Indeed, why? As I (mis) quoted Janette Winterson’s autobiography title (‘Why be Happy when you could be Normal?’) on my January Authors Electric blogpost. (An Amateur looks at the Art of Poetry, scroll down to find it, the group publish a blog every day on there).
So, ‘all work and no play…’ My blogging has gone a bit that way… you, the Reader, may think ‘far too political’ and give up – you, a follower, may stop in your tracks, and vow never to come here again… But wait, here is the real(er) me… with the things I enjoy! And ‘after Brexit’ I intend to continue enjoying them… whatever the weather (and at present the local water meadows are under water…)
One of my favourite walks is a visit to our local nature reserve, trying to catch on camera the plants and wildlife… Robins are the commonest birds there, and several have become friends with regular visitors… Just before I met the Robin, this Jay swooped down to ground level and began turning over the left-over autumn leaves, and pecking up any insects it could find…
And now for the ‘lake’which develops every winter, and this year has surpassed itself… rather sad for us observers, the Teal who often migrate over and inhabit the lake in the winter months have been put off by a huge invasion of seagulls – and also, possibly, by the number of lively dogs being walked on the water meadows, who leap joyfully into the water regardless of the cold!
And of course, back in the nature reserve plant life is stirring, snowdrops just coming out, just a promise of spring, and many varieties of fungi – these (below) are Elf Cups, (measure them against the ivy leaves and see how tiny they mostly are) pointed out to me by a very sharp eyed friend on a wonderful sunny morning…
and over on another blog, a writer friend has just reminded us all that we should build much more play into our lives, lest we become world-weary women… when life escalates into being too political, it’s all too easy to forget that! More nature walks, fewer earnest discussions… so I’m drawing this to a close and going for a cup of tea and a biscuit… then more thoughts about the follow-up to The Labyrinth Year…
Apparently, large numbers of people attended church this Christmas, not only “the Midnight” (Mass celebrated as Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day) but carol services, and special services around the Crib for children and families, were super well attended. It was said that people had become fed up with the instability and the arguments, so having had the election, everyone (well many anyway) elected to celebrate by doing Christmas in all its fullness, and church was included. The number of “Well we can’t change it, but we must all be kind to each other” Facebook posts suggests that this was, indeed, the motivation.
Have the English become, once again, the peace-loving, C of E attending, English?
Now, post election, and post-Christmas, are we all festivaled-out, and have we all forgotten our differences?
Of course, no sooner than Back to Work Day was about to follow New Year’s, we heard that America had acted on “taking out” the most powerful of military Iranian leaders. Not a good sign for 2020. I for one was already appalled by the election results, and by those of us who had hoped that things will settle down to something like they were before the referendum being described as “a small bubble who live in Islington”. (We do not live in Islington but, sadly, we do live in an urban cosmopolitan setting…).
What I’m thinking about is that Why? Just how and why has the peaceful, polite, apparently sensible country, with its mixed economy, its wonderful and fair health service, and its relative lack of unpredictable violence on the streets, in which I grew up, and raised my children, got to how it now is?
I shall leave you with two ideas to think about, and you can say I am wrong, of course.
The aftermath of wars
One is where we came from to arrive here. Two (or more) generations grew up, and began adult life, experiencing not one but two “World Wars”. My grandparents raised their families through World War I, and then as their children were attaining adulthoodand leaving school, going to university, or beginning a career, watched as these were thrust into World War 2. In other words, then, when my generation were growing up, in the 1950s to 1970s, we inherited a country run by people who had possibly experienced quite enough war, disruption, and destruction. The general feeling was for peace. No surprise we joined Europe in 1974, and no surprise people tried to negotiate (yes, there were strikes but there will also negotiations) rather than to clash and to commit “hate crime”. I’m not saying that there wasn’t any racism (there was), poverty (yes there was), discrimination (yes) or despair. But, there was also politeness and an attempt at fairness, and where there wasn’t, people expected that there should be. They expected, and respected, honesty in dealings, and did not publicly admire dishonesty, lies, and cheating on your partner. This kind of set a pattern – even though we knew, of course we knew – that people did these things. Privately of course people broke the rules, that has always been part of human nature.
I am not a Conservative. I am not at all saying that it is being ruled by the Conservatives which we need. The point rather is that after those wars, people were exhausted by division, and willing to do enough give and take, to put up with an “ordinary” life. The gap between rich and poor had been narrowed by various political processes, such as the NHS, and free access to University for all who gained the entry qualifications, with a means tested grant for living expenses.
Our changing social outlook
The second thing is social change. Social change since the 1960s sixties has been pretty fast. We have, in the majority, accepted that legal abortion is better than backstreet, that gay people can formalise their relationships with a faithful partner, and that women are, actually, equal to men in all areas of employment (although pay is still not). There are other areas, freely talked about, I could add. Although we are also well behind in the area of equality, nonetheless many subjects which were in former times kept private and unmentionable can be discussed publicly. The results of these changes, positive to the groups involved, understood by many of us, have however disturbed and worried a large enough section of the population that they feel themselves threatened. The acceptance of workers from not only Europe but other areas of the world worries at their feeling of being “invaded”by other cultures. The change in attitudes, due to liberalised thinking and knowledge, towards what was once declared “illegal” is hard for them to comprehend. They feel these changes are what has destroyed the old more peaceful society. I have heard people blame the EU for “human rights” and say that there are no rights humans should have…
These changes are not an intended cause of destabilisation. Liberalisation means inclusion and acceptance for alienated groups, but unsettled people who believe in tradition as a powerful social container for what had been seen as aberrant instincts and behaviours. For them, liberalising laws have changed the “landscape” of Britain. Both groups are easy targets. Fear of the other has become tribal enough for some to indulge in “hate crime”. At the same time, a different kind of change has taken place: impersonal technology-based ways of replacing human interaction. So, if you are doing okay, if you are happy to go with the changes, well and good. Especially if you’re happy to deal with technology rather than a helpful human being behind the counter at the bank, or any doctor over the phone rather than your friendly well-known GP face-to-face.
In the present chaos, and with a background of rapid social change, those who haven’t already put up with the experience of living through two world wars, are desperate, despairing, and ready to act out. We have an angry population who wants what others have got (the wealth to buy luxury goods, or goods at all, or maybe simply a peaceful existence with a social mores reflecting what might be called old-fashioned values) but who want, above all, to feel safe again.
Does this possibly explain the increased enthusiasm for attending church at Christmas 2019?
When the Brexit vote result was announced, 24 June 2016 became a deeply depressing day. It wasn’t just a shock. My feeling has continued, a sense of foreboding. The central government figures had disappeared – then almost immediately we heard reports of “hate crime” (a phrase I don’t recall from before – though I won’t claim that both the phrase and the actions didn’t exist, of course).But after that, racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of Trans and Gay or Lesbian people, or people with easily discernible disabilities, really anyone considered “other” by the perpetrator could be targeted. And suddenly they were.
How did this happen?
Was something, some lurching, ugly thing, released and given permission to act out and speak its mind?
A disturbing idea has been around for a while, something fewer people than those who are aware of “hate crime” have probably heard of. After the idea of a “post-modern” phase of culture, some thinkers came up with the concept of a “post-truth” era.
Once our children grew and the “nest” was “emptying”, we began to take lodgers, mostly young people who had arrived in our city to work and needed a home base while they settled down and found friends and a place to live. I recall having a conversation at that time with one of them, a young woman studying for a further degree at the University here, who, in response to something I said, declared with confidence “There is no such thing as a truth. Truth does not exist.”
So who decided this?
Disturbing though it may seem, there is a certain “truth” in her comment: the idea of an era when the truth becomes no longer a category is both philosophical and political, and can be traced back to the philosopher Nietzsche (writing in 1873)* and to Max Weber in 1917**. But these are scholarly essays by teachers of philosophy and it has takena while for the ideas to fully escape from their ivory towers.
Using academic arguments in real situations
These academic musings would have been best left in the university departments where they began. Having escaped in the form of “post-truth” however, they’ve been grasped by politicians, and we now find ourselves forced into a strange and extremely worrying world. Lying is naccepted as “done by most people more often than you think” apparently. “Fake news” is a well known problem.
Living in the real world
It is all very well for theorists to thrive on theoretical argument, but the business of good government doesn’t, I think, consist in the following of intriguing debate but in facing the day-to-day problems of running a country in such a way that it benefits the inhabitants, providing for their needs and staying financially afloat. Needs are many, varied, and interdependent. Needs, unhappily for the practitioners of post-truth politics, are factual, and there is still no more obvious truth than a fact (regardless of those people who use engaging the emotions to drive their appeal to the public) – the fact of earthquakes, floods and fires for example. Destructive of homes, businesses, and infrastructure. National disasters demand factual, or in another word, real, responses. Responses cost time, compassion, money, and workers to implement. Climate change will bring more of these. Yet most of our leaders pay scant attention to these self evident facts, preferring to make empty promises, talk about “doing deals”, and allowing this proliferating “fake news”.
Why “Brexit” can’t stop the real crisis
It is a sad situation indeed when a selection of wealthy countries are led by people who apparently lack a moral compass, and regard politics as playing an exciting power game in which no holds are barred and lying is accepted as a normal everyday escape from dealing with facts. And with the reality of basic survival, not only of the human beings in their care and charge but of the environment as a whole, plants, insects, birds and animals, in other words the necessary food chain and atmosphere which supports life. No “deals”, and no millions or billions of pounds, given to the NHS, education, or crime fighting, will made a scrap of difference. Leaving the European Union isn’t what we should be doing. Some of the answer lies in noticing what really needs fixing, and in disallowing lies, spin, and power games.
* Essay on Truth and Lying in an extra-moral sense
** Essay on Science as Vocation, considering the difference between Facts and Values
For something lighter, set in the late 20th century world, at least twenty years before 2016, why not try the Mullins Family Sagabooks 1 and 2?
So what’s it all about? Why is Hallowe’en suitable for children?
Our ancient ancestors tamed scary things using myth and ritual. Hallowe’en, with witches, ghosts, and the undead, is the festival of fear: of the unknown, of the different, as the long dark nights begin. Coming before the festival of light, which anticipates the promise of the return of life – Christmas. Both have moved far from their roots…
Could Hallowe’en have become again a necessary festival, to let off the head of steam created by not believing in an ‘Other’? Or (since the enormous popularity of this autumn festival grew as my kids were in junior school) was its establishment helping to give teachers a way to hold back the autumn term’s anticipation of Christmas? Stories and craft activities around Hallowe’en abound, witches are creepily popular, orange paint is fun to use and masks can be made and worn…
And back then, some parents definitely and strongly disapproved. Though I have this feeling that the religious groups don’t really need to fear that evilwill be let lose in a big way by Hallowe’en… but, stop there, I believe it can be.
So,is it ‘really evil?’
– Hallowe’en is a marketing opportunity.Like Christmas, it functions around stories, and even more around dressing up, games and decorations, with costumes for sale weeks before.
– And Hallowe’en costumes aren’t necessarily all ghouls and ghosts, there’s been a move towards exploiting prejudice, or rather, stigma. Not only death, but disfigurement, deformity, mental illness, criminality, and other ‘nasties’ are being marketed. That, I think, is very scary, as well as being retrogressively evil. Stigma’s as old as society: in our scientific, techno-driven, politically correct age, there’s officially no magic and no witches (at least in black raggedly garments and tall hats). But when ‘monsters’ can be explained away by faulty of DNA, and we know perfectly well that there are no ‘undead’, it seems some of us need them. So Hallowe’en industry says it’s okay to mock, and to stigmatise, and encourage fear.
But it’s not just about celebrating creepy things… How to see in the Dark
– One explanation of the origins of Hallowe’en is the ‘Eve’ of All Hallows, the day before the church celebrated the lives of all the ordinary people we have loved and lost. It can become a celebration of love, not fear. One young mum I know is baking love heart cookies for her children to take around their neighbours as gifts on Hallowe’en. For her family, these are ‘to illustrate God’s love’: but even if you don’t believe in God, a heart cookie to remember the people you loved, and who loved you, is a heartwarming idea.
– The festival falls at the time when darkness really sets in. To live through the darkness, we all need light: we can symbolically turn away from the coming cold and dreary weather, and celebrate thankfully that we have both light and heat in our homes, and in our world.
– We could also remember that without sunshine, we lack Vitamin D, and buy supplements/choose foods to help us through the long dark days. And anything else, like books, DVDs and getting together with friends that makes us laugh or feel joyful – and drives away depression.
And what about all things orange?
– Orange not only about sitting at the fireside. The American festival of Thanksgiving (the last Thursday in November) is a bit too late for a Harvest Festival, some areas are already expecting or experiencing snow: so instead they chose All Hallows Eve, the end of October, to give thanks for the harvest. Huge bright orange pumpkins make wonderful decorations…some can be lanterns, with funny faces, a candle illuminating the inside. candle. In North America, some of these squash grow so huge that small children can actually get inside…
I hope your Hallowe’en will be a fun, thankful, and joyful welcoming of the change of the seasons, while the natural world rests ready for the spring, and looking forward to the cosy things we can do indoors (especially reading good stories!)
Language is definitely a living, lively thing. But living and lively suggest the dance of words and meanings across the centuries, gathering as they go, changes of usage, suitability, and popularity, and welcoming and including immigrant words from our near neighbours and from across the globe. What is shaping English in the 21st century though? It’s a society which desperately needs to slow down, breathe deeply, and consider opening its heart and mind to seeing the good in others rather than the excitement of indulging prejudice and extremes. But instead violent catch-all metaphorical phrases have barged in, replacing relatively informative, longer, adjectival phrases.
As a writer, I don’t welcome this trend. Excuse me if I’m over-reacting, but don’tthese over-used examples demonstrate the genre, masculine, clearly the stuff of male-directed fiction? Turbocharged, a car crash, skyrocketing, spiralling out of control, crashing out of Europe. And the latest, horribly shocking, and abhorant, as I heard on the radio recently, used like this: ‘we can’t throw Ireland under a bus’.
Based in technology, these phrases recall the sound of clashing metal, the stench of spilling petrol and burning oil, an attack on our fragile human bodies, total destruction. It’s all about large machines destroying things, and is often, even usually, applied inappropriately. For example, we might call Boris Johnson “Turbocharged”, or the economy “Spiralling out of control” but these phrases tell us nothing about the real character of the person who has become our Prime Minister, or about a situation except that it is urgent, exciting, and destructive. As for a car crash, isthis really necessary todescribe, for example, a teenager’s GCSE results? Or losing that house you so wanted to buy? And it is surely devastating to those who have experienced the real thing to use such a terrible scene of injury and suffering as a mere metaphor to bump up the drama of a business disaster?As for crashing out of the EU, isn’t there perhaps something frivolous in using ‘crashing out’ to describe what should (if it happens) be a serious, world-changing, political move?
Nouns have recently begun to replace phrases: physicality, positivity, viscerality, musicality. Yes, you can make one word do here – just add ‘ality’. But much more pleasant to keep physical, visceral, and musical, and place them in a phrase or sentence which harmonises (has harmonality?) with your description of the writing which you are describing? There’s a noun we use now, commonality, meaning that two (or more) things have something in common. One word is easily missed by anyone who has a problem with hearing.Conflating a short adjectival phrase, (here “have in common”),into a single noun could even be understood as a form of discrimination.
I wonder if these language changes have happened because we want to hurry up and get the talking over? We can’t be bothered to put together a longer sentence, it’s easier to seize upon a noun. This new 21st-century style is widespread, used verbally by broadcasters and written in newspapers and other journalism. I’m happy with the historic and inevitable shifting of language and ways in which we express things, and am no “grammar Nazi,” but I’m sad that the combination of these violent metaphors and the new adjective-to-noun formation is adding hurry and thoughtlessness to a society which already can’t even sit down to drink its coffee, but must carry a hot drink in a paper cup as it rushes towards the office, careering towards marketing more goods, growing the economy, and meanwhile destroying the planet.
Perhaps we could make the move to slow down by using language more gently and thoughtfully, and actually turning daily verbal and written interactions into a more pleasant read. Who else would join me in cutting out the petrol, and reducing the CO2 emissions in our speech?
Christianity is changing–or is it? Well, the label has certainly changed, now it has becomeattached to something which has nothing to do with the message of the Gospels, the present United States Republican politics. Many of us believers, who are appalled by this, wonder what we can do in order to prevent ourselves from being labelled as racist, fascist, haters of the LBGT + community, and generally committed to outdated paternalistic prejudices.
As a writer, I am aware that publishing houses don’t want any ‘spiritual’ content in fiction today, (especially not ‘Christian’) yet I hesitate to ban from my stories the strange and informative interplay of strict and liberal ‘religious’ characters, rounded and believable, not caricatures or always the villains. (And so am happy to be committed to the Alliance of Independent Authors. As an Indie, I’m freer to include a range of odd-balls and explore their worlds… ) And, it’s no surprise that the latest British Social Attitudes survey shows a graph of decline in the practice of Anglicanism (Church of England).Only 12% of those surveyed responded that they currently worship as Anglicans. Of course, the Church of England isn’t the only church in Britain but membership has plummeted since the first Survey in 1983.
Apart from the hijacking of the definition Christian by a political right-wing group, why might a majority now identify as atheist or ‘no religion’? It seems that there is now a strong attraction for doing without a spiritual side to life, and accepting that Humanism is getting on nicely, despite the amount of violence, crime, drug addiction, poverty, racism, and other miseries.
The Church of England is the State Church and for many in the past membership and regular or occasional worship was part of being English. People continued to be married, buried, or have their children baptised in the local church, it was what you did. Even so there are three distinct forms of Anglicanism. The ‘High Church’, which emphasises the ritual of liturgy, robed choir, organ music, and Gothic architecture. Allied to this are some who practice an English, non-religious, ‘Christianity’, finding peace and some kind of spiritual strength by being in the atmosphere of our ancient cathedrals, appreciating the amazing building, and the harmonies and cadences of church music. Then there are the Evangelicals who reject ritual, favouring lively worship songs to a band, less formal prayer, and an emphasis on Bible teaching, which tends towards strict, and what today we would call patriarchal, interpretation. A third group choose an emphasis on social action and inclusiveness, in opposition to the Evangelicals who find the LGBT+ community difficult to accept on equal terms. So, today, What actually is Anglican anyway?
Society has always responded to the changing world about us. Science, technology, but also how we view ourselves, whether we live as a feudal hierarchy ‘obeying our betters’, whether we have a concern for social justice and how we understand what that is, and where do human rights fit in? Upcoming generations respond negatively to anything not fit for purpose, yet not necessarily rejecting belief outright. Is there a need to move from a backward looking and hierarchical church which offers answers to questions we don’t ask and none to those we do? If this is the end of ‘religion’ in its old form, is it also the end of the importance of the teaching of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago? Much of this teaching I would argue forms part of what we call Humanism – a code of ethics which at its best respects all living beings, has been pivotal in the concept of human rights, and emphasises compassion, social justice, equality, and concern for neighbour. Just what Liberal Anglicans want – but with God!
So why might many people, particularly from the middle-aged down to and includingMillennials, be leaving or have left the Church of England, or indeed any religion? Writing in 2015, the American author Rachel Held Evans, a Millennial, talks about what and how she and her generation are seeking and thinking outside the box of a straight ‘God or no God’ outlook.
She says “… we are tired of… Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we are for… not just what we are against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion, or between our intellectual integrity and our faith… we long for our churches to be a safe place to doubt, to ask questions, and tell the truth… to bring our whole selves through church doors, without leaving our hearts behind, without wearing a mask… when our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends aren’t welcome… then we don’t feel welcome either…(we’re not) looking for a hipper Christianity…(but) for a truer Christianity… we are looking for Jesus…
Anglicanism has over the years lost touch with Jesus, and a crucial thing to do is to return to what we know about him, his message and who he is.
(My blog on The enduring importance of Grandparents from 2015, re-visited and edited now I’m hoping to move into the third of my ‘Mullins Family Saga’ which will see the three generations all growing older. And now that ‘Grandparent Duty’ has come to us!)
We’ve just (again) been on a writing weekend at Scargill in the Yorkshire Dales, where we re-met many friends. Our hosts and leaders, Adrian and Bridget, are brilliant, full of fun, and steeped in wisdom. In fact, they seem like everyone’s favourite wise, funny, positive, uncle and auntie – or, … like grandparents. Listening. Encouraging. Moving in the group sessions through the laughs to the sadnesses and back – giving outwarm feelings.
An experience which, if we are blessed, we get from grandparents – who are there to care and who, when we have tired them out with caring, ‘give us back’ to our sterner, always more harassed, parents.
This got me thinking: Grandparents have homes are full of ‘old fashioned’ objects: the year we lived with my paternal grandparents, Grandma was still using a flat-iron, heating it on the coal-fired boiler. (Okay, it was still the 1950s!) They have time, skills, and interesting stories of ‘long ago’. Ideas to stimulate an interest in social history.Their childhoods, in another age, are intriguing. Milk coming round in a churn, on a cart? (Goes back a long way, that one: to my ‘other Granny’!) One of my grandfathers kept prisms on the windowsill in his study: I remember him showing me how the prisms divided light into rainbow colours. An introduction to science.
RAISED BY GRANDPARENTS
I can count many friends who’ve been almost or totally raised by grandparents: some whose Mum has been unable to mother for some reason, and Grandma has lived in and been the main carer. Others whose grandparents have lived until the grandchildren are grown and gone from home: the grief of these adult friends when the grandparents die is a poignant reminder of the enormous emotional importance of the grandparent/grandchild bond.
Worldwide, grandparents, especially grandmothers, are carers. Tradition seems to dictate that those who can no longer bear babies care for babies … and for older children. In many places, grandmothers care full-time, while mothers work.
And since HIV/AIDS has orphaned thousands of children, grandparents in many countries must care full-time, often for the children of more than one family.
Here in Britain, many grandparents are daily carers of children, often chosen in preference to child-minders, or nurseries. An Age UK report gives figures: Two-fifths (40%) of the nation’s grandparents over the age of 50 – five million – have provided regular childcare for their grandchildren… The survey revealed that the vast majority (89%) of the five million grandparents who provided regular care do so at least once a week…*
If families break up, or parents can’t cope, grandparents may find themselves starting over again as full-time, possibly legal, parents.
‘PENSIONERS’ OR VITAL RESOURCES?
In our area, all houses were delivered booklets on resources for the elderly: from ‘Over-50’s Yoga’ to (a particularly unpleasant thought) a ‘Dementia Cafe’ for Alzheimers sufferers and their carers …These leaflets though useful to some residents were a little scary …
Clearly the concept of ‘pensioners’ needs updating: some are making a contribution as worthwhile and lively (and vital to the ‘economy’) than any other workers.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Grandparents may belong to a ‘bygone age’ – but strangely, their ideas, attitudes and behaviour seems to appeal and endear them to kids! They are not mere spent grey-heads …Perhaps we should begin to take their views on society more seriously? Fun, and wisdom, garnered as a harvest from many years’ experience.
The Migrant – a road adventure tale first caught my attention with its exciting cover, promising a step away from my usual kind of reading, along with entering the world of South Eastern Europe (and I do have a few Greek genes myself). It turned out to be a road trip story, set with danger … the author, fellow writer Paul Alkazraji, now lives and works in Albania, and writes below about visiting Greek camps where very many Syrian refugee families are living. I’ve followed that up with my review of this fast-paced novel, which takes place in Albania and Athens …
First, welcome, Paul, and over to you…
As the ‘Migrant Crisis’ began to develop in Greece in 2015, I felt that we in the church in Albania might be able to do something to help the situation. One of the worst trouble spots, Idomeni Camp at the border of Greece and North Macedonia on the ‘Balkan Route’, was only a three-hour drive away.
On our two visits there we loaded my old Mercedes Benz 240d with water, plastic sheeting, tinned food and basic medical supplies, and gave them to the groups of volunteers and NGO’s who were arriving too. Up to 10,000 migrants would become stuck in the muddy fields and along the railway lines in makeshift shelters and tents. Frustration would eventually erupt and some died there.
Later in 2016, I visited the ‘Softex’ camp on the industrial periphery of Thessaloniki where over a thousand mostly Syrians had been hastily accommodated after the camp at Idomeni was closed in May. It was one of many where some 57,000 refugees were held in official government camps throughout Greece after new border fences were built and the Balkan migration route closed.
Teams from our group of Albanian churches had been making weekly runs since the spring to bring children’s activities including face painting, action games and a bouncy castle. They also bagged up and distributed fresh vegetables tent by tent up to 600 portions a day.
Many of those tents were erected inside the former ‘Softex’ toilet paper factory to provide additional shelter from the not-too-distant winter. In the gloomy darkness children pushed each other around in rickety prams and played with broken bricks. There were makeshift street stalls, coffee shops and flat-bread bakers, and it had all the aromas both sweet and foul of a Damascus souk.
“When we first came here, I saw they were living in bad conditions, and if you’d asked me to enter, I would not,” said one church team member Klaus Kalemi. “But I did because I wanted to help. I think that all of them were hoping for a better future, because I saw the writing on the walls here everywhere.”
I met one small boy, Mohamed, from Deir ez-Zur in eastern Syria, there with his parents, two sisters and four brothers. “We came at night in a boat. It had a motor and there were no waves. In the morning we were in Greece. I did not see any fish,” he said.
“One of the most needed things in the camp is something for the children,” said church team leader Lysiena Topi. “You can see them fighting because they don’t have anything to do. When we went in, at first the managers would say to us, ‘Okay you can try!’ But after we had finished the (activities), they would say, ‘We don’t know how you do it. These kids love you!’ We see the smiles in their eyes…”
My review of The Migrant …
Here’s a thoroughly enjoyable, page turning, adventure read. Even though I don’t usually choose books in this genre, I was caught up by the story from page one. The fast paced road trip was vividly described, and the characters believable. This is a story of youngsters who disappear from their village, attempting to climb out of rural poverty, their hope to find work in another country.There they find themselves in the clutches of criminals and traffickers.As pastor Jude, the ex-criminal Mehmed, and policeman Luan drove hell for leather from Albania to Athens in a borrowed car, we are with them in all the thrills and spills, their mission to find out what has happened to Alban, and Kela, from their village. Descriptions of the landscape and of daily life in Albania, and of Athens in the riots created by the austerity program in 2012, form the backdrop to their desperate journey, their fears, and the conflicts between them.
We are catapulted into an ending which is both believable and redemptive, though not for all the characters, and certainly not for every hopeful young adult who starts the journey. It could be repeated in many countries of our world, and should be told.
When beginning the book I had not known that there was a prequel novel, involving the characters of the pastor Jude and his wife Alex, and how Mehmed’s former life was changed. When I discovered this, it helped me understand their situation and relationship. I feel that some of that story could have usefully been introduced near the start of The Migrant, and would’ve explained some literary references!
My other critical thought is that a bit more ‘content editing’ could have made for a clearer and more smooth flowing text. In such a fast paced novel, this would have transformed a good reading experience into a very good one.
Recommended to take as a companion on a long journey: you will be transported from your plane or train!
The Migrant was published by Instant Apostle in February 2019
Links: Chapter 1 of The Migrant is free to read here
Beginning to settle on the storytelling for the next book, my idea for the opening page is a girl on a train…
“Are you still writing?” Friends – especially the long lost who reappear, visiting – sometimes ask. The answer– yes – looks untrustworthy, since the third book in the Mullins family saga series, hasn’t yet appeared, and number two, The Labyrinth Year was published in 2014.
My “Mullins Family – book 3″ hasn’t yet appeared for unavoidable reasons: health, computer problems, politics. I’m picking up from there, publishing a selection of poems, ironically perhaps relating to those years 1997-2007.and redesigning (with a designer) the Hodge website. Some writers, either by contract or by their own choice, must aim to turn out a book a year. Their readers expect it. Are these always a good read? Maybe. Or maybe not. Even within a genre, (and genres which follow must-have elements and expectations, such as ChickLit, fast paced thrillers, cosy crime, police procedurals), there’s variation. It takes committed, well informed, professional writers, often with a background in journalism and no “day job” to do a really good job on a yearly basis. My kind of thought provoking books will always take longer, involving research, time to mull this over, and integrate it into a plot with a story arc and satisfying conclusion.
So, I’d thought, ten fictional years forward for each novel. Book two is set in 1997, that’s then a leap forward – to 2007. Enormous social and political change took place in those ten years. Pre-millennium, governed by Tony Blair’s New Labour, life was very different. We were on the edge of the financial crash but most of us didn’t know.
Pre 2000, we were warned to fear the “millennium bug” which could potentially ruin computer systems. Thanks to hard work from techie people this didn’t happen. But instead, terrorism struck in 2001 – 9/11 shocked and rocked the world. And catapulted the world into a different era. Followed by, in 2016, the idea that we should leave the EU in a process called “Brexit”.
Quite how life in 2007 would speak to us today, when our minds are filled with wars, terrorism, paedophile scandals, Brexit negotiations and now knife crime, what would be exciting about the year before 2008? Even post 9/11 and the London bombs of 2005, it was still a time of innocence compared to today’s news. Even adding a dimly growing awareness of Climate Change … Book 3 is now set in 2017.
My heroine is a Millennial, Jenny and Max Mullins’s daughter born in 1992, a five year old in 1997. We find her, Alice aged 25, in tears as she travels by train, her mind full of memories… She has recently opened a box and found items she’d saved back in 2007, aged 15. What these memories are should unfold as the story moves along, and we learn of the personal tragic end to that year for Alice. The climax of the idea for 2007… but not the same book…
It’s going to stretch my imagination, and my research capability, to get inside Alice’s mind, but it is an exciting prospect. Have you a book within you, disrupted by political change?
Live… Lose… Learn… poetry by Mari Howard will be available later this year… look out for it soon on the new Mari Howard Hodge website…
Maybe it is the time of year: after the solstice, a time of hope or after crazy Christmas, a time of space. For whatever reason, the collective spirit has lightened, even though the world still seems to be at war with itself. A friend who was in deep gloom over Christmas and New Year writes that her depression has lifted, another of that how being “stuck” in her writing, composing a silly poem about that has freed her up again, and I’m being weirdly inspired by a chair.
The chair has always been in my family, it was in my room as I grew up. We inherited it from my grandparents, and it just looks like an ordinary upright chair with a rush seat. Apparently it came from artist’s studio, which kind of gave it a romantic feel when I was a teenager, and somehow it seems to have followed me around and is still in our house today. It’s in the room where I paint. A couple of years back, I put the chair in a painting of a child in a strop, an artistic child whose foster mother only understands pink and spangly girls, but this is a denim jeans, creative small girl who hates her pink bedroom. Although she isn’t me, I understand her. The girl is Daisy, known Daze, a character in my Mullins family series, currently two novels Baby Baby, and The Labyrinth Year.
In June 2016 we went on holiday to our favourite place in Cornwall, and the sun shone as we picnicked, on 23rd, with crowds of others at a picturesque typical Cornish cove… When we came home, the painting wasn’t working. I simplified painting the chair, leaving out the essence of the design. I was also really stuck with the third novel, had problems with my computer, had a nasty illness, decided the website needed a make-over, submitted to gloom and pessimism.
And here’s the thing: today I discovered this is actually a ”Sussex Chair”. The spools on the back are central to a design otherwise characterised by simplicity and practicality. It’s a well known William Morris ‘arts and crafts’ design (though ours is a version without the arms). The story – that it came from an artist’s studio – fits with the period it was made.
Strangely that lifted the gloom: knowing I have to make a proper drawing of the chair, do theintricate and worthy task, a work that takes time and care. It’s a kick-start to getting the novel writing going, and it’s come alongside finally having the website and computer problems solved.