Tag Archives: west yorkshire

All Shook Up In’th Shops (part 1)

13 Nov

Some readers of this blog will know that I don’t really do shopping. Well, high street shopping I mean. I hate the same blandness that 95% of the stores here in the UK  represent these days. I despise the way that the big chains and the corporates assume that we’re a bunch of brainless, zombified sheep – sleep-walking our way to unecessary consumer tosh accruement and purchasing-oblivion.

I am a big fan of Quakerism. Of keeping the material things in our life plain and simple. Of spurning the constant need that many of us feel – To Have, To Be, To Own.  But a great number of Quakers themselves – were actually the leading capitalist-philanthropists of their day (I am talking pre-1950s here – I am talking the Rowntrees, Cadburys, Frys and hundreds more who were committed to Quakerist life and practice in business.)  So I can’t really blame the Quakers for my horror of anything that involves numerical transaction. They were quite happily pootling along – selling widgets to punters. In as ethically and perhaps as paternalistically a way as possible of course…

So, no. Instead, I nominate Bill Bryson to blame for all of this anti-shopping malarky. Bill’s ‘Notes from a Small Island‘ had a huge effect on me when it was first published. This book is one of our 20th Century travel and civic classics.  A must-read where Bill charms us with take on Brit-life but also comments on the monotony – the bleak and barren landscape which now forms the shop frontages of most UK towns. His hilarious anecdotes and sarky-arse commentary precisely depicted what I was feeling as I hung out in various abodes during my late teens and early twenties; “Bloody hell! Am I in Manchester or Oxford or Oldham or Birmingham? It all looks the sodding same, these days!”

Still one of the funniest books that I've ever read...

Still one of the funniest books that I’ve ever read…

And don’t even get me onto some of the crimes of the built environment that have been carried out here in the UK. The wanton destruction of stunningly beautiful architecture – some of them hundreds of years old – in order to slap a franchised ‘Coronary 2 Go! Geddit it Gulped!’ cladding for your latest fast food outlet. Yes, Bryson’s gripes got into my head. So much so, that I’ve been pathologically avoiding Britain’s High Streets for many, many years now. (Mind you, thinking about it – the man has clearly saved me a bob or two. Cheers Bill!)

But this aversion to all things-high street extends to my other half. And the kids too. A suggestion of “let’s hit the shops” in my family is tantamount to saying “anyone fancy a bout of gastroenteritis this weekend?” So yesterday’s little excursion messed with my head somewhat. I visited a department store…. I know! A business named ‘Harvey’s of Halifax’.

Now, not being a born n’ bredder of Halifax (me being an East Mancunian defector now living on t’other side of the Pennines)  I was informed beforehand by ‘real locals’ that this trip to the shops might be a slightly less traumatic experience for me than giving birth without pain-relief in the Kalahari (which happened to be a barrel of laughs, believe you me.)  “Oooh – Harvey’s is lovely!” one friend said.  Another neighbour told me that she was “reet jealous!” that I was popping out to this particular shop. My mother also said that she had heard of them. And my mother is a lady for whom Lidl simply doesn’t cut the mustard…

So, I was all set to visit the shop. And okay, the plan was to just have a quick brew in their cafe. But I was initially impressed by the presentation of the building. And oh…dear, dear reader – if you are at all interested in urban design and heritage – you HAVE to check out Halifax for some stunning examples, the Piece Hall to begin with of course, as a ground-breaking bit of architecture. But Harvey’s building is also rather impressive.  The business began back in the 1920’s. But today it stands proud – with three historical buildings merged – to form the modern-day Harveys.  Although, I have to use the term ‘modern’ loosely – because the minute I stepped into the place I was catapulted back into the past. A reminder of that wonderful store named Lewis’ in Manchester. Many childhood memories of accompanying my Granny there via her Datsun Cherry (one of Granny’s first jobs back in the 30s was as a shop assistant in Lewis’).

The original Harvey's store

The original Harvey’s store

Immediately, I breathed in….what was it? Old World gentility. But not old-fashioned. No – it was far more upmarket than the Grace Bros (anyone remember ‘Are You Being Served?‘) Meaning that Harvey’s clearly rings those top class bells.  But … without that sense of snootiness. Without making you feel that you can only shop there if you enjoy the feeling of Being Better Than Thou. So the place doesn’t possess the up-itself attitude of your Harvey Nicks.  Sure, it’s enormous in size, but had been designed so that you didn’t feel too lost (although you probably were – if you were me – it happens to me a lot. I have a tendency to walk round ten square feet at least fifteen times without realising it.) The place was utterly bustling with what clearly were very loyal customers.

And I can tell you why the customers were loyal. This is because it’s a 100% family owned and operated firm. I witnessed many sales staffs assisting customers. Dealing with them in such a way that was a zillion miles from the  USA-induced corporate Stepford Wives customer-service faux friendliness. And I also saw the owner and Chairman himself stopping and chatting to at least a dozen customers – filling in for his daughter who is MD of the business. I noticed the Company Secretary dashing over to assist a disabled customer, I clocked her getting read to help with clearing up tables in the restaurant…

These customers don't need free booze to stay loyal (although wesh frobably likesh it!)

These customers don’t need free booze to stay loyal (although wesh frobably likesh it!)

This was down to earth, genuinely-give-a-toss-about-people northern customer service. To date, the closest I have seen to this attitude has been – not from a high street shop – but from a social housing landlord (the award-winning North West’s Irwell Valley Housing Assoc.)  Irwell Valley’s Tom Manion will tell you that employee happiness levels are utterly transparent to the general public and convey immediately either very good or very poor management. Roger Harvey would probably agree with him. Of course, there is the off-chance that the staff at Harveys are not *truly* a happy crew and that they’re  just damned good actors (and are being bribed to put on a good show for the consumers as their families are actually being held at gunpoint in the lingerie section.)

But the bees-knees of this particular visit was when I learned about the charity work that Harveys are involved with.  Again – none of your off the shelf corporate big charidee names stuff. The store is heavily involved with a range of local charities and arts groups. Many of them being the smaller names that you may not be familiar with, but which (in my opinion) are more worthy of praise than the Big Guys in terms of bang for bucks. And real heart. Indeed, I happened to meet one of their latest recruits – a member of staff who had been part of a programme run by Halifax based charity ‘Project Challenge’ and who had been unemployed but was now working at Harveys and still dedicated to raising money for them.

And best of all the store is an INDIE!   Not part of a big chain. Independent…going it alone…sailing the seas of creativity and entrepreneurship. Like me in many ways. But with better underwear. Yes indeedy, inspiring people in an inspiring place. I came over all giddy. So much so that I actually ended up buying things from the place. Flexing the old plastic. Now, this is a dangerous practice for me. The flabby muscle of rampant consumerism was beginning to twitch. I was only saved from purchasing a new coat by the fact that I was about to wet my pants (excessive caffeine) and that my parking ticket was about to run out. And we all know how evil, twisted and jobsworth those West Yorkshire Parking Attendents are…

Modern day Harvey's.  Perhaps the only store in the UK that could make me blog about it. Without any brown envelope exchanges or cash for question deals...

Modern day Harvey’s. Perhaps the only store in the UK that could make me blog about it. Without any brown envelope exchanges or cash for question deals…

Driving back towards homeland, I realised that I needed to break this new buzz of mine. All recovering addicts know that if you feel a new, heady vibe – you had better get back on the waggon – quick.  Try a spot of ‘what used to work.’

So tune in for Part Two (“Breaking the Addiction – with thanks to a local charity shop. And the consumer demands of my budgie.”)

————————————————–

Chocs Away!

19 Jul

Well, I thought that ‘Chocs Away’ was a much better title than ‘All About My Book Launch.’  If you are a newcomer to this blog (welcome pals!) then you will soon discover that my daughter has dyslexia and that it leads to many interesting ‘language moments’ … (See ‘Be Enterprising’ blog below.)

As we were chatting about the book launch in the run up to it all, I could see the cogs and wheels turning in my girl’s mind.  She is now (at the age of 9) beginning to realise that she does have a special relationship with language. A wonderful mynah bird gift and a strong tendency towards taking things very literally.

So I was rather chuffed when she said; ‘Okay, I realise now that you’re not really going to fire your books off into the air for people to catch them. Like a bride at a wedding with her flowers. ‘Cause, anyway – that would be really stupid as the building is right next to the canal,’

‘Good!’ I said. ‘We call it a launch because … like a rocket or like a ship. Or a missile – we want to put it out there. Get it started off.’

‘Chocs Away!’ shrieked the 6 year old (no idea where he got that from.)

‘Yes…..’ I replied.

‘Wow!’ she continues.  ‘So, are we going to be having a load of chocolate there too?’

I gave up trying to explain more at that stage (although it did turn out that the choccy analogy was a good one as the key protagonist in ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ is a woman who is running a chocolate social enterprise Up North.) Still, my budget didnt stretch to giving out complimentary chocolate bars – but my lovely guests did get to go hyper on some very posh coffee, on the best cakes ever to tickle the tastebuds of west Yorkshire folk (courtesy of Ma Longden) and to hear me doing a reading from my book.

Incidentally, for me – the most fun bit about having had a book published is the reading aloud to the audience thing. At kiddy bedtime, my other half often tries to prevent me from reading to them (‘They’re too old! They can read now! You get all giddy and an hour later you’ve got them looking at youtube on the film version of the book!’) But I just love to read aloud to them (unless its Michael Morpurgo which my daughter has banned because ‘even you with your weird voices mum, can’t make his stuff exciting for me. Soz.’)

So the best bit about the book launch was that I got to play at bedtime story reading AND unlike kiddy-bedtime, I got to swear throughout it!  Reading - lady behind me already asleep?

What else was special about the launch?

Give me Da Moolah! (And I'll lose it.)

Give me Da Moolah! (And I’ll lose it.)

Well… my kids attended (and behaved themselves. Although you should never let a 9 year old with dyscalculia collect money from your book sales. We still don’t know where the missing tenner is.) My parents were there and worked like trojans in order to make the place look dazzling (despite rather too many of my writer friends being arty-farty types who wouldn’t know an honest day’s work if it hit them.)  Everyone enjoyed the fact that we were in the middle of a brand new Coffee Roastery. And we were right next to the Huddersfield narrow canal (coffee and canals…two of my favourite things in life.)

Audience unimpressed with strong language. They are mostly from west Yorkshire. Nuff said.

Audience unimpressed with strong language. They are mostly from west Yorkshire. Nuff said.

And I loved the fact that I got to wear my Granny’s gold charm bracelet.  My good luck nod to Gran. Would she have been proud of me? Probably not. Shouting profanities in the middle of a gathering of very well dressed and rather well to do people? Nah. She would have accused me of being ”common’ or ‘a right Miss Kek.’

That bracelet - but a less than charming gob ...

That bracelet – but a less than charming gob …

Post-launch slump?  I’d missed the copy of the newspaper which covered the launch. Jim from the Gym had asked all of his mates to see if anyone had that edition. Thankfully someone had. That evening I happened to mention this to my other half. A look of abject horror on his face. ‘Oh God. I cleaned the windows today.’   Ten minutes later the precious extract – which I had been keeping for my children as evidence that their mother wasn’t a totally useless old slapper – was brought out from the recycling bin.

So…. we have lived in this house for nearly 7 years now. And we have only ever cleaned the windows three times (and one of those times it was my dad who did it – ‘Can’t bloody stand looking through that filth any longer.’)  And on the third attempt, my husband decided to scrub the grime off the windows. Using his wife’s face.    How very Freudian.

Anyway.  See below. This is what it looked like afterwards.   Moral of the tale? A most northern lesson. ‘Don’t Get Above Yerself Too Much, Lady…’

 

A scrunched up Me and the Local MP!

A scrunched up Me and the Local MP!

 

 

 

The Five Minutes of Fame (or shame?)

11 Jul

Had a thoroughly enjoyable experience being interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds this week. Wes Butters – what a lovely chap. Butters by name and butters by … Well. As you can hear – he started by being ever so nice to me, and then tried to grill me about all of the politicians that I’ve slept with. Honestly. These journalists! As if I’d talk about something as personal as sex and relationships on air! With the whole of the west Riding of Yorkshire listening!

Actually – I had better clarify that. Wes Butters didn’t ask me anything about sex. It was yours truly who started wibbling about that kind of thing (best mate would be saying ‘Methinks the Lady Doth Protest Too Much!’)

But hey, my parents are still speaking to me and they haven’t contacted social services about the fact that my newfound lust for media exposure has led me to total and abject neglect of my children (although I have been sending the kids to school with out-of-date yoghurts, so getting them taken into care would perhaps be justified.)

I’ve done interviews and photo shoots and stuff like that before for various things that I’ve been involved with – so none of it is really alien to me. But it *is* strange when you’re talking about your own life experience. In short, I felt like a total muppet.

What was even more bizarre, was the fact that people you haven’t told about the interview, get to hear you. My next door neighbour said that her mum texted her to say ‘your Christina is on the radio!’  And then a neighbour on the other side told my other half ‘Hey – I’ve just downloaded your wife’s e-book.’  Now, neighbour on the other side hasn’t known us for very long. And if he is reading this – I have to say that he wins a Blimmin’ Great Big Prize for his detective work (as well as his ever-so-kind strimming of the overgrown passage-way at the back… I mean – Curse you Kirklees Council for neglecting our ginnel yet again this summer!) Apparently our smashing neighbour put two and two together whilst listening (name of the village, the mention of Namibia) and realised that it was me.

Although … I actually *think* that he was too polite to say the real reason as to why he twigged that it was me. The poor chap MUST have heard me – for many hours – ranting and raving at myself as I practice reading aloud, from our shed at the top of the garden which backs onto his. Noise drifts all too easily in this valley. I suspect strongly that he realised that he was living in great proximity to a total lunatic who shrieks at herself in her shed and then he recognised the voice on the radio …

Anyway. If you want to hear me sounding like a complete numpty – it will be on Listen Again for a short while…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p021l10b   (the 8/7 show – move the counter to 1:07)

And then it’s off to The Emporium in Slaithwaite this Sunday for a book signing. I’ve already bought myself a nice new chimney pot from their wonderful eclectic mix of items, so sadly I shall be at a loss before I even started selling books. But who cares? I do it for the love of it! And to embarrass myself in front of our very gracious neighbours of course … who are far too dignified to Go Public about how distressing it must be, living next the Like Of Us.

The Shed. Where I shout a lot.

The Shed. Where I shout a lot.

 

 

No Tantrums in the Townships

4 Jun

(Part 3)

I’ll admit that something I was rather stressed about when returning to Namibia was the way that my kids would behave in public. It doesn’t take a genius to notice that in general, African kids who live in the sub-Saharan countries are less … hyper … shall we say – than kids from the West tend to be.

And there are plenty of reasons for that, which I won’t go into right now.

So, watching our kids’ reactions to life in some of the poorer parts of the former township areas was very interesting. At first, as we entered the squatter camps, our son came out with “Hey – little houses made of old rubbish! Like metal and tyres and fings.  Can I have one like that? So coo-wul!” Then, as it dawned on him that this way of life wasn’t ‘play at tents in the garden’ and that he was face to face with kids who had no shoes, who had only one (dirty) set of clothes, who had no parents, who slept rough, who begged in the streets and who played in the rubbish dumps … he grew a lot quieter.

His sister was unnaturally quiet too. As we stood with friends from the less poor parts of town who were helping us to create a list of the neediest children, my daugher nudged me and asked “What on earth is that lady doing – stamping on that broken old chair?” I glanced over. “Ah – she’s made herself a sort of washing machine. She has to carry the water in and she’s stomping on the soggy blanket to get it clean and using the frame of the chair to help her to do it. Pretty clever eh?”

Nearby her baby was yarking for some more breast milk. The woman noticed us and came over to us, baby now hanging from boobie. She asked us to buy something warm for the child as their winter was approaching “He has just one thing to wear and it’s already cold in the night,” she said to us through a translator.

“What do we do?” I asked my daughter. “We were only supposed to be buying for the school aged children.” “Mum!” she murmured “I’ll buy him something myself. Look – he’s only got one sock!”

Both kids were still adjusting to what they were seeing.  In fact, I’d never seen either of them behave so meekly (without being told to.) Sure the day was a scorcher and the adults were talking about dull logistical and political stuff – but my two stood in a corner as they clasped each others hands and stared at the children in front of them.  Normally – in England for example – they would be sighing ‘Boooring!’ and ‘Where’s the Monster Munch? I’m ‘ungry!’ or  thumping each other. So this was all very unfamiliar behaviour from where I was standing…

It was all about staring.  (Not for too long … see my previous posts on ‘eye contact’!) And the brown and black children with holes in their pants and sores on their faces stared back at the funny white children who had such brightly coloured clothes and such pink and sweaty faces.

I think that it took about fifteen minutes for the reality to sink in for my wee english kids – the harsh way of life that these other children were leading.  I did experience a moment myself of ‘is this all a bit too traumatic for my two to cope with’? But I soon got over myself. And the kids got over themselves too.  But please note that this was not a deliberate ‘I’ll show my kids how flippin’ well grateful they should be’ experiment (ha, no – they’re still ungrateful little monkeys, if you ask me!) Rather, it was a lesson in 2 stages. Stage 1 being ‘Look. Observe. Show, Don’t Tell.’ And Stage 2 being ‘Right. What do we do now? Get your sleeves rolled up.’

For Stage 2, we were going to be People On A Mission! And despite their blood sugar slump and exposure to the midday sun and the shock of what they were seeing – my two didn’t even need to be asked. They sprang into action and began to engage with the children as their parents talked more logistics.  The 6 year old was well-impressed “Look – the kids make well coo-wul kites out of old bin liners! And they made a football out of old plastic bags!” Whereas the 9 year old was rather more indignant; “But this is awful! The tiny ones are playing around a rubbish dump? Why has no-one cleaned it up? Mum – you can’t ever moan about our bin-men at home again after this!'”DCIM100SPORT

Thanks to our fantastic friend who lives in Epako, we spent a good hour sorting out which were the neediest of the children that we could help. Many of them were orphans (but more on that tomorrow.) Returning to our friend’s home in a less poor part of the former township (but still very much ‘going without’ by our own standards) my son was bonding very well with the local lads and fully integrating himself into location society – wandering from home to home in the search for playmates. greg loves epako

One of the most ‘telling’ moments for me was when the children playing in the area wanted to ask him about his T shirt. I think that it was also a very revealing moment for my lad too. Sadly, he is a little chap who often feels very hard done to, because his evil Mum and Dad don’t buy him all of the stuff that he thinks that he should possess in terms of superheros, LEGO etc etc. This video clip says it all really. Check out the surprise on his face as he realises that his old T shirt – one of his many Marvel Superhero tops, and his Skylander hat – has utterly fascinated the boys. And that they don’t know who these superheroes are… And oh. How they would LOVE to wear something like that …

The dialogue on the clip here involves my boy trying to explain to them who the heroes are and what they do. His sister correcting him (of course!) And then the both of them attempting to tell jokes to the other kids (who clearly hadn’t a clue what they were on about – but they all laughed lots anyway.)

And that was the brilliant bit for us – bringing the kids had NOT been a mistake. Bringing the kids reminded us just what this was all about … Children just love each other’s company regardless. And they want to share their stuff and to have fun together …

(MORE TOMORROW)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Them in Their DARK Corner …

3 Jun

(Part 2)

Bit of a play on some very old-fashioned words to a hymn there …

One of my strongest memories of living and working in Namibia is of waking up just after dawn and hearing small children a-singing. These were the lucky ones who had a school to go to – walking long distances in order to reach their lessons. Their favourite songs as they marched along were ‘Jesus Bids Us Shine’ and ‘Jesus Loves Me! This I know.’  Both of them are huge hits with kids in southern Africa – a product of the old-fashioned missionary school approach.

I also grew up with these songs ringing in my ears. If you were not fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough according to my husband) to have been born n’ bred into a world of Sunday Schools – you probably won’t be aware that the words of that particular hymn, ‘Jesus Bids Us Shine’, are all about light and darkness.

In the midst of planning the Great Trek Back to Namibia I was teaching the words of this song to both of my children (whilst my husband griped in the background; “Please! No more! I can’t stand it! Sing your Robbie Williams stuff. Or even Andrew Lloyd Webber instead, if you have to!”) and it suddenly occurred to me to explain to the kids about how stark the contrast is between the light and the dark in southern Africa.

Darkness, even in the height of the summer, falls fast. So, those of us who love our evening BBQs (or ‘braais’ as they are called in southern Africa) wouldn’t be able to see much after 7pm there. And for the families who dwell in shacks in the former townships – especially those in the poorest parts of the areas known as ‘the informal settlements’ or ‘the squatter camps’ –  their lives are ruled by a simple lack of control over the light and the darkness.

Where there is no electricity, you are forced to use candles. Where you use candles, the reality of a shack fire and horrific injuries and death are all too real. And because more often than not, in these kind of conditions, the only toilet available is named ‘Go In The Bush’, those of us who are used to slurping our Horlicks at 9pm would be considered to be nutters to set the bladder up for such a test.

So, imagine that you are a small child. Infant school age.  And that you need to pee desperately in the middle of that darkness. Sure, the stars and the moon shine far more brightly in Namibia than in Yorkshire but would you want to take the risk of leaving the shack and the grown-ups and hopping out to the bush for a quick widdle? Snakes…scorpions…wild dogs. And the rest.

Of course – the alternative would be to wet your pants. Or the worn-out blanket that you share with your brother and sister. But you only have one pair of pants. And no running water for your mum to clean the blanket in the morning. You wouldn’t dare to be so silly.

This is the scenario that I regaled my children with (yes – I’m a laugh a minute to be around, sometimes!) But before you think of calling social services and reporting me for being a morose old bag – the conversation (and the dreadful hymn singing) actually developed into a new idea.

“Why don’t they have torches there?” one of my two asked me (I can’t remember which child, thankfully. Good job really, as they’d no doubt start squabbling over Intellectual Property Rights or something.) So, I explained about the lack of money to buy incredibly expensive things like batteries for a torch.

And then we hit on The Bright Idea. Wind-up torches! Everyone loves a wind-up torch (“Well – the slugs don’t do they? When they see Daddy out there on his midnight slug patrol. Daddy is so weird about his cabbages…”) But yes – wind-up torches for those of us who happen to live in much more affluent countries are a great deal of fun. They are oh-so handy and also quite easy to carry in suitcases …

But much more importantly – the more wind-up torches available, the less reliance on candles, the less scary (or lethal) ‘what could I be crouching on?’ moments in the bush and certainly a greater sense of safety for people who need to be outside during the dark hours.

So we sent an appeal letter to each child’s school. Not only did we end up with donations of over 60 wind-up torches but we were blessed with all kinds of flourescent and glowing implements – bracelets, stickers, small toys etc for the children in Namibia (Netherton Infant and Nursery School and South Crosland Juniors and their parents … you are bunch of little champions!)

(Part Two of the challenge was this; handling dozens of small torches and trying to convince customs officials in 3 different airports during a period of 24 hours – that you are not trying to either a) build yourself a bomb whilst in transit or b) set up a ‘Glowing Thing’ business when you arrive at your port of call. But I won’t bore you with that side of things.)

Suffice to say that the torches arrived and were distributed by us in the poorest corner of Epako in Gobabis,  a place that contains over 5,000 people and yet you won’t find on your maps of Africa (but more on why that is, tomorrow) and yes, not a single child or adult knew what these gadgets were.

But you should have seen the grin on their faces when the light dawned.

Thanks for bringing them the lights, you lot.

MORE TOMORROW …

But the darkness falls, fast. And these kids don't want to have to go and pee in the bush, in the dark.

But the darkness falls, fast. And these kids don’t want to have to go and pee in the bush, in the dark …

 

 

Charity *did* begin at home …

2 Jun

DOES CHARITY MATTER?   (Part 1)

Should we care about the way we talk to each other as adults – and to our children – when it comes to the subject of ‘charity’ and ‘giving’? When our schools send requests for a few quid so that our kid can dress up as a certain bear/sport a nose/wear pink/design a motif … should we simply dismiss the marketing money and power of these massive, national charities?

Or should we invest our donation pennies in the local charities down our streets? Those hospices, campaigns, the day care for elderly centres, the appeal for church spires and the struggling pre-schools … who may have fed, housed, saved, educated and employed people whom we actually know?

Or perhaps we might feel that the ‘on my doorstep’ connection is a little bit too obvious. That far more than enough people already give locally – and that the smaller, more imaginative charities in our country and overseas – desperately need our attention?

The purpose of this series of blogs over the next few days is NOT to make anyone feel bad about whether they do or do not ‘give.’ And if they do give – who and how and where – they should be donating to. Rather, these blogs – and the story that I will be telling  – aims to be a bit more educational. And with that in mind – a lot of the blogging will be from the perspective of the children involved (because otherwise – my daughter’s school teachers will be out to get me!)

Ingredients:  Tell a 6 and a 9 year old that they will be travelling to Namibia, southern Africa in order to try and help some of the most impoverished children in the world. Throw in the support of 2 wonderful west Yorkshire schools, parents and a few lovely friends and over the next few days you can see what the recipe produced…

WATCH THIS SPACE!

 

Yes, our pesky kids might be far too obsessed with having fun and acting the fool, rather than focussing on the SERIOUS things in life. But when push comes to shove, the wee varmints have a lot to teach us … (PHOTO: TWO TIDDLERS IN THE FORMER TOWNSHIPS…)

 

 

The Book Has Left The Building…

5 Mar

It’s finally up there for people to buy.  My first fiction book. You can find it on Amazon here.

I allowed myself a small, self-indulgent moment when the first dribblings of tweets and publicity trails arrived.

I felt good about the fact that I’m honestly not out to make money from this book. It’s always been  about the process of creation for me. About the fact that I finally listened to my inner voice …. that I simply had a story that I wanted to tell and to share with others.

I smiled and I pondered as I looked out upon our beautiful valley here. It really has been a mammoth task – but so satisfying and so uplifting an experience.

So, I got ready to go out, to meet my fellow writers and to bask in the warm glow of their support and artistic inspiration.

And then my husband said; “I hope you’re not going out like that. The budgie shat in your hair and you never even noticed.”

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course...)

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course…)

A Flat Head? EJ Howard, writing and the waterways…

3 Jan ej howard

One of our local librarians managed to push aside the fear of her own redundancy in order to try and engage with me. There I was.  Wild eyed and raddled mother of second, newborn baby. Desperate for something both entertaining and intelligent to get me through the wee small hours of brain and boobie-overdrive boredom…

Without Anon Librarian-Lady, I would never have heard of Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Or the Cazalet chronicles. Without Unknown Kirklees Library-Lass, I would never have ended up corresponding with E J Howard herself.

All it took was a certain librarian making a certain recommendation (sans Amazon, sans Kindle estimates of previous-purchases help…) “Oh – judging from your returned books – I think that you will like EJ Howard and the Cazalet chronicles – we don’t lend them out enough these days. A real shame!”

And this was…what? Some FOUR years before BBC Radio 4 decided to credit Elizabeth J Howard for her societal, spiritual, humanitarian and yes – beautiful prose, dialogue and character-observation.

Oh, dearest BBC Radio 4 commissioners I hate to say this, but yes. I really want to say ‘I told you so.’ Elizabeth’s writing was and is amazing.  Tasty, profound, political – without being preachy. Even though many of her contemporaries – and especially the Literahti – perceive her to be ‘domestic, upper class. old fashioned commercial women’s fiction’

Cobblers, my fellas. Just read her stuff.

And yes, how I wish that Radio 4 had re-discovered her before the very recent time where her Cazalet Chronicles were snatched up as new fodder for a Radio 4 audience who had enjoyed ‘Downton Abbey’ etc… But hey. Better now, than never.

I was fortunate to have been able to correspond with her directly.  She was an exceptionally rare person. A woman able to disreguard the birth prejudices of all of us in terms of economic family of origin.  A fellow ‘starting writer in heart’ even though she soared above us all.  She adored books, grassroots, off-the-wall, boho society. She admired socialism, quakerism and pacifist thought. She venerated books and the ‘simple life’. Here was a woman who ‘way back when’ had braved the infamous Standedge Tunnel and who still admired those crazies of us, who still square ourselves up for that all too rare  200 years old tunnel experience right here and now on the waterways today.

And poignantly, she admired and priorised the extended family. She was a subtle reminder to us all that ‘love affairs’ of the heart can and do change but that actually ‘being a parent’ has nothing to do with whether you have actually given birth or not.That parenting per se goes far beyond biology, paperwork and gushing sentiment…

As for me, I will never forget her kind responses and encouragements to my yearning to write whilst being a mother to small children. And that particular encouragement as to how parking the mammoth Cazalet chronicles on the noggin of child number two might not simply lead to a ‘peculiarly shaped, flat-head’…. but also might lead to a life-long love of books and learning…

ej howard