Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Ruth Hartley's Birthday

My Mum is the artist and writer Ruth Hartley.  Last week we threw her a 70th birthday party.  That was because she turned 70...not because we were trying to freak her out.  My older sister baked cakes and made soups and dips and organised a tower of wonderful cheeses.  There were old friends and new wines, speeches and thank yous and Silent John even sang her a song!  A super do!

Silent John sings to Mum!

Mum's book 'The Shaping of Water' is being published on 2nd January 2014 and this is the link to her website for further details and art work.

My contribution, apart from  pushing furniture around and then testing all the Pinot Grigio was a poem.  This one.
Its called   'Life-Painting'

Life- Painting

My Mother speaks colour;
A language of taupe and tumeric, orange and ochre.
All the blues collide in her mouth
Her words are scumbled mocha.

My Mother bleeds colour;
Carmine and crimsons of setting suns, the Raw Umber of dry riverbeds,
She is an incandescent storm,
wreathed in violet thunderheads.

My Mother breathes colour;
She mixed my skin from Rose Madder Deep, Phthalo Blue,
And Flake White Number One,
My brother and my sisters too
A splodge of Vandyke Brown, a hint of Buff Titanium,
I dare say some Permanent Magenta,
Veined with Viridian Hue.

My Mother is colour;
Her green leaves turn to gold,
Her eyes still casting prisms as
Her luminous tales unfold.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

In which I am attacked by a speed boat and Grace plunges under a train

I loved Greece.. I really, really did.  Only there was one ineey meeny mini bikini moment where it could all have gone a bit well ..I believe the expression is ‘tits up’.

We go on this boat to see turtles. We see a turtle. We pootle a bit further around the coast past beautiful coves and cliffs like this. A couple of times the boat stops and everyone jumps off to swim and snorkel. I don’t snorkel anymore but I too dive off the side into the warm, shimmering water and then clamber back up the boat’s ladder.

Only the second time I am clambering up I hear screaming from the boat.  Many people screaming at the top of their lungs in several languages...

Eh?  I think turning around.  That sounds bad for someone.

It is. For me.

You see a man and his wife had hired a twin engine speed boat and had decided for some insane reason, to pull up close to where people from our boat were swimming. A few minutes earlier, my snorkelling brother in law had dived down just in time as the boat had bumbled lethally over his head, engines churning the water to meringue.

The idiot man on the boat jumps off to swim leaving his wife in the boat. She doesn’t know what she is doing.  She pushes a button and the engines rise up from the water, one prop still turning slowly, blades dripping.

Only she hasn’t thrown down the anchor and the boat drifts fast on the current directly into our turtle boat and directly into me – pinning me up against the ladder. One blade of one engine cuts into my waist and the weight of the boat knocks the breath from me and beings to squash me, like a bug, against the side of the turtle boat.

I don’t exactly know what happened next.  I DO know that with my little tunnel of sight I saw exactly what I needed to see.. where to push – and I did - with all my might. And all that crazy intense training worked. The weight lifts and the boat is pushed back and away. I am not fact hardly hurt at all.

When I am dragged up onto our turtle boat by tearful, yelling people who have all assumed I am either dead or horribly mutilated, I am quite calm and cheery. A Frenchwoman, whose kids had climbed the ladder ahead of me, weeps as she wipes blood from my side.

‘It’s a tiny cut,’ I say and it is but she seems not to hear me.

The tour guide Sue’s lips are pure white. ‘I can’t believe it..’ she repeats over and over.

‘I am okay,’ I say.  Her eyes are wide. 

My sister and Steven appear looking grim faced having watched it all from the water.  Tears pop into Rachma’s eyes. 

‘I am really fine,’  I say.  ‘Okay my elbow is a bit sore.’

The captain and crew bring ouzo to toast the miracle of me not being masticated by the motor boat.

‘I am absolutely okay,’ I say again. And I am. I suspect I may be superhuman.

We decide no more boats and spend much of the rest of the holiday at the wonderful little taverna I mentioned a couple of posts ago, Shoestrings, run by beautiful Christina and family and with Chef Jonathon cooking up wonderful food.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. Go there if you are ever in Zante!

And now I am back and my tan is looking grubby but I milk the story as much as possible. In fact I told it a couple of times last week in Liverpool, whilst at a conference. (It was a cracking conference.  ‘Avoidance at the Academy’ and I meet many wonderful, like-minded and passionate fellow academics who may well feature here in the future... )

Tired but happy Grace and I are heading home from said conference and get as far as Bristol Temple Meads Station. 

We step off the end carriage but the platform curves away slightly so the gap is wide. Grace tries to jump across but the harness pulls her back and she slips, back legs first and plunges all the way down and under the train. 

I am not my superhuman self this time. I squat down on the train step, screaming like a banshee, refusing to let go of Grace’s harness even though I can’t see her in the darkness below.  I screech and weep and I don’t care.  People crowd around and in two minutes she is rescued UNHURT from under the train. I shut my mouth and wipe my eyes and carry on screaming silently for the rest of the journey home and for the next 24 hours. I am surprised when my hair doesn’t turn white.

Grace's round
Grace, however, is quite upbeat and cheery. ‘I am fine’ she seems to say.  ‘Really.’ And she is. Super dog.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Acting the Goat part two.

This is a picture of the actual me with the actual goat of the last post. Note the glint in her eye...note the collar...(I didn't realise my sister had taken a snap of me being groomed by the goat earlier in the holiday.)
'I think she is called 'Bella' I say to my sister and brother in law later when the ruckas has died down. 'It's what the farmer was calling her when he was tring to catch her in the veg patch.'
'Erm..what you probably heard 'ella!'' says Steven.
'It's Greek for 'come here!' says my sister.
It's just not quite Narnia, is it.   And I haven't yet told you about the terror of the Turtles...da da daaaaa...

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Acting the Goat in Greece

Veiw from Shoestrings
I apologise for the silence.  These last two weeks I have been researching the impact of tourism on the Greek economy – well, mainly my impact on the beautiful island of Zakynthos.  Turns out that the major impact is on local rose wine sales which went up by at least a third....

It is a lovely island. The sea is all turquoise and aquamarines and in August the skies are bright fierce blue with the occasional build up of cloud over the hills.  It is hot, of course. Very hot. White rutted tracks wind through the olive groves and vineyards and up into the hills if you care to explore.  Many don’t and in the resorts tourists stumble along pavement-less roads between tavernas and bars and shops, eating ice-creams and comparing insect bites.

Myrtle, water and wine
 Currently, excuse the pun; they are drying grapes by the roadside in the sun to make raisins. The thick dark blankets of fruit smell delicious. The next crop is for wine.  They will certainly need more after we have left....

Last Sunday, had you been a seagull gliding high on the warm wind over Alykanas, its long narrow strip of beach littered with sun beds and people bobbing lazily in the warm water, you might have seen the little taverna perched overlooking the sea.   If you had flown past the taverna and a few hundred yards further inland to the nearby fields, you would have glimpsed a middle aged woman running after a goat in her knickers.

Err... that would have been me.

I was trying to lasso the goat with my skirt.  It’s a long story but suffice it to say I had been horribly conned by a kid.  Over the two weeks of our holiday (the couple watching me chase down the goat are my sister and brother-in-law) we had made the almost daily pilgrimage through the white rutted paths amongst the olive groves to our very favourite beach hang out, Shoestrings ( more on that gem to follow.) Being me and in full Disney operational mode, I had begun to befriend the horses we passed with carrots and stolen sugar and had also made passing acquaintance with a couple of goats, a mother and her young daughter, tethered in the field. 

It happens that on the Sunday we find the goats so tangled up together by their ropes that they can barely move. 

‘We can’t leave them like this!’ I say.  I have been listening to far too much ‘Game of Thrones’ on my kindle. If I had a sword I would be waving it.

We all give it a go but we still can’t figure out how they got into such a knot. The rope is wound around the mother goat’s horns and around the younger goat’s legs. They look up at us pathetically.  The little one almost falls over.

Then I have a brainwave.

‘I’ll just take off the little one’s collar,’ I hear myself saying. ‘And we can undo the knot.’

‘Is that wise?’ asks my brother in law.  He is a scientist and likes to debate the evidence and think through consequences.

Too late I realise he has a point.    

The little goat feels the thick leather slide from her neck and leaps gleefully just out of reach.  Freeee eee eee she bleats rapturously and dives on some fresh grass.

‘Shit!’ I say.

‘Holy shit!’ says my sister, the vicar.

She watches horrified as the goat feints sideways as I try a rugby tackle.

‘We will go and get someone to help,’ I hear her and Steven sighing as they pull out the Greek-English dictionary to look up the word ‘goat’ and head away from my shameful attempts at kid wrangling.  By this time I have taken off my skirt and twisted it into a useless kind of lasso and am running around the field like a crazy person.  I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t come back.

Goats are nimble aren’t they?  This one dances just out of reach of my skirt and disappears into the grape vines and maize.  No amount of swearing or cajoling can get her out. I realise the tangle thing was a ruse. She had this whole thing planned.

Luckily for everyone I had put my skirt back on before my sister and brother in law had got hold of the farmer who took less than a minute to catch the kid and re-tether her. Goat farming was his second job, it turns out. In high season he was mostly off hiring jet skis to tourists.

‘Thank you for untangling the goats,’ he says.  ‘Would you like a jet ski?’

‘We are leaving today,’ says my sister.

The farmer looks rather relieved. The goat bleats something rude.

The Greek word for goat is ‘katsika’, apparently. I however am called an ass.

Next blog involves graphic descriptions of seafood platters, the terrors of turtle spotting and more annoying pictures of sun and sea from Shoestrings.  

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Vision Slip

A few years ago...well maybe more than a few...I was on a train at some daft time in the morning on my way to San Francisco.  I hadn’t slept much the night before anxious about the trip and was a bit woozy.  The carriage was almost empty and I thought no one would mind me snoring so leant down to pull out the foot rest.


Something seemed to both punch me in the arm and pull me at the same time.  I pulled up my arm and held my hand up to my face.  As I watched, waiting, time became putty and pulled into a long, sticky mess.  My racing heart pumped the blood up and through and around and a beaded red line appeared half way down my middle finger on my right hand between the first and second joint.  The beads swelled and merged and then my finger seemed to break away from its reality, topple sideways exposing flesh.  I glimpsed white within the maw of red.

Instinctively I grabbed my finger to hold it in place and blood began to slither and drip down my arm and into the crook of my elbow and onto the floor. It would seem that the footrest had a sharp metal edge and had cut my finger to the bone.

Scary eh?  The pain came after the ‘whumph’ and it was bad!  And of course no one would treat me in case of litigation.  Some kind but appalled young family handed me a couple of nappies to sop up the blood. The steward said he couldn’t give me painkillers but he did get a doctor who told me I needed stitches immediately and should get off in L.A.  I didn’t.  I was too scared to get off in L.A. on my own with a suitcase and a hand that didn’t work. I stayed put feeling my whole body throb with each beat of my heart hour after hour.  I made it to San Francisco and got some first aid at the youth hostel I was booked into.  It was a very clean cut and eventually it healed even without stitches. I had a smashing time in San Francisco, especially one I felt my finger would stay on my hand.

Why am I sharing this?  Well, I have had a vision slip. In some ways this is just annoying, a little like having a woolly sock slip down into your shoe at a crucial moment or being unable to find a sharp knife when you are prepping supper.   All it means is that I have to readjust as the tunnel of sight is a smidgen smaller. I knock into things I saw just a month ago. I walk past people previously I would have seen. I can’t use the new lap top I was loaned because the screen is too small.  Annoying but not impossible tp cope with.

Only each time these little sight slides happen the world recedes further and the possibility of complete sight loss shuffles up behind me and breathes a little too heavily.   Colours become milkier and dark greens,  blacks, blues and browns are now impossible to differentiate.  I can’t see myself clearly in a mirror. The outside world’s dreamy Vaseline texture closes in when I least expect it.

So I have been having that same ‘whumph’ sensation, similar to the one on the train and the same as the buzzing sensation after falling out of a tree or from a horse and waiting for breath to come back. The same wait to know the damage. The same heart throbbing throat clutching nauseating ‘whumph’..

It will stop I am sure and I am still far off total sight least I am pretty sure I am.  Plus and you may think I am mad but it is, genuinely,  a fascinating and in some ways, magical experience.  Am I a chrysalis and if so what will I become?  A different kind of 'Through The Looking Glass' .  It is just  that  riding out the ‘whumph’ is a toughie. 

Thank goodness for Grace.  And for Jenniefromtheblock,  Becky, Helena and the wonderful Corsham admin staff who regularly trip me up with tea and cake and lots of laughter.
Michelle, Me, Grace and Ali

Ready for anything!
And then of course there are the mad women of Springfield with whom I have made a devilish pact to do daily torturous high intensity training sessions (called ‘Insanity’ just in case you didn’t know what you were getting).  I am the fittest I have ever been in my life and so blinking knackered that I haven’t got the energy to be scared by the ‘whumph’ Hooray!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Tomorrow the BBC will disclose the identity of the new Doctor Who.  For many us in the real world this will be more life changing than royal babies, Zimbabwean election fraud, bedroom tax and even racist buses chugging around London with ‘Go home ++++!’ emblazoned across the sides.

One of the many, MANY reasons that I love Corsham is that it could indeed be a town in a Dr. Who episode. People are jolly, eerily nice. The setting is too idyllic. There are not enough tourists or yobs and children on scooters avoid running down the elderly.  Everyone knows the names of everyone else’s dogs and I am sure the Deli is a front for the next cybermen invasion. Add to this the fact that Corsham is Ministry of Defence territory with secretive installations all around and hardly any buses run at night..... uh oh.  And hang on...come to think about it...I have seen people

Badly disguised Darlek in Corsham High Street
worshipping at this alter over the past couple of months.......

So who do we think, eh?  Peter Capaldi?  Sue Perkins?  Russell Brand (Holy Vashta Narada, NO!)?  
 Actually, I have an on-going dream that Stephen Moffat pops over tonight to say that Helena Bonham Carter has pulled out at the last minute and they would like me to go for the part...would I mind?  And you know what...even if this doesn’t happen I can pretend..I already have my K9!

I'll do the lab reports.....



Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Mixed Emotions

It is hot. Very bloody hot. Not that I am complaining but Grace has a black fur coat and is finding it all a little much. She is floppy and there is much panting.  Here she is with her dogs.  

Usher, Grace, Terri, Albert and Monica at Corsham Court

Last week we were volunteers at the very cutting edge MIX conference here at Corsham Court.  I had volunteered last year when I first arrived in Corsham and it helped me figure out the layout of the campus. Not that anyone approached me for assistance.  More the other way around which was a bit embarrassing.  I’d be standing there with Grace trying to look informative and perky and delegates would sidle up to ask me if I needed help getting anywhere and could they find me a volunteer?

One of the smelly volunteers.
 This time we– the volunteers-had big blue polo shirts with ‘Student Ambassador.  Here to help!’ emblazoned on our sweaty backs.  We were recognisable as official assistance even with guide dogs. And after three days by the smell of the t-shirts…
So I am in my huge blue polo shirt with a floppy dog and a clipboard. And I forgot to mention that I have offered to do some photography so I am also carting about cameras along with dog bowls and treats, poo bags (you never know when a delegate will get caught out) and water bottles. I could probably survive for two weeks on just what is in my handbag.
This is the MIX conference blurb...  ‘Text on Screens: Making, Discovering, Teaching’ we will continue the conversation that began at MIX 2012; through a series of high quality papers and presentations of creative works we’ll be talking about text on screen in the many forms it takes including fiction, videopoetry, mobile, locative, and site specific works, non-fiction, games, text-based digital art, and other electronic, hybrid forms. We’ll discuss classic texts as they are re-imagined for digital platforms. We’ll look at how these works are taught and what they mean for the future of literature
Exciting stuff eh? But here is where things star to unravel slightly for me.
 (c) T.Bush 2013
The conference has been expertly organised and I had asked to get a couple of minutes at the official opening to explain to the delegates about the etiquette of working dogs...don’t approach her unless I give permission etc. and also to give a very quick explanation of how I see - as it is confusing to see a woman bundle in after a guide dog and then proceed to whip out her SLR and take photos..and I do it like a pro...clicky whizzy sounds, down on one knee, the works.  (Sometimes I even remember to take the lens cap off).
That first morning I waited anxiously to give my little spiel but I am passed over due to what I later find out are ‘time constraints’.  This is where Bath Spa could potentially do with upping its disability awareness.  Without that talk, delegates find me a curiosity.  I get confused sideways glances, stared at or avoided.  No one knows how to approach me and Grace or whether I am visually impaired or not.
I spend a lot of time wondering if I was an idiot to volunteer in the first place.  Am I putting myself into situations that make for stress?  I direct the delegates to lunch for instance but don’t go myself because I know that the pub they are eating at is dark inside, that I would have to ask for help to get food from the buffet and that Grace wouldn’t have anywhere to sit.
Buffets are a nightmare for the visually impaired.  It’s no game trying to get through the throngs of people without spearing anyone with a fork or trying to balance cherry tomatoes and lettuce leaves on a tiny plate whilst reaching for what we hope is a spring roll but turns out to be a rolled up paper napkin.  
I don’t leave though. It is a fascinating conference. I love the talks, even though I can barely understand a word.  My friend Amrita who is an internet whizz of note would be in seventh heaven with all the creative apps and the flashy lingo. 'RFID technology'….'.RDA'. …'Inklewriter'… 'SPARQL'…'Frankenstein' apps…  Me?  Well let’s just say I spent an hour trying to print a document by pressing ‘paste’ over and over again getting more and more baffled as to why my document was still not printing  but instead growing exponentially longer…
And, thank goodness,  on the morning of the final day I am  given my two minutes to 'explain myself'. It is like a weight is lifted both for me and many of the delegates. ‘Thank goodness you spoke out!’  people say.  ‘I wanted to ask you but wasn’t sure.... ‘ and people stop distracting Grace (who anyway is far too busy trying to cope with the heat to care.) And I get to take part in a inspirational workshop involving a spool of blue thread, an artist’s trowel and an old hair brush…you kindofhad to be there…….

Don't ask!