Morning Sunshine


I love the sunshine through the lounge curtains first thing in the morning. It’s a vibrant, warm glow full of energy. We haven’t seen a lot of sunshine recently and this morning it was a more than welcome sight to come down and see this. It makes me want to leave the curtains closed as well as throwing them open to greet the day.

When I woke up this morning it was to bright sunshine and the feeling I want to leap out of bed and do something. In reality, I came downstairs and made a cup of tea and then sat down to write. I suppose that’s doing something though, isn’t it? I sit and want to write at other times and nothing comes to me so I should be making the most of this.

My latest project seems to be developing in a very different way to the others. I’ve been letting my characters develop and grow before starting to write a story and in doing so I can feel a story growing out of my characters.

I sometimes worry that I’ve got more than one thing on the go at the same time, but that goes back to realising I’ve left a trail of unfinished projects behind me in life, whether art, writing, or some other hobby I’ve picked up along the way. The projects I’ve got going at the moment are all ones I keep re-visiting and want to go back to. I’ve also realised I might not finish one or two of them for years. At least one of them may well grow into something quite big and that will need a lot of research and writing. It will also need a lot of editing. So I’ve started to worry less about unfinished projects and learnt to concentrate on growing the projects I’m working on. They will come about in their own time.

And now for some of that washing up that’s waiting in the sink – before the water goes cold.

Getting It Writ

I’m trying to write a short story for the Get it Writ competition as part of the Essex Book Festival 2013. A story in 500 words sounds a bit of a challenge so I thought I’d have a go but I’m not getting very far at the moment. I sit and look at a blank page and then find myself on the internet ‘looking for inspiration’ but in reality reading the BBC news pages, checking my email, or writing this blog. Needless to say I’m not finding the inspiration I need.

I’ve got stories I’ve already written and I’ve thought about adapting one of those to 500 words but the theme for the competition is ‘The Legacy of Summer 2012’ (interpreted in whatever way I like) and none of them seem to fit however much I think they might. What I need is a new story.

The challenge is going to be finding a beginning that grips the reader straight away and telling the story in very few words and then wrapping it all up. 500 words is not a lot to tell a story in.

Hemingway was once challenged that he couldn’t write a story in six words. He wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Brilliant. There’s a wealth of story in those few words and it’s up to the reader to make what they will of it. I’ve got 500 as my challenge.

I downloaded an app recently called Freedom that locks you away from the internet for a chosen amount of time so you can be productive. The only way to unlock it is to restart the computer. I guess the thinking behind it is that restarting takes time so you would carry on being productive in whatever you’re doing. I think the reason I keep shying away from using it at the moment is that I have no idea what to write.

Writer’s block? Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”

I’m hoping things aren’t that drastic! I’m just having a hiccup with inspiration.

Questions Only The Birds Can Answer

The familiar sight of a line of geese flying in a ‘V’ formation led me to thinking about why they do this and whether the birds are aware of what they are doing.

The birds behind the leader are flying in the slipstream of the birds in front so making flying easier. On long migrations this saves vital energy. If you watch the formation, you will notice they rotate the leader, taking it in turns to fly at the front, sharing the workload between them. An ornithologist may argue that the birds know what they are doing, but I wondered if they understand why they do it. I would guess that if I were a goose, I would know that flying behind my fellow geese was easier than flying in front, but I’m not sure I would have an understanding of the physics of the slipstream.

I watched three pigeons from my bedroom window once. At first I thought they were lying in the field opposite because they were dead. They were lying on their sides with one wing seeming to flap in the breeze. They caught my eye because three dead pigeons together would have been highly unusual apart from the fact they were all lying on the same side of their bodies and all facing the same way. And then one after another they rolled onto the other side and lifted the other wing. At the time it was raining lightly and I could only assume they were taking the equivalent of a shower, washing their wingpits. Did the pigeons know what they were doing and why they were doing it? It seemed to me they were quite aware of whatthey were doing but I couldn’t say they knew why they were doing it.

It’s now known that some animals, such as giraffe and elephants, will surround, and apparently guard their dead. Giraffes are known to stay with dead young, sometimes for a few days, even splaying their legs to bend down to the bodies, something not usually done by them except to drink. Splaying their legs to bend puts them in a vulnerable position. Elephants will stop and investigate other dead elephants, often staying with the bodies for some time. What is it that makes them behave in this fashion? Do they know the animal is dead, and if so, why do they stay with the body if there is no emotional attachment? For the giraffe, is it because she is following a deep-seated instinct to nurture and care for her baby or to mourn its passing, or both? Do elephants investigate their dead and stay with them out of recognition of the passing of the dead animal?

I read recently that insects give off certain chemicals, or an odour, that may warn off other insects in order to preserve others from suffering the same fate. It may be disease, poisoning, or predators that have killed them and the odour or chemical serves as a warning or even to pass on some immunity in small doses. As insects don’t seem to have been observed exhibiting similar behaviours to animals, it can be said this is a chemical process rather than an emotional one or an instinctive one – apart from the insect recognising the chemical and behaving accordingly. If animals give off something similar when they die, why do their fellows stay with them?

As humans we often humanise animals, dressing our dogs and even cats in human clothing, giving them names, feeding them human food, but they are a different species and we often fail to treat them as such, wanting them to do what we want them to do. We will see human traits where there are none and reward or punish behaviour that we do not understand and the animal will learn to modify its behaviour according to those rewards and punishments, particularly dogs. Certain species of animal have long ago been domesticated and live alongside humans very well; in the case of dogs, even seeing us as pack leaders. But this is not to say they behave like us, think like us, or see the world in the same way as us. We may be their guardians for a while, and even call them friend, but we are not the same.

There are things we do not understand about other species and probably never will, we can only go some way towards understanding and then guess at the rest, but without being that animal we will never know.

So, do geese understand why they fly in a ‘V’ formation, do giraffes and elephants understand that another of their species has come to the end of its life? Perhaps these are existential questions that only the birds and animals can answer.
“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” — Emily Dickinson

Roots – Knowledge or DNA?

Some years back I visited Kenya and Tanzania. I had never been before – although I had spoken at length to someone who lived in Kenya during the 60s and left when he was 16 – and I had no idea what it would be like apart from the descriptions of another person living there. I’ve never forgotten the feeling when I stepped from the ‘plane in Nairobi and felt very strongly that I knew this place. Somewhere deep inside me I felt as though I had come home.

There were things I recognised that could not have been explained to me in such a familiar fashion; the smells of the land and the populated areas, air humidity and the temperature, the sound of the Serengeti and the villages and towns, voices. It was at once strange and unfamiliar and yet known and familiar. I could not explain it.

As distant as it seems, a visit to Sutton Hoo in Suffolk gave me a similar feeling. The link we share with Angles, Saxons and Vikings as peoples of these island countries is evident from their history and their legacy. Our language, eating habits, laws and customs, all share a commonality with our ancestors. I felt the past sweeping up behind me and knew the ground I stood on as my own. This I can explain – I am English, born and bred. What this doesn’t explain is why I feel these things and how I could feel them, when I stepped from the ‘plane in Nairobi, for a land that isn’t mine.

Or is it?

Is my sense of place and the subconscoius memory of where I come from contained in my DNA? Where did the strength of feeling for a country I have never visited before come from? If I felt it in other places I could understand that it may be a vicarious sense of belonging rather than a real one, but I do not feel it in other countries I have contemplated living in – Italy, for instance. I love Italy, but I do not feel as though I have anything other than wonderful memories of the country. I have been to France so many times there are areas that are extremely familiar to me, but I do not feel as though it is home. The sense of coming home I felt in Africa seemed to be ancient and deeper than that, something below the ancient, deep sense of home I experience in England.

So where does that sense of belonging come from in England, in the place I call home? From the land around me; the Estuary and its tides, the stark and beautiful landscape in winter and the richness of it in summer. From a knowledge of my local area and its history, and from the people who surround me; friends, neighbours, family. That sense of belonging extends to the shores of this island, the commonality of language and shared customs, and a history that has made us who we are – generally speaking.

Perhaps it is that one is a learned belonging; something that grows and develops within the sphere of existence and awareness that I inhabit.

But what of the other?

Richard III at The Globe


Had a wonderful day out with my man on Sunday just gone – not that every day isn’t wonderful with him. Starting with the Alan Turing exhibition at the Science Museum – very interesting and poignant, the man was way ahead of his time and we seem to be only now understanding some of the theories he posited – we followed on with a trip down the Thames to Greenwich on the river ferry, a catamaran. The weather was more than we could have asked for and the sun shone all the way. The city is interesting from the river and seeing all the converted Wharfs made me think about the shipping there once was on the river (see last post about Thames Barges).

The day ended with a production of Richard III at The Globe. Incredible. The acting, the costumes, the theatre were all wonderful. The bit that sticks out in my memory was the dialogue between Queen Elizabeth and Richard III when Richard is asking for Elizabeth’s daughter to marry him and the Queen is berating him for the venomous person he has become and for killing the Princes, her sons, in the Tower. The dialogue delivery was spellbinding. The audience erupted when Samuel Beckett, who played Queen Elizabeth (it was an all-male cast) had finished and was leaving the stage.

This was the first production I have seen in English – the last being “Merry Wives of Windsor” in Swahili and “Love’s Labours Lost” in British Sign Language – and I shan’t forget it in a hurry. Now I want to read Richard III as I feel I shall understand more of it than previously. When you have actors who deliver the lines as if they are speaking everyday language it becomes more understandable than the poetic sing-song delivery of some of the older actors I’ve seen on TV.