A GREEN CAGE

Bad Prison Cell Alcatraz

I pace the floor. Not for the first time. One, two, three, four and a half. The metal green door is cold to my touch. My head swivels round and captures the photo on the wall. Holding its gaze I walk methodically back. One, two, three, four and a half. The edges of the photo are frayed and its colours dulled; the past ten years have not only taken their toll on me. The photo was taken with my camera, one that used actual film. I hear those don’t exist anymore. Everything is digital they say.

Joe’s tiny face smiles back at me. He was only six months at the time and how he loved bouncing in that blue baby rocker. His red romper suit covered in white yogurt after he’d knocked my hand feeding. We’d laughed so.

Those days all my photos were of Joe. Joe smiling, sleeping, playing with his cuddly lion, eating, swimming, on holiday at Centreparcs. We were inseparable. Until his death. Three months later.

“Turner! Turner!”

The prison officer fills the door, her hair pulled tight into a functional bun, the khaki-coloured uniform bulging at her waist and arms. Hard to believe that had been me; squeezing into clothes. Now a size 10 hangs like a sack on my tall frame.

“Turner!”

Standing still, I gaze ahead. Carol, that’s my name. They took that from me in here; my self. Sometimes I repeat it to myself, just to make sure I don’t forget. “Carol. Carol.”  Daughter, wife, mother. Then child-murderer. Or so they claimed.

“The warden wants to see you. Now!”

I nod curtly and glance at the space above my table. The light green cement wall is covered with study notes, magazine photos and a calendar. A big red circle pulsates around tomorrow, marking my appeal hearing. My final hope.

The daily clamour of prison life continues around me unabated. After the silence all those years ago the constant barrage of noise is a balm for me. The silence of Joe and the day he stopped breathing.

The relentless rain had whipped around the car on the journey home from the nursery that day. Joe had cried non-stop. This in itself was unusual as was the pitch of his scream; twenty minutes of fractured tortured crying. Not that of hunger or exhaustion. Slowly it dwindled to a whimper and I hate myself even now for being relieved at the peace.

I stopped by the front door and rushed Joe, who was in his car seat, inside along with the shopping, before driving to park around the corner. On entering the house his stillness struck me immediately. Then I spotted his lips, tinged light blue. Panicked, I released the seat belt, opened his jacket and held him. I tried to get him to breathe. Those minutes turned into a lifetime. I must have called an ambulance. They took him away, lights flashing and sirens blasting. I sat in the corner of the ambulance, helpless. Watching the paramedics fighting to save my son’s life. In vain.

The hail had hammered upon my face as the police arrested me soon after Joe’s death. I wasn’t even allowed to see him again. Nor was I permitted to attend his funeral.

At least Liam had been able to go. Liam, Joe’s father, my husband, who knew me better than anyone. We’d been close friends since our teens and he always trusted me, when many doubted. Many times since we’d sat across the visitor table, surreptitiously clasping each other’s hands for comfort.

“It will sort, love,” he’d promised. With his dark hair straggling across his face he insisted, “It’s all a big mistake”. He’d been right, only we never guessed it would take ten years to prove it.

Salt, such a small innocuous condiment. The police and doctors said I had been feeding Joe teaspoons of this over time to kill him. My beloved Joe. My incredulity at the accusation turned to total disbelief, then resignation as expert after expert testified to the high sodium levels in Joe. The only possible reason given for its presence was poisoning.

I could never have harmed him but nobody listened. He’d been tired, lethargic even. Joe’s low weight had always concerned me. I’d asked for help but was told not to worry.

My raw anger and desperation at the trial hadn’t helped. I realise that now. Neither had my appearance with unruly frizzy hair which had long since been tamed into a short smart bob. Exercise, an anathema to me previously, became my new religion and I trained at the prison gym like a fanatic. Its bright green walls especially gaudy under the fluorescent lighting.

Once my body was in shape, I turned to my mind. Unused since school where I gained a couple of qualifications, I studied like one possessed and only last year achieved a degree in law. I’d almost laughed as I held the certificate. A degree! Me?! A care home child, no known parents and already convictions for petty theft. I’d had no chance at the trial. No chance afterward either. Until five years ago and the death of a baby girl. Then two more babies. All from salt poisoning.

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst.”

The warden’s words reverberated in my head.

The worst had already happened. Couldn’t he see that? I knew what he meant though, losing the appeal, being trapped a lifetime within the green cage.

For the best I reread Liam’s letter, which I’d received the day before. He’d prepared the house for my possible home-coming and redecorated Joe’s nursery as a study for me. I swear I could smell the fragrances from the flowers in the garden through his description and closing my eyes I glimpsed the bright sunflowers against the back wall.

“I found him in Joe’s nursery at the weekend,” Liam’s mum said to me on a visit early on. “Asleep on the fur rug, clutching Joe’s clothes, teddies strewn around him. The charity bag lay empty in the corner of the room.”

I’d covered my eyes.

“Carol, dear. Liam can’t sort it all out. Shall I help?”

Her offer was the first of many that Liam and I came to rely upon. Now she too was gone and we only had each other.

The warden gave me a box and with trepidation I began to pack. Law books, spiritual books even, such as my well-thumbed copy of “Stillness Speaks”.  I would never have believed it. Then reams upon reams of notes and finally the file of newspaper cuttings.

On top was the story of the two now discredited expert witnesses who had testified against me. Their omission to mention a possible medical cause for the sodium poisoning had sentenced not only me but also three other women to jail for child murder.

Finally I placed the photo album Liam had made for me into the box. Its blue spine long since broken and the silver heart frame on the front no longer shone. I opened it carefully.

There we were on our wedding at the local registry office, then at the pub meal afterward. So simple but perfect.

There I was pregnant, looking blooming and blooming huge as well. For that big bump Joe was born tiny, a light bundle with black hair streaked across his head.

Then the last photo ever taken of Joe.

Liam gently bouncing him on his knee, Joe’s face half-hidden behind the hood of the yellow giraffe dressing gown, his hands tucked inside the long sleeves, Joe’s sweet giggles audible from the photo.

In shock I dropped the album and started shaking.

Not for the first time, I cried; sobbed until my body heaved with grief. Angry clanging on the doors followed as my cacophony of tears refused to be silenced. Before long darkness enveloped the cell and by the light of a torch the green forest of night closed around me.

“You’re free to go,” my lawyer said the next day in court. “You’re free.”

The appeal had passed in a blur, too shaken, too frightened of the outcome to absorb much detail.

“Free?” I questioned and looked around for permission to leave.

“Carol!” Liam was suddenly in front of me and unrestricted we moved towards each other. Then stopped. An invisible barrier. Liam took the final strides towards me and he reached out and pulled me in. Saving me. I rocked back and forth in his arms before we headed out into the blinding sunshine. To face the press together.

Two hours later I was home. The butterflies fluttered erratically around the flowering buddleia; more calmly the bees buzzed over the red roses. Our garden was a firework display of colours. Golds, reds, pinks, purples. I gingerly stepped over the petunias which had spread over the path, wanting to preserve their beauty.

Inside, the house gleamed and his mother’s redecoration years earlier was evident in the modern minimalist style. So tidy. No toys on the floor, stairs, furniture.

Liam took my arm and gently guided me towards Joe’s nursery. Apprehensively I opened the door.

It was stunning. The sun beamed upon the large pine desk in front the window and light dazzled me, reflecting from the crystal framed mirror. A bookcase stood empty. In the corner was a white armchair and Joe’s cuddly lion rested on the soft seat. The whole room teemed with sweet peas, the multicolours a feast for the eyes as I spotted them on the desk, windowsill and coffee table. Their scent a crashing reminder of that first and only spring with Joe.

“”I love it, Liam. It’s just perfect. Thank you,” I whispered quietly in awe.

“The colour?” he questioned cautiously. “Do you like it?”

I hadn’t spotted the light green walls at first, now I moaned to myself.

“They say green is calming and restful. Creates harmony,” Liam reassured me. “I thought it would help you settle back home.”

“That’s kind of you. Very thoughtful,” I replied. However, deep inside my emotions swirled. Liam meant so well.

I still didn’t think it was the right colour.

The End

©Annika Perry

Captivating Beth Chatto Gardens

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Imagine a boggy gravel pit. Where most of us would only see the grey dusty desolation of the former scene of frenzied excavation at the quarry, a visionary in the form of Beth Chatto saw past the starkness, the stones and rubble and over the past 55 years she and her team has worked tirelessly to create the serene, lush and heavenly gardens now named after her.

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The gardens are loosely split into various areas including the Gravel Garden, the Water Garden which leads through to the Woodland Garden and the recent addition of the Scree Garden.

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From the very beginning, Beth Chatto decided to work with the environment and this was particularly pertinent since the gardens are located in the county with the lowest rainfall in the UK (famously less than in the Sahara desert!)

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She longed to learn how to garden in these conditions and in the process help other gardeners of the future. The Gravel Garden was an inauspicious stone parking space for many years and I recall a visit here many years ago when a few cars were dotted around this rather glum piece of land and the ‘cafe’ was located in one corner. A tent ‘cafe’ barely held in place as the wind relentlessly tried to lift it to the sky! Nowadays a modern designed restaurant sits at the edge of the gravel garden with tables outdoors open to its views and wildlife – robins and blue tits were frequent visitors to our table.

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Over the years the arid land has been transformed into its current beautiful Gravel Garden. Vibrant colours abound through the inventive and inspiring planting where also the textures of the plants and flowers are taken into consideration. As the sun comes out there is a real Mediterranean feel to this sun trap and I’m transported to the South of France! 

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A novice to gardening, Beth Chatto is self-taught although both her parents were enthusiastic gardeners and her husband, Andrew, had a life-long interest in the natural environment of plants. During her decades of work at Beth Chatto, she became close friends with some of the eminent gardeners at the time and in due course became an award-winning gardener. For ten consecutive years, she has won gold at the RHS Chelsea Flower show; she was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2002, received the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour as well as accepting an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Essex. Furthermore, she’s lectured worldwide and written numerous books on gardening. Even to this day at 96 she often comes out to the gardens!

The gardens have constantly evolved as her expertise has grown and in my opinion, the Water Garden is the jewel of all the areas.

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Four ponds straddle the garden, linked by a gurgling stream which was dammed up specifically to fill the ponds. There is a powerful lush tropical feel throughout and there is a dominant celebration of the colour green – from the immaculate emerald green of the grass to the hundreds of shade of green of the rich foliage of the trees, plants and flowers. Colour is used sparingly and when in evidence has a transforming impact on the garden and on the flower, they stand out like never before. 

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The sense of harmony and tranquility is almost overwhelming, the effect immediate and real. As I enter a seeming state of transcendental bliss I let my senses absorb the delights as I nurdle* (wander aimlessly) around the Water Garden. 

Nothing has been left to chance. Soft fragrances float on the gentle breeze, never overpowering, rather a warm hint of promise. 

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The stream provides a constant rhythmic backdrop to the walk, changing in pitch as I meander around, then in the hushed reverential near silence I notice the birdsong; what a jubilant chorus as they seem to compete for attention, their delight in life infectious. Only later looking over the videos I took on the day do I hear the distant roar of planes high overhead, at the time they were effectively tuned out!

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It was not only my eyes which took in the varying textural forms, from the razor sharp, sword-like leaves, to the whimsical frilly grasses, to the variegated leaves of the ferns. My hands swish between some leaves here, some grasses there. My fingertips enchanted my the soft tender sensations, some tickling, some spiky.

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Giant parasol leaves loom over me at one stage and proof again that Beth Chatto has achieved something remarkable here – these moisture-loving plants never associated with East Anglia are thriving. I bend to inhale the scent of the roses, I stretch up to spy the colours closer, I stand stock-still following the dragonflies darting over the lake and its irises, so fast in their dance, impossible to capture on camera. 

20170529_120412Benches are logistically, romantically, placed around the gardens, often in the soothing shade to sit and contemplate nature and her amazing art. The play of shade and light is spectacular, the dark grasses a sharp contrast to the soft mellow sunlight stems taking on their own structural sculptural artistic form. Gazing, absorbing and reflecting I sit in silence…before I feel the eyes of others eager to enjoy the peace, to rest up and reluctantly I move on.

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Peeling myself away from the sumptuous Water Gardens I wander through the Reservoir Garden, its large borders a miracle of colour and flowers and it’s hard to imagine this is the site of a former wasteland filled with scrubby bushes. 

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The woodland came to its own after the infamous hurricane of 1987 when trees across the UK, and especially in the South, were decimated with about 15 million trees felled by 115 mph winds. At Beth Chatto many new trees were self-seeded and those remaining include many oak trees over one hundred years old. The dappled light shines playfully between the tall canopies and below flowers adorn the ground, the damp earthy forest fragrance is reminiscent of many childhood bluebell wood walks. 

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Many thanks for accompanying me on this epic walk through Beth Chatto Gardens’ seven acres…however, it’s not quite over! A visit is never complete without looking at its renowned nursery with over 2,000 different species of herbaceous plants and bulbs and we came away with armfuls of plants including Cosmos and Veronicas.

*Please see the previous post.

NB. All photos ©Annika Perry, 2017

Neptunes-uouue

TWILIGHT

A world without words is a terrifying thought. They are the very essence of our being and no part of our existence is untouched by words.

Yet we are complacent with this precious gift and like the thousands of animals that silently, almost unnoticed, fall into extinction, so to do our words.

A recent research project by Dr Selin Kesebir at London Business School has discovered that an incalculable number of our words in the English Language are quickly disappearing and many of these are associated with our natural environment. These words were robustly used and alive until the 1950s but have since dwindled in usage until their presence in society is a mere backdrop, often known only to academic staff.

Poetry is found within the words themselves, their sounds a sensory delight, almost tactile and a joy to pronounce (or attempt!). The highly evocative ‘Landskein’ describes the weave of horizon lines on a hazy day – where one word takes the place of the clumsy formation of nine!

Equally rich and expressive is ‘roarie-bummlers’, a Scottish playful-sounding word describing the swift-moving storm clouds.

Whilst school children become more attuned to the digital world and where nearly 80% can name Pokemon characters as opposed to only 50% who can name pictures of wildlife, the hope is that this same expansive digital network can come to the rescue of the vanishing words.

Through the use of social media there is an aspiration that words such as ‘shivelight’, which means lances of light cast through woodland canopy, will enter our everyday language. In one experiment a tweet sent by Dr MacFarlane at the University of Cambridge about the Anglo-Saxon heritage of the word ‘Holloway’ for a sunken lane worn into the landscape by generations of travellers received 20,000 retweets and likes.

Other words highlighted in the research include the following:

‘Owl-light’    Twilight

‘Petrichor’    Smell of dry earth and rock that comes before and during rainfall 

‘Glashtroch’    Incessant rain

‘Gludder’    Fleeting sunshine between showers

‘Neptunes-uouue’    Sea mist

‘Smeuse’      Sussex dialect for a hole in the hedge left by the repeated passage of a small animal

‘Stravaig’     Scots and Irish word for wander aimlessly

Nurdle’     East Anglian dialect for wander aimlessly

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One area where there is an exception to the decline of words is weather-related vocabulary, which is as popular as ever and no doubt shows the predisposition in the UK to talk endlessly about the weather…of yesterday, today, tomorrow!

However, the decline of words surrounding nature are of concern ‘not only because they imply foregone physical and psychological benefits from engagement with nature, but also because cultural products are agents of socialisation that can evoke curiosity, respect, and concern for the natural world.’*

The onus on us is to save our rich heritage which is part of us all!

* Selin Kesebir

Photos courtesy of Pixaby

Sources include The Times & BBC Todaysea mist

 

Twenty-four Days – A Thriller by J. Murray

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I am delighted to be part of Jacqui Murray’s book launch of her latest exciting thriller, Twenty-Four Days.

It is only nine months since Jacqui Murray released her first book, To Hunt a Sub, which I featured hereTwenty-four Days promises to be an even more intense and thrilling read.

Some familiar characters return in this sequel novel including the ever popular albeit quirky Otto,  a sentient artificial intelligence robot. Along with its handler, Kali Delamagente and brilliant scientist, Zeke Rowe, the unlikely team becomes America’s only chance to stop a terrorist attack that threatens the nation.

First here is some information about the book itself before Jacqui kindly answers some questions that came to my mind whilst reading this and the sample first chapter.

‘World-renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr. Zeke Rowe is surprised when a friend from his SEAL past shows up in his Columbia lab and asks for help: Two submarines have been hijacked and Rowe might be the only man who can find them.

At first he refuses, fearing a return to his former life will end a sputtering romance with fellow scientist and love of his life, Kali Delamagente, but when one of his closest friends is killed by the hijackers, he changes his mind. He asks Delamagente for the use of her one-of-a-kind AI Otto who possesses the unique skill of being able to follow anything with a digital trail.

In a matter of hours, Otto finds one of the subs and it is neutralized.

But the second, Otto can’t locate.

Piece by piece, Rowe uncovers a bizarre nexus between Salah Al-Zahrawi–the world’s most dangerous terrorist and a man Rowe thought he had killed a year ago, a North Korean communications satellite America believes is a nuclear-tipped weapon, an ideologue that cares only about revenge, and the USS Bunker Hill (a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) tasked with supervising the satellite launch.

And a deadline that expires in twenty-four days.

As America teeters on the brink of destruction, Zeke finally realizes that Al-Zahrawi’s goal isn’t nuclear war, but payback against the country that cost him so much.’

To the interview – Jacqui’s answers are in italic.

Firstly, I am interested in the research you must have undertaken for this book? It is technically, scientifically and militarily detailed. What did your research entail? Do you have a background in the Navy/submarines/AIs? Have you any personal experience of submarines?

I have been onboard a submarine, but (of course) couldn’t visit many of the parts I had to describe because they are classified. For that sort of info, I turned to working submariners. They shared what they could without crossing the security line. I also did a ton of Googling under the assumption that if I could come up with it in a Google search, it probably wasn’t classified. Any time I worried I might step over the line of revealing secret details, I stepped back, either obfuscated or deleted. This was true not only for those few sub scenes, but the many cruiser scenes.

Next, I’m interested in your writing process? What is it like writing a fiction book as opposed to your factual tech books? Did you write it whilst still editing the first one? How long did it take you to write this?

My first effort at fiction (called Born in a Treacherous Time–it will come out next year–it has been a long long process) was inspired as an effort to humanize dry facts. I wanted to present real-world events in a way people would enjoy rather than a textbook which tends toward the pedantic. So, I used fiction’s traits of developing characters, story arc, and crises-resolution. This is typical in historic fiction and creative non-fiction, but I didn’t know that when I started twenty-five years ago. I am a devotee of that approach now. 

This book is the sequel to To Hunt a Sub. When I finished that book, I sent out query letters, waited, got nibbles and waited some more. To keep myself busy, I wrote Twenty-four Days. I finished it before the query process for the first book ended. That’s frightening to think about. When I went through the same slow, tedious process (which included acquiring and losing an agent) for Twenty-four Days, I decided I’d prefer to self-publish. The material in Twenty-four Days (a partnership between North Korea and Iran, a North Korean nuclear weapon, and an attack on a US warship by North Korea) is somewhat time-sensitive and spot on for today’s geopolitical events–I didn’t want to miss that opportunity!

Following a discussion with another blogger, do you prefer to write straight on the computer or in longhand first? Do you think it makes a difference?

I have rheumatoid arthritis so I definitely must type. I’m looking to the day when I’ll replace typing with speaking. Anyone out there write their book entirely with vocal commands? I’d love to hear how that goes.

How do you find the editing process? Did you write many drafts first?

I like the editing process. I probably read through the entire book a dozen times, to be sure of flow, pacing, that sort of stuff, but in between, I edit in chunks. I find it very effective to have my editing software (I use Autocrit) identify pieces they have a problem with and then dig into it to fix it. There will be thousands of those–too many passive sentences, repeated words, or any number of other reasons. 99% of the time, after I’ve fixed these and then reread the entire draft, I am much happier with the story.

I was wondering if this book can be read as a stand-alone or best after To Hunt a Sub? Are you planning a sequel to Twenty-four Days? Are you working on any other fiction book?

It is a stand-alone though I’ve peppered in details from the prior book where needed. I am planning the sequel. I want to feature Otto (the sentient AI) more centrally and move away from warships and submarines. I’ll know more in a few months!

I’m also working on a spin-off series that revolves around the ancient female Lucy who appeared several times in To Hunt a Sub. Her story of resilience, strength, and pain is motivating. This will be historic fiction rather than thriller. The first is titled Born in a Treacherous Time and is due June, 2018.

With reference to the title – Is there any particular significance of 24 days?

The story starts with the good guys having only 24 days to save the world. Typical thriller fashion, innit? I count down the days as the reader moves through the book, to build drama and keep the action centered.

What is the hardest part of self-publishing? Are there any elements in indie publishing that were easier than you originally thought?

The hardest part of self-publishing is believing I’m worthy. When an agent knocks on your virtual door and says they want to represent you, that tells you you’re a good writer, You’re worthy of being published. It’s difficult to do it without that cheerleader, to put my work out there because I believe in it (and my husband–he always believed in me). 

The easiest part of self-publishing is the second book. Once I built a template for how to do it,  all I had to do was replicate it for the second book. That’s not to say it wasn’t frightening, time-consuming, and stressful. But I did have a model to follow that worked once before. That made a big difference. 

Finally, here are a couple of extracts from Twenty-four Days to whet your appetite:
'Obeid was stunned. His gut said Run! He risked his future—his life—staying a moment longer with this crazed zealot, but Obeid did little more than croak a strangled, “If I succeed, I will also die!” His University friends called it a Sophie’s Choice.

The Kenyan shrugged. “But less painfully.”

…..

Across the yard, limned against the grey sky, towered the domed shape of the HMS Triumph, its deck slick with rain, sail glistening in the early morning light. The warheads it carried could reach the vast majority of the planet but the bustling sailors, some in oil-stained uniforms, others nattily dressed in white with jaunty officer caps, greeted each other, oblivious to the danger approaching them in the uniform of shipmates.

What had he done?

“Keep going,” the scar-faced Kenyan hissed between clenched teeth.

Obeid balled his fists to stop their shaking and forced his steps to be slow and measured as if in no rush to start what would be a three-month deployment.'

Jacqui, many thanks for your honest and informative answers in this interview. Tempted to read more,  Twenty-four Days is now available to purchase at  Kindle US,  Kindle UKKindle Canada,

Monster – A Children’s Story

The successful author of several fantasy books, D. Wallace Peach takes a break and surprises us all with these wonderful illustrations to one of her children’s stories. With its sense of magic, humour and a lesson learned this brightened up my day in the midst of a week of darkness.

Myths of the Mirror

My writing break is busy with little projects, and new book ideas are happily simmering. The rain lingered through most of May, so I spent a couple weeks playing at other kinds of creativity. I thought I’d try to illustrate one of my children’s stories. Here are the first six pages. A  couple still need some work, but it’s a start. The verse is hard to see at this mini size, so I added it below.

Monster

In a dim and distant galaxy
Due east of dusty Mars
Spins a tiny greenish planet
Nestled in a spray of stars.

Its rivers teem with fishes
Its fields grow golden wheat
And fireflies light its lanterns
Along every nighttime street.

The sun smiles at its dawning
Rain only drips at night.
Even prickly woodland beasties
Hardly ever raise a fright.

“Life is grand in Alderdoof,”
The elders often say.
“Could a soul…

View original post 709 more words

WHAT’S IN AN ALE NAME?

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Everyone loves a story! Everything holds a story within itself and that is true of names too…of all names, even ones of beers!

I was reminded of this the other day as my husband wistfully started reading out the label on the back of his beer…at times I tune out his mutterings but this time my interest was piqued and I just had to learn more.

Bottles of beer were duly bought and following research and photo gathering, I’m ready to unveil the story behind six beer names – who knew it would take me on a virtual pilgrimage to Canterbury, to 17th-century navy battles and to 12th-century court cases of brawling and swearing. Not forgetting the ride in an old motor car! 

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Old Speckled Hen has a wonderfully rustic name, reminiscent of the countryside glowing in the dappled sunlight similar in colour to the amber golden ale. As my mind is peacefully drifting among the meadows, hens pecking on the grass I’m brought back to the modern world with a shock whilst researching this beer.

The name owes nothing to the bird, speckled or not, rather it refers to a car!! The vehicle was a paint-splattered Featherweight Fabric Saloon which was the factory run-around car used by MG and fondly referred to as ‘Owld Speckl’d Un’ owing to its mottled appearance after years parked under the paint shop.

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The beer itself was brewed by Moreland on special request of MG in 1979 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their car factory in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Old seems a popular word when it comes to beers and appears yet again in the name of Old Peculier!

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This Theakston’s famous ale takes its name from the seal of the Peculier Court of Masham in North Yorkshire. In the 12th century it was the custom of the church to administer the law but this proved too an arduous task for the Archbishop, who was based in York.

Therefore he set up a Peculier Court which was independent of the diocese and headed by the Peculier of Masham.

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The court’s jurisdiction was varied and included dealing with offences such as not coming to church enough, not bringing children in for baptism, drunkenness, swearing and brawling.

Broadside, a dark red beer brewed in Southwold, Suffolk, has a fascinating historical connection and commemorates a famous but little-known Battle of Solebay in 1672.

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Solebay, nowadays known as Sole Bay,  lies near the brewery in Suffolk and was the site of a naval battle in the Third Anglo-Dutch War.

IMG_0324Broadside is the battery of cannon on one side of a warship and there were ships in abundance in the early morning of 7th June 1672 as a fleet of 75 ships from the United Provinces, present-day Holland, surprised the joint Anglo-French fleet of 93 ships anchored in the bay.  Across the two fleets, there were over 55,000 men and nearly 11,000 canons.

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The battle ended inconclusively at sunset after a whole day’s fighting with both sides claiming victory despite the heavy losses.

In all the Dutch lost two ships and 1800 men whilst the English lost two ships and over 2000 men.  The local people of Southwold cared for the 800+ injured and dealt with the bodies that washed up on its shores for weeks afterward. According to the historians, the Dutch had more justification to claim victory as the English-French plan to blockade the Dutch was abandoned.

Not all beer names have such interesting history as Broadside and are rather more lightly amusing!  One such is Badger’s ale of Fursty Ferret.

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This famous ale is brewed by Hall & Woodhouse which was founded in 1777. The name is thought to come from the inquisitive ferrets which used to sneak a taste of the local brew. I was baffled by the actual meaning of ‘fursty’ and one of the google responses was interesting: ‘The meaning of the given name Fursty represents innovation, independence, determination, courage, sincerity and activity.’ Just like a ferret, then! Or it might just be a  Fursty is local dialect for thirsty, being Dorset!

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Bishops Finger is a classic strong ale from Kent and its name has strong connections to the Pilgrims’ Way. Along the walk from Winchester towards Canterbury and the shrine of Thomas Beckett signposts called Bishop’s Fingers showed the pilgrims the way.

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The Pilgrims’ Way is a historical route which originally used in 500-450 BC and has been in constant use for 3000 years.

The last beer to be featured is called Bengal Lancer and this is another ale that has historical connotations, this time to India during the time of the British Empire.

20170510_093420As it was too hot to brew beer in India the only solution was to ship it to the troops out there. However, all the beers at the time were unsuitable for the six month trip and eventually a prototype Indian Pale Ale (IPA) was brewed which gradually became paler and more refreshing for the Indian climate.

Several brewers made IPA and this particular one, brewed by Fuller’s, is named after the regiment of Bengal Lancers in the army.

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The six beers bought for this post have been tantalisingly on display in our kitchen for the last week and my husband had to be reined in a couple of times as he’s tried to snag a bottle or two at night! At last, his patience will be rewarded and the bottles are duly released from duty. As he pours a glass of beer tonight, I’ll join him with a glass of … wine! I dislike the taste of any ales with a vengeance!

NB. Small segments of this post are taken directly from the labels attached to the beer bottles describing the origins of the beer names.

LASTING SANCTUARY

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Back and forth. The chair rocked gently, back and forth. Years, decades even, I’ve sat here on and off, rocking calmly, the squeak a welcome friend, the worn wood of the arms soft to my caress. Even as a child I sought solace here and closing my eyes, I drifted into a restful doze….

’Williams! Stop that rocking! I swear, I can see grooves on the oak floor. Williams!’

I’d only sneaked in ten minutes earlier and made straight for the rocking chair in its usual gloomy nook beneath religion and travel, navigating my way by memory with my spectacles grasped uselessly in my hands. Those bloody glasses! Bad enough they fogged up a hundred times a day, even worse they were NHS ones.

‘Caught any fish today, Snorkel face!’  That was the kindest thing anyone ever said to me at school. Even my name was a shout and a demanding, irritated one at that.

At last, the glasses cleared and my gasp of awe puffed audibly across the room. A gentleman in the opposite corner tutted disapprovingly, glared at me before returning his eyes to the book in his hands.  ‘Perfume’ if I wasn’t mistaken and one I could recommend to him. Books galore! My usual heavenly delight. The afternoon light shimmered through the windows, the dust danced around the bookshelves, the words within a promise of new worlds, of escape.

The coins in my blazer pocket clinked against each other as I reached for them. Two pounds altogether and well worth saving my 50p weekly pocket.  Who needed sweets anyway? For me it was all about the books. With a push the chair lurched forwards, depositing me on my feet with a satisfying creak and groan. I edged left around historical fiction, turned right at thrillers then stopped by biographies. 

‘What do you want to read them for?’ Dad always asked. Not waiting for an answer he’d reach for a beer from the fridge, his head lost within the cold vault as the muffled one-way conversation continued.

‘You should be out playing football with your mates. Out do you, hear? None of this bookshop rubbish.’

Why did he never realise that the bookshop was my haven, the dark wooden shelves my sanctuary, the books my guardian?

‘Mr Williams! Thank goodness, you’re awake. There was another complaint about that chair yesterday.’ I continued to rock, groggily, trapped in time, my Ralph Lauren glasses on the wonk. I straightened them slowly. ‘It will kill someone, one day, Mr Williams. That young lad, Joe, the one you always tolerate, who’s constantly here, was thrown off the chair yesterday when its arm broke right off. Yes, that one. I fixed it but it nearly killed him. Fell onto the floor, he did and banged his head. Nearly killed him!’

The laughter within me built up gradually, begrudgingly, relentlessly. 

‘Mr Williams, as the owner you’re responsible…’

‘For keeping things just as I want them! As I’ve done for over thirty years. Don’t change a thing! Now, where’s my laptop…’ Still chuckling I nudged it awake and started to tap on the screen whilst inhaling the muggy scent of books with satisfaction.

 A chair that takes people’s fate in its own hands is a story waiting to be published! And added to my bookshelves.

©Annika Perry, 2017

This piece was written in response to a prompt issued by my creative writing group – the options were eclectic and consisted of Lemon Tree Grove, Book Shops or Graveyard. I was tempted to write a short story including all three elements but fear this would become far too long for the group!

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Images courtesy of pixabay

BOOKS I READ ON MY HOLIDAY

I’m a sucker for lists of all kinds. To do lists, places to visit list, present list but surely the best type of all is that of books! Books are always a huge part of my life and even more so during a holiday.

This Easter in Sweden was no exception and thanks to ebooks I’m no longer restricted by weight to the number of books to take along – just as well as together my son and I read sixteen books.

It was a literary fest and here are a few of the varied mix I read…with just a brief overview and the effect they had on me.

51zIoSmxGJLThe book that carried me across the North Sea was The Legacy of Lucy Harte.  I need a good, no, make that a great book, to ensure that I am distracted from the fact I am 30,000+ feet up in the air with only two engines keeping me safely there and a thin sheet of metal is all that protects me from the airless minus 50 degrees centigrade outside.

‘Maggie O’Hara knows better than most that life can change in a heartbeat. Eighteen years ago she was given the most precious gift- a second-hand heart, and a second chance at life.

Always thankful, Maggie has never forgotten Lucy Harte – the little girl who saved her life. But as Maggie’s own life begins to fall apart, and her heart is broken in love, she loses sight of everything she has to live for…

Until an unexpected letter changes Maggie’s life..’

The Legacy of Lucy Harte is a gem of a read and I was desolate when I finished reading it. I had immersed myself in Maggie’s, her family’s and friend’s lives and it was a wrench to say goodbye to them. The book was wonderfully written and at no point a maudlin story.

LIONA good friend here on WP recently recommended the film Lion. I was all set to go to the cinema when it was removed from the schedule. That is so typical! l! However I saw the book available on Amazon and once I reassured myself that the book was written before the film, I just couldn’t resist this true-life story.

‘As a five-year old in India, I got lost on a train. Twenty-five years later, I crossed the world to find my way back home.

Five-year-old Saroo lived in a poor village in India, in a one-room hut with his mother and three siblings… until the day he boarded a train alone and got lost. For twenty-five years.

This is the story of what happened to Saroo in those twenty-five years. How he ended up on the streets of Calcutta. And survived. How he then ended up in Tasmania, living the life of an upper-middle-class Aussie. And how, at thirty years old, with some dogged determination, a heap of good luck and the power of Google Earth, he found his way back home.’

Lion is a wonderfully sweeping human real life drama; it is lovingly told, heart-breaking, tense and astutely emotionally honest.  The main characters in Saroo’s life are wonderfully captured. The whole book is cinematic in its scope, brilliantly written and by the end I felt I’d seen the film! This is a book that caught hold of my heart from the very start and had me reaching for the tissues. Surely a sequel will be written soon.

GO SET THE WATCHMANGo Set a Watchman has been on my shelf for a year and after the, at times, vitriolic, discussions across the news and social media I had decided to leave this. However, my curiosity was piqued and at the last minute this is the only paperback that made it into my suitcase.

‘Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that can be guided only by one’s own conscience.’

The book is brilliantly written with the first part beautifully capturing Jean Louse Finch’s return to Maycomb and meeting up with family and friends, including her potential fiancee. However, about half way the whole book takes a sudden dramatic turn…and stays there. Whoa! Despite the comments I’d read I hadn’t expected the remainder to be a whole discourse on race in the 1950s and before. Like the slap she received from her uncle, I felt equally winded. As she argues for her beliefs I begin to feel her helplessness. I’m glad I’ve read it but can see why her publishers advised her to write To Kill a Mockingbird instead as indeed the first part of the book contains a lot of her memorable events which later find a central place in TKMB.

BRITT-MARIEFrederik Backman is very popular at the moment and he found success after writing a blog for many years (there is hope for us all!) I had thoroughly enjoyed his A Man Called Ove. I was less fond of My Grandmother sends her regards and apologises.

However, Britt-Marie Was Here is my favourite of his books and as far as I’m concerned Backman has totally redeemed himself!

‘For as long as anyone can remember, Britt-Marie has been an acquired taste. It’s not that she’s judgemental, or fussy, or difficult – she just expects things to be done in a certain way. A cutlery drawer should be arranged in the right order, for example (forks, knives, then spoons). We’re not animals, are we?

But behind the passive-aggressive, socially awkward, absurdly pedantic busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes.

So when Britt-Marie finds herself unemployed, separated from her husband of 20 years, left to fend for herself in the miserable provincial backwater that is Borg – of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it – and somehow tasked with running the local football team, she is a little unprepared. But she will learn that life may have more to offer her that she’s ever realised, and love might be found in the most unexpected of places.’

Britt-Marie Was Here is deceptively simplistic in its style with a hidden far-reaching depth. The character of Britt-Marie and all whom she encounter are wonderfully crafted although it does take time to become engaged with them on a literary level. Britt-Marie’s world is odd, particularly with her OCD which dictates her life (I could identify with the obsession with lists, though!).

Do stick with the book as it is worth the initial effort and very soon her life and the lives of the inhabitants  of Borg will win a place in your heart and mind. As they are changed by her presence of Britt-Marie, she is equally affected by their disarming behaviour. Hers and their lives will never be the same. I just loved this book and at times found myself cheering along for Britt-Marie, at times screaming at her (silently of course); Britt-Marie evokes a reaction from the reader throughout until the touching and deft finale.

My final three books all have one element in common – Sisters. At last it seems that the era of ‘Girl’ titled books are on the wane only to be replaced by a proliferation of ‘Sister’ related ones.

THE LOST AND THE FOUNDI hadn’t even realised The Lost & The Found was about two sisters, one snatched as young, until I started the book.

‘SHE WAS LOST…

When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister, Faith. Faith’s childhood was dominated by Laurel’s disappearance – from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister.

NOW SHE IS FOUND…

Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans’ old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that’s lost can be found again…’

This is  YA book was recommended to me by my son and mostly so for its ending. The story is superb, well told, full of suspense building to a crescendo of twists. Wow! The first I was sort of expecting, not the second nor the heart-stopping third. I had to re-read it a few times…just to take it in. Finishing this book late at night is not recommended as a sleep eluded me for next few hours. This is an extremely powerful and one  I finished within 24 hours!

51AmnHYNpzLSister Sister is in many ways eerily similar to Cat Clarke’s book and alas only highlights its weaknesses.

‘Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life.

Alice thinks Clare is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family.

One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac.

Two sisters. One truth.’

In all honesty I would say this is the weakest of the books I read during the Easter break. A psychological thriller with few thrills. There were a moments of danger, but the story was clearly signposted, the characters deliberately vague to add to the confusion. It had me hooked to a certain degree however in the end I finished it as I wanted to read the end, see how the writer got there and if I was right. A good read overall, just not great.

Sister Sister also had the misfortune of using the same technique for one of the characters as Sometimes I lie in that one of the character is not telling the truth.

SOMETIMES I LIESometimes I lie is another book recommended to me by my son and this is a compulsive read which such intricate twists my son and I ended up discussing them at length, referring back to the book to double check details.

‘My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me.

  1. I’m in a coma

2. My husband doesn’t love me any more

3. Sometimes I lie’

This brilliant psychological thriller had me guessing until the end, satisfying in its twists and drama, great hold on the characters which are fully developed. My personal pet hate is the very final sentence which I know is supposed to be tantalising but it just isn’t logically possible!!

I read an article on Mslexia  magazine about Twitter length stories and for fun I wrote the following loosely based around the themes of the last three books mentioned.

My long lost sister’s tatty teddy hung limply in the stranger’s hand, her gaunt eyes fixed on me.

‘Where did you get that?’

‘From Lucy…years ago. I managed to escape.’   ©Annika Perry, 2017

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my Easter book binge. Have you read any of these? Are you tempted to read any of them?  I look forward to reading your comments.

TRANSITION

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It’s less than a week since I arrived back from Sweden and the transition to everyday life has been harder than ever. The break was perfect on all levels and once home I realised that my body made it across the North Sea whilst my soul was still residing in the summer house, wandering blissfully on the land, clambering on the rocks.

Senetti with Petunias and Flowering Chives

Senetti with Petunias and Flowering Chives

To aid the unification of body and soul I set out to do what often helps in these circumstances. When I was younger that would have meant a splurge at a bookstore after hours of browsing. As an adult and keen gardener I headed to the local garden centre and spurred on by the rare warm sunshine the temperamental trolley was soon filled to the brim. Muttering at the trolley under my breath I steered the plants to the car and kept my fingers crossed for a sunny Sunday.

Senetti with Petunias

Senetti with Petunias

Today I woke to fair weather and keen to get started I left the housework and headed out to the garden. Quickly a new solace took hold of me, gently pulling or cutting the plants from the tight pots and planting with joy. Childlike glee swept over me as soil spilt onto the grass, the patio; little granules of compost sneaking their way into my shoes. One old and tired plant needed to be replaced and proved particularly stubborn on being pulled out. I tried digging it out with a trowel. No luck. Then it was time for the fork and with satisfaction I attacked the rock hard roots, hacking away! At last, I managed to replace it with a beautiful new flower. I could feel my spirits lift.

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A few hours later everything was in place…happily including my soul! 

Nemesia 'Wisley Vanilla'

Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’

That is when the idea for this post struck me…another book-style post is partially written but just didn’t feel right at the moment and I had initially left comments on my last post on Bert Håge Häverö but turned them off at the last moment as I was dazed and exhausted upon my return to the UK, feeling overwhelmed to respond.

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Thank you all for being patient; I’m slowly catching up on your blogs and look forward to easing into normality in the coming week. Meanwhile, I want to finish with one poem featured on Brainpickings this morning. Maria Popova is a gifted writer and her articles are always a treat and consist of interesting, informative and thought-provoking essays on writers/artists/philosophers and it was:

‘Founded in 2006 as a weekly email that went out to seven friends and eventually brought online, the site was included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive in 2012.’ *

Today’s feature on poet Jane Hirshfield is particularly relevant as it was Earth Day yesterday. Enjoy.

ON THE FIFTH DAY
by Jane Hirshfield

On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
were silenced,
and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent. 

Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking,
of rivers, of boulders and air. 

In gravity, earless and tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,
of silence.

* From Maria Povova on https://www.brainpickings.org

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Senetti with Petunias

Senetti with Petunias

ON SOLITUDE AND LIFE

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This is the last in a series of Bert Håge Häverö (Swedish artist 1932-2014) paintings which I will feature during my holiday break this Easter. These delightful photographs were taken from our company calendar which we gave out to customers many years ago. Never having the heart to throw our copy away I came across this recently and wanted to share the beauty he saw of the Swedish landscape and people. Accompanying the paintings will be various quotations /sayings/poems that have inspired me or touched my spirit.  Comments have been turned off for this post.

 

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‘When I am feeling dreary, annoyed, and generally unimpressed by life, I imagine what it would be like to come back to this world for just a day after having been dead. I imagine how sentimental I would feel about the very things I once found stupid, hateful, or mundane. Oh, there’s a light switch! I haven’t seen a light switch in so long! I didn’t realize how much I missed light switches! Oh! Oh! And look — the stairs up to our front porch are still completely cracked! Hello cracks! Let me get a good look at you. And there’s my neighbor, standing there, fantastically alive, just the same, still punctuating her sentences with you know what I’m saying? Why did that bother me? It’s so… endearing.’

Amy Krouse Rosenthal (1965-2017)

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‘Reading it that evening was like having someone whisper to me, in elongated Germanic sentences, all the youthful affirmations I had been yearning to hear. Loneliness is just space expanding around you. Trust uncertainty. Sadness is life holding you in its hands and changing you. Make solitude your home.’

Rachel Corbett on Rainer Maria Rilke

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