My sister is not a statistic

Statistics. So cold and harsh. So black and white. Or so it seems for most of the time. Figures are just that, bland numbers that do not touch us directly, relating to the inanimate rather than the animate.

But statistics of deaths are another matter.

As day in, day out, the news networks report on the tally for today’s dead from the virus, we are in danger of becoming immune from what they really mean … each one a precious life.

The tragic daily role-call of death, captured in merely a couple of minutes, has shaken me to the core. It’s as if so many forget that behind each individual number is a person. No longer alive. Mourned by so many, loved ones who could not even be by their side in their last moments.

One lady sought refuge within her grief to pen a poem in memory of her beloved sister. A poem that speaks for all who have lost a family member these months, and alas the months ahead.

A poem that should survive and be a legacy of this cruel time.

Dorothy Duffy wrote the poem in honour of her sister Rose ‘Billy’ Mitchell who died alone in a nursing home in the UK as a result of the virus. Rose and Dorothy are both of Irish descent, living in England.

Dorothy (right) & Rose

Below is Dorothy Duffy’s poem and beneath is a radio interview with her where she reads her work aloud. Do listen and follow the words of the poem for an unforgettable, heartfelt and moving anthem to loss and suffering.

Rose Duffy

My sister is not a statistic

Tomorrow, when the latest Deathometer of Covid is announced
in sonorous tones,
Whilst all the bodies still mount and curl towards the middle of the curve
Heaped one atop and alongside the other
My sister will be among those numbers, among the throwaway lines
Among the platitudes and lowered eyes,
an older person with underlying health conditions,
A pitiful way to lay rest the bare bones of a life.

My sister is not a statistic 

Her underlying conditions were
Love
Kindness
Belief in the essential goodness of mankind
Uproarious laughter
Forgiveness
Compassion
A storyteller
A survivor
A comforter
A force of nature
And so much more

My sister is not a statistic 

She died without the soft touch of a loved one’s hand
Without the feathered kiss upon her forehead
Without the muted murmur of familiar family voices gathered around her bed,
Without the gentle roar of laughter that comes with memories recalled
Evoked from a time that already seems distant, when we were connected by the simplicity
of touch, of voice, of presence.

My sister is not a statistic 

She was a woman who spanned the seven ages.
A mother
A grandmother
A great grandmother
A sister
A Friend
An aunt
A carer
A giver

My sister is not a statistic

And so, she joins the mounting thousands

They are not statistics on the Deathometer of Covid

They are the wives, mothers, children, fathers, sisters, brothers,
The layers of all our loved ones
If she could, believe me when I say, she would hold every last one of your loved ones, croon
to and comfort them and say – you were loved.
Whilst we who have been left behind mourn deep, keening the loss, the injustice, the rage.
One day we will smile and laugh again, we will remember with joy that, once, we shared a
life, we knew joy and survived sadness.

You are my sister…….. and I love you.

Copyright Dorothy Duffy 2020

Finally, although Dorothy has featured on numerous radio and television/youtube interviews and many of you might have already seen and heard her poem, I am grateful to Roy McCarthy for sharing a post about her poem on his blog Back on the Rock.

Pull up a Pew!

Please, help yourself to a slice of cake! Would you like milk in your coffee? Sit down and I’ll let you into a secret.

Being barely permitted beyond one’s home does not need to result in ennui … many emotions have featured in our household these last months but boredom has not been one of them!

Rather the days have been packed with various activities, as a family or solo. From intense Scrabble tournaments (I’m still on a winning streak) to walks galore. More on these and our garden in the next post. From language studies to piano recitals (not by me). From ‘The Artist’s Way’ to photo filing! Outdoor projects delayed for years have been completed, indoor decorating starts this month!

Below are just a few images giving a hint of our new lives.

Jigsaws have not been on my radar for many years, yet with long evenings indoors looming we invested in a few new ones – surely 1000 pieces wouldn’t prove to be too much of a challenge!?

We loved the quiet companionship of rejoining the tiny pieces, deciphering the colours and hints of images, creating a wondrous whole. In the silence a new united resilience developed within us. Our son would pop in now and then, praising our efforts, or a quick nod if we had not had much luck. Of course, he’d reach out, pick up a piece or two, slotting them neatly into place!

The first jigsaw was a nostalgic scene from the picturesque North Yorkshire coastal town of Filey; a place I visited often as young. Unfortunately one piece went missing during construction – can you spot the gap?

Being keen, although more dabblers than professional gardeners, we couldn’t resist the flowers in the jigsaw below and thought we might learn something along the way. We did, mainly don’t get a 1000 piece jigsaw with many similar hues including purples, reds and blues! We are pleased however with the final completed ‘Gardener’s Palette’ taking in cottage garden herbs, vegetables and flowers in all their various hues and shades … and might even add a couple to our own haven!

Mother’s Day was bittersweet; a beautiful morning shared with my son, adoring the wonderful and thoughtful 3-D card, spending a couple of hours discussing life and music! Yet I was not able to visit my own mother in person, but fully aware I was only one from so many around the world missing hugs with their loved ones.

Creativity has flourished and I think more than ever we appreciate the simple art of making … something … anything!

My son and I have bonded ever closer over cakes, scones, buns; the Victoria Sponge of the first image was inspired by Charley and her recipe at Books and Bakes. Thank you so much!

The amount of butter and sugar is quite horrifying and in the end we forewent the buttercream; the cake still tasted sublime! Recipe books have been brought out of hibernation and we’ve experimented with new dishes, revisited old favourite ones forgotten along the way of busyness!

A busyness that seemed so-all-important, so-all-consuming, suddenly showing its true colours … there is nothing more important than family and friends. Here lies the richness of life.

A friend, working from home and no longer spending hours commuting, took that time to enjoy her knitting, sending us some of her creations! I love flamingos and these here are treasured by me!

Faced with the cessation of garden rubbish collection, my husband extracted unused wood from the garage to make this cute compost heap! It’s snuggly tucked in between a coupe of bushes.

The Eurovision Song Contest has been traditionally celebrated as a family all my life! First thoughts were that nothing would be shown in its place, instead the most amazing and heartwarming evening of the year (so far) lit up our hearts!

Determined to make it a party, even if only the three of us, I spent a morning making flags of the 41 participating countries. Many will be aware of the number of non-European countries allowed to compete … let’s not go there!

The specially organised show in the Netherlands entitled ‘Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light’ was inspired by the song ‘Love Shine a Light’ by Katrina and the Waves which won in 1997 for the UK. During the evening there were special features by old winners and a montage of 2020 performers who did not have a chance to compete.

The pièce de résistance was the incredible finale, singing alone at home, the performers as a whole sung ‘Shine a Light’. There was not a dry eye in the house as the full impact of the one joining forces to create a unity shone out across Europe!

Finally, amongst the frivolity of home life, the seriousness of life beyond is never far away. My only excursions for weeks were the forays to the pharmacy for medications for the family. These trips saw my skills at remarkable adeptness and speed develop, my evasion of others reach another level.

Touched by my worries, amused by my description of the dash through the shop, my husband penned the ‘article’ below. The most precious of gifts are not those of the highest monetary value, rather caring, thoughtful and loving actions and deeds! This made me laugh out loud and I recall it every time I visit Boots (name of the pharmacy).

“ANNIKA (THE SQUIRREL) PERRY
IMPRESSIONIST
(Well of a squirrel anyway)
Star of stage, screen and local Boots

Annika is an up and coming impressionist, currently appearing monthly at her local Boots, amazing customers and staff alike as she weaves her way along the isles avoiding contact with any unwary member of the public. In doing so she is amazingly lifelike as a squirrel jumping from side to side, speeding up and slowing down as the situation demands.

Her pièce de résistance is her amazing stopping, turning and reversing speed, enhanced by her clenched little fists held under her chin, if anyone gets too close. People cannot believe her performance, and neither could the staff, who have called the police on a number of occasions. (The police later described her performance as unbelievable.)

Annika is now looking to increase and amaze her audience and is available for children’s parties, local fetes and beer festivals. Cash payment (in a brown envelope) is preferred but hazelnuts will be considered as an available option where appropriate.

Annika can be contacted at Squirrel Nutkins Residence, Hole in The Old Oak Tree, Next to the big pond, The Nature Reserve!”

To finish the post, I would like to shared the 2015 winning song ‘Heroes’ by the gentle-hearted and humble Swedish singer Måns Zelmerlöw which he sung from the garden of his home in London and was featured on the Eurovision Song Contest show this year.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anaïs Nin

Hello, Again: A Book Review

Photo courtesy of Isabelle Broom

Philippa (known as Pepper to her friends) has lived her whole life in the picturesque coastal town of Aldeburgh in the East of England. A life numbed by grief following the accidental death of her sister Bethan two decades ago; a life only partly lived as Pepper has given up her dreams of travel and ambition to become a professional artist. Instead, she has sought refuge in teaching art through her own community project ‘Arts For All’. Outside of work, she socialises with a few close friends and her mother. A mother whose remote distant existence has been defined by her younger daughter’s death and no one, not even Pepper can find a way through to her.

Into this world Pepper’s older and feisty friend, Josephine, cajoles her to come along on a trip to Lisbon to try and discover what happened to Josephine’s first and true love, Jorge. What Pepper does not realise is that Josephine’s invitation becomes the catalyst which alters her entire life.

Wow! As the pair arrive in Lisbon the novel truly takes off and luckily this is only the first of five trips abroad that Philippa ends up making.

Lisbon is described in glorious lush technicolour detail, capturing the mesmerising beauty of the city and its people. The author paints a vivid image of the capital, the serenity palpable through the wonderful and magical depiction. I felt transported to Lisbon (and later the other destinations); yet I must reinforce that at no stage is the energy and ease of the narrative sacrificed for the sake of the locations.

Travel is so much more than sightseeing and this is the case for Pepper who finds herself transformed through her travels and experiences. First, in Lisbon she meets a German named Finn and the two of them seem destined to be together. As the story moves back to Aldeburgh, then to Hamburg, Barcelona and Guernsey, Pepper finds increasing creativity and freedom within herself as she faces the guilt of moving forward with her life, both personally and artistically.

“Guilt that her own pain did not run deep enough, that she dared to hope for elation in the wake of tragedy.”

Excerpt from ‘Hello, Again’.

Romance is interwoven throughout the book and interestingly played out across the various generations. Whilst the love interest between Pepper and Finn dominate, her enigmatic friend Simon becomes a frequent presence in her life. The romantic life of Josephine and even that of her mother and father also are explored with sensitivity and warmth.

Through this powerful portrayal of love, loss and friendship I found myself drawn ever deeper into the lives of all the characters, hooked by their tangled romantic encounters and I cheered along as they found a life beyond sadness. Nothing is predictable and the continual surprises ensure this is a rewarding, thoughtful and entertaining book.

Finally, a note to myself! How has this author not been on my radar! ‘Hello, Again’ is Isabella Broom’s eighth book and I now look forward to catching up with some of her previous works. I think I’ve got my summer reading sorted!

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 9th July 2020

To purchase: Amazon UK Amazon US or any bookshops or book websites.

About Isabelle Broom

Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts in London before a 12-year stint at heat magazine.

Always happiest when she’s off on an adventure, Isabelle now travels all over the world seeking out settings for her escapist fiction novels, as well as making the annual pilgrimage to her second home – the Greek island of Zakynthos.

Currently based in Suffolk, where she shares a cottage with her two dogs and approximately 467 spiders, Isabelle fits her writing around a busy freelance career and tries her best not to be crushed to oblivion under her ever-growing pile of to-be-read books.

Not One to Read in Bed!

This is definitely not a book to read in bed!

Weighing 1,420 kilos (3,130 lb) and measuring a ginormous 4.18 m x 3.77 m (13.71 x 12.36 ft) this colossus book needs six people and special machine to open the pages.

Not surprisingly, the book gained the Guinness World Record at the time for being the largest book in the world.

In its 364 pages, the book explores the flora, fauna, caves and architecture of Szinpetri in northern Hungary. It is here its creators, Béla Varga and his son Gábor, reside. They used traditional bookmaking techniques and upscaled them for this project.

Béla Varga, one of the book creators

In some ways, it is a global effort as parts were sourced from Sweden (wooden tables) and from as far away as Argentina (leather from thirteen cows). Paper and billboard printing was carried out in Austria.

Watermill that houses the book at Szinpetri.

Enjoy looking at this time-lapse video of its installation.

Note: I first read about this book in ‘Writing Magazine’ and learned more about it at World’s Largest Book.

Finally, I feel this post ties in perfectly with one I wrote in my early days of blogging. Then I explored the smallest books in the world and you can read this article by clicking on the link to Small, Smaller, Smallest.

OVERWHELMED!

“Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw — actually saw — a flower.”

“Imagine if we only got to see a cumulonimbus cloud or Cassiopeia or a snowfall once a century: there’d be pandemonium in the streets.”

“People would lie by the thousands in the fields on their back.”

From ‘Four Seasons in Rome’ by Anthony Doerr.

Note: Comments have been turned off for this post.

ON THE SOUND OF WINGS

After hours, days, weeks,
My body and mind in constant turmoil,
I find myself enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Lunch time sandwiches finished, I sit back.
The silence deafening.
My ears ringing.

No cars, no voices
No planes, no lawnmowers.

The world stopped.

Only now are we learning to cease.
To recall that we can think, feel.

Be one with nature.

In the loudness of nothing
I hear the buzz of a dozy bee
Just waking to a world
It thinks is the same
As before.

A constant cracking noise has my head swivelling
Where is it coming from?

I notice a blue tit on the seeds
With infinite peace, nibbling the inner goodness,
Cracking, cracking them open
To reveal the heart.

I move my legs and startle the bird.

In this moment a whoosh of spirit overcomes me.

With intense clarity.
I hear the flap of the wings
.

A light breeze wafts through the lilac tree
And in the process picks up my spirit
Sends it along the path of the departing bird.

A spirit that floats with oneness of the nature surrounding me.

A peace of such infinity overwhelms me,
I look back and see myself on the wooden chair.

Should I fly on, should I return?

The me looks a bit confused, lost, serene.
A bundle of emotions … I look forward,
Reminding myself never to forget
Reminding myself never to fear.

I drift back, re-joined, re-coupled.

An epic ephemeral epiphany.

©Annika Perry

“A Message of Courage, Kindness and Friendship.”

They say a picture paints a thousand words and with this in mind I’m overjoyed to share some photos of a young lady enjoying my children’s book “Oskar’s Quest”.

However, words still play a huge role and I’m very happy to include the following five-star review of the book by Erica, the girl’s grandmother and best friend!

“Oskar’s Quest” is a beautifully illustrated book sharing a message of courage, kindness and friendship. Annika Perry has a gift for writing up, not down to children. Even very young children are attentive, curious and observant. My four year old Granddaughter and I love reading “Oskar’s Quest!” My Granddaughter has already memorized parts of this book, especially the sound effects. She loves following “Oskar,” the blue bird, and “Maya,” the golden bird, throughout the story. Often a key to an engaging children’s book is how the adult also enjoys reading the book over and over and over again. I highly recommend “Oskar’s Quest!”

Many thanks to Erica not only for this wonderful review, but also for the permission to use the photographs of Abby. The copyright of these is held by Erica.

I have only known Erica a few months here on WP and already value her as a kind and thoughtful friend. Although not a reviewer before she quickly understood how important and key reviews are to a writer.

An inspirational person, her posts are always a joy to read, touching on adventures, travels, family and nature! She is also humble and almost by accident I learnt of her travel writing, love of running, taking part in Half Corked Marathon and Great Walk of 63.5 km. Do take a look at her blog Behind The Scenery.

Finally, I am elated to announce the first foreign language version of “Oskar’s Quest”. The translator, Marion Roberts, worked tirelessly to translate my children’s book … working wonders with text and especially the popular albeit tricky sound effect/onomatopoeic words!

Heartfelt thanks to David Cronin for formatting the latest version of my book and I appreciate all his work – without his help it would not be here! As simple as that!

Below is a picture of my favourite teddy, Minky, as he’s enjoying “Oskar’s Abenteuer”. Luckily he’s fluent in German having accompanied me on my studies at the Karl-Marx University in Leipzig and University of Tübingen. (btw. ‘Abenteuer’ means ‘Adventure’)

Purchase Links for “Oskar’s Quest“:

Paperback Amazon UK Kindle Amazon UK Paperback Amazon CA

Paperback Amazon US Kindle Amazon US Kindle Amazon CA

Purchase Links for “Oskar’s Abenteuer“:

Amazon UK Amazon US Amazon DE

From a Modern Romance to the Jazz Age: Two Book Reviews

These days I read a far wider variety of genres and it’s my joy to share the reviews of these two contrasting books – I hope you enjoy the eclectic mix!

“A Mother for His Twins” by Jill Weatherholt

The past and present collide to create the perfect scenario for this superb and engrossing romantic novel. Schoolteacher Joy Kelliher, who is single and has no children, one day welcomes two new students into her class, two boys who are the twin sons of her high school sweetheart Nick Capello.

Fourteen years earlier he disappeared without warning on the evening of one of their dates. An evening that led to a catastrophic experience for Joy. Nick has returned to his hometown following the death of his wife and he is not just suffering from grief. His life is lived under a veil of guilt.

As the boys are introduced into her class, it turns out that Nick will be a fellow teacher at the school and is also seeking the position of the school principal, a job Joy has coveted for many years, particularly as her father was principal at the same school.

Finally, the next morning Joy wakens to see Nick and his sons moving in next door.

Her world has suddenly and dramatically been turned upside down. Where before there was certainty and security there is now questions, regret, renewed heartbreak. However, the past attraction and closeness between Nick and Joy emerges time and again, her flustered flirtation in contrast to her professional self. Nick likewise is torn between his affection for Joy, wanting to repair a wrong, with his ambition to become school principal, a position he needs not only for his career but as a form of redemption.

Jill Weatherholt weaves with skill the links of the past and present, gently unravelling past events as they are revealed to Joy and Nick in turn. Both have secrets that they have held onto and which are difficult to share, particularly as Joy still does not trust Nick.

The narrative unfolds through the close third person of the two main protagonists, ensuring the reader feels empathy with each, knowing their secrets, inner turmoil and thoughts.

Throughout, the book explores profound themes such as forgiveness, trust, jealousy, faith, acceptance of one’s life, guilt and regret. Only when there has been reconciliation in all these areas is a life of love possible.

I was hooked from the very first page and Joy’s and Nick’s story won an instant place in my heart!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Available: Amazon US Amazon UK

Publisher: Mills & Boon Love Inspired (1 Sept. 2019)

Read more about Jill on her blog Jill Weatherholt

“Speak Flapper: Slang of the 1920s” by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

Who knew a dictionary could be so much fun?! ‘Speak Flapper’ is no ordinary dictionary however, rather a delightful and informative collection of slang from the 1920s.

The author was inspired to collate her specialist knowledge of words from the era following her novels set in the infamous Jazz Age. I’m so glad she took this leap of faith!

I enjoyed immensely not only reading the meaning behind the words and phrases but also the insight the book offered into life at the time. It gives a brief commentary on the social history of the era including about the people, films, inventions, relationships, alcohol, literature, clothes and crime … and so much more.

As each new letter of the alphabet is introduced Teagan reveals a snippet of history and wow, I was in awe of the creativity of the time. From automobiles to Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, from hats to phonographs, from washing machines to G-men!

I was surprised how many words were familiar to me and that I had no idea they stemmed from one hundred years ago. For instance ‘heebie-jeebies’, ‘Real McCoy’ and ‘Oops’ comes from then.

Some phrases surprised me by being similar to Cockney Rhyme, ‘Adam and Eve’ is ‘believe’ for instance. The language was wonderfully colourful and vibrant. ‘Lemon Squeezer’, ‘Caterpillar’s Kimono’, ‘Giggle Water’ give just a hint of some unusual words. When I meet a bore in future I will (mentally) refer to them as a ‘Gimlet’ … a terrific word! Some words were amusingly incongruous to their actual meaning, ‘peanut’ referring to a bomb!

Reflecting on our present-day language I wonder if it isn’t rather dull and bland in comparison to a century ago, whether a sense of daring and imagination is absent?

I can highly recommend this whimsical look at the Roaring Twenties and although I can’t yet speak fluent flapper, I’m a lot closer to it! ‘Speak Flapper’ really is the ‘cat’s pajamas’!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Available: Amazon UK Amazon US

Publisher: Independently published (5 Jan. 2020)

Read more about Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene at Teagan’s Books

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the reviews! Have you read any of these books or are you perhaps tempted to look at one or even both of them? As always, I look forward to your comments & discussion!

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2020 – Elisabeth’s Lists: A Book Review by Annika Perry

Many will know how much I enjoy writing book reviews on my blog and it’s a delight to share ‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ as featured today on Sally’s blog as part of her ‘Posts from your Archives’. If you’re not a follower of her blog, you’re missing out on a treat! Do take a look around and perhaps you have a couple of posts to submit yourself for the series.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the current series of Posts from Your Archives in 2020 and if you would like to participate with two of your posts from 2019, you will find all the details in this post: New series of Posts from Your Archives 2020

This is the second postby author Annika Perry and is a book review for Elisabeth’s ListsbyLulah Ellender

Elisabeth’s Lists: A Book Review

My signed copy of Elisabeth’s Lists: A Family Story by Lulah Ellender

There is a word in Japan for unread books left to pile up around one – tsundoku! I’m guilty of a few tsundoku collections of books; ones bought with well-meaning and tingling anticipation. Somehow they become unintentionally forgotten and lay precariously balanced with other books, dangling over the edge of shelves.

Often treasures of literature are hidden among these and this is the case for one such book which…

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2020 – #Memories – I Remember by Annika Perry

Memories play a pivotal role in all our lives, and in one piece of writing, I let my consciousness take a back-seat as I explored my own past. I’m delighted to share ‘I Remember’ as it is featured on Sally Cronin’s inspired ‘Posts from Your Archives’ series. I’ve turned comments off here and look forward to seeing you on Sally’s blog!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the current series of Posts from Your Archives in 2020 and if you would like to participate with two of your posts from 2019, you will find all the details in this post:New series of Posts from Your Archives 2020

This is the first post by author Annika Perry and I am sure as you read, memories of your own from your childhood and teenage years will resurface and be enjoyed…

I Remember

I remember the splash of the waves against the side of my grandfather’s wooden boat, my brother standing proudly by the mast.

I remember sitting in the back, snuggled like a chick under my mother’s arms, the sea salt and my long blond ponytail lashing my cheeks.

I remember being passed to land like a bag of sugar, an exulted terrified scream then the freedom of the warm rocks beneath my feet. Away…

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