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WARNING - This Blog Post Contains Themes Of Confusion (Or - "Brokeback Mountain" Is Hardly "Encyclopedia Britannica"!)
12/30/2014 9:15:17 PM
Yesterday I read one article which got me extremely angry (when I had calmed down I was left feeling seriously worried about author-led censorship of literature).  I also learned that "Brokeback Mountain" actually started life as a book.

Annie Proulx has now gone on record as saying she regrets ever having written "Brokeback Mountain" as - according to her - people keep missing the point of the book.

In the same article JK Rowling has lamented the fact that girls all seem to have fallen in love with the anti-hero of "Harry Potter" and she feels it necessary to "put them right" about him.  This means telling them that the anti-hero is a bad person who is incapable of being a reformed character.

Maybe Ms Proulx and Ms Rowling would be happier if fiction books were treated in the same way as TV shows and "unhealthy" foodstuffs (as in have information labels plastered all over the cover to indicate guidance ratings, themes, and psychological assessments of all characters and situations contained within them)???

I could have understood Ms Proulx's viewpoint if she had been attempting to write a textbook about "Homophobia" and people had "completely missed the point" of it.  I can understand her getting upset with people telling her that they think "Brokeback Mountain" should have had a different ending (and this is coming from someone who has neither read the book or seen the film) because it shows a lack of respect for her creativity.

Her accussation that readers are "completely missing the point" is (in my eyes) a rather arrogant comment to make.  It also assumes that she knows everything about the people who have chosen to read her book.

I am now going to attempt to explain what I meant by that last paragraph;

You should know by now that my favourite female singer is Kristyna Myles.  You may also have learned that my favourite of her songs is "Someone".  Unless you know me personally (and I trust you wholeheartedly) you are probably not going to know my reasons for loving that song so much and understand how the lyrics feel personal to me.

A very good friend of mine (Julie Kirkpatrick) also likes Kristyna's music.  Julie's favourite song is "I'm Not Going Back".  When I first heard it I thought it was a nice enough song but it didn't grab me like "Someone" did.  As I got to know Julie, and she trusted me enough to open up about her life, she told me why that song was her favourite.  I am not going to break Julie's confidence by telling you her reasons.  What I will say is that - after she had told me - I found myself listening to it in a totally different way.  It is still not my favourite song but it now has added depth and colour which it didn't have before.

The same applies to books (especially fiction books) and - to a lesser extent - films (even though I think films are what happens when someone has imagined the scenes which were written on the page for you - and in some cases come to a completely different conclusion to you - and presented them as the "Gospel" version of the story).

You could hand the same fiction book to any number of people and they will read it based on their life experiences so far.  (I am leaving out the matter of their tastes in literature here.)  This means you will have more than one opinion put forward if you choose to discuss the book in question.

The topic of how people interpret fiction (and whether or not they interpret it as fact and choose to act on it) is one which has been argued about since the start of "Grange Hill".

It always amazes me how people are told to refrain from broadcasting scenes "glorifying" suicide - yet you can regularly see a murder or a rape, or some other such criminal activity on, or very near, Prime Time television hours.  Scenes depicting themes like depression, or the positive side of, and struggles with disability, etc, are still a very rare sight.

Remember I mentioned "Grange Hill"?  For those of you who are too young to remember that programme it was a version of "Waterloo Road" for children which was broadcast in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's.  The programme was set in a school.  It dealt with themes such as bullying and drug addiction.  (The "Just Say No" campaign on drugs was so successful the cast even met some pretty important politicians as a result of it.)

The one time when I could use my personal experiences to back up my argument was when someone (who was much older than me) informed a group I was in that he thought bullying should not be shown on TV.  My prior opinion that he was an opinionated, puffed up Oik of the first order, was not exactly caused to be put in for a positive revision by this outburst.  (As it turned out - some months later - he did something to downgrade my opinion of him to a possibly criminal, opinionated, puffed up Oik of the first order - and scared the daylights out of me in the process.  However, that is an entirely different story.)

What I actually wanted to do to him was what my Glaswegian friend would call "drag him over a counter" (in this case the table).  What I ended up doing was trying to use my experiences from having watched the bullying depicted in "Grange Hill", and not feeling totally alone when it happened to me, to explain why I think bullying should be portrayed on TV (as long as they also show some sort of helpful solution to the situation at the same time).

So - instead of allowing people to sensor how life is portrayed either in fiction books or on TV - maybe we should be truly open to a debate about how best to ensure that people get the most out of the portrayal of scenes we read and watch.  I also think it is past the time for a debate on how we can ensure that fiction books and TV programmes depicting "difficult" topics can be made more accessible - without the need to resort to the "Guidance" labels or even authors deciding who has missed what "theme" which they think is present in their books.

Or should we just scrap the whole "fiction" genre in TV and books - thereby just leaving dry, boring, textbooks and documentaries (with a scattering of those "Such-and-such A Subject For Dummies" for the not-so-intellectual people among us)???

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht (Or When Is My Favourite Carol going to come true???)
12/18/2014 10:42:58 PM
I wrote a version of this post for a "Scribbles" meeting but I saw something last night which made me decide to rewrite it slightly.

My all time favourite Christmas Carol is "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" - or "Silent Night".  To be honest I prefer the Dutch version to the English one (I would, wouldn't I?) - however, I do have a good reason for this.

The only public performance of me singing a duet with my Mum was at a Church service when I was in Secondary School.  It was one verse of "Silent Night" in Dutch.  (She got me to memorise it so well that I always sing the first verse in Dutch in her memory unless I am in a choir.)

Anyway - I decided one night to try to find a version of "Silent Night" on YouTube which reminded me of a few friends of mine (three to be exact).  I may not be able to understand a word of Czech but I loved the sound of the singing.  I am hoping that one of my three friends will write it out in Czech for me and translate it.

However, I digress.

Last night I was watching a video with a partial rendition of the English version by my favourite female singer (I am really envious of the person who ended up with the full version of it.) and I got to thinking about what I had written as an exercise for "Scribbles".

(Listening to someone with the voice of the Angelic Hosts singing part of your favourite carol really concentrates the mind.)

We sing "Silent Night" but we have never actually had a proper Silent Night at Christmas.  What with wars and arguments going on.

Even the place where Jesus was born is the subject of a bitter battle between three religions - Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

My favourite line in the carol comes from the Dutch version "David's Zoon - lang verwacht" (or "David's Son long awaited").

As we near the end of this time of Advent - may we wish for proper Peace and Goodwill to ALL Men, Women, and Children in the world - whereever they are and in whatever situation they find themselves in.

I am never one to go into "God Selling" mode on here - after all, you are free to believe in whatever Deity you like - but I hope you will allow me this one indulgence.

May the Perfect Peace settle around your shoulders,
May the Full Contentment rest in your heart.
May the Sweet Joy surround your soul,
and May the All-encompassing Love live in the words you speak.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.
The Living Books (Or How A Title Can Mean More Than The Author Ever Intended)
12/18/2014 10:09:27 PM
I have a question for you.  What is your favourite title to a book and why?  (You don't have to even have read the book.)

I can name two titles off the top of my head which have great meaning for me - "Spellbinder", and "The UnDutchables".

The first title is almost responsible for what you have been reading as you have read this blog.  "Spellbinder" (The children's book by Stephen Bowkett) was - along with its author - the main proper spark for my love of writing and daydreaming.  Yes, it was the book which was published when I started in his English class all those years ago.

"The UnDutchables" is a bit of a funny one for me as it brings back a memory of when I first saw the title.

I was in a bookshop on a car ferry between England and Holland (I cannot remember which way I was going) with my Mum when I picked it up.  Now - in order to understand what I am about to say you have to understand one thing about my Mum.  She may have spent most of her life living in England but she was Distinctly Dutch (with capital Ds) until she died.

For those of you who have never read "The UnDutchables" it started out as a satirical look at Dutch life by two men from either Canada or America.  Then people started adding to it as the editions went along.

Anyway - I picked the book up and flicked through it.  Then promptly started giggling.  When my Mum asked what was so funny I showed her and she laughed as well.  So I bought it.

To say I had never read anything like it was an understatement.  Having been repeatedly "drowned" in Dutch culture (yes - even in England) by both parents I had the dubious "pleasure" of seeing the life depicted in the book both from the Dutch side and the "Buitenlander" (or foreigner) side.

In fact, I will let you into a little secret.  Some of the things which Buitenlanders find the strangest about Holland and the Dutch are the things which I find most useful over here.  Let's just say the Dutch have got the inverse "distance to exit" ratio to a fine art.  In plain English - the faster you wish to alight a train the furthest from the door you should stand.

Basically - reading "The U|ndutchables" was almost like reading about my Mum's family and the rest of the Dutch people I have ever come into contact with.

I just really miss the "Stempel automaat" and the concertina tickets (formally known as "strippenkaart") which you could fold into a concertina if you wanted to jam the machine - but you had to fold them to get the correct fare stamped on it.  You couldn't win.
The Book Which Reminded Me Of My Favourite Teacher At School (As Well As Daring To Say How I Felt About The Rest Of School)
12/18/2014 9:42:04 PM
Warning - This post may appear to contain gratuitous swearing (foul language, cursing, call it what you will).  However - on this occassion I hope you will forgive me as I have a legitimate excuse.  As in the words are not originally mine.  All will become clear.

I have recently had to apologise to someone behind a till and tell them that the words on the cover of one of the books I wished to purchase were not directed at him.

Apparently the author (a Matt Potter) had even more fun trying to publicise it on Radio 4 (cannot say the full title - just asterisks) and on the Andrew Neil programme on TV - he couldn't say the full title but had the title on full display).

I must admit - the title is what hooked me originally.  You could say it was direct and to the point.  However, the title didn't tell you what the book was about - you had to read the subtitle for that.

"F**k you and goodbye" may not be everybody's idea of a nice title for a book but at least it got my attention enough to make me pick it up and browse through it.  (I admit the larger title kind of swamped the subtitle of "The dark and hilarious history of the Resignation Letter" until I actually picked the book up.)

If you want to interest me in something which I may find difficult to understand or may not be interested in to start with - go for a strange title.  I am just sad that the people who design the curriculums for schools haven't quite grasped that idea yet.  Jazz the subjects up by giving them interesting names and you would be halfway to success.

What you have to do next (which Mr Potter managed easily) is make me feel like I am living the book as I read it.  As well as make me want to read it non-stop from cover to cover.

He covered a wide variety of resignation letters - ranging from wordy ones from ex-politicians (as well as giving a juicy peice of information about George W Bush's earlier career), through one Native American Chief, to some other people who would not have been interesting had it not been for their resignation letter.  In fact, the main title from the book is actually copied from a resignation letter.

His explanations managed to avoid the "Art Historian" way of explaining things (ie, trying to put the early resignation letters into modern contexts and tell us what we are supposed to think about them).  Instead he let us think for ourselves.

The book was written in a conversational style (which I like most of all in a non-fiction book) and easy to read. 

Sitting In Judgement Discourages Unity (Or "We Will Never Be The Same So Why Concentrate On Our Differences?")
12/5/2014 1:04:33 AM
This post was partially inspired by the news reports on the Ferguson shooting and the New York choking case (both where black men met with the wrong side of white Police Officers with fatal results).  However, it was also inspired by conversations with a couple of friends of mine on the subject of people jumping to conclusions about them based on the "evidence" in the public domain without making sure they knew all the facts.

Richie Sambora hit the nail on the head when he wrote and sang the lyrics "If you walk inside my shoes then you will understand who I am".

It is all too easy to jump to conclusions based on everybody else's idea of how someone should behave, or even your own personal experience of being treated by someone else in a similar situation to the one you currently find yourself in.

There is only a small jump from jumping to conclusions about someone based on everybody else's ideas on how they should behave and using your conclusions to bully them.  After all, isn't that how bullying starts???  Find someone who is different to you - who you cannot be bothered to learn about - and slowly chip away at them in an attempt to make them behave like you???

We are never going to have the same experiences as each other - even if we are taking part in the same activity.  Even when it comes to having a "shared history" with someone the other person's interpretation of it might be radically different from yours.

Judging someone based on how everybody else behaves is a cop-out.  It is all too easy to think I am obviously an illiterate idiot if you find me asking if someone can read something out to me when you can read it easily (and you are standing the same distance away from it as I am).  This "illiterate idiot" is a lot cleverer than she may first appear - her brain works as well as most people's - it is her eyes which are defective.

The "judging people by your experiences of others in a similar situation" has actually got me into trouble on a few occassions.  You want fireworks??? Try making me feel "boxed in" by constantly pointing out the differences between us (either by making it obvious you think I come from another planet or by simply not listening to me when I try to point out why what you are trying to do to or with me won't work) and stand well clear.  The chances are I will react based on the last time someone like you tried the same trick with me.

What you might not realise is that I may be reacting the way I am because I think I know exactly what is going to happen and why.  There are occassions where I will deliberately set out to make you think of me in one way because it is the easiest way to a quick conclusion.

But we should not be so quick to judge each other instead of asking why we are acting as we are.

Second thoughts - scrap that last sentence.  We should not be so quick to judge each other instead of truly listening to the other person and their reasons.

If I cannot read something I will probably make a joke out of it.  Something like "can I borrow your eyeballs please?  I cannot see to read the menu".

If there is a gap between me and where I want to go next on a lower level (with either a steep set of steps or a "flat floor" set of steps) I will either go at snails pace or I will walk off and find the nearest ramp, escalator, lift, etc.  You can moan at me as much as you want to but my safety comes first.

Yes - I am sarcastic at times.  No - I don't want to feel like I am a different species to everybody else.  Yes, I do feel like I have to hide the full extent of my sight problems to make everybody else's life easier at times (I really wish I didn't but there you go).  Yes, I am sure that if I looked hard enough I could find some fault with you which I could exploit in such a way as to cause you the same amount of pain as you are causing me.  No, I am not that vindictive unless seriously pushed to the end of my tether.  Why???  Because I have felt worse pain than anything you can do to me.  Going to sleep hoping I never wake up is something I have actually experienced more times than I care to think about.

You have no idea of the amount of pressure I have to put myself under sometimes just so you think you are dealing with someone who is "acceptable" to be in your world.  If you ever found out you would probably be shocked if not horrified.

We are all different - some of us are more different than others - some of us cannot change our differences (either because they are part of our genetic make up or because to change needs patience, time, and love - maybe even professional help).

We have to remember (and act on) the lyrics to the only U2 track I like hearing "We are one but we are not the same.  We gotta carry each other".

(If you are old enough to remember The Hollies try these lyrics - "The road is long with many a winding turn, leading who knows where, who knows when...His welfare is my concern.  No burden is he for me to bear.  He ain't heavy - he's my brother".  That was my Grandad's favourite song.)

Sold As Seen Or Sold As Unseen (Or Why Do Shops Only Show You Half The Picture?)
12/4/2014 11:44:42 PM
I decided to treat myself last week (as well as attempting to reduce the chances of my house burning down accidentally).  So I bought myself a Digital TV.  I knew I had to get it home myself so I bought the smallest and cheapest one in the shop.  As it turned out I could have bought one the size of a wall and it wouldn't have made much difference.  (Carrying it would have been difficult but that isn't what I meant.)

I can see the picture clearly as well as the subtitles.  Both of these are good things.  (In fact the picture looks bigger and sharper than on my old TV - and it doesn't sound like it is going to explode when I switch it on.)

What I cannot see clearly (and I wouldn't be able to see clearly - no matter how big the actual screen was) is useful information like the channel and the Electronic Programme Guide.

You see, the shops selling TV's all have one fatal flaw.  At least as far as I am concerned.

If you want to buy a computer, a laptop, a tablet, or a mobile phone, you can walk into any retailer and play around with the display models to see if the object meets your requirements before you buy it.  I have heard rumours that would suggest that you can even take a car out for a test drive before you buy it.

When it comes to buying a TV though you don't get that opportunity.  You are shown a wall of screens (with the sound on mute) all tuned to the same channel.  No sign of a remote control.  This means you have to actually buy the TV before you find out that the Channel number is in small writing in a faint colour which merges into the background - and the same goes for the Electronic Programme Guide (which also happens to be a small box in the middle of your picture).

I am convinced that any shop selling you a TV should be forced to supply remote controls (they could be attached to the same kind of flexes as mobile phones) so customers can see the full workings of the TV.
Why "Bad" Words Can Actually Be Good To Hear (Or Swearing In Polite Conversation)
12/4/2014 11:19:05 PM
You should have realised by now that I am a big fan of languages, accents, dialects, etc - as well as how different people react to different words.

I grew up listening to two completely different languages - sometimes even in the same sentence.  (My Dad and I still sometimes speak both English and Dutch in the same sentence - there are times when it is easier to understand, as well as ensuring other people don't understand what we are talking about.)

There are times when this can be very confusing - especially when people don't react how you expect them to.  I will give you an example of when I was absolutely convinced a fight would break out because I forgot that I was not in England at the time of the conversation;

Two of my Mum's uncles were having an argument (OK - a discussion held at a volume which, if neither of them had been hard of hearing, would have been worrying) when my Oma's neighbour joined in.  One of the gentlemen disagreed with what she had said and replied, "Madam, you are wrong" (that was the English translation anyway).

On hearing that my brain immediately went into "English" mode and I prepared to make myself scarce if necessary.  If the participants in the conversation had been English speakers - even of the same age (in their 70's) - the use of the word "Madam" would probably have been seen as a sarcastic insult.  In this instance the gentleman who had uttered the phrase was actually being respectful whilst disagreeing with what the lady had said.

The above example is a small idea of the difference between English and Dutch when it comes to "Polite and Not Polite".  It gets worse (at least for me it did).

When I was growing up I was definitely taught that there are some words which people do not use in "polite" conversation when speaking in the English language.  Unfortunately for me I quickly learned that two of these words were actually used in "polite" conversation when speaking the Dutch language (even if they are actually spelled slightly differently they are phonetically the same).  Even worse - the biggest two word insult you can use to an English-speaker happens to be the most polite way of speaking to a Dutch person.  Another "unsavoury" word in the English language means "hear" in Dutch (however, it can also end up being liberally sprinkled at the end of sentences when the speaker wants to emphasise something).

Put it this way - every time I wish to address a stranger in Dutch I find my English brain cringing if I have to use the Dutch word for "can" (as in "you can") with the formal Dutch "u" (or "you").  Think of the worst swearword in the English language which starts with a "c" and change the first letter to a "k" and you have got it.

On the other hand "hoor" (pronounced like the unprintable word for "prostitute" isn't that bad - unless I hear it stuck to the end of a sentence when I am not expecting it.

There is one other English slang word (printable this time) which has been known to provide me with amusement when it crosses over the North Sea.  English-speakers would tell you that a "kip" is slang for a "sleep".  However, a Dutch person would tell you that a "kip" lays eggs and is very nice either roasted and served with potatoes and a selection of vegetables (I agree with this suggestion) or turned into some kind of "curry" sandwich filling (I disagree with this suggestion with a passion you can only dream of - I have tried one and it makes "Coronation Chicken" almost appetising).  Ladies and Gentlemen - the Dutch will inform you that a "kip" is a chicken.

Finally - there is one word which I now know the translation of in three languages (and they are all completely different) which makes the game of "Rock - Paper - Scissors" a rather interesting concept - no wonder some people call it "Stone - Paper - Scissors".

To an English person a "Rock" is a large stone.  To a Dutch person a "Rok" is a skirt.  To a Czech person (and I only remember this one word because of it) a "Roc" is a year.  All three are pronounced the same way.

Oh and don't get me started on the word "snoop" which the English apparently nicked from the Dutch and not only mis-spelt but mistranslated at the same time.

The Thought-Provoking Inspiration
12/4/2014 10:10:55 PM
People inspire me in all kinds of different ways. The "Inspirational Person" I would like to introduce you to in this blog post has inspired me in too many ways to mention.  He is also the person I was most scared of asking if he wanted to be included in this revamped "Inspirational People" section.  However, I really wanted him to be the first living human in it.

Dr Derek Lee (to give him his proper title) has had several mentions on my blog (both in its original format and on here).  The major reason for his inclusion in this section???  Well, you are reading it (or at least that is part of the story).  I would honestly say that he knows me better than most people - he has also helped me more than most people when it comes to me putting up with myself.  Not only that but he has encouraged me in my writing and blogging.

I will now let him answer some questions;

1)        Let's start by you telling the readers of this blog in your own words how you know me.


We met through our mutual love for creative writing at “Scribbles”, a group for like-minded folk in the lovely little town of Market Harborough in Leicestershire. This must have been around 2002.


2)        As this is about "Inspirational People" can you please tell me three people in your life who have inspired you and how they have done so (they can be teachers, colleagues, friends, etc)?


This is a difficult one. So many people have come in and out of my life over the long years and everyone has touched me in their own way. I suppose two teachers in particular ome to mind. Mr Poole was my primary school teacher. He helped me to see that I could achieve something if I put my mind to it. His favourite saying was “When it doubt, write it out”. This has stood me in good stead over the years. Mr Richardson was my English teacher in secondary school. He helped to develop my writing ability and love for literature. In particular, he introduced me to the works of D H Lawrence and George Orwell. The third person is a choice between Simon Weston from the Falklands War – he gave an inspirational speech at my children’s school – and Nelson Mandela for his endurance, beliefs and compassion.


3)        What qualities do you look for in a friend?


A shared understanding of the world in terms of social justice. Some shared but not identical likes and interests in the arts. Honesty and loyalty are givens. The ability to give and take. A view of life that allows for quirkiness and humour.



4)        How would your other friends describe you?


All the above! I think people see me as warm, supportive and funny.


5)        Finally, please tell me something about you that I don't already know (please make sure it is something you don't mind sharing with the rest of the world)?


My first job when I left school was as a nursing assistant in a large Victorian hospital for 1500 patients with severe learning disabilities in Caterham, Surrey. It gave me a new view of the world and confirmed my desire to work in the public sector. The rest, as they say, is history.


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