Category Archives: Writing Workshop

Perchance to Run Away…

This post is a (belated!) response to the prompt here, at
‘Sleep is for the Weak’
and you can see the other responses here. 

We live in a world that is increasingly dominated by, and fuelled with, advanced technology. A lot of this we are all, generally, grateful for. We like it that our homes can be heated to just the right temperature, without the need to clean grates, light and make up fires, adjust the dampers, and so on. It’s great to be able to talk to friends, anywhere in the world, at very modest cost these days. When we travel by road, rail, sea, or air, many devices co-ordinate to ensure our safety as far as possible. And the list goes on – without yet more technology, I couldn’t have typed this, and you wouldn’t be reading it now!

But amid the glamour of all this, some considerations tend to be overlooked; in particular, the promised resultant utopia has not arrived. This same world, full of technology, is still littered with war, grief, suffering of many kinds, tedious jobs that have to be done, as well as unemployment and all sorts of other troubles. Have they been, even a little, alleviated? Dare I ask, have they got worse? 

And so to my title and the point of this post. Imagine, if you can, a home, a location, a life, where you are equipped, not with countless things you could sometimes make use of, but with plenty of the things that you couldn’t do without. Well, a part of me wants to run away and find that life. Realistically, I think (well, I know) I’d have to work much harder, in the physical sense. But I’d get fitter, wouldn’t I? My food would be simpler, but I’d probably soon find it tastier, and I’d be healthier for it…

Perhaps, for some, this simpler life already exists. Indeed, we know it does, in some parts of the world. But for the rest of us does it exist, potentially, as an attitude of mind? Personally, I am part way through a rather painful de-cluttering exercise. And I’m trying to learn some guide-lines for life, as I go along. Perhaps I won’t have to run away, after all.

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When an Island is Born

The waiting was over.

It seemed hard to believe that our first visit to this area was barely a fortnight ago. We had been on a routine patrol. Karla, a young student, had been thrilled to get the chance to come with us. She had learnt how to trail the special marine thermometer pod over the ship’s side, and then take the reading. On one occasion, when she had just done this, I gave the result to Erik, our skipper. A few minutes later, he came out of the chart room, looking puzzled.
“Get Karla to run that again, Jan,” he called to me, “and you check it.”
So we did, but the result was the same. We told Erik. He frowned back.
“That’s nearly a whole degree C more than normal for this time of year. Jan, get the Ministry on the radio and let me know what they say.”

We were instructed to come in for supplies, then return to the area. This time, as we got nearer, we suddenly saw a jet of steam and ash shooting into the air. We moved into shallower water, and dropped anchor. Over the next two days, we saw lots more steam jets, getting ever more frequent and closer to one spot. The acrid smell grew stronger. Ash particles were drifting in the breeze.

Then, one morning, we saw what we had been waiting for. After a long and concentrated eruption of ash, a tiny peak broke the surface of the sea. With the next blast came red-hot larva. Larger eruptions followed quickly now, the plume soaring into the air the smell almost overpowering. Karla and I were kept busy with the cameras and the radio. (It was some months later, after we had visited a school to talk about our experience, that a twelve-year-old boy painted this picture, inspired by one of our photos, plus a bit of artistic licence!)

No-one stopped to think of the time, even though we were entering up the log every few minutes. But we all knew that we would remember that day. The day an island was born.

This post was prompted by the ‘Writing Workshop’ picture walking challenge here.
The narrative is entirely fictional, although inspired by the history of Surtsey,
a volcanic island formed by eruptions South of Iceland in 1963. 
(But the picture was actually painted by a twelve-year-old boy. That was me.)

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Just a Second: Ode to a New-found Loved One

This post is written in response to the prompt at the ‘Writing Workshop’ here.
Essentially, this is to use the word, the theme, the concept… ‘Second’ in a composition.
Here is my attempt. If you look here you will find other responses, including Josie’s own.

I thought no-one would give
My life a second glance.
I couldn’t face
The tasks I had to do.
I wondered when
Or if – I’d love again;
Yet struggled on
And then – life gave me you.

You made me give
My life a second chance.
You helped me face
The way ahead of me.
You showed me how
Life’s worth another try,
And now I find
I’m tied to you, but free.

You made me give
My life a second look.
You helped me leave
The past, that left me blue.
You showed me how
To overcome the fear,
And now I find
I’m free, but tied to you.

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I’m afraid I don’t feel equal to the task of writing for this prompt in a personal way, much as I can strongly relate to the concept.  Instead, I shall fit a few words to a photograph (as I rather tend to do.)  So here it is – a picture of Wollaton Hall, Nottingham.

This Elizabethan stately home, now a museum, was built between 1580 and 1588, for Sir Francis Willoughby (1547 – 1596.)  Despite his great wealth, his business affairs were complex and some ventures were unsuccessful.  He had no sons, and when a relative, Percival Willoughby, inherited the hall when Sir Francis died, it was encumbered by debts. What was missing, quite simply, was money.

In early 1944, when many American servicemen came to Britain before D-day, the park surrounding the hall was used as a camp for the 82nd Airborne Division.  Men saw this ornate building, together with deer roaming the park (as they still do today) and dubbed it ‘Nottingham Castle.’  Over 2,000 paratroopers were billeted there.  When they returned some time after D-day, the tents were not so full.  What was missing, sadly, was men.  Men to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

This post was prompted by the ‘Writing Workshop’ here.

Other responses are here.

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Moments, Minerals, and Things Marine…

So what do I collect?  Well, I suppose, first of all, I collect moments.  Points in time that were part of the future, but are now part of history.  Moments of shape, line, perspective, colour, and contrast.  Most people just call them photographs, or, more clinically still, images.  But to me, many of my photographs, indeed all of them in some sense, are moments.  Several of them appear elsewhere on this blog.

But what about things you can see and touch in reality?  Sure, I’ve collected stamps and a few coins in my time, but my main enduring inclination as a collector has been, and is, towards minerals and sea shells.  The marvellous blend of beauty and history, I think, is what appeals to me.  Most of the things like this that I collect, I gather from beaches or other open spaces, for no cost.  One or two are purchased specimens.  Either way, I rate them as more interesting souvenirs than twee ornaments with the name of a seaside town emblazoned on them.  I’ll just show you a few: first, some shells…

Next, an interesting pebble…

and here, another pebble with fossils on it, rather prized…

and finally,a piece of fluorite…

This is one of my few purchased specimens.  It is, indeed, a very impure sample of ‘Blue John’ fluorspar.  The colour is said to come from oil, trapped as the rock was formed.  Whenever did the remains of dead sea creatures make something look so beautiful?

This post was prompted by the ‘Writing Workshop’ here.

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It’s About Time…

What’s the time?

A very everyday sort of question.  But take away one word and it changes from mundane to challenging…

What is time?

The concept of time allows us to put events, from the most minor to the most important, into a sequence.  For example, you might tell me that a parcel arrived before breakfast.  And then, just as it’s useful to have a unit of length, such as a metre, and not just say things like “This piece of string is too short”, we need units of time.  A day is a very traditional unit of time.  This came, over time (see how the word crops up?) to be divided into hours, minutes, and seconds.  In some fields such as electronics, intervals of less than one nanosecond (that’s one thousand-millionth of a second) may be important. (In that time, this computer has dealt with three events!)

Actually, there’s even a snag with defining the second as a fraction of a day.  The length of a day is not strictly constant. I know that often seems true, but here I’m referring just to the physics of it!  Seriously, days vary and are on average getting ever so slightly longer.  So scientists had to come up with a new way of defining the second.  What they settled on is all to do with radiation.  We’ve all seen how sodium in common salt will turn a gas flame bright yellow, and anyone who’s done much plumbing will know how copper turns a flame green.  Well, that’s all to do with the radiation that’s characteristic of an element.  The element Caesium has in its spectrum a particular wavelength of microwave radiation – and all waves, of course, have individual beats (oscillations.)  The second is now defined, would you believe, as the duration of 9,192,631,770 oscillations of this particular radiation from Caesium 133.  You were dying to know that, weren’t you?  There you are, then!

So much for the scientific bit.  how do we all get on in real life?  Well, it’s often said that work expands to fill the time available.  So, is the reverse true?  If we suddenly find that less time is available to complete a task than we first thought, can we still do it anyway?

To answer this, I carried out an experiment.  I didn’t start out with this intention, but what happened was this: I was installing new lighting in a building used for community purposes, and had been advised that this building was not required to be used during August.  Some problems with work being carried out by others led to a delay in the availability of the building for my work to be done, so I chose to work on the bank holiday.  I made good progress, but a lot of work remained to do.  Imagine, then, how I felt when I learned that the building was to be used the following evening!

I’ll just say that everyone involved was very co-operative and understanding, and the lights went on twenty minutes before the event was due to begin!  So the answer is ‘yes – just, but don’t count on it.’  (Not a very scientific way to put it, I know.)

I could regale you with more scientific theory and more hair-raising anecdotes of my working life.  But not now.  There isn’t time.

This post was prompted by the Writing Workshop here:

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Writing Workshop: Wishes

This will be a very short post.  It is too hard for me to put into words, at present, what I wish for in a personal sense.

But I’ll just say that I’d love truth and falsehood, honesty and lies, humility and arrogance, self-denial and greed, fairness and favouritism, to be shown up in an increasing way for what they are.  Because to deceive is not clever.  To defraud is not smart.  Where things are not what they may seem to many, I long for a day of reckoning.  Wherever and whenever a person or organisation presents an unreal façade to the outside observer, concealing a morass of vice and underhand activity, I wish for it to be torn down.

This post was prompted by the Writing Workshop here.

See the responses here.

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“In every job that must be done…

…There is an element of fun.”

So said Mary Poppins in, er, well, would you believe it – Mary Poppins.  And by and large, I agree with her.  It’s just that, sometimes, the fun takes a bit more finding than at other times.  Take, for instance, the job I had to do last week-end: on Saturday evening, while a short distance from home, I had briefly parked my car, and, returning to it, I noticed a puddle, and the characteristic aroma of ethylene glycol.  Fortunately, I made it home with the engine temperature only a little higher than usual.  Investigation next day confirmed what I suspected – a failed hose.  And no ordinary hose at that.  Have a look here:

Yes, that’s right – the one in the middle, low down.  It’s got five ends.  And, no, that’s not a mathematical impossibility, because it has moulded joints in it.

Anyway, the first little game is called ‘See if you can disconnect the lowest point without getting coolant up your sleeve.’  I won, because I managed not to.  Well, not much.

Next comes ‘See if you can disconnect the other four ends without taking everything else to pieces.’  A bit harder, but I won again.  (In the end.)  Phil 2, Mondeo 0.

Monday saw the fitting of a replacement, an engine flush, and a refill with new coolant – and here was the real delight; observing a vivid fluorescent pink-orange colour of new premium anti-freeze; that, and a certain sense of accomplishment.  Especially as there were no leaks.  A hat-trick.  The fun was there, just a little more elusive than usual…

And just remember, whether you drive a car or look after a child – or both, for that matter: if the temperature goes up, you’ve almost certainly got a problem.

Prompted by:

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Looking Back at Looking Forward

If you know me already, or if you scan through this site, you’ll appreciate my fascination with rain.  As I’ve said before, this goes back a long way – as far back as early childhood, in fact.  Well, just recently I did what I used to back then, just to see if it felt the same: I took something to eat and drink, and sat on a garden chair just under cover from the falling rain, and quietly ate, drank, and thought.  And the question is, did it feel the same?

Well, first of all, the same old curious fascination was definitely there.  As ever, I loved to muse on the way everyday things like roofs and plant-pots, as well as the plants and trees, looked excitingly different just because they were wet.  Once again, I loved to look at droplets and reflections.

But then there was, and always is, something else, much harder to describe: doing this, as I did once again, has the effect of giving isolation and comfort at the same time.  The falling rain emphasises that you are alone, but never lonely.  You are surrounded in solitary beauty.

Let me make a contrast: to walk through a shopping centre on a busy morning, surrounded by hundreds of people who care nothing for you, and shop displays compete to entice you to part with your money in exchange for the latest this and that, that is loneliness.

So, was anything different, and, if so, what?  Well now, here is the point of my title: as a child, I would sit there like that, mostly filling my head with thoughts of what I wanted to do, either that day, or at the week-end, or in the next school holidays,or whenever.  Doing the same thing now (the food, drink, chair, and location will all be different but the concept is the same) I find that I am mostly looking back, remembering and wondering about all kinds of things… Perhaps my two little pictures show us something: you can focus on the surroundings, or on the reflections, but not on both at the same time.

The fascination, though, and that strange, almost paradoxical comfort, is still there – or did I say that before?

This post was prompted by the writing workshop at:

Now look here:

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At that moment…

This is a short anecdote about something that made my day special.  The day in question – some weeks ago now – became special because of something hilarious (at least, I thought so.)

What happened was this: I was driving around (as part of an ordinary business day) when I had to stop at traffic signals (a common enough occurrence.) I happened to be the first stopped car, that is, I was right at the stop line.

Now, this set of signals served two purposes: it controlled a crossing point for pedestrians and cyclists (several were waiting) and it was also part of a complex system of traffic control for a large roundabout linking trunk roads.  The entire layout was not visible from where I was stopped.  (Note that.)

After a few seconds, the signals allowed the pedestrians and cyclists to cross.  Among them, a very average cyclist on an equally average bike began, slowly, to cross in front of me…

Well, as I said, the entire layout was out of my range of vision; but out of earshot it was not.  Oh, no.  And at exactly the same moment, unseen, a powerful motor-bike roared away.

Picture, if you can, the absurd overall impression – a pedal cycle moving off at a sedate pace, making an ear-splitting roar!  It made me scream with laughter.  And the humour of the situation stayed with me all day.

Watch out (or listen out) for excessively noisy push-bikes…

This post was prompted by the writing workshop at:

Then look here:

I linked this post to #chucklemums week 7 on 7 June 2016

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