Sunshine and Cactus

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I think sunshine has a habit of making everything look better, and feel better, and sound better, and taste better. Here in Britain we live under a perpetual cloud. The winter sky is characteristically overcast, gloomy light turning everything into monotone. When the sun finally does manage to beam her face down at us, once the relentless clouds have given her the stage for a moment or two, the world is suddenly flushed with colours I never knew existed!

Wow, grass is THAT GREEN?! 

That tarmac is looking particularly handsome today!

My goodness, I never noticed how very pink those roses are.

Oh, glory days, this doorstep is the most gorgeous russet I have ever set my eyes on. Peonies nodding in sunlit breeze. Gleaming black railings against the stark white of a Kensington building.

Everything has a humming vibrancy when the sun comes out.

n.b The photo taken above was actually in Spain.

Divide, and Conquer.

I went to London yesterday. I think there is a lot that people don’t understand about the world. A strange amount.

We were on Oxford street the majority of the time. I wanted to traverse Hyde Park and go on some boats because the sun was out. I wanted to trawl through a museum or two and have a gander at the Wallace Collection.

My friend wanted to shop in expensive department stores so shop we did. We entered Selfridges through the main doors because that is what Harry Gordon Selfridge would have done. I stared up at the magnificent building and the stunning front displays and imagined I was back in the early 1900s and the only department store was this magnificent display of architecture. Once inside I was transported to a world of glamour and excessive riches. Me in my glad rags. My ‘Sunday best’, as it were. I felt so drab and out of place. But it was euphoric, too. People treated me nicely because they wanted me to buy things. They showered me with samples and did a makeover on my face in the hopes that I would walk away with a bottle of expensive foundation or a Hugo Boss perfume that comes with a free bag.

I didn’t buy anything, of course. I am going to Morocco in early June with my father again, and my sister, and I am saving every single penny for that trip. We managed to find £60 return flights, and we will be staying with my father’s family so there will be zero hotel costs. But I do want to bring back things like Argan oil and clay tagine pots and some nice harem pants and maybe some summery tops. And those things are far more precious to me than factory made dresses costing a thousand pounds.

YES. A THOUSAND POUNDS.

Ok, not that much. But £550. For a sequinned gown. It was beautiful. But goodness.

They also do personal shopping! With champagne! Fancy that.

I really enjoyed my day out. I smelt amazing and had free expensive makeup on. And there were so many people to watch and observe and simply be stunned by. Affluent teenagers showering their credit cards on gleeful store clerks. Also the salesmen were so flirty. Telling me I had lovely skin and smiling and flourishing their wares at me. If I had a frivolous nature I would be charmed into bankruptcy!

It was a beautiful day. Marred, of course, by the devastation in the country. Everybody was on edge. Policemen manned every corner; I’d never seen so many in my life. Red alert, as they say.

I still felt safe, though. And happy. We are very lucky. Very very lucky and blessed. We have so much food and so much choice and so much affluence. We have organisation and kindness and order. We have security and care and effort. We have unity and consideration.

In other countries, they don’t have this. They have terrorists raining bombs down on them daily. Purging them from their homes. Sending them scattering in the wind under an ideology so warped and twisted from its origin of peace that nobody is sure of anything anymore.

One thing is certain, though. One thing. Behind all this aggression and cruelty is a lot of hurt. That is why it is so important to fight this hate and tragedy with kindness. KINDNESS.

For e.g., don’t torch a muslim place of worship. Don’t attack a muslim woman in central London. These people didn’t do anything to you. These people are hurting about this senseless horror just as you are. I saw so so much kindness on the news. I saw people opening their homes and businesses for those in need. Blood donor centres were overflowing. People travelled from all corners of the UK to offer a helping hand.

People care, you see? Some don’t. of course. Some are calling for the final killing of all muslims. Some are calling for the deportation and the banning of muslims. Some are attacking muslims and plotting their revenge.

If we hate our own people, Islamic State have succeeded. They have succeeded in dividing us, and that is how they can conquer.

 

 

Assholes.

Living in Crewe

Hello bloggers.

I have taken a short break from blogging. No, I haven’t. I just have not blogged for a while. I haven’t been busy, as such. Well, I suppose I have, in the grand scheme of things!

I have edited (finally) my husband’s 24,000 word dissertation. I even did some research on the history of cars, from the designs of Leonardo Da Vinci to the Model T created by Henry Ford. As a non car-enthusiast, I can honestly say I found it all immensely fascinating. What really stood out starkly for me was the revolution in all economic systems that was created by cars. Traffic control systems had to be created from scratch through trial and error, 60% of the deaths caused by careless driving and speeding, at a time when speeding was a concept nobody had ever heard of let alone contemplate, were children. The growth of the car industry was a tragic and nostalgic business. However it sure has saved us a LOT of time and hundreds of feet worth of horse manure! (I speak very literally here when I say hundreds of feet – in the year 1900 the horse population outnumbered the human population in New York city!).

I have also been working on my own dissertation, which is far less fascinating and a whole lot of nonsense, really. I am taking a creative analysis course, where I have to analyse creativity in language. All the theories are entirely subjective, so it’s a little tedious to hear somebody’s opinion on something and quote it as fact. In all honesty, I don’t think much of it at all. But shhh, don’t let my lecturers hear you say that! It would be a travesty and might potentially affect my final grade! The grade which determines the outcome of my degree! Huzzah! It could NOT come sooner, I tell you.

Britain is sunny, the dogs are barking cheerfully and sometimes suspiciously, and the small town I now live in is a piece of literal crap. *insert taped laughter*.

It’s called Crewe, in England, about an hour South-East of Manchester and two hours East of Liverpool and three and a half hours North-West of London. I could cycle the entire town in about fifty minutes, and walk it in around two hours. The people are remarkably racist and treat me as a second class citizen because of my olive complexion and my dark black hair. I know this because they give me English looks of disapproval (I do it myself so I KNOW) and they also make comments about ‘immigrants’ and ‘they shouldn’t let them in’. I am not an immigrant. My maternal grandmother was. So was my paternal grandmother. I am just a very diluted English person. Even if I was an immigrant, one oughtn’t to treat immigrants like that. It’s rude and unwarranted and plainly ignorant. Also inhumane. When I open my mouth they are often taken aback by the British accent. They are uneducated, pro-Brexit and against Islam, brown people, and immigration. They are also remarkably poor, and very uncivilised, often leaving their homes at 3am in their pyjamas (oftentimes without) shouting at each other and toppling bins over.

It isn’t all negative, though. The shop ladies are lovely, and my neighbours are a sweet Polish couple with a bubbly little blonde daughter. Once I was cycling on the road and my long cardigan got stuck in my chain (fashion over logic, in this case, ha ha!), so I had to stop and yank it out on the road. While I was thus occupied, a woman darted out of her house and asked if I was okay and did I need any help? I was mighty touched, thanking her for her kindness. Another time I got my chain caught (on nothing, this time), a couple of really shifty looking young men came up to me when I was trying to fix it. I panicked because they did look menacing, but one of them said, as they drew close, ‘You alright, love!? Need any help?’

I was pleasantly surprised by their helpful kindness. I suppose it isn’t all black and white, and there is some ying in this yang. Or was it yang in this ying?

 

Me and Machine

The train poured out of the tunnel, and endless stream of boxcars and flat empty carriage holders, on and on and on, the engines roaring in a crescendo of deafening sound, yet the pull of the train too slow to warrant such a noise so it made it seem like a weak, outdated machine.

Maybe the train was just too heavy, and so the engines had to work extra hard. I counted forty boxcars and then I lost count, as more kept spilling out of the gaping hole of the tunnel at the furthest end of the station; the mouth of this huge cavern of a station echoing with humanity drowned in the noise of the machine. Boxcars filled by robots, operated by robots, stacked by robots and sent off by robots to factories run by artificial intelligence.

So much power created, and the world carried on pretending to be the humdrum efficient system humans had created it to be.

And still it kept coming, more and more, vomiting out boxcars as they trundled along to the ends of the earth. I watched them glide past, too fast to jump on without serious injury or even fatality, and too slow to not contemplate doing the latter.

In the end, when the noise faded after the last boxcar holder, devoid of its box, melted into the wavy distance of burning horizon, the station sat in silence. Hunched over after the hefty belch it had just expelled from its gut.

I looked around me. Emptiness. Stillness. The laughter and chatter I imagined beneath the roaring noise of firing pistons had disappeared with the train, and I was left alone.

Was it my imagination, there there were people around me? The heat blazed outside the gaping lips of the station, where trains go after they have surfaced from its gut. The sky was brilliantly blue, deliciously deceiving, for I knew my skin would burn and curl up into brown flakiness the minute I stepped out of the shadow. I was alone. Sitting on a bench. Clutching my canvas bag close to me, feeling my sweaty thighs meld together under the soft cotton of my dress, which felt a little damp from the sweat I imagined pooled there.

My throat was dry, but the shops were closed. I sat and waited for the next train, the next glimpse of humanity to cure my aching loneliness. I would imagine human chatter under the noise of mechanical efficiency. After all, machines were created by humans.

I can’t be the only one left in the aftershock of viral destruction. It can’t be just me and the machines. Me and the remnants of man.

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Love Letters #37

Dear Tom,

It was Anne Shirley who told her darling husband-to-be Gilbert that she was ‘alone but not lonely’ one beautiful evening whilst walking through the graveyard of Summerside, that year she was away teaching there. A mighty dreadful time she had with those Pringles, I tell you. I was reading of her walks on the train; the countless descriptions of wind surging through the tree lined avenues of the most wondrous places on P.E. Island, and I felt the cool breeze on my face, I saw the violets in their numerous beauty, I smelt the flowers in bloom and the voice of Rebecca Dew echoed uncomfortably close to my ear, that I looked up abruptly, only to see the heads of my fellow modern train passengers, oblivious to my rapture, in raptures (or otherwise) of their own. I laughed loudly at some point, her characters do come up with the most curious things! A rather stern Aunt Mouser told her niece to not quote the bible flippantly, and then turned to Anne and said, ‘You must excuse her, Miss Shirley, she just ain’t used to getting married.‘ Tom, forgive me when I tell you that I found this so funny that tears streamed down my face!

When I turned the book over, there was a little ode to Montgomery, saying that her work ‘continues to draw countless visitors to Prince Edward Island each year.’

I will be very frankly honest with you, dearest, when I say that my heart sank when I read that. I imagined the Prince Edward Island will not be as I imagined it if I ever do go. I made up my mind then and there to never go. I don’t want to see roaring cars and buses and city roads with white paint. I don’t want to see areas of desolation and corrugated iron roofs. I don’t even want to see people wearing modern clothes. I don’t want to see tourists. Granted, they may be like-minded tourists, but tourists they will be nonetheless. I want it to be just how Anne and Emily and Pat describe it, and my heart aches to know it will never be so. I was born too late, I suppose.

I last read Anne of the Island at the age of fifteen. I was reading the first three books over and over again, and only recently did I stumble upon the fourth book, all these years later.

I was trying to fault Anne, I found, whilst reading the fourth book of the Green Gables series. I was trying to fault her for being ‘too perfect’ or ‘too beautiful’ or ‘too well liked’. She is well liked enough, and is able to deftly turn everybody and make them adore her, sure. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her adult self again, all these years later as an adult myself and not a child.

Anne is timelessly incredible. She is not too beautiful, because she doesn’t see herself so, and many others pointedly tell her of her carroty hair. She is not too perfect, because she tells Gilbert in an epistolary fashion that she has to accept that not everybody will like her, when certain people very vehemently do not. She is not too anything, and yet she is perfect. She is who I aspire to be.

She is hopeful, she is resourceful. Her words dance with life and laughter, and I imagine her grey eyes to be starry and full of light. She talks to everybody, is friendly with everybody, tries to help all sorts of people. She even cancelled her trip back home to sit with forty year old Pauline Gibson because she knew Pauline was lonely and henpecked by her grumpy old mother. How selfless is that? I don’t doubt that a lot of people were like that at the time, and didn’t think twice of being so generous with themselves and their time. Nowadays everybody is so ‘busy’, so ‘private’, so ‘personal’; never talking to strangers or even trying to find out who one’s neighbours are! Nobody just calls on a newcomer anymore, nobody sends each other cake, nobody calls each other over for supper unless they know them very well, and that is why, I suppose, a lot of us are so lonely!

A little sprinkle of Anne makes any day brighter. I found my day to bloom after reading a few chapters of her, and my heart ached a little, because I would never be able to meet her or become chums with her or wonder the nooks and crannies of the Island with her. She makes a small town like a little heaven here on earth.

I learnt from her to find joy in every aspect of my life. I learnt that even though I don’t live in Avonlea with her, I can find my own little Avonlea just where I am.

I love Anne Shirley, and I can see why others do too; and I am excited to finish following her journey through the eight precious books penned by our very own Lucy Maud Montgomery. Over and over again, delving into the land of magic, spirits and the most eccentric little characters one could ever dream up. She makes my heart yearn for something I can’t quite touch.

Yours most truly,

Amelia.

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James Hill

  

Every Few Weeks or So

A strange stretch of days

Occurs every few weeks or so

When my body

Doesn’t feel like it belongs to me

It has a wilful mind of its own.

My stomach has a hissy fit,

And demands more chocolate.

When I don’t oblige,

She distends anyway,

Growing twice her usual size,

and sending lightning bolts of pain up my back.

‘Stop it,’ I hiss furiously,

‘We have company.’

She growls in return, then moans

As she crimps herself like an acrobat.

I grimace through the pain.

My joints begin to add to her clamour

Growing stiff

And my muscles bow beneath that pressure.

Am I coming down with the flu?

‘Go to bed,’ my body yowls,

Writhing, cramping, bending, aching.

‘Go

To

Bed.’

I look in the mirror

And my heart sinks.

‘oh,’ I think, ‘I am one

Fat

Piece of work’

Bloated stomach,

Painful chest.

I blubber like a puffed up seal.

But I’ve been working out for three weeks…

Then

It hits me.

Oh.

OH.

I see what’s going on here.

And I recognise this for what it is,

My body just doing her life-y thing.

I have my herbal tea

I cry the hormones into a puddle around my feet

And get on with it,

Like every

other

Female out there.

Soon my body will go back to its rightful state.

My stomach will pull itself together

Smile sheepishly at me

And comply.

My mind will reset itself,

My muscles will yearn for exercise.

My energy will soar through the roof

And all the angst of the days prior,

Will feel illogical, and unfounded.

The body is a wonderful piece of work.

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The Hostile Child

In the holidays, children come out to play. Big children, small children. Lots of vibrant little minds. Red haired children, black haired children. Blue eyes, green eyes, grey eyes, brown eyes. Tall, short. Fat, thin.

Mean…. and kind.

Today I walked past some kids, and I said, ‘I hate kids.’

I did hate those kids. They were loud and obnoxious. And they sniggered rude things about me as I walked past. I smiled in a way that I know was patronising.

I love kids. Small kids. Even rude, small kids. I eventually won their respect when I was a teacher. I loved to teach them, even when they did not love to learn. There was a ten year old boy who all the teachers complained about. He was honestly a handful and a half. I found him hilarious. He had a quick wit, and if I wasn’t supposed to manage a class of thirty children, I would have probably laughed at his witty comebacks. However, I kept my face stony and told him to save it for the playground. He was always in trouble in my classes, in all classes, but I made sure it was fair, and I made sure he got his work done.

On my last day at school, I was walking by with a colleague and saw that naughty kid where stood beside his mother.

‘Hey, miss!’ he called, and I turned. He ran up to me and slipped a small wrapped easter egg into my hand, ‘This is because you’re leaving.’ He looked so shy and ran back to his mother without looking at me. I was so touched. I thought, sometimes teaching is worth it.

Then I moved to this crappy town. Where I smell weed everywhere. Where the glass windows of bus stop shelters are shattered. Where children swear at you as you pass. Where they hang around smoking and talking about things children shouldn’t think about until they are much older.

And as I walked, I thought, ‘I hate kids.’

I am a supply teacher here, though. I will have to deal with kids like these, and worse. It won’t be a little witty joke in class or a disrespectful stare anymore.

And I can’t think, ‘I hate kids,’ and just walk on by. I will have to deal with these kids. And you know, it isn’t always their faults.

Today a small girl was screaming into the wind, and I saw the ecstatic joy on her face because she was probably having a moment of freedom. Her shout was cut short suddenly, harshly, when her mother whacked her around her face and said, ‘Shut your mouth you stupid cow.’

Now I am not one to judge parenting, honestly. Maybe the mum was having a bad day. But the look of complete humiliation on that little girl’s face made me feel awful for her. Honestly, though, in this town, this is not the first nor the tenth time I have seen incidents like this. A mother shoving her face right into a toddler’s face and screaming at her to ‘bloody keep up or I’ll kick you one’. Kids who are brought up in a hostile environment tend to become hostile too. They become hostile adolescents and then hostile adults.

And teachers don’t really change much, but they can do their best to teach that hostility towards others is wrong. Who knows. Maybe a kid will realise as it gets older and change its ways? Who knows.

I am not looking forward to teaching the kids in this town, after what I’ve seen these past five months. On a daily basis. However, I am gong to try. I am going to enter with a positive attitude and good intentions. I am going to go in thinking, ‘I love kids.’

Kids need love, to give love. And I was given so much love as a kid. So it’s time to give it back out into the world.

Alone

I’m alone.

I have been thinking about a lot of things lately. I am just going to say them.

Humanity is so vast and complicated. There is a deep sadness underlying everything. Every kiss is tinged in sadness, every touch, every hug. People can walk around preaching happiness and laughter but underneath it all is this deep violet blanket of sadness. And when they are alone, and the world dims behind a shut door, this sad reality begins to sink in.

We are all going to die. Some of us might die horrible deaths. Some of us might kill ourselves. I was washing dishes with cold water and staring out at two little boys in the street, kicking a ball around for hours in the cloudy sunshine, and I thought, how could somebody kill themselves?

And when somebody does kill themselves, they spark a tremor in the earth. People are devastated. We have to be kind to each other, they shout, we have to connect, we have to help the lonely people.

But what about the ostracised people? The people who walk around towns wearing a headscarf and feel desolate and lonely because they don’t know anybody, and everybody stares at them with suspicion because they represent a religion so often stamped with the labels of murder and bloodshed. What about the people who look different or act different and are targeted because of it?

It is so strange. I am alone. All my family members are thousands of miles away from me and it feels so strange. I scroll through their photos on my phone and smile at their frozen smiles, my mind is with them at that time and place but my mind doesn’t exactly know where their minds are at that moment. I think technology and the internet has made us come to expect that knowledge will come to us; so we become impatient.

I went out for a walk today and I did not like my town. I did not like the hostility. The stench of alcohol and cigarettes. I look at the drab way people are dressed and the way their bottoms show because their jeans are hiked low, and the way they down can after can of beer, and I think, oh for the days of yore. The days when people dressed modestly and looked like they had dignity.

I bet they didn’t stink.

Then I stopped for a moment and really thought about it. Of course they stank. They didn’t have proper running water. They published articles about showering once a month, and some once a year if they could get away with it. Their streets were piled high with horse manure and urine and flies infested their cities. They drank plenty of alcohol and smoked far more than we do. Their women had to fight to be seen as HUMAN BEINGS in the court room, and were killed trying to demonstrate for a right to vote. A right to freaking VOTE.

They stank and it wasn’t just a physical stench.

Humanity is a thousand shades, and not just black and white. Things are not just right and wrong. There are a thousand clauses in between and reasons and rules and methods and situations and circumstances.

And we just have to plough on through it all and try to keep our heads above water.

Well. I am alone. And I don’t think humans were created to be alone. Adam had a wife called Eve. They had children. Even Adam couldn’t be alone.

I also think one shouldn’t be alone with their thoughts too often. That is dangerous. People need other people.

 

Comfort

There is honestly nothing like a hot, buttery crumpet, with a scrape of jam on the very top, washed down with a mug of sweet, well brewed tea on a sunny day in spring.

In Morocco they have a similar sort of food, a pancake called ‘Baghrir’, fluffy and filled with holes just like a regular crumpet. They refry these pancakes in olive oil sometimes, but my favourite way to eat them is fried in butter and honey, sweet and succulent, with a small glass of sweet mint tea, steaming and oxidised from pouring from a height. My dad was a baker back in his student days, and when I was particularly small, he used to make them for breakfast every so often. A massive family breakfast. Usually when we breakfast together on a weekend we have a fry-up. Eggs and beans and toast and mushrooms and hash browns and sausages and whatever else you can add to a fry-up. My dad hates baked beans. He doesn’t really like much English food because he is not English, you see, and growing up his palette included much more savoury, aromatic Middle Eastern foods. So on his breakfast days we had moroccan pancakes, Spanish omelettes, cream cheese, honey, olive oil, plenty of olives and round, flat arabic bread. And lots of fruit!

Both kinds were comfort food to me. A plate of buttered crumpets with a moroccan teapot (ibreeq) and lots of small, gleaming little tea glasses, bits of mint floating on top. A nice contrast of cultures, in a way!

Moroccan mint tea is made in a special way. You don’t just pour boiling water on the mint, because you then have tasteless peppermint tea. You put in half a tablespoon of gunpowder tea, or Chinese green tea leaves into the pot and simmer with some hot water for a while. Then you pour it out and add more hot water until the metal teapot is filled to its workable capacity. You boil it until it bubbles, and then add your carefully cut and washed fresh mint. You close the lid and boil for about a minute, then you can sweeten to taste. Moroccans love their tea sweet. Too sweet, sometimes. But oh the taste of that fresh liquid, hot down your throat. I can have five or six glasses in a row. When I was in Morocco they would joke about how many glasses I would have, one after the another, greedy in anticipation.

When I was very small my father used to cool the tea before he gave it to me by pouring it from one small glass into another a few times until the heat dissipated enough for me to drink. When I went to Morocco last summer, I noticed that the Moroccans did that a lot for their little ones. I hadn’t known it was a thing they do.

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This is how to pour Moroccan tea. From as high above as you can manage!

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Ah, the fluffy, buttery hot English crumpet.