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 I sped, an uninhabited island awaiting exploration by five-year-old me. 

I remember our trusted blue Opel Kadett swaying in the sling, over land, over the ship; a pendulum of our future. To stay, to go. Awed, fearful, I awaited its plunge to earth. 

I remember the car’s thudding descent to deck, the rousing cheer from family on shore, a cheer that turned to tears as the giant ship eased from the dock. 

I remember the confusion. Why cry at this adventure?

I remember my guilt. Should I cry too? A guilt often repeated. 

I remember the hastily arranged assembly. The morning’s floor wax still potent and sickening. A keening nausea as we heard the news. Mr Kewley died last night; the incomprehensible words sought comprehension in my nine-year-old heart and mind. 

I remember the poke in the chest, the verbal jibes, and the scornful faces. ‘Why aren’t you crying?’ they taunted. ‘He was your favourite teacher after all. Taught you all that creative writing rubbish.’

I remember the searing slurs.

I remember my silence. Shaking my head as I walked away, not shedding a tear. 

I remember once home just sitting on the sofa, stroking patterns of light and dark gold, the softness reassuring, safe. Not the usual TV or books. Just space. To think. Here the disbelief turned to truth. 

I remember my mother’s concerned questions. Then we rocked, me as a baby in her arms. We both wept at the loss. This was my first death; I had been lucky. 

I remember my first kiss, stolen across a lilo, the warm Mediterranean Sea lapping my body as I paddled languidly to land. My first kiss! A moment I will always remember, bubbling with excitement, with unadulterated joy of being so grown-up. 

I remember splashing along the shore, the air mattress dangling loosely in my grasp, ripples of emotions echoing into eternity.

I remember my feigned indignant recount of THE kiss to my mother. A secret I’d pressed like a diamond to my heart to treasure forever. A secret bursting to be shared. 

I remember her brief questions, her sweet smile. ‘We are meeting later,’ I declared. And so we did!

I remember the strums of the bouzouki, the warm light and night, seeing people on the dance floor, chatting at the tables. There he was! Heading over to me. Almost swooning, a maelstrom of emotions rushed through my body. We had a quick chat. He asked my age. ‘Fourteen,’ I replied nonchalantly. A surprised look flittered across his face then quickly vanished as he invited me and my family to meet his family. I was stricken!

I remember rueing my young age. 

I remember longing for its return. 

I remember a normal spring day, the German lesson in the Portakabin going as usual. My five friends and I. Unflappable Mrs Stockums at the front. As normal in the sixth form we discussed topics with ease and determination. 

I remember the quiet giggles. Who was it? Katy? Sally? Chris? As a fast moving contagion the laughter skipped from student to student. Side-bursting laughter. We tried to rein it in. Honestly. Amidst the uproarious chuckles, we cast furtive nervous glances to our teacher. Was she laughing too? Impossible!

I remember the cacophony of pure happiness. At life itself. Such a jubilant sound of innocence and delight at being. We barely dared look at one another, such was the danger of setting off another cascade of stomach-churning laughter. 

I remember the ache of my side, the slam on the teacher’s desk. ‘Go outside,’ she mumbled, pointing at the door. ‘Ten minutes then come back silently. And sit apart.’ The biting breeze startled us as we marched up and down, calming the inexplicable immersive laughter. It hadn’t quite disappeared but already I was mourning its departure. 

I remember those summers of sizzling sun, drifting in dinghies along thirsty riverbeds. 

I remember those school days, whether good or bad, always coddled at home.

I remember too much. 

I remember too little. 

© Annika Perry, February 2019

SOFIA!

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I wrote the following short story a few months ago and since then have swayed back and forth whether to send it into competitions. Following my recent post on The Cost of Competitions and the informed and lively discussion afterwards I have decided to share Sofia here instead.

So, when you have a few minutes to spare I hope you have a chance to read the story -perhaps snuggled up in your favourite corner, a coffee / tea to hand plus the odd biscuit or chocolate too!

The first half of the story appears below – to read it all including the final half please click here.

SOFIA

With two chipped mugs balanced precariously on a tray Inspector Nunn kicked the door closed and placed the drinks in front of Jane. She hardly noticed the tea sloshing onto the plate of scattered rich tea biscuits.

“Sorry about that Mrs Terence. Please continue,” said Inspector Nunn, as he reached for a soggy biscuit and dunked it in his tea.

“I noticed the man’s voice, that second time I saw him. He was restrained and quite embarrassed to start with, calling out for his daughter.

“He didn’t seem too worried and then there was a sudden, almost hysterical urgency in his call.

“‘Sofia! Sofia!’

“By now he was much more frantic and as he ran past me I saw his long brown hair unfurled from his ponytail. Ragged and knotted. He took a few steps along the path, and then his head swiveled round, as he scanned his surroundings. Helpless. Searching, with that haunted look. Perhaps that’s why nobody helped. Not at first anyway.

“‘Sofia!’

“He shouted her name again and again; the last syllable stressed and short.” “Mrs Terence…” interrupted Inspector Nunn.

“Jane, please.”

“Jane. When was the first time you saw him?”

“Sorry. We saw him only a couple of hours earlier. Ellie – that’s my daughter – and I bumped right into him. Into him and his little girl. Sofia, I assume. The two girls started talking, in that peculiar fashion of four-year olds. There was silence, followed by a couple of words, then some pointing. Ellie mentioned the sloth we’d just visited. That’s why we hadn’t seen them; we were blinded by the sunlight as we stepped out of the dark corridor. Ellie hadn’t been too impressed by the sloth, if I’m honest. It did rather resemble a slab of fur…”

“Jane, what about Sofia? How did she seem?”

“She was happy, excited even. I guess it was her first time at the zoo. She was buzzing after their encounter with the golden tamarins; she danced around us, her light red hair floating behind her, the locks bouncing on her back. Beautiful. A tamarin had snatched the bottle of drink from the man’s rucksack, but luckily the staff had retrieved it quickly. That explained why Sofia was clutching the bottle in one hand and in the other a sheep. I remember that. In a zoo full of exotic animals she carried around a cuddly sheep. Pretty boring, I thought.”

“Did you try to help? Did you try to stop him? To talk to him?”

“He was too fast, you see. He didn’t stop. Didn’t even really say anything else. Perhaps I should have done something, anything. Yes, I was a bit afraid. After all I was on my own here, with little Ellie. I should have forced him to stop, tried to help him. He was just so large – a body building type with a tight black T-shirt with weird silver writing on it. Look at me. At five foot six, I felt tiny next to him. Vulnerable even. I did have to think of Ellie.”

 

“Thank you for waiting Mr..?”

“Elwood. Martin Elwood. I don’t know how I can help you. I didn’t see anything.”

“Anything you can tell us will help. Trust me. When did you arrive today?” asked Inspector Nunn, as he munched away on the final sodden biscuit, his tea long since finished.

“I got here first thing this morning, just as the zoo was opening. In the summer we bought one of those Gold Cards, giving us free admission for a year. It’s great value for money. Have you got any children, Officer?”

“Inspector. Yes, I have two. Carry on.”

“Shh…Don’t talk too loud, they’re fast asleep, they’ve just had their bottles. It was my first time here with the twins on my own.”

“The man, Mr Elwood. When did you notice him?”

“That was right away, in the car park. He was with the little girl in the van as I pulled up. It was a white van with the name of a builder on it. His own business I assumed, although I did wonder why he wasn’t working. In this recession didn’t think anyone could afford take time off willy-nilly?”

“How about you? Why were you here on a Tuesday?”

“I’m a pilot and work erratic hours – crazy working life – I bet yours is a bit like that, Officer?”

“Again, it’s Inspector. Do continue but less about my life please,” replied Inspector Nunn. “How did they seem?”

“Fine I suppose,” replied Martin. “The girl was talking non-stop, playing with a little sheep. I saw her singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and that made me smile.”

“Why?”

“Well, because it was a white sheep of course. The whole time the guy seemed distracted, stared ahead, ignoring his sweet daughter. That was pretty cold of him, if you ask me. I couldn’t do that.”

“Didn’t he talk to her at all?”

“Oh, well, I suppose now you ask, he did look at her a couple of times, stroked her hair even, but with sadness. I mean, why come to a zoo if you’re gong to be a miserable sod?

“At the entrance till we stood behind him. He was one of those who obviously don’t feel the cold. This morning there was still a slight frost, early for mid-October, but a definite chill and even I got my coat on. He seemed one of those macho types, wearing just a T-shirt advertising a heavy metal band or such. What a contrast to the girl! What was her name? Sophie you said earlier?”

“Sofia.”

“Sorry, Sofia. She wore a pretty red dress with lots of layers, a red cardigan with white lace and matching white plimsolls. Dressed for a party I thought. The zoo does hold them you know but it did seem odd, as no one turned up to greet them and there were no other children in party clothes.”

“When did you see them next?”

“Quite a bit later, by the giraffes. The man was a bit more engaged then, you could say. The girl was on his shoulders, and she reached out with her free hand to stroke the giraffe. It lowered its head and then suddenly stuck out its tongue. A thick wedge of black flesh licked her hand, she squealed in shock, startling us all. Her dad took a step backwards and stumbled over the pushchair. It nearly tipped over and with a scream my boys woke up. Great, they’d only been asleep for a few minutes! Yes, I suppose that is selfish but I – they – needed their rest. The man did say sorry but his accent was so heavy I barely understood him.”

“He wasn’t her father.”

“That’s strange, who was he then?” “Her uncle.”

 

“Good Afternoon Miss..?”

“Beaumont. My first name is Bethany. I just heard the witness muttering as he left. Something about the guy not being Sofia’s dad. Are you sure? They seemed so close.”

“Please Bethany, tell me first what were you doing here today? And why were you so sure that they were father and daughter? What makes you such an expert?”

“I never said I was an expert. I just see a lot. I’ve been working here for two years; came straight from school. I pride myself on working out the visitors relationship to each other, kills time at the ice-cream kiosk I tell you.

“He acted with the love of a father. Sure, he looked different, but I’m not your normal twenty-year old either with all my piercings.

“My Mum despairs, especially when I had my tongue done last monh. Sofia liked it though; she touched the stud and all. Her dad…uncle…didn’t seem to mind at all.

“She’d just come from the African area and the giraffes. There was a bit of a scare I heard. The ice cream was to comfort her. The Calippo lolly was clasped in both her hands, they must have been freezing. A sheep? No, I didn’t see her holding anything, just the ice-lolly. The man wasn’t holding anything either. He bought a 99 Flake and we had a long chat about that. Yes, he did seem foreign but his English was fine. What did we talk about? Oh you know, the usual, in this case the ice cream. Why didn’t it cost 99p instead of the two pounds? Inflation, that’s what I said. Of course it didn’t help that he had all the trimmings, including a flake, sprinkles and sauce. They seemed like any normal visitors – no, I take that back. They were different, friendlier, not too many stop for a chat with me.”

Copyright ©Annika Perry

To read the rest of the story please press here and read on from page 6.

 

STUFF

hoardingRecently I joined a local Creative Writing Group and the latest piece of ‘homework’ was to write a page or so around the prompt word of ‘Stuff’. Here is what I came up with.

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You reach for the floor beside the grubby mattress and your hand stops. Paper. Your eyes flicker to the pile of magazines; this section all sports but the top one is askew and from years of practise you ease it back to perfect alignment. A silent satisfied sigh slips between your lips. Lips, thirst, only now do you realise the rasping dry feeling in your throat, you gag, try to cough, to spit. Anything. Just tiny puffs of air that lift the dust from all around, it flutters freely in the gloomy air, some dancing in the shaft of light beaming through the torn curtain. Light, too much light. You need to eradicate the beam, to restore the darkness, to preserve your stuff. Slowly you ease yourself onto your ankles, wincing with pain, time standing still, each movement agony. Don’t need this. Really could do without this hassle. You mutter. To yourself. The left knee gives way and twisted you fall back onto your hideaway. Surrounded by piles of newspapers, magazines, records, memorabilia. It’s all junk, she said as you came back from the car boot sale. Was that the fourth time, or the twelfth? Just because it’s called a car boot sale doesn’t mean you need to fill it, she joked. At first. Beth was sweet, good, kind. She tried to stick with you, with it. You shake your head, the memory of her too much, too distant, another lifetime. The sunlight moves and blinded you lash out, fast, violently. As vicious as your swiped at Beth. You didn’t mean to hurt her, honestly. You did your time and were set free again. But are you? Ever? Again you lash out at the light, striking it back and forth, striking your cave of print material. You feel a gentle pummel first, then a cascade as first one pile wobbles then topples over. Over you. An endless colossal collapse of stuff. Are you free yet? Vincent?  

©Annika Perry

WELCOME TO SUNSHINE STATE CITIES

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Thank you for joining me on my posts about my recent trip to Florida. I’ll finish off this short series by sharing some photos and information about our visits to the two closest cities; New Smyrna Beach and St. Augustine.

St. Augustine was one city we couldn’t wait to visit. It lies in North-East Florida and is known as the oldest city in America. Its Spanish roots are evident from the buildings in the town; at times I felt I’d been transported in time and location to 16th Century Spain. It was founded on 8th September (my birthday!) in 1565 by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. He named it San Augustin as the land was first spotted on that Saint’s day eleven days earlier.

I’d read about the trolley buses in St. Augustine before we arrived – such a perfect mode of transport to the main attractions. They were handy to take either as a long tour or as a  hop-on hop-off trip as well as being so colourful, open to the air and having friendly informative drivers. However there was one moot point. No one had warned us about the hard and extremely uncomfortable hard seats! Heck! My mother’s ribs are only just recovering from the plastic moulded atrocities! Luckily I remained unscathed by leaning forward and clinging for dear life to the pole by the open doorway – precariously at times. Also suspension is NOT an added extra and one piece of sage advice I wish we’d been given is not consume food before embarking on the buses. It’s a rough ride and doubly so on the cobblestones!

On arrival we first chose to absorb the city’s atmosphere by enjoying a stroll down the pedestrianised St. George Street. We revelled in the beautiful architecture all around us, eyes glancing back and forth and then up to the wooden balustrades of the first floor verandahs adorned with flowers. At any moment I imagined a cowboy shoot-out up above and with a crack, the balustrade breaking and a man falling down below. (You can visualise my misspent youth here!)

We had fun browsing the quaint tourist shops and other endless array of shops, however I was all too conscious of my already burgeoning suitcase and kept purchases to a minimum! Restaurants too were plentiful along the street and they all looked so tempting!

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This delightful building, The  School House, is the oldest wood frame building still in existence in St. Augustine today. It was built over 250 years ago whilst Florida was under the rule of Imperial Spain and was constructed of red cedar and cypress and put together with wooden pegs and handmade nails. Classes were held in the front room while the schoolmaster and his family lived upstairs.

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Two famous landmarks that symbolise St. Augustine are the San Marcos fortress and the imposing and impressive Bridge of Lions. The original wooden bridge of the nineteenth century was replaced in 1927 and then this was further renovated this century with the lions again reigning supreme.

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Image from Google

The Castillo de San Marcos is the only remaining 17th-century military stone fortress still in existence in the US. It was built out of the local coquina stone –  a soft limestone composed of broken shells which took up to three years to dry before being ready to use. During the centuries San Marcos has had four flags flown over it: the original Spanish builders and rulers, then British, for a brief while the Confederate States of America  flag during the Civil War before finally coming under the United States flag.

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Image from Google

The recent history of St. Augustine seems to be centred around the colourful character of Henry Flagler.  As the trolley tour wound its way through the idyllic streets his power and money is evident all around from the buildings he helped finance.

His former Alcazar Hotel is now the Lightner Museum, which considers itself Florida’s Smithsonian and houses artefacts from the natural world, to Tiffany glass and a Victorian village.

After hours of sightseeing we sought refuge from the busy bustle of town and happily discovered the serenity of St. Photios Greek Shrine. The shrine and the museum are dedicated to the first Greek colony in the US.

With all this sightseeing another break was required and our thirst was quenched by the delicious cooling, fruity taste of a Sangria. What could be more perfect? Our only regret was that we had too little time in this wonderful city to do it justice – we so wished we could have stayed longer!

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On our first visit to New Smyrna Beach (it soon became our regular haunt!) I felt I’d stepped into a movie set. The main street seemed to consist of front facades of shops and restaurants! The heat was unbelievable, stifling; the sunlight diffused in the warmth; the air echoed with the sounds of cicadas, otherwise silence. Silence as there was no one around! A few 4x4s parked along the road, an odd car driving past, otherwise the main street – Flagler Avenue (see how he got everywhere!) was quiet. We tried a shop; empty apart from the friendly sales assistant. We passed a couple of restaurants, with only a couple of diners. I tried but failed to turn off the theme music from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ playing in my head.

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The more I got my brain round this wonderful town the more I came to enjoy it. The art shops were a delight, particularly the aptly named Ta’Da’ shop which had many unique finds within. Only later did I learn that New Smyrna Beach is recognised as on of the Top 100 Art Towns in US, selling locally produced art, imported wares from Colombia amongst other countries, framed paintings and pictures. Of course, there was the odd tourist shop as well…always a must for us…hmmm…tourists!

There were restaurants galore and the quiet of the daytime was replaced by a lively night scene.  We visited one particular restaurant three times – after all how could we resist Norwoods Tree House restaurant.  What a fantastical concept with superb food, great service and live music.

Mexican is not a type of restaurant found often in the UK so it was a joy to visit one in New Smyrna Beach and after having some friendly help deciphering the menu we ordered and soon tucked into a delicious meal.

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Not to be out done the Italians were represented en masse too and one place we visited had the most unusual textured ceiling covered with corks!

Each step outside on the pavements along the avenue brought a moment of reflection as we gazed down at the names inscribed upon the red brick path. Instead of those of famous celebrities that I’ve seen elsewhere I was touched to see a local sway to these dedicated memorials and celebrations.

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At last I complete my trio of posts about my Florida break and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. May they have brought you some of those wonderful  restorative, exciting and blissful feelings that engulfed me. There is one fact that I’m glad I was unaware of though: that this area has the dubious distinction of being knows as the world’s shark bite capital!

Photos copyright ©Annika Perry unless otherwise specified.

GHOST CRABS ET AL

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‘Hey folks! Have you got the photo yet? I’m getting pretty bored with this posing lark!’

I noticed the  perfect round holes first. 

What lived in these burrows visible across the beach? Soon after I began to catch glimpses of the elusive crustaceans as they scuttled across the sand and as if leaping, disappeared into their holes.  Impossibly so,  I felt as the crabs were far broader than its habitat. Intrigued I wondered about their appearance, colouring. Not the usual dark brown crabs from the North Sea coast, that much I could see. 

Then one morning one of the mysterious ghost crabs obligingly paused by its burrow and looked up. Its expression was priceless; slightly disarming, slightly grumpy. It stayed still. Waiting patiently as camera phone was found, put on correct setting, sun glasses removed in order to see the screen. Ready at last! The black piercing eyes were unmoving, its shell pale and almost translucent. In contrast the legs shone with gentle light golden hues, furry-like at the tips. The two claws were of uneven size; a characteristic of the ghost crabs – so named for its pale complexion and chameleon ability to blend in with its environment and the shading of the body adjusts according to the time of day.

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The first morning I was mesmerised by a flock of large birds swooping and gliding across the ocean. Five clearly visible although other days up to eighteen would fly across the water close to shore. Suddenly one dived into the ocean before quickly reappearing. What were these majestic birds? Soon I had my answer. Pelicans! I was in utter awe; before I had only seen Pelicans in zoos. It was a joy and privilege to view them on a daily basis in the wild.  Often during meal times three pelicans would pass within two metres of our balcony, their heads and wings clearly visible. An awesome overwhelming sight and we sat in silence savouring the experience.

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One particularly elegant and regal bird was a constant visitor on the shores, purposefully striding along the waters edge, its crisp white plumage gleaming in the sunlight. Always keeping its distance from each other, the little egret, a type of heron, occasionally bopped its black beak into the wet sand before moving on with its striking yellow feet. Time stood still as I watched the egret; sheer peace and harmony. The only time it seemed bothered was as the wind increased following the hurricane and then it tucked its head snuggly against the body, seeking lee within itself.

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Partly hidden under the bottom wooden stair down to the beach, the turtle’s head stretched beyond the step. Oh no! It should have returned hours earlier back to the sea but then I saw its injury, a large chunk of shell lying by its side, no doubt attacked by the seagulls during the night. My heart went out to the poor animal. After our walk it was still on the beach, but heading in the right direction. Later it had disappeared, hopefully after making its own way to the sea!

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Geckos galore! That is the only way to describe the paths around the condo building by the car park as geckos of all sizes crowded the paths. I had to keenly observe the path I walked along, particularly as the baby ones were only a cute centimetre long!

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The sunlight sparkled from this alien orb on the sand; hypnotic in its strange beauty. Was it alive? The answer I found out was no as this was the the ‘jelly’ remains of a jellyfish. Called the mesoglea, this is the last part to decompose when a jellyfish dies, usually after being torn apart by fish, turtles or rough weather. It doesn’t sting but not knowing that at the time I wasn’t taking a chance!

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Butterfly clams were a delight of tiny proportions. Visible briefly as the waves washed over the sand, the butterfly clams use the water to move around on the beach before quickly burrowing themselves again. This recurrent movement is known as the “dance of the coquina”.  Although it was difficult and rare to catch sight of the clams themselves, their shells were scattered across the beach and the child within me eagerly collected a handful of the 15-25 mm empty shells.

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Image from Google

Finally, a mystery! These little birds were a common sight on the beach, pecking away at the sand along the water’s edge. They were among our favourite animals in Florida, so cute and particularly endearing as with each oncoming wave they would dash quickly away up the beach, their little legs stepping so fast. Despite numerous conversations with other walkers along the stretch of coast we became no wiser as to what these birds were actually called. Can anyone help?  Below are my first attempt to upload my own videos from Vimeo – fingers crossed they work!

I hope you have enjoyed the visit to the animal kingdom from New Smyrna Beach; my next post will visit the bricks and mortar of the towns in the area.

Unless specified all photos copyright © Annika Perry

AN ORDINARY DAY

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Fish! Such safe, innocuous pets, we thought. Low maintenance, low cost, we convinced ourselves. Ha! As If! Those were the days of innocence.

Five years ago, when our son was, well five years younger, the pet discussion had dragged on for months before finally we all agreed on fish. Dogs were out as we travelled abroad a lot, cats were ruled out after my husband mentioned his (still unwitnessed) allergy to the feline creatures. So fish it was.

Five years later my son’s fishes are mostly ours! How wonderfully typical.

Five traumatic years later we still persevere. You’d think we’d know better by now. 

The first days and weeks of joy and excitement were ones of bliss. Each feeding time an event in itself, numerous questions of sleeping habits, eating habits and er, mating habits, had me rushing secretly to google in a desperate attempt to provide an intelligent answer to my keen son.

Names. Of course the fish were soon all named and if you’re embarking on this venture, be warned. Once named, you’re doomed. After all, this is not just one pet, but dozens.

As the first poor mite pined away, then visibly sickened I watched my son’s emotional rollercoaster helplessly. His fears became mine. That was only the start.

Years of fish-related nightmares followed; tankful of dying fish, escaping fish, fishes with humongous deformed eyes! 

I quickly became an expert on diagnosing their diseases – that was the easy part. Treating meant possibly killing the other healthy ones. Catch-22.

When the first poor blighter died we agreed upon a funeral and solemnly it was placed in a matchbox. My husband donned his winter coat and gloves and looked at us expectantly.

My son and I both glanced at the cold grey frozen outdoors then my son asked could he stay in? I nodded, relieved and quickly agreed I would remain in the warm house with him.

My husband turned and headed out for the pre-arranged burial site, picking up a trowel from the shed along the way.

Minutes later, I saw him on his knees, hacking away at the frozen ground. Finally the deed was done and he eased himself up, then stood still for a moment. Stretching his back? Or saying a few words, perhaps? 

By then, exhausted from lack of sleep, over-wrought with emotions, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I fancy, I did both.

fishtwoFiver years later, our love affair with the fishes has only, perversely, flourished. On Saturday, as our son went to the cinema with friends (oh, how I recall those idyllic care-free days!), my husband and I do what all sensible parent do with a couple of free hours- we headed to the pub!

Once ensconced in a cosy corner we settled down with our drinks and snack and talked; desperately trying NOT to talk only about our son. After all, we must have conversed in our pre-child life. Didn’t we?

At last, I relaxed, easing into the peace and novelty of the day when ‘ping’ a text. Yep, my son asking if I could email a photograph of his passport for proof of age.

I remained strong! (Round of applause, please.) Where before I would have dashed to the car, driven six miles home in a panic to fulfil his request I stopped to think. To be rational.

Picking up the phone, I took a deep breath and called my son. On hearing where we were, he was ever so apologetic. I offered to to talk to the attendant but in the end the boys sorted the problem themselves and I continued to enjoy my drink…well, sort of…only fully calm when I received a text that they were in and the film was about to start.

The day continued with a visit to the Garden Centre. I don’t know what it is about these places but they are quietly reassuring, providing a burst of colour and hope in the middle of winter. A mecca of stunning flowers, a homage to dreams and possibilities. They are so normal.

Normality. For years I fought against its existence; the very word an anathema to me. I wanted excitement, I wanted constant change. Gradually I began to recognise the power and significance of normality and routine. What I feared was what I needed. Those repetitive routine tasks are the basic building blocks of life that form the secure foundation of my life and that of those close to me; however they are intermingled with adventures, of course!

As our normal day continued, our thoughts returned to the depleted fish tank; full of plants, Greek temple ruins, treasure chest but not many fish. With determination we headed to the aquatic centre.

Thirty minutes later we exited carrying a brown paper bag, with 12 guppies swarming at the bottom of the plastic bag within. Once home we slowly introduced the guppies to the tank; our eyes bedazzled by the beautiful array of colours, the luminescent fan tails shimmering away. We stood back and admired our catch; the proud new parents owners! 

I just had one thought in my mind.

How did this ordinary day become so extra-ordinary?

Enjoy this star-studded version of ‘Perfect Day ‘ by Lou Reed, who appears throughout wearing cool dark glasses. The song sums up my day perfectly:))

 

 

APOSTROPHES, SPEECH MARKS AND NOW!

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This is to say a quick hello to everyone; I am more than aware that I have posted less frequently than usual. You are not forgotten, rather I am working hard to finish my first draft. Along the way I ran into a couple of obstacles.

As I have written my draft across two various platforms and programs – my iPad and Scrivener on the computer – I realised a while ago that the speech marks and apostrophes were not synced. In other words I had two variations across my whole document.

Last week I bit the bullet and began rectifying the problem. Hence hours of work going through each chapter, finding and amending each and every apostrophe and speech mark – I never knew my characters were so chatty! Listening to music I have managed to make this mostly a painless task but the work accrued as in the process I started to re-read and found other errors – of course. 

Some of spacing, some basic grammar and two words flew out at me like red flags! ‘Now’ and ‘then’ must have appeared on every page as I wrote quickly, with the ideas and words flowing freely. Trying to place myself in the story I obviously decided to do so literally, ‘now’ scattered like petals, liberally falling across the draft. On re-reading instead of immediacy it was clunky and became an annoying intrusion across the narrative. Out it went – along with ‘then’. Many other changes also followed.

I’m sure this is not the way to do it! It’s not neat, seamless re-writing. It’s a constant revision, some chapters more than three times, others still on their first real draft. It’s my way of muddling towards the end. 

The additional chapters have mostly been written apart from the all important finale. Somehow I’ve managed to delay that – the premise is firmly in my head, the way it’s going played out endlessly.

Is this delay psychological? Once written will that be it? Finished for round one (or two, or three in some cases!)?  My major goal of actually writing a novel achieved?

No more procrastinating. Next week I’m buckling down, facing my fears, continuing with the apostrophes, finishing the final chapter. 

My apologies for a short absence – with my next post it might be time to pop those champagne corks and have a celebratory drink – before the real hard work begins. I’m under no illusions!

‘She wasn’t ready to return home just yet, her peace and contentment carrying her down to the harbour, to the boats. Even from here she heard the familiar orchestra of the mast riggings beating against the wooden masts; the various pitches in sound rising to a crescendo with each new gust of warm summer breeze. She stood with her bare feet perched up to the edge of the wooden boards, gazing out to sea, closing her eyes, soaking in the contentment of the perfect day.’

From ‘An Island Girl’ 

© Annika Perry

The Sisyphean Quest

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Hands up! We all have them. Magazines! Magazine collections stacked in the bookshelves, placed carefully in date order in folders, boxed and labelled before being safely placed in the attic. Magazines from childhood or current magazines around an interest or hobby. 

I’m hoping my son’s ‘Dr Who’ collection, numbering into the hundreds will one day be part of his retirement fund! My writing magazines are spilling out of the bookcases onto the surrounding floor. My science magazine collection was only recently discarded as mould had sadly attacked them. My husband’s childhood comic collection are hopefully not so ravaged and may well fund a cruise one day!  

None of these however come near the 85,000 + magazines owned by the 2012 Guinness World Record Breaker for the largest magazine collection in the world, James Hyman.

jhymanmagarchive1James Hyman started on a mission in 1990 to collect and preserve as many magazines as possible. He felt panic by the potential loss to humankind of the information and resources held in these magazines and therefore established what is today known as the ‘Hyman Archive’. He sees himself as a ‘guardian and preserver of popular culture in physical form’ and hopes to one day form a giant research library.

Currently all the magazines are housed in a huge warehouse near the Thames in Woolwich, London and 55% of his stock is not owned by the British Library and therefore not accessible to the general public. He hopes to change this. With Tory Turk, creative lead, he is busy cataloging and digitising the collection to unlock it for researchers and the general public. 

The theme for his collection is ‘Popular Culture In Print’ and  amongst the reading material he is also ‘preserving pictures, illustrations and photography’. It concentrates on print magazines from 1910 and onwards. The collection is currently growing at a rate of 20% per annum – largely through donations from the general public and there is a constant appeal for material from ‘publishers, collectors and enthusiasts’. It is already recognised as a huge cultural resource and actively used by companies and individuals alike. One example is the ‘David Bowie’ exhibition, which made great use of its resources and is now going on world tour with some of the information gleamed from the Hyman Archive.

shelvesOne can only start to comprehend the scale of the project when you see his large warehouse, shelves upon shelves of neatly stacked magazines. Corridors of information, the serious mingling with the fun – from ‘film, TV, Music, Music video, Art, Fashion, Architecture, Interior design, Trends, Youth, Lifestyle, Women’s, Men’s, Technology, Sports, Photography, Counter-culture, Graphics, Animation, and Comics’.  All set to saved for the future. ‘The New Google’ said one current user of the collection.

‘Madness that could be genius’ is how one relative described Hyman’s ambition. 

Madness however that is well on the way to becoming a reality and within twenty years it is envisaged that the collection will be ‘living, reading and accessible’. Not only is the data being digitised, James Hyman is also using ‘meta-tag, analytical tools to visualise date’ to aid all the ‘researchers, readers and students’ he believes will use the collection. 

Furthermore the collection extends beyond the printed word and picture and includes 30,000 CDs, 20,000 vinyl records plus thousands of DVDs. The numbers are staggering, the task seemingly insurmountable and almost impossible, as James Hyman has admitted, ‘a Sisyphean Quest’.  (If like me, the phrase is unknown to you, Sisyphus was a Greek King who’s punishment for his self-aggrandising craftiness and deceitfulness was to be forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating it for eternity.)

Have you ever felt the same concern about the information that may be lost to the future? Do you have your own special magazine collection? Do you think this collection and information would be of any use or interest to you in your work or blogging life? As always, I look forward to reading and sharing all your comments. 

U P D A T E            

Following the appearance of this post James Hyman was kind enough to visit it and to comment. In his comment he also answered many of the questions raised by others in the comments section. I am pleased to print part of his reply here for ease – I know it can be time-consuming to trawl through lots of messages.

I plan to keep the physical copy once everything is digitised as a physical artefact has its place and importance. Without going into too much technical details what is important post-digitisation is the tagging of the material to help anyone’s research (creative industries, academics, students etc) e.g. that pair of boots in that image – say, they are David Bowie’s, where was the picture taken? Who was the photographer? What is the context of this picture? (last gig as ‘Ziggy Stardust’ for example). Furthermore, careful tagging can enrich the data set and answer complex questions and provide connections that are not easy to realise. So, again, in popular culture, how does Stanley Kubrick relate to Bob Dylan in the 80s? Well, if everything is tagged, you could get a result such as a March 1987 Playboy Interview with Jack Nicholson who talks about Kubrick being his favourite director and how he would love to play alongside Bob Dylan in Kubrick’s next film.

Never forget, before the internet, magazines were the internet in many ways; they have been the zeitgeist, containing the best content from photographers, authors, illustrators, designers, and publishers. Not everything is readily available on Google. Remember, how you search and how those search results can be displayed & analysed is also of great importance and value.

Finally, if anyone wishes to donate their magazines to the archive, please get in touch via http://www.hymanarchive.com

By James Hyman

 

COSMIC WONDER

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Sometimes I just forget our tiny place in the universe. How minuscule an area our atoms occupy, our Earth dwarfed by the enormity of the cosmos. Too large to fathom, to comprehend.

Moonlight reflecting off the Adriatic Sea and highlighting the boot of Italy.

Moonlight reflecting off the Adriatic Sea and highlighting the boot of Italy.

Like the proverbial kick in the solar plexus I ached in awe at the glorious power, space and size of these images and what they represent. My mind started doing gymnastics before conceding defeat and instead stopped to admire the sheer beauty, scope and energy of the images. Enjoy.

Europa - one of Jupiter's dozens moons - has a an icy surface filled with sprawling faults and deep flowing ridges.

Europa – one of Jupiter’s many moons – has an icy surface filled with sprawling faults and deep flowing ridges.

The pictures form part of a photographic exhibition at the National History Museum, London starting 22nd January 2016.  Called Otherworlds, the exhibition is an exploration of the solar system using some of the hundreds of thousands of images taken by robotic interplanetary probe cameras since the 1960s and recreated by Michael Benson to form the final composite images of the exhibition.

Calm day on Mars overlooking Husband Hill, which was named after Commander Rick Husband. He was the pilot of Colombia Space Shuttle which disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.

A calm day on Mars overlooking Husband Hill, which was named after Commander Rick Husband. He was the pilot of the Columbia Space Shuttle which disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.

 ‘Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.’ Stephen Hawking

 

A giant dust storm on Mars which can last months at a time.

A giant dust storm on Mars which can last months at a time.

Fog at the bottom of the 4,000km long & 6.5 km deep canyon on Mars.

Fog at the bottom of the 4,000km long & 6.5 km deep canyon on Mars.

‘Music in the soul can be heard by the whole universe.’  Lao Tzu

Ginormous solar flares.

Ginormous solar flares.

Credit: Nasa/JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures & BBC News.

https://youtu.be/HOQtTgrdljE

The Whiteout Years – Part One

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Following the post about my visit to the Royal Society of Literature thanks to my short story entry to the V. S Pritchett Memorial Prize, many of you kindly asked if I was going to publish the story here on my blog. So I am pleased do just that.

I wrote ‘The Whiteout Years’ in the midst of Spring but it is set in Winter and particularly New Year so I thought this an apt time to post it. The story was also shortlisted for the InkTears Short Story Contest 2015.

As this is quite a long story I have decided to split it into two parts, however if you wish to read it in one go, please click this link.  The Whiteout Years

 As always, I really will appreciate your comments.:)

The Whiteout Year  by  Annika Perry

The music was blaring in the car, some modern Norwegian pop and once again Carl scanned through the radio stations. Lots of grinding static, then a few words, then silence as he hit the off button. Admittedly he was out in the Swedish forest but surely it shouldn’t be impossible to find a decent station, preferably in English.

Outside the snow had started to fall again; thick snowflakes bombarding the windscreen, the white swirls hypnotic. Carl slowed down and rubbing his eyes peered through the windscreen. On full beam he was reduced to the bottom of well vision, so minimal it barely reached the bonnet of the car. There was a slight improvement with normal lights on as the headlights lit a dull streak in front of him.

It was too hot in the car and Carl turned down the heating and opened the windows. The cold blast of air bit into his cheeks. Well, that did the trick and now fully awake he looked out for the sticks. He remembered his first winter here with Karin, her laughter filled the car as she sped along the narrow road at if in a rally, catching the orange snow poles marking the edge of the road with glancing blows. Behind the poles was a metre deep ditch, packed with snow. No poles now, a recession was on, instead birch branches, painted white were impaled into the ground earlier in the Autumn. Clever that, white against the white snow – a genius stroke thought Carl ruefully. Wonder what Karin would have made of that?

Finally Carl reached a crossing for the main road and out of habit he stopped. He knew he didn’t have to; he’d have seen any approaching car from the top of the hill. Nothing. A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be overawed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the over-ladened fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.

That fist time he’d been petrified, as with Karin they took a trek through the woods in the late afternoon. Lunch at her parents had been long and jovial, wine followed by schnapps, then the coffee and cakes. Replete and exhausted they’d made their excuses and headed out for a break. Whilst his body had been warm, his lungs froze in pain, as he inhaled the icy wind. Shocked he’d stopped and gasped and with a warm gloved hand Karin lifted his scarf across his mouth and face, softly stroking his cheek. “Keep safe,” she’d whispered. If only she’d listened to herself.

During their first winter walk, the snow crunched luxuriously under their boots, the frozen twigs snapped against their coat and the moss popped quietly in protest. A world transformed and in awe Carl, gloved hand holding Karin’s, wandered around the magic winter wonderland. He’d laughed suddenly, startling Karin.

“What?” she’d asked.”What’s so funny?”

“Last year we took my nephew to a winter wonderland in Cornwall, it was dreadful, such a disappointment. But look at this. Heaven – there is no way you could recreate this.”

Not far now, he was almost there and yet another year without Karin. Without her blonde air across his chest as he woke in the mornings. Without her grumpy moody mutterings as she woke and then slowly cheered up sitting up in bed, black coffee clasped in her hands, duvet wrapped tightly around her. Carefully he’d snuggle next to her, sipping his tea. Another year without her clothes strewn around the bedroom; a shops collection of tops hogging the dresser drawers, skirts and trousers abandoned as if heading out for a walk. Whilst he folded his clothes with care, hung them on a hanger or over a chair, Karin would blissfully discard her clothes as she headed for a shower, one leg of the jeans in front of the other, as if removed mid-step.

The rejected choices from the previous day lay forlorn on the carpet, chair, wardrobe door. However did they get up there? In a fit of pique? Those early days together Carl had tidied up after her, attempted to mend her ways with hints and then stronger words. Within months he learnt to love the mess; he could gauge her mood by the number of items left out. Just one, a day of confidence and self-assurance. Three or more, Karin needed extra loving, caring. No one else knew, her fear of others, lack of belief in herself. How could they? So self-assured in her work, tall and beautiful. Your poster Swedish woman – god, how had he got so lucky?

The whiteout deepened and claustrophobic Carl glanced down the road. A wall of grey/white murk met his glance. He couldn’t see anything. The silence droned in his ears. Signalling right, he turned, first onto the the left side of the road, then correcting himself onto the right. At least the road was ploughed, snow banked two metres or so high on each side. He was still driving on snow though, icier here and he felt the snow tyres grip the surface with a little skid. That had been his life these past three years, skidding along.

Working, surviving, interspersed with hours, days, nights of whiteout. Oblivious he would just sit in the dark at home. Forgetting to put the lights on, forgetting to eat.

“You’ll slip through the cracks, if you don’t bulk up,” his friends warned him. He didn’t tell them, it was too late, He’d already slipped away.

Meals with Karin had always been spontaneous. His life of routine turned on its head as she entered his life.

“I’m starving,” she’d called out as they returned to his flat after their first date out. It was midnight, dinner was hours ago and the film had been a drag.

“I’ll get some toast and tea,” Carl had suggested. Karin scoffed at the idea, pushed her way into the kitchen and set to work. Within a few minutes most of the contents of his fridge and cupboards were on the counters, with the overspill on the small dining table.

“Let’s make a feast!” Swedish meatballs, rosemary potatoes, salad, dips, bread adorned the newly set table. She’d managed to find his one and only decent table cloth and not satisfied with its brown drabness she’d flamboyantly cast her blue scarf on top. With the harsh electric lights off, his long-forgotten candles were finally lit and in reverential silence they sat and ate. At two in the morning, a grotto of warmth and love. It was not only his kitchen which was transformed that night; Carl was never the same again.

To be continued…

©Annika Perry 2015