – people CHANGE, man. Fundamentally. I’ve changed, without realising. I’m not the person I was. I love how motivated I feel about everything now, and I’m not sure whether it’s getting older or this sudden change in career path or the people I choose to spend my time with or a combination of everything, but I wish I’d bloody noticed. I wish I’d decided one day to change, and worked towards it, instead of all of this happening behind my back (is “inside” behind one’s back? Depends which way you’re coming from).

This weekend is supposed to let us learn about the company, each other, and ourselves. The company I am intrigued by, not having any work experience in the sector. Everyone else, I’m really happy to be meeting. And I hope, by the time I return on Tuesday, I will feel a lot more comfortable with the way and the speed at which my personality seems to be shifting.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A Song, Birds, Tunnels

A Song

So, music's great, isn't it? In general. Radiohead, they're a good band, right? Varied, interesting musically, a bit mad and angry and beautiful. I'm a fan. In general. I like Paranoid Android, it's a good song. It's been in my head all day. But not the Radiohead version. I prefer this one - not because it's better, but because it was this version that made me actually listen to it. It's this one that I hear in my head when anyone mentions the song, not the original. It's this one I sing along to. It's very clever and I like it. If you like it too, you might like Tripod's original stuff. Or you might not. If you feel inclined to look, I recommend "Fabian" or "Gonna Make You Happy".



----

Birds

Birds unnerve me. They don't seem to need shelter. I love shelter, me. A nice duvet and a roof and a cup of tea. Birds build nests when they have to lay eggs. Otherwise, they're perfectly happy to sleep in the middle of a path, or as they fly, or sitting on the end of a branch, or floating in the water. Don't they get cold?! I'd get cold. Their entire existence is just as they are, no clothes, no hot drinks, no houses. Even Christopher McCandless lived in a bus.

Herons are funny ones, too. They don't particularly like people, but they're a bit stubborn. They will find a place to sit, within sight of fish so they know when to swoop. They will not move. They'll wait until you're two feet away, then they'll fly away somewhere nearby. You'd think they would go the opposite direction but no, they continue in the same way as you're going, then get all huffy and fly off when you inevitably approach again.

Tunnels

We're going through two long tunnels this week. One is just over 2000 metres and the other is just over 3000. They take about half an hour and forty five minutes to get through, respectively. I LOVE going through tunnels in a boat. Imagine a bright sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, pretty green trees waving in a slight breeze. Then imagine going into a darkened tunnel, the end of which isn't visible. The air gets cooler. The breeze suddenly stills. You've got a hood up - the ceiling drips, and your engine smoke disturbs the spiders and other insects enough for them to descend towards your head to find out what's going on. You can make out the brickwork, for a while, but as you get further and further in, all light vanishes aside from the faint glowing from the windows of your boat. This dim yellow picks out crooked stones and the chains just above water level. If you fall in, you can use these chains to feel your way towards the nearest end. In some tunnels are glow-in-the-dark arrows stuck to the wall to show the halfway point. When you get towards the centre, all you can see is the occasional repeated pattern of stonework in the wall. It feels like time has vanished, you're in a loop and you can't remember how you got there. This carries on for a while. Ten minutes, maybe. Ten minutes of silence and damp darkness and no sign of life. You can't even tell if you're moving any more. Then it begins to get lighter and your eyes are shaken from their trance. The exit is a pinprick in the distance, but is nonetheless visible. It slowly gets bigger, and all you can do is stare at it, waiting for it to reach you. All of a sudden you are out in the bright sunlight again, trees flickering around you, a warmth on your face, and your brain wakes up as you return to real life.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Particular Intricacies Of Locks For Those Who Are Unfamiliar With The Process

Canals and locks are a mystery to some people. This doesn’t particularly surprise me, since before last year they didn’t really exist in my world – I would have been hard pressed to remember what a lock was called, let alone explain how it worked. But there are a growing number of friends, guests, passersby etc who ask us to describe what’s going on and how it happens. So here goes...it might be a very long-winded way to explain an incredibly simple process, but I think it covers most things.

The canal system in the UK is a mish-mash of interconnected rivers and passages, developed over a long time (it’s still going on today, although it’s mostly restoration and not creation). I don’t have the space to go into the entire history of locks but there are heaps of websites and books devoted to the topic – if you’re interested in a brief overview that isn’t country-specific, try Wikipedia’s entry.

Our country isn’t flat. There are hills and undulations and valleys, and there had to be some way of overcoming this if we were ever to use boats as long-distance transport (obviously these were the days before trains, planes and automobiles; cargo businesses on canals and rivers are now only a tiny fraction of what they once were). So locks were used, and standard sizes put into place by Brindley. Lock sizes vary from canal to canal, with big Thames locks able to accommodate lots of boats at once and “narrow locks”, which are about 7’ by 70’, only generally meant for one narrowboat. The locks Tranquil Rose can go through have to be over 12’ wide, so we can’t go further north than Warwick as they tend to narrow after this.

The basic idea of a lock is that a vessel can be lifted up from one level of water to the next, so the whole waterway system is a series of steps. There are various ways other than locks to do this – for example the Anderton Boat Lift or the Falkirk Wheel - but these are few and far between.

So, how do we work them? When you’re approaching a lock in your boat, it’s a good idea if you can spare someone to jump off (onto the bank, obviously) and run ahead to set it. Setting it means making sure the level of water in the lock is the same as the level at which your boat is sitting, so that the gates can open and the boat can enter. To do this you use a windlass, which is a right-angled “key” which fits onto the spindle attached to a paddle built into the gate. When you wind the spindle round with your windlass, it raises or lowers the paddle, either letting water in or keeping it out.

With me so far?

When you’ve equalled out the levels of the water, it should be easy enough to open both of the gates. It’s nice to have a person on each side so you don’t need to run down to the end gates and over the lock to open the second one yourself – although on the narrow locks, given a bit of bravery, you can jump the three or so feet from the gate you’ve just opened to the edge of the one on the opposite side, negating the need for all the running about.

Then the boat can get into the lock, and you shut the gates behind it, remembering to wind the paddles back down. If you leave the paddles up, then start letting water in the other end, it’ll go straight through the lock, the boat’ll go nowhere, and you might flood the pound – stretch of water between locks – below. There’s a cill under the water at one end (it means sill. I have no idea why they spell it cill. But they do) which is the bottom of the higher bit of canal, so if you’re going downhill you need to make sure the boat has the space to be away from that; if the water is let out and the stern of the boat gets stuck on the cill while the bow is still going down...well, it’s not good. Picture it.

So the boat’s in the lock - let’s say at the bottom, so you’re going uphill. The person with the windlass, after making sure the paddles in the bottom gates are now closed, goes to raise the paddles in the top gates, letting water in so that the level in the lock gets high enough to be equal to the level in the pound above. Depending on the depth of the lock and the size of the boat, this can be done with varying amounts of speed. Top gates can have ground paddles and/or gate paddles. Ground paddles are channels from the pound into the lock going through the brickwork of the sides, so the water flows underneath where you’re standing – this is a safer/slower method of getting water in, and should always be used first. Gate paddles are, as it sounds, paddles built into the gate, so if you’ve got people sitting in the front of your boat and you open the paddles while they’re still above the water level, those people have got a bit of a soaking in store. Generally you open the ground paddles and wait until the water covers the gate ones, then you can open them with minimum splashing!

When the water has risen enough to be level, you open the top gates, allowing your boat to exit the lock, and away you go. On most canals the etiquette is to wind the paddles back down and close the gates after you, although there are a couple of exceptions – the Wey Navigation in Surrey, for example, is one waterway where you leave open whichever gates you’ve exited (although still winding the paddles down), ready for the next boat to come in the opposite direction. Obviously if there’s a boat on the horizon heading towards you on other canals, it’s a bit mean to close the gates right in front of them so in that case it’s fine to leave them open!
The easiest way to remember the tos and fros of it is just to do it, but it does help to have a basic understanding. So if you’re planning on boating in the near future, I hope it’s been of some use. If it hasn’t, don’t worry, I’ll go back to writing poems in a day or two.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Split Part One

This is a two part story, the first part of which is read by top Swedish (in case you couldn't translate!) gal Emine G├╝ler. Second part coming shortly.

Listen!

The Split Part One


I haven't been back for fifteen years
I grip the plane, my fears
cloud around me
I don't like travelling alone

He isn't with me, I told him to stay
With our heart, our home
Yet I wish
He had tried harder to insist
I don't like travelling alone

I get in a taxi at the airport
"Where to today?" the man asks
as if we were familiar
"Just the usual," I joke,
"Just the usual."
I have to repeat it
My accent is warped with the years away
The moment is lost
My head down
I pray

Life isn't so grand
He's at the end of a thousand miles
I'm at the end of my patience
I won't see his eyes for
five months
There was no time to think
I thought wrongly
I could have changed my mind
He could have changed my mind
He should have changed my mind

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Covering Tracks

My good friend Louise has recorded a poem for me. I like the recording very much. Hope you do too.

Listen!

Covering Tracks

I make my mark
Deep wounds and burns
Fierce points of contact
A papertrail of cuts
Seconds of aggression
until the door slams shut
leaving heavy air

Slowly, quietly,
I run my fingertips back over the grazes
To erase
The traces
As if I had never been there

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Rainwater Tea

As I have recorded a few poems for him on his blog, the marvellous Scott Pack (follow him on Twitter here) has returned the favour and recorded one of mine - appropriately enough about tea. Enjoy...


Listen!

Rainwater Tea

Bleak heat vanishes from the edge
Tendrils of steam
raised and shifted
disappear overboard

It blankets my heart
from the chill in the wind
But the breeze is strong
and cools my face, my hands
go red

Clouds
shaped by storms, appear
to numb the sun
They split to soak the earth

What was once hot, strong, sweet
Is now nothing but
rainwater tea

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Albino Carmine

Ah, May on the Thames. Sounds delightful. IS delightful, but for the tiny issue of insects. The few of you who read my blog last year might remember the description of the mayflies both alive and dead sticking to the sides and bows of the boat, making it impossible to keep clean. The same is true this year, but we've noticed something slightly more unsettling in addition - spawn of these insects. Whether they're mayflies, dragonflies or another creature of that ilk, I couldn't say, but for the past couple of weeks we've been blinded and smothered (metaphors, don't worry) by screeds of minuscule pale white efforts all over the outside of the boat - windows, doors, everywhere. Only a few millimetres long, they have fully formed bodies and legs (undetectable wings but they may be there, or forming) and look like baby skeletons of whichever flying insect they are soon to become. En masse, quite disturbing on first glance. 

This evening I had settled in my cabin to read a book but remembered I'd forgotten to brush my teeth. We haven't had a sink installed in our "quarters" yet so Debbie and I need to head back outside to climb into the main part of the boat for that kind of thing. Anyway, I leapt up and tiptoed in my socks along the side of the boat, from the very back to the side hatch around halfway down (at night, this needs to be done on the water side, as James locks the towpath-side hatch from the inside). I went into the bathroom, cleaned my teeth and, since I was in there anyway, double-checked the kitchen for things I'd forgotten to do or needed for tomorrow. In the bathroom and along the hall I had felt my feet sticking to the floor. Did we forget to sweep and mop today? I wondered. I wasn't about to do it then, so I left again to get to my cabin. My feet were now sticking to the side of the boat, too. Odd. When I got back to the cabin I sat down and discovered the truth - scores of white miniature insect skeletons, crushed and squashed onto my socks.

Definitely the last time I go out without shoes on.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Into Worlds

My friend Olivia has done a grand job of reading a poem about daydreaming for me - thought you might be bored of me by now - hope you enjoy, and follow her (@babelfishwars) on Twitter, as she is ace.

Listen!

Into Worlds

Into worlds I go
Vast landscapes
And eclipses of reality

Detailed in the darkness
Not before my eyes, behind
A moment's rest
A parallel place
To throw my mind

Nothing real could be so glazed
So bright
This floating possibility
Leaps and bounds
traversing doubts
with improbable energy

No life could be as strong

They knock
I wake
Not from slumber but
my reverie
sinks with only traces
on the surface of my memory

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Little Bird

A friend asked me to write a mean poem about her. I'm better at angry stuff in Scottish (writing, anyway - my accent sounds horribly English at the moment) so thought I'd give it a go..enjoy. You can listen below, if you can't be bothered reading.
Little Bird

Listen!

Will she no' just shut her trap?
The wee infuriating nyaff
"Oh, I'm just a little bird," says she
Then stomps her muckle feet wi' glee

She canna take no' being right
She'll pout, and clamour for a fight
But in the end, she'll no last lang
As we a' ken the birdie's wrang

Bob, A Sham

Bob, A Sham

Bob likes a drink, he goes to bars
You can tell that from his avatar
But you might not know the glass is a sham
His favourite tipple is Babycham

He drinks it in the eventide
He drinks it quick, so he can hide
the label from his cooler friends
It breaks his heart that he pretends

So come on, Bob! Just tell the truth
And stop having to hide the proof
We don't mind that you like perry
As long as you're happy, healthy and merry

But Bob, he just can't take the shame
He's quit the stuff, with us to blame
The little deer makes him go red
So he's started drinking beer instead.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

La Douleur Exquise

Given a surprise hour or two off, I wrote a few poems about friends. This is Louise's. I'll post Bob's later, and more as and when...if I know you a bit and you want one just ask. I like challenges.

La Douleur Exquise

Her voice, it lilts
His heart, it melts
When first he sees
My friend Louise

She resists his hand
He cannot stand
La douleur exquise
My friend Louise

She wanders free
For it cannot be
From him, she flees
My friend Louise

She seeks true love
This isn't enough
One day she'll find peace
My friend Louise

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Coot

This is for Debbie.

The Coot

A coot just whispered in my ear
"Come sit with me, Kat, so you can hear,
I've got a story you might like,"
So we rested against my yellow bike
And he began to speak.

"You know the flat white streak we've got?
It's come from the sky, from quite a lot
of other birds who don't like us much,
so they poo on our heads, and as such
it always tends to stick.

"And our legs! Have you noticed our legs, Kat?
They started out tiny, but then we got fat
because of all you lovely humans who fed us
so they grew strong, and turned green from riverside meadows,
so it's mainly you to blame."

I listened and I understood
He wanted me to know; perhaps so I would
not mock them so on their strange features.
Only one thing puzzles me about my little teacher...
How did he know my name?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Ghostly Birds

This happened, sort of.

Ghostly Birds

Did I tell you about the ghostly birds?
They appeared as we walked through the darkened city
Silent and white against the night sky
We listened out for their familiar cry
But none came;
We looked at each other, my friend and I
"Do you see them, or is it my eyes?"
They slipped in the wind as if made of paper
Lit from below, gliding and searching
Soon the pale ghosts taper off to leave us
in darkness again.
My lover then told me they were searching for me
He'd sent them with tales to tell from afar
When I saw them again,
if I stood still and listened,
A message would form in my heart

Monday, 2 May 2011

Sea Sick

I have been trying for days to upload an Audioboo, but for whatever reason (probably that the signal isn't strong enough, although even using a dongle with which every other website is fine, Audioboo won't load...) I cannot. Therefore you'll have to put your eyes to some use and read this instead.

I must admit I am a little uninspired to write about the whole boating thing, as it feels like a rehash of last year - do feel free to scroll down to 2010's entries if you want to find out about the kind of work I do, albeit now on a different boat! I decided to not stress out in the first two weeks and concentrate on relaxing during time off instead of working on things, so I could get back into the swing of this life. I have, though, written a little poem, which I hope you like, or dislike, or at least read.

Sea Sick

I stand on the edge of the boat
One hand on the rail
One foot on the gunwale
The other foot hanging, waving
over the dirty water six inches
below.

We're going too fast, and
as we shoot through the water
at five miles an hour
(the limit is four)
we create a wash
Foaming waves which will erode the bank
And I'm back on the first boat on which I ever sat
The Greek blue sea, my sunglasses, sunhat
And I still have the same urge as when I was eight
To jump in, disappear

To dive, to float, to swim, to sink

To drown

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Back To The Water

Tomorrow I'm heading off to work on another hotel boat for the summer, before starting training with the merchant navy in September. The same as last year, I'll be blogging about that instead of my writing, though if I get inspired (and the waterways of England are, to be honest, extremely inspiring) I might put one or two poems up along the way. I'll be posting more pictures, describing the scenery, the guests - not by name! - and whatever comes into my head. I hope you'll find it entertaining. If not... well, just don't read it. The boat I'm working on is here. We'll be in a different place every night so if we're anywhere near you please let me know!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Righting My Writing

I'm pretty lazy, to be honest. I have no discipline and I never force myself to write anything. Luckily I've got a career elsewhere, but I still enjoy writing as and when...

Listen!

Righting My Writing

If there is a way
To which I feel I can commit
Then commit I will
Until then I will flit
Between passing thrills
The delicate intricacies
Of flowing prose
To the sharp staccato wit
Of poetry
Who knows what I may find
And although I know I’m probably wrong
in thinking there’s a style to which I just happen to belong
And although I know there’s work to be done
Commitment, perseverance and carrying on, and on
It happens in my head
Like an unravelling thread
And I’m perfectly happy to wait
Until the future, that distant date
When it comes together of its own accord
At which point
It will be its own reward
By which time
I won’t care a jot
And of course
I’ll be so old and forgetful by then
I’ll have to start all over again

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

You're In Luck

A slight departure from rhymes.

You're In Luck

“It’s not right, Rosie,” said Ella, sniffing the cup. She squealed in disgust. “You CAN’T.” Rosie grabbed the beaker of dark purple liquid from her big sister and brought it to her lips. It smelled sweet to her, the same juicy ripe sugary drink that she’d tasted an hour ago from the same cup. Determined to show off her bravery, she squeezed her eyes shut, stopped breathing, and let the grapy mixture stain her tongue. After a second, she composed herself. Eyes wide, a quick assessment of the situation showed no adverse reaction.

“Ella… it’s the same. It’s just juice again.”

Ella wasn’t convinced. They tried the experiment once more, this time with coffee. The same thing. Rosie hadn’t felt sick, or looked green, or noticed any different flavour. After a few more drinks, Ella was persuaded to join in the taste tests, and agreed. There was literally no change.

Feeling a little petulant, Rosie drank an entire carton of orange juice and waited until she could feel pressure on her bladder. She eagerly took her glass into the bathroom with her, but was rewarded with a pale yellow stream instead of the acidic egg-yolk orange she had hoped for. “Looks like it’s just you, Ella,” Rosie announced as she rejoined her sister. “What can you have done to make THAT happen?”

Ella shrugged, warming to the prospect of having a magic power. “I don’t know,” she said thoughtfully, “but do you think it works with food too?”

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Quiet

It occurs to me there isn't long now before I go back to work on a boat, and I'll revert to blogging about that. I'm still writing songs rather than poems. Have one.

Quiet

I don’t speak much
I prefer to let others take up space
I hide in my corner
People rarely see my face

Does it bother you
That I don’t tell anyone how I feel
I’m sure you realise
It doesn’t make me any less real

It’s a quiet kind of feeling good
A little sort of love
A pretty gentle happiness
You’re in my heart
You’re in my heart

Tell me the truth now
It doesn’t seem likely you know either
What this is, or how
We can carry on any further

Does it bother you
That this time next year I could be gone
I’m sure you realise
But for me, for now, you are the one

It’s a quiet kind of feeling good
A little sort of love
A pretty gentle happiness
You’re in my heart
You’re in my heart

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Touch - Pause - Engage

Touch - Pause - Engage

Do you remember
When we mixed our drinks
And told each other
The world would be ours?

Do you remember
Our mocking rivalry
And mocking others
And crazy dancing?

I ran down the road
The day before your flight

Do you remember when you left?

We met again
Although I don’t think
You’ve found what you need
And I don’t know
If I need what I’ve found

I do believe the world is ours

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Seduction

I've been writing a few things as songs, lately, as opposed to poems. When I've got enough I'll record them all together but it won't be for a while, so I'm going to be posting lyrics up here occasionally just so I feel like I'm doing something. They'll make more sense in musical form.

The Seduction

See me with your eyes
Attract me with your smile
Touch me with your words
Play me with your sounds
Draw me with your mind
Steal me with your heart
Tempt me with your hands
Take me with your strength
Take me
Inside
Inside
Inside
Inside
Throw me with your power
Catch me in your arms

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Forest

Forest

There was a clearing in the forest
A mile down the road
I thought that when I grew up
I would sit there with my love

Now there is a tangled fallen tree
And a constant puddle from the rain
I visit sometimes on my own

If you love me, let me know
And if I love you, we can sit
in the puddle and climb the tree
High enough to spot
A new clearing

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Latinate

I've been away from home the past couple of weeks, doing some sad things and some happy things. As a result I've neglected my blog but now I'm back at the laptop and will attempt to resume normality for a while!

This little thing popped into my head this afternoon, inspired by a friend who taught me the last line yesterday. Thank you, D x

Latinate

You give me false hope that you might pay attention
What starts with excitement gives way to high tension
I think, when you don’t look in my eyes but through ‘em,
“Futue te ipsum et caballum tuum!”

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Distraction

Can't quite put my finger on why
this distraction picks up pace
Gravity won't let it fly
Only invisible space

Friday, 28 January 2011

In Love With A Drunk

It hadn’t been his fault
He promised that he’d stop

But peer pressure continued
Until he faced a cop

“You can’t take off your trousers
in the street,” the policeman said

“I’m sorry, all I wanted
Was to go home to bed.”

He got out of the cell
Walked home with a headache

To find his wife had gone
to work, and left him
a slice of cake

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Neon Laughter

First of all, I have to thank publisher/reviewer/writer Scott Pack, whose own website is Me And My Big Mouth - as reading his work has apparently rid me of my need to rhyme. Check out his poetry, it's a genuine delight.

Neon Laughter

Explosion in my mind
Zooms and flashes and bursts
A FRACTION of a second!

A sudden strike of pleasure
Amongst the tire of before

Glittering fragments of cheer
The recollection of which
weeks on
is enough to make my day

Neon laughter fizzing up and
Overwhelming rush of smiles
Happiness.

Cold Bones

Cold Bones

Cold bones
Like thick splinters of wood in a dark fireplace
They shiver and glare
At the uncaptured heat
The out-of-reach embrace

Thin skin
Pale and bumpy from constant air
A freezing gasp
The window left open
Nobody there to cover gaps

An old man
Sits alone and waits for something to happen
Remembers to eat
sometimes, and sleep
But doesn’t remember why

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Armagnac

It seems, when set a challenge, I can't resist.

Armagnac

I’m relaxing on a working boat
Amongst the coal
Sweet honey glow slides down my throat
Warming my soul

My work is done, the stars are out
To light the eve
The midnight water ripples about
Beneath my sleeve

The deep round glass is heating up
Safe in my hands
Smooth amber liquid requests a sup
Nay, it demands…

A breeze plays with tree branches
Above our heads
Leaf piles in little avalanches
Make insect beds

Big, raw heat carves a solid path
O’er lips and tongue
A numbness in the aftermath
Ten melodies unsung

Weary, away from home and cold
And sleep, I lack
But all I need’s a touch of gold
This soothing Armagnac

Cake, For Christ's Sake

I hope that the title of this blog doesn't gain me a load of readers who want religion-themed baked goods.

There aren't the words to describe the momentary joy that cake brings me. I talk about it quite a lot, although more than I eat it. I watch TV shows about making it. I make it myself. I love it. And yet I haven't found it easy to write about it when concentrating. I suppose it's like trying to pin down a butterfly, or drink from a mirage. There's definitely a Burns poem about that kind of thing somewhere... I'll go and find it later.

Anyway, here's all I've been able to do about cake so far. Two tiny little poems, both inspired (in form) by the dead dude.

Cake With Friends

Oh, cake. You smooth, sweet chunk of fluff
I can never tell when I’ve had enough
And just the thought will suffice
to make me smile
Sit down with friends and a slice,
and chat for a while

Silent Brother

Ah cake, yer sweetness I maun’ hae
Wi’ the braw het coffee on ma knee
E’en ma brither’d sit doon for cake
Wi chocolate on’t
An’ he’s nae often wan tae chat and mak'
Politeness o’t

Monday, 24 January 2011

Think

They hurt, you know. All those things to which you don’t give a second thought, they hurt. When I begin a conversation with someone else, only to have you rudely take over. You might know more about the subject, but I don’t know if this is true, because the disappointment takes up too much room in my head to listen to you at the same time. When you give me a compliment, then I realise that this is the first time ever it has happened. When I tell you some news from an old friend, and that baffled expression crosses your face as if you don’t know who I’m talking about, despite meeting them dozens of times. When I’m excited about something and you don’t take the slightest interest. When you don’t listen, but instead wait for a gap so that you can speak. It hurts. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I must assume it isn’t, because if I start to think it is, it would destroy me.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

I Am Woman

The following isn’t about other cultures, and it isn’t even really about other people who live within the same culture as I do. It’s me, rambling and ranting, about me. Personal things. So don’t get angry or offended and try to argue. OK? Although I’m perfectly willing to discuss it all, you don’t need to tell me what I think.

From a short conversation with a couple of other people on Twitter, I’ve been thinking today about what it is to be a woman. The conversation, for context, started out about the concept in some television adverts that women are the smart ones, the savvy consumers who know the best products, and men are lumbering idiots. It seems, in my mind, to stem from a branch of feminism, the backlash against being told females don’t know as much about the world as males do. It’s not burning bras, it’s a more self-aware, now-it’s-2011-aren’t-we-so-grown-up-about-sexism kind of thing. But it isn’t, really, is it? Men are clever. Women are clever. Gender shouldn’t be relevant, and implying that it is, for day-to-day usage (I know nothing of any actual science, but I know that men do not need to be told by their oh-so-brainy girlfriends that painkillers might kill their pain) is pretty damaging. Obviously this is never going to catch on with advertising companies which rely on demographics and neatly labelled categories in order to “know” the people at whom they’re aiming their product.

By the by - just because it still makes me angry - whoever came up with “Ryvita - for ladies that lunch” is an idiot. Firstly, I’ve seen men eat Ryvita, but they probably won‘t want to now. Secondly, it should be “ladies WHO lunch”. Thirdly, people who use “lunch” as a verb are probably not going to buy Ryvita, because they’re stuck in a Sondheim musical in the 70s.

So back to the matter at hand. Being female. It’s just not something I think about, that much, although it isn’t for the lack of people bringing it to my attention. There weren’t many girls in my classes when I did various qualifications at college and uni. I attended a job interview recently at which I was the only female along with about 12 males. I don’t have particularly “feminine” tastes in clothing, or music, or doing things in general. This is in comparison to the girls I know well, which is the only comparison I can realistically make. I don’t call myself a tomboy, either. I’m not much interested in sport and I don’t like lager, both of which are seen generally as more masculine interests. I don’t find it easy to identify with, let alone side with, someone just because they’re the same sex as I am. I’m just a person, and aside from physicality, not much of what I do or think or say should be attributed to my gender.

The thing is, I’m not really interested. I get tired of women telling me, either directly or indirectly, that I should be fighting against sexism, and we need to prove ourselves, and that men still get paid more than we do, and blah blah blah. I’m not interested and I don‘t want to be made to feel guilty for not joining in your debate. Please stop trying to shove this idea down my throat that I’m being oppressed because I’m a woman. Because I’m bloody not. Nobody I respect has ever told me I’m less good at something just because I’m female. As the recent advertising trends go, men are the ones who are being told to feel like the dumb ones, boys are doing less well than girls at exams, etc etc, but this isn’t better, this is still rubbish.

What I’m actually trying to say isn’t that men are something or that women are something. I’m trying to say that I’m not in the slightest bit concerned about what you think of me, if that opinion is based on my gender. OK? That’s it.

Mail From Monkeys From Mars

In October, I visited a good friend of mine called Simon. We've known each other since uni, after which he promptly upped sticks and moved to America - this was the first time I'd seen him since he left, so a very exciting trip. He took the photo at the top of my blog, where I'm sitting on a wall in Mount Morris Park.

We started writing a ridiculous song together, which I wanted to share with you all, despite it not being *quite* finished. You can find the music somewhere on here

We wrote it on his balcony in Harlem, in the middle of the night, looking out at LaGuardia airport across the river, drinking a hundred cups of tea and interspersed with watching episodes of Black Books. If you can figure out the storyline, you're a better man than I.

Mail From Monkeys From Mars

Interstellar correspondence conveys crisis
The black (hole) market perpetuates premium prices
The colonies continually in disarray
The absence of stimulants
Confuses the immigrants
And fuses the spark to print dismay

Mail from monkeys from mars
Mail from monkeys from mars

It started as a misguided intergalactic mission
The humans had decided to expand their space aged vision
Our hopes were high but our budget fades away
We strapped them to a rocket
With cocoa in their pockets
And sent them afar to space to stay

Mail from monkeys from mars
Mail from monkeys from mars

Monumental failure as evidenced in writing
Cocoa crops ablaze, no photosynthesising
The decision was made to negate this charade
We marked the mail 'return to sender'


........... and some other words.........

Friday, 21 January 2011

A Winter Morning

As he stepped out of the shower, he remembered too late that there was no underfloor heating.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Tryouts

She wiped the sweat from her brow with thick, chilly fingers. Her heart was pounding as she stood still, calves tensed, flexing her toes inside new, rigid trainers. The back of the shoes were the kind that had one point, that dug right into the back of your ankle, instead of two points, which would hug both sides. The skinny woman in front of her, in front of all of them, started chanting instructions through a megaphone. The early sun was beating on their faces and they were exhausted having not yet begun. Wearily, trying to appear energetic, they began a sprint around the big blue track, the white lines failing to separate the runners as they merged into a breathing mass, a swarm of vested athletes. Gradually, though, as they curved around the second corner, the rest of the girls seemed to surge forward. She was travelling at the same speed, or so she thought, but somehow couldn’t keep up. This was not good at all. She tried to pump more adrenalin into her legs, to work around the burn coursing through her muscles and to ignore the iron taste in the back of her mouth. She was a metre behind the back of the pack now, two metres, three metres. No good. There was a moment, just a second of doubt, but it was all she needed. The pressure had been taken out of her concentration, the switch had been flicked, and she started to slow more deliberately. Her harsh breath echoed in her ears, far louder than the pounding of the others’ feet in the near distance. She watched them begin a second lap as she stopped completely, making eye contact with the coach for less than a second before a slow blink erased all concern from the woman’s face. The megaphone was screaming encouragement, but not at her. She had been forgotten now, she deserved no attention. She had stopped. Given in.

Slowly she made her way back to the road next to the track, her legs shaking, her weight shifting, her mind airy and cold. Her bag was light, a blue canvas drawstring that she had been told would be useful for sports gear. There was to be no sports gear. She stepped on a bus and, upon returning home, sat on her sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and a smile. There was to be no sports gear.

Self-Portrait - Waking Up

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Can't Get You Out Of My Mind

I search for a way to do your beauty justice, I attempt to capture your essence, but it slips away, it escapes, it will not be found. You are richly dark and at the same time sharply illuminating, you are bluer than the saddest song and blacker than the bitterest tongue and brighter than a child’s heart. Your blue-black is a wildly comforting storm, the shattering relevation of a midday eclipse, you make hearts break and reattach simultaneously, you are a broken illusion and the quietest peace. There are thunderbeams, stars, constellations which spark and shake and shimmer with serenity, keen to be known, too shy to be shown, the white glistening drops of madness which dizzy and destroy the sky, and flirt with secrecy. There are moons spattered across your depths, crystalline globes of a near-white clarity, the iridescence turning to a milky anger as they hide from watchful minds. Between the stars and the moons and the dark and the light are your eyes, deep and neverending, a welcome presence as my soul reaches out to you. If they add to this a fathom of unrest, a margin of shiver, a slow, gentle clink of love, they will find you, as I found you, and they will understand, like I try to understand.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Clearing Out A Backlog

I'm working on a few longer things at the moment, and don't feel especially inclined to post them for all to see - although I've let a few friends read bits, I'm pretty protective of unfinished work. Trying to grow out of intense shyness is apparently quite difficult!

So as a placeholder on here, have a song I wrote a few years ago. I don't like it, personally, so it would be interesting to see if I have the same taste as the people reading this (I'm NOT fishing for compliments here, I'm clearing it from my folder, and only want to hear actual opinions). The structure is ABABA, and the second B section seems irrelevant to me now I read it again, although it made sense at the time.

Different Things

Different things, different days
My reactions change in multiple ways
Last week I hated you, this week I can’t get enough of your face
So you see what I mean, different things, different days

Some people say it’s because I’m a woman
One potato, two potato, chopping and changing
I’m more inclined to say it’s coz I’m human
My synapses are constantly rearranging

Insane thoughts, childish games
We both benefit from my terrible aim
Tell me your point of view, I’ll tell you mine and I bet they’re the same
But we still feel the need for all these insane childish games

Television ruins our perception of people
Forcefed information til we’re sick in the head
If you follow someone blindly then you’re weak, you’re feeble
Don’t go by rules just because they’ve been read

Different things, different days
My reactions change in multiple ways
Last week I hated you, this week I can’t get enough of your face
So you see what I mean, different things, different days

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

I've been away for a few days, so have allowed myself not to write. I have, however, taken some photos, so in the absence of words, I hope you enjoy these...

Birmingham








Worcester





The future's bright, but it's not Orange.



Stratford







This is me being a guinea pig for Sarah Frasca, a good friend and makeup artist. You can see her own website here.



This is a 110-year-old Singer sewing machine that my seamstress friend is selling. If you're interested, let me know - it's in full working order.



Favourite pub in London



I'm fairly certain that everyone else in London loves this shop too.



There will be words later. Honest.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The End Of The Transfer Window

So, as my father settles down to watch football yet again, I distract myself with a further few blogs and self-run websites for your consideration. I hope you get a chance to familiarise yourself with at least one or two of these, as they enrich my mind in a way that endless Facebook/Twitter switching cannot do. In no particular order, a continuation of the list in my previous post:

Little Bird - or Nath - is a multicoloured marvel, a blogger extraordinaire and a thoroughly wonderful person. Have a look at her photos, and then she might post some more. She's awfully good at getting great, clean lighting and I'm uncertain how. Maybe she's magic.
Le Petit Oiseau

The Hungry Londoner is a mostly anonymous woman-about-London-town who writes about food as often as she can, and who should definitely be pressured into a post-Christmas ramble. Recipes, restaurant reviews (she utilises guest bloggers sometimes, including myself) and more abound here, as well as links to other excellent food blogs.
The Hungry Londoner

Mr Ken Macbeth lives in Germany and has a penchant for...nay, more an obsession with...tea in all its forms. He visits tea houses, has tastings, and describes it all beautifully, along with historical descriptions of varieties, with the accompaniment of great pictures. A true expert in his field.
Lahikmajoe Drinks Tea

Rosa Martyn is a student at the Royal School of Needlework, and writes about this as well as other subjects about which she is passionate. Fascinating stuff - I go for a quick peek and just can't stop reading. Remember to check out her Lady Gaga embroidery!
My Little Stitches

This last one was sent to me by a friend. I know nothing of its author, but it provides an elegant and indepth look into life in the east of London - characters, places, pictures, memories. One to use for when you need ten minutes of heartwarmth.
Spitalfields Life

There are many more blogs and websites out there with a stupefying array of subjects, themes, arts and sciences. Go and look for yourself, and you can see the world even when sat at home.

Trains And Transfers

The main aim of today's blog is to direct you to others. I'm lucky enough to be friends/acquaintances with a great many extremely talented people and their work should be more wide-reaching than it is - so get to it, send me things I'm missing out on and luxuriate in the joy of creativity. Or something.

First, though, so as not to give up on the writing thing altogether, one little poem. I'm not going to record it as I don't have the energy at the moment to read it as I hear it in my head - I wrote it very quickly, in about three minutes, and it should be read in the same manner. With the pace of a hurtling train, you might say.

Train

Spasms of fear, and
Spasms of thought
Will she go forth, and
Will she get caught?
The act may be daring, and
The act may be bold
How could she play, and
How could she fold?

A season of wonder, and
A season of trust
The bond will remain, and
The bond will not rust
Where is the pressure, and
Where is the test?
She cannot be tempted, and
She cannot rest

The prize it is hidden, and
The prize it is there
The claimant fought hard, and
The claimant won fair
So where is her joy, and
Where is her glory?
An unchanging guilt, and
An unchanging story

Come out with the truth, and
Come out with no falter
The unchanging must change, and
The unchanging must alter
She has not the time, and
She has not the patience
To stop with the masses, and
To stop at small stations


Now, to the transfers. Settle back in your seat and have a good time.

Sarah Frasca is a makeup artist based in London, who blogs about cruelty-free and eco-friendly ways to work - this stuff is interesting even if you aren't into makeup. She's got some exciting projects coming up and is definitely one to watch...
Sarah Frasca Makeup

Tim is a lead animator working in Vienna, and creates (and describes the creation of) astounding pieces of art. He also writes about film scores with constantly surprising and enlightening examples. A very talented guy.
Ramblings Of A Demented Englishman

Neil Hart is a writer from Surrey, who's had one novel published and is working on a great many other things including a sitcom and further prose. He is very funny, sometimes even intentionally.
Neil J Hart

Sam Johnstone is a multitalented gent from the Wirral (part of the Gingerbread Poets' Society along with Neil Hart, Karen Brigden and myself) who provides us with rants, rambles and intellectual discourse on many wideranging subjects. He also has a laser eye sometimes, although he writes very little about it.
It's A Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad World

Karen Brigden is a poet, photographer, cake-maker, mother and generally lovely person. She doesn't use her blog too much but if we all persuade her very gently, she might share more of her loveliness with us...
The Tips Of My Fingers

Gaijin-san (as far as I can remember it means foreigner or outsider...but in a nice way) is a lawyer type who blogs regularly on legal and political issues. He's articulate, intelligent and most of all normal - he writes in a very accessible way about very important things. There are also full rules and regulations of a Twitter-based drinking game, if that is your persuasion. If you have time, scroll down to read the post on "Article 10".
The Law, As Seen From The Cheap Seats

I know next to nothing about this lovely lady, but what I do know is awesome. An all-round beauty of a website, she encompasses food, travelling, daydreams, photographs and design... I could spend hours here. What particularly attracted me was this little statement:

"This blog is about making life a little less ordinary.
It's about encouraging others to give into a daydream or twenty.
It's about appreciating the all too familiar little details in our lives in all their quiet glory.
It's about learning new things and remembering forgotten things.
It's about making our own magic rather than waiting for some enchantment to fall into our laps.
It's about far off places and our own back yards.
It's about turning shit into gold and looking life right in the eye.
Its about finding new meaning and new ways to see."

It's what drives us all, no?

Worship At The House Of Blues

This collection of amazement of others is going to be completed later tonight - I cannot possibly hope to keep your interest for the length of time it will take to wander through the sites all at once. For now, enjoy.