Monday, 5 December 2016

What are you trying to say Ms Hamilton?

 

clip_image002

You erect
as a doorway within a brick wall
a gigantic pair of buttocks
Clutched by a pair of hands.

You suspend in mid air
in front of a brick corner
a clothes hanger
bearing a suit
of brick patterned weave.

You place a pebble filled,
thigh high, high heeled
ladies leather boot
on a pedestal
with lichens and fungi
saprophytically seeping from its seams and stitches
like a decaying tree trunk.

These material juxtapositions
These unnatural pairings
Jar our eyes
Compel us to touch, to sniff
In expectations of flesh giving
of threads loosening
of polish smelling.
But that’s not what happens.

Instead our minds reel
baffled by the bum
confused by the crotch.
Should we put on the suit
and like an asshole walk through
some mushroom powered psychedelic trip
to unravel and experience the installation’s truth?

No.
we just stand
bemused and bewildered by your art
asking “what ARE you trying to say?”

© Sheila Ash, 2016

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/sep/26/turner-prize-2016-review-tate-britain-micheal-dean-anthea-hamilton-helen-marten-josephine-pryde

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Strictly Story

A dialog of voices round a table offers choices
for a poet sitting searching for that all illusive rift.
As Saturday night to Sunday morning shifts along without much warning
what poetry is there forming from sounds which coexist
to set themselves adrift in a form that will persist like those of Dumas?

The TV is on for Strictly so maybe I can quickly get some words down.
But distracted by reactions in the Twitter stream to dances
I succumb to interactions with some faceless clown.
He thinks Ed Balls’s a winner instead of a beginner
She grins at Judge Rinder as he tries to convince her
that the panel isn’t biased by scoring Louise the highest in the cha cha cha.

Ed nudges closer to a zero making him a bigger hero in the public gaze.
They watch bemused like Darcy by low scores from Craig’s harshly
raised paddle while continuing to babble about Danny Mac’s 40s.
Now they miss the best of stories, all the flashing flights of glory
coming from the greatness of Claudia’s strength and straightness.
They even fail to fathom AJ’s disguise of the chasm
between the levels of their hips amidst amazement at the lifts leaving us all a-gaga.

Their acrobatic Argentine tango to sultry sounds from one piano
playing Cry Me a River sending me into a shiver as they beautifully deliver
to Justin Timberlake. I’m waiting for the room to shake. Not for a 36!
I look askanced at it, a mistake perchance is it? Utterly entranced by it,
I would say it’s perfect, no way to correct it, they should have got a 10 for it
Professionals give praise for it, AJ take a bow for it - ta-dah!

© Sheila Ash, 2016
Posted 27th November 2016

Monday, 21 November 2016

Passport

Long days and even longer nights
Rushed by out of sight
Vast swathes of lands I’d find
as names on the school map
Now pass as grains of sand upon the wind
That howled through holes
Saturating lost and sorry souls
Crushed in the back of a lorry
Stuffed like notes in wallets
Nothing could forestall its
Passage in through every crevice
Of this human haulage service
By which I made my way.

Cramped up in trucks
Herded around like geese and ducks
Crammed in with donkeys and hay bales
Slammed in their jails
Down and down we sunk
Tossed around like unwanted junk
Dampened in the holds of boats
Struggled to stay upright, afloat
But I made my way.

Money spent, papers lost
I daren’t count the actual cost
Clothes torn upon my back
I beached up like an unwanted sack
Desirous only of sleep
These islands of Greece
Offered no such peace.
So on as before
Knocking at every border door
Via Macedonia and Serbia
Through Croatia and Austria
Closed out of Hungary
Plodding through the drudgery
Slogging through the snows
The blizzards took my toes
Boots cracked with overwear
Walking on roads to no one knows where.
I continued to make my way.

On today my fourteenth birthday,
This loose tarpaulined canopy’s my house,
The sky is grey but bombless
In this jungle metropolis.
I try to stay dry but constantly cry in dismay.
I stare out across the sea
To where I want to be
With the only living soul I know
In a dream called Glasgow
I go to school, attend class,make friends and play.
I just need the chance
Some additional finance
To ensure a way to pass through this Port of Calais.

© Sheila Ash, 2016
Posted 21st November 2016

Monday, 14 November 2016

Message

All the things I never said
that still remain inside my head,
the feelings left inside my heart,
unexpressed, so never felt
by you as we went along life’s path
lie now upon the winter’s snow to melt.

© Sheila Ash 2016
Posted 14th November 2016

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The room closed for 30 years is open…..

Stepping out, I should rejoice
but sky shouts so much noise
rebounding off surfaces sharp and hollow
not like my dream this tomorrow.

Part of me wants the room I know
another part just wants to go
into the car her arms take me
on route my legs betray me.

Blues, greens,
yellow sirens,
flashing flashing never stopping.
My god! my ears are popping.
My brain’s flooded by colours -
I thought the world was duller.

Inside the car I hug its surface,
Have courage. Remember purpose.
A life never the same again
Remember I want to feel the rain.

© Sheila Ash, 2016
posted 13th November 2016

Fairytale Rap

Once upon a time in a land not so far way, a door that had been shut for 30 years was opened……..

Waves of light upon an ocean
dust specs dancing in Brownian motion
enlivened by the new commotion
when magic words were spoken doors flew open

Cobwebs woven by spiders’ threads
spun over a chair, across a bed
spread like a blanket thick and warm
spun over years by the spiders swarm

A mask of dust covers the Prince’s face
fingers fumble with arachnid lace
in prophesy he puts his trust
in his mouth the taste of dust
disrupted by the lightest touches
his hand reaches out and gently brushes
back the veil of time’s cessation
revealing Beauty’s suspended animation
dreaming sleeping lying unattended
by the witch’s spell suspended.

All it takes is just one kiss
for that spell to drift to mist
she awakens having dreamt of this
her very own Prince and eternal bliss.

Drrrup drrrup drrrup

Stop for a moment to rethink this
she awakens having dreamt of this?
No way do I want your tryst
bonded to you in domestic bliss!
I say no thanks to a life like this.
Me I’m off to a life I prize
Seeing the world through my own two eyes.

© Sheila Ash, 2016
posted 13th November 2016

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Rap lessons (1)

3 imperfect attempts at writing rap from our lessons with Kiran yesterday evening.

Exercise – use the words bottle, silence, power

Over the streets so dark and mean
flies the man in the mask unseen
Flooded are the streets with violence
Drowning in a well of silence
Out along the watch tower
up to the pinnacle of power
standing high the Batman
Surveying the city of Gotham.

Exercise – free topic

Tonight’s the night - gonna make it right -
when America decides on a rollercoaster ride
To grasp the chance to get down and dance
to the tune and the beat and the stomping of feet
in an era of change, with the heat of the range
Turn it up. Pump it up. Vote for Trump!
or to bring it on down at the cold light of dawn
to the great White House amidst all the noise
and elect the first of many a woman called Hilary.

Exercise – write about Dreams

My city of Dreams is not what its seems
Saturday nights hitting the lights
deep in memory the days of yesterday.
Limos outside Cool dudes aside
Abuja and Suya a star from the bar
in the Hausa man‘s hand. Viewing his land
where Oyibos meet the African streets
Chicken or beef Chilli and heat
Takeaway or stay Night and day
The food of the people from minaret to steeple
delicious staple in the place without paypal

© Sheila Ash 8th November 2016

Monday, 7 November 2016

Crumdrum - conundrum

Today’s mystery object at our creative writing class

Crumdrum - conundrum

Brass handled
pan handled
collector of crumbs
into its drums
from the restaurant table
the spills of Fred and Mabel
Rolled up
Stored up
then taken away
to the waste bay
out of sight
done just right
by the table boy or waiter
unseen by the eater
maître d' on point
in a first class Victorian restaurant.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Surveyor

He opened his eyes. He felt quite rested but lay still. With a slight sideways glance he saw she was still asleep. The curls of her long red hair draped like silk across the pillow. The curve of her hips visible even before he lifted the duvet. She didn’t stir. He looked at her longingly, remembering the previous evening. It would be so easy to stay, to rouse her, to have her astride him again. He gently let the corner of the duvet back down, got up, pulled on his boxers and left the bedroom, quietly shutting the door behind him.

After meeting at the club, they’d arrived at her apartment in the early hours wrapped in each other’s arms. Their hands already on each other in the taxi – to the driver, two well-heeled, slightly intoxicated and very probably high, high fliers heading home after a night on the town. He’d kissed the back of her neck as she took her key from her bag, and opened her apartment. As she’d dropped her bag on the hall table and turned to face him, he’d pressed her hard up against the wall, devouring the scent of her neck, his hand exploring the leg of her panties. Her left hand worked him and their breathing increased in unison as their desire for each other grew. Her eyes remained closed as they kissed. He noticed this as he watched her right arm stretch intuitively to punch in the alarm code before she broke off to guide him to the lounge.

Once there, she had brought him wine, good wine, from her kitchen and their crystal glasses stood now on the mantelpiece of the fireplace, one still full, the other empty. Her lipstick colouring its rim had him recalling where else those lips had been. He caught himself dreaming in the mirror and quickly turned his concentration back to the room, his eyes landing on the Hockney on the opposite wall. Very nice. Management consultant, she said.

He slowly walked the room, taking in what he had first seen when she was getting the wine. Moving to the art on the far wall – a collection of 20thC British watercolourists he noted now - he ambled past the top the range Sony HD TV towards the mahogany display cabinet. “Sheraton possibly”, he thought. It had to be a family heirloom, as it certainly didn’t go with her modern décor. A closer look this morning revealed it to be packed full of more crystal and glassware - some stunning Art Deco pieces, his eye resting for a moment on black enamelled dripped liquor set; some 19thC Chinese Peking Red glass bowls; numerous 19th, potentially 18th, century glassware judging by what looked like a series of goblets with folded feet – “No, it couldn’t be a Ravenscroft, could it?”

Back in the corridor lined with a series of political cartoons , he recalled her glorious sense of humour that had made him genuinely laugh so much the previous evening. He checked the other rooms – a second bedroom, a third – no, a home gym. No wonder she was fit. He’d first felt that taught bum on the dance floor and later he’d held it in both hands as he had carried her along this corridor, her long lithe legs wrapping round him before he’d laid her on the bed, turned her over and thrust himself into its firmness.

The next door opened onto an exquisite wet room, the next to a sauna. Thoughts of her wet warmth flooded his mind. He could sense her in every room. He wanted her in every room. He envisioned himself licking her off in that sauna. This woman, he thought, had really gotten to him, was already becoming a distraction.

On the other side of the corridor, a door opened to her home office. Very neat, well organised. A few papers were out on the desk, some business magazines lay on a chair. The far wall housed another painting, this time an oil. She certainly liked her art, exquisite modern with an irreverent edge, just like her. He’d already noted a Peter Doig and a Bridget Riley in the apartment. He deftly slipped his thumb and finger along the base then looked at his finger as if checking for dust.

He headed for the kitchen and put the percolator on. He diced up some fruits and berries into a bowl, topped them with granola and a couple of spoonfuls of the yogurt he’d found in the fridge. He squeezed some oranges added a passionfruit for a touch of panache, and loaded up the tray. Tiptoeing in, he placed it on her bedside table and sitting on the edge of the bed, he stroked her hair and kissed her gently on the cheek. As she roused, the relaxed softness of her face beamed up at him. “You’re up? Come back to bed.” As he bent over to kiss her again she pulled him down. Amidst their embrace, his hand found its way under the duvet and between her legs. Morning glory. He headed down and made her come. He looked up to that smile he was finding so alluring. “I have to go” he said rising. Once standing, her effect on him obvious. Her eyes moved from his face to his penis then back to his face. They seemed to playfully say “Do you really?”

He dressed as she watched. She nodded approvingly as conjuring up a silk tie from his pocket, he tied a perfect Oxford knot without the aid of a mirror. He acknowledge her with a blown kiss, turned and walked out the door, grinning. The unsaid words bellowed after him. At the apartment door he instinctively checked his jacket pocket – the new mould nestled in the pink silicone within a small cigarette style case in his inside pocket of his Armani jacket. Mobile phone in hand he walked out into the summer morning feeling on top of the world. This job would be sure to bring in a good finder’s fee. Work had its up sides occasionally. She would be one of them, for a while, a bonus till he cashed it in.

Posted 6th November 2016

© Sheila Ash, 2016.

Monday, 31 October 2016

All was not as it seemed

Funereal black,
shoes to match
she stands in church.

The bells were rung.
The choir had sung.
His coffin, nicely done.

Total conformity.
The essence of normality.
Blasted apart
by the crying woman in the purple hat.

Posted 31st October 2016

© Sheila Ash, 2016

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Tea story

Years ago for work I had the opportunity to stay at a very posh private conference facility in Belgium, I’ve forgotten its name, but will remember this for ever. Being a non coffee drinker, come after dinner coffee time, I ask for the unoffered a cup of tea, expecting a bog standard tea bag dunked in and left in a cup of tepid water. To my surprise the waiter bought nice cup and saucer, milk, sugar, teapot and a large, quality, wooden box. Inside were an array of tea bags. It took a moment to register as they were all the same colour, that they were a. They were a tea merchants own label and as I started to read the labels I was amazed. The best selection of teas I had ever been presented with anywhere, much less in a restaurant. They were all from Betjaman and Barton, a Paris tea merchant. I picked a Ceylon Kenilworth, thinking I couldn’t go wrong with something fairly standard like an Orange Pekoe. As soon as I opened the wrapping and saw, then smelt, the tea bag I knew I was in for a treat. I tasted it first without milk. It was beautiful.

For non tea drinkers, Orange Pekoe is a mid strength black tea, golden brownish in colour, not dark. Kenilworth is a single estate tea, not a blend. Most teas people buy in supermarkets are blends of two or more different teas. The 700-acre Kenilworth Tea Estate is located in the western hills of Sri Lanka, 100km East of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo at an elevation of 4,000 feet. The estate was originally planted with tea at the turn of the 19th century by an English pioneer who named the estate after Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, England.  This estate holds the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for its orange pekoe grade tea. The tea is a medium sized leaf, quite full bodied, coppery brown in colour, with a clean taste.

For the few days I was at the conference I sampled as many of their teas as I could. I was hooked. I took one of the wrappers back home with me and found them on the web. In those days there were not many internet sites based in the UK which were selling quality teas. B&B’s site was only in French, so I plodded my way through their descriptions of teas, the checkout process which was complicated by the fact that it did not expect delivery addresses to be written British style – consequently when my package did arrive it had gone round the houses a bit and taken a lot longer than it should have. I also like the fact that their site gave away small samples of tea with each order, so I could try others.

That was in the early 2000s. I persevered and worked out more about how their site functioned. I had a break from using them when I was abroad, but last year I returned to them and bought more “nice” teas. Now the internet site has an EN page, and all the descriptions and ordering instructions are in English, and the shopping basket and order tracking systems are like what one expects from online shopping sites nowadays.

Yesterday I took delivery of my latest refill of my much loved Jasmine Chung Hao tea.  I still enjoy their Kenilworth, and another favourite is Grand Keemum. My sample this time is Dellawa, coincidently another Ceylon tea. I had my first cup of it this morning – without milk, clear, medium strength, brownish liquor – delightful. Dellawa Loose TeaDellawa infusion

Sadly no outlet here in the UK, but if you are in Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, US or Malaysia you fair better. Without any inducements, I recommend them even at post BREXIT exchange rates, excellent favours, great quality teas.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

My plea

The clock is already counting down.
The steps of change tread soft upon the ground.
Beware their speed is not the worry,
their slowness signals danger, not their hurry.

The frog put in boiling water
will panic at the thought of slaughter
and jump away, not slump and stay.
Yet put in cold, it’s not so bold
as slowly death takes its final hold.

Complacent, we took for granted that by our long ago chanting
of “we shall overcome” that we overcame.
Naively we still claim
that the glass ceiling‘s been supplanted,
segregation laws recanted,
the right to vote permanently implanted,
in the very fabric of our domain.

Only in 55 did Rosa Parks make her stand
against the demand
she give up her seat to a standing white man.
In 58 a boycott of Bristol busses
put aside those racial cusses
and finally taught us
there is no difference between us.

But today upon the train I see them dare
to challenge Ruza Hadiqa’s right to wear.
No longer a silent mumbled stare, they loudly declare
their demand that she vacate their promised land,
although they were born to the same midwife’s hand.

Down on a summer beach patrol the French police
To astound us all as they impeach the removal of a piece
of cotton cloth.
Where for cometh this caprice*
as it seeks to personify
her in her neighbour’s eye
as the all-conquering Ostrogoth**.

Social media routinely fires wild stories across its wires
seeking to beseech
Some with tongue in cheek
Others with serious outreach
aiming to bequeath the future removal of the 19th.

Out from the dark web the internet trolls
Amass momentum on TV walls
The gathering of satyric*** forces
mustering up their wide resources
ploughing their own political courses
across our realm.

Now out in the limelight, just like a bullfight
up on the stage, like a bear in a cage,
their candidate prances,
while the party spokesman dances,
stalking and plotting, mocking and groping
to get their hands upon the helm.

Let us not forget the sacrifices of suffragettes,
of mixed quartets improvising more than musical advances.
yes life’s a lottery of chances
that have been bought with more than speeches.
So rise up my sons and daughters
and do not fear to look abroad across the waters
don’t be shackled by thoughts of purely financial matters
don’t forget the circumstance of history that still brings the misery
of children dying on Greek beaches.

So seek and strive at every turning to build the quality of learning
to steer our life choices, to lift aloud our voices
to ensure that it comes to pass
as every voters vote is cast
we govern by the compass
of fair for all social justice.

© Sheila Ash 16th October 2016

*caprice - a sudden and unaccountable change of mood or behaviour.
**Ostrogoth - a member of the eastern branch of the Goths, who conquered Italy in the 5th–6th centuries AD
***satyr - one of a class of lustful, drunken woodland gods

Monday, 10 October 2016

Emily Davison

She needed to feel brave.
She buttoned up her boots.
Best feet forward.

She wanted to feel comfortable.
She put on her blue serge coat.
Best hat.

She knew she was determined.
She needed not to stand out.
Breathe steady.

She strolled slowly through the throngs.
Men chatting, shouting, counting, watching.
Eyes forward.

She eased through, approached the rail.
They parted politely.
In position.

Heart pumping, hands gripping her skirt.
Starters orders had rang out.
Duck and run.

As the soft turf sapped her legs,
As the hooves cracked her bones,
As hands and arms surrounded her,
She died
Crying “Votes for Women”

© Sheila Ash, 10th October 2016

 

Note

Emily Davison (11 October 1872 – 8 June 1913) was a suffragette who fought for women's suffrage in Britain in the early 20th century. She was arrested nine times. She protested by means of hunger strikes, and was force-fed 49 times while incarcerated.  In her last, fatal, protest, Davison stepped in front of King George V's horse Anmer at the Epsom Derby on June the 4th, 1913 and suffered injuries that proved fatal four days later.

There is some debate on whether she intended to commit suicide. I have taken poetic license with her story in this poem, but I have always thought that she had seen the futility of her previous protests and intended to make the ultimate statement and the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the cause she clearly felt deeply about. She was one of many who stood up to be counted in the name of social change.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Quill skill

Once upon a time in Ancient Egypt,
Phragmites reeds from the banks of the Nile
Were fashioned into qualams.
The symbol of wisdom and education,
The writer of papyrus scrolls,
The Book of the Dead.

In Europe,
Feathers of goose or swan,
Lost in annual moult,
Were stripped of barbs,
Then cut and cured.
The educated man’s tool.

Much less ostentatious then Hollywood would have us believe,
These pared back implements,
Were the majestic writers of our history.
Giving signature to the Magna Carta,
The Declaration of Arbroath,
And giving notice of Independence across the Atlantic.

Like the caterpillar metamorphosing to chrysalis, then butterfly,
Reed and quill transformed to metal and plastic,
Their natural calamus replaced by bottles of ink for dipping,
Then by branded, disposable, cartridges,
Clean, tidy replacements,
Easily slotted in,
No spills.

So the fountain pen harnessed gravity and capillary action
To forego the mess of clumsy hands.
The Parker, the Sheaffer,
That special gift for high school students, for 21st birthdays.
A sure sign of success, of adulthood,
For women and men.

Finally the ballpoint, the BIC, the biro.
Easier for left handers,
Overwriters, side writers, underwriters,
Stripped of worries over smudging wet ink.
An instant drying success.
Produced en masse for the educated multitude.

Gone are the blotches,
The blue black stains on cuff and skin.
Now the desk tidy stands full,
Free for use by all.
Cheap and cheerful.
Frequently left behind at friends, at school,
Forgotten in bags, in drawers,
Stuffed in pencil cases,
Nicked from banks,
Always available, but never there when you need one, .
Consumables consumed.

Artistry lost.
Calligraphy returns to quill and nib
To craft strokes with subtle changes to depth, and angle in a single movement.
Once more a precious implement,
Fashioned by use
Into an extension of the master craftsman’s brain,
His eye, her hand,
Crocheting a delicate lacework with skilful flourish,
Caressing the paper as gently as a feather floating through air.

 

© Sheila Ash 9th October 2016

Production lines

Mjölk | Milk

Clunk, clink, squish, squash,
Water pours and brushes wash.
Bottle after bottle passes
Held by the neck with metal catches.
Squirted disinfectant dances,
Cleaning out the old and rancid
Sickly grey liquid dropping
Onto floors, continual mopping.

Up the stairs above the noise
Work the girls not the boys
In amidst the rafters shaking
Office workers count the takings.
Count the yellow, Count the pink
By their weight, their value synched.

Down again and on we go,
Mighty arms work to and fro,
Lifting bottles, clean and sterile,
In the air in shaky peril.
Back and forth in unison
Ready to bring the newness in.
Gathered from farms across the county
In flows nature’s white bounty.

Sealed with silver or with gold
A beautiful sight for a child to behold.
The Milk of Life delivered daily,
In the bottles splashing gaily.
Nothing lost, not a dottle*,
Into crates full bottles topple.
Against time the line still races
To make tomorrow’s doorstep places
To make your breakfast porridge full
To deliver free to me in school.

© Sheila Ash, 9th October 2016

* A dottle is the remnant of tobacco left in a pipe after smoking. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dottle

Photo attribution:
The continuous bottling of milk at Gävle Dairy. A reportage picture for the local newspaper Gefle Dagblad from August 9, 1953. Carl Larsson, Gävle, Ref.nr: XLM_CL 009753_4 https://www.flickr.com/photos/lansmuseetgavleborg

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Street photographers

On every 1950s high street you could see them
Spruced up, suited and booted
Sickly smile in place
Chat up lines at the ready
to encourage weary faces to “smile for the birdie”.

Box brownie in one hand
Flash gun in the other
Grabbing unsuspecting passers-by
Day trippers with their ice cream cones,
Factory girls on their lunch break
Shoppers for the New Look
Passing out their business cards
“Just come and see,
No obligation,
Your own photograph”

Most of these now long lost
Cast aside in boxes
Consigned to attics
Covered in cobwebs
Nibbled at by mice
Rotted by damp
Forgotten in house moves

These faded black and whites
Are found generations later
By new occupants
Converting attics for future children
For whom their faces, their streets, their clothing hold no familiarity
in a world where Instagram has replaced Kodachrome

© Sheila Ash 2nd October 2016

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind (El cementerio de los libros olvidados #1)

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón,

Translated by Lucia Graves

Starting as man brings his 10 year old son Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten books one morning in 1945 and ending as Daniel takes his own 10 year old son Julián there in 1966, this cyclical story links the lives of two sets of people living in Barcelona across the ages via the book Daniel finds in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. “The Shadow of the Wind” is written by Julián Carex, whose own life, his love for Penélope, his friendship with her brother Jorge runs in a parallel trejectory to those of Daniel, Beatriz and their Julián, along with loveable rogue Fermin, and Beatriz’ brother and Daniel’s friend, Tomás. The book itself is not the only link,  as one man’s hatred is also following the book’s trail and as Daniel tries to uncover the story behind it and its mysterious author he inevitably clashes with him, Inspector Fumero.

There are so many parts of this multilayered book where the story hits you hard SPOILER eg the revelation of what happens to Penélope is as graphic as it is awful, how jealousy drives Fumero obsessively, feeding his same demented persona that became an assassin in the Civil War and then rose to the ranks of Police Inspector where he continues his bloodthirsty shady tactics, how grief consumes people and in Julián’s case to the point of destruction of self and work. The section which is Nuria Monfort’s letter revealing the details to Daniel is in my opinion the best written section of the book, it flows beautifully and builds up the book’s momentum when it had lulled a little.

Having recently read Zafón’s Mist Trilogy and Marina, it is easy to see how his craft has developed and how his ideas are interplaying – his interplay of light and shade of fire and shadow, as is his typically Spanish concern with their Civil War and its aftermath.

ashramblings verdict 4* Loved it, a real page turner. With the winter approaching, this is one for your fireside reading list.

I just saw that there will be a 4th book in this Cemetery of Forgotten Books Series, coming out this year in Spanish and in 2018 in English. Can’t wait.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Liverpool Lime Street Remembered

Urgency hangs in the air,
replacing the smoke of yesteryear’s trains
with commuter chaos.

Bustling to and fro,
potential passengers;
each in their own bubble,
each with their own place to go.

I stand below the old clock tower.
Its hands counting down the minutes
that for me stand still
as the world spins by.

I wait -
a silent spectator,
a bypassed bystander -
in my quarantine dreaming.

Snared in time suspended,
as luggage is left unattended,
my lone soul stands unbefriended
until
my bubble bursts
as you appear.

© Sheila Ash 24th September 2016

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Gift

In you

A smile breaks out.
Eager hands are lifted up.
Anticipation anchors your eyes
upon the unknown surprise.

In me

All of you is reprised.
The candle glow that stirs within my heart
holds back the flood of tears
echoing memories of me, seen now, in you;
giving me much more than I am giving you this year.

© Sheila Ash 19th September 2016

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Post BREXIT debacle

After  listening to this morning’s Andrew Marr Show #marr @MarrShow  @AndrewMarr9  -

Like fridge magnet scrabble without the fridge
No backbone to corset ideas
the ramblings of the poorly constructed arguments
are like a jumble stall of unsorted miscellany.
The middle ground lies in waste post Brexit
as populist politics struggle to find a new way
to garner effective opposition
without invoking an English Nationalism of the right.

© Sheila Ash 18th September 2016

A writer’s worst nightmare

The pen nib broken.
Words, unabated,
Fly jumbled on the air
Creativity wasted
An author in despair.

© Sheila Ash 18th September 2016

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Into my box I’d put …


Into my box I’d put all the darknesses -
The dread of a young child calling for the light
The resentment gnawing the spurned lovers’ souls
The sink hole of depression
The void left by a child’s death
The shadows hiding the stalkers and trolls.

Into my box I’d put all the darknesses -
The endless cycles of starvation and drought
The chasm of economic disparity
The scourge of malaria
The catastrophe of cholera
The deprivation of spiralling poverty.

Into my box I’d put all the darknesses -
The silhouette of the unacknowledged trudging to Europe
The monstrous acts of
mad dictators, and the callousness of couch potatoes
The scab on the surface of humanity
that trade in arms to kill instead of arms to love.

Into my box I’d put all the darknesses -
Then bind it tight in manacles and chains
and crush the only key
So guaranteeing no possibility
of ever opening up this dead man’s chest
I’d toss it far into the cosmic well of universal unacceptability.

17th September 2016
© Sheila Ash 2016

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

The Meursault Investigation

by Kamel Daoud,

Translated by John Cullen

 Ever read L’Étranger (The Outsider (UK) / The Stranger (US)) by Albert Camus? Then you’ll want to read “The Meursault Investigation” by Kamel Daoud.

Camus’ book is written in two parts, before and after a murder of an unnamed Arab on the beach by its first person narrator, Meursault. He is a French Algerian, who had just attended his own mother’s funeral and who is then tried and sentenced to death for the murder. The book was written in 1942, pre the Algerian War of Independence (1954 – 1962).

In 2013 Kamel Daoud wrote The Meursault Investigation. This is a postcolonialist response to Camus’ “The Stranger “ from the perspective of the brother  of the victim in Camus’ story. Daoud names the Arab, presents him as a real person, Musa, the older brother of his narrator, Harun, and explores the lives of the younger brother and his mother following the murder, the French withdrawal and Algerian Independence. Pairings with Camus’ book abound within Daoud’s book – in Camus the mother was died, in Daoud’s she is “still alive”; the woman Marie in Camus’ book and Meriem in Daoud’s; in both there is a murder etc. In effect the two books are two sides of the same coin, investigating the absurdities of life, and elucidating Algerian history and the failures of Independence.

Now the subject of a fatwa, the author Kamel Daoud continues to work as a journalist in Oran, Algeria believing that addressing the “bug” of extremism in society turns it into a greater scourge and gives it unwarranted credence. There is an interesting Interview with the author available free online. The author’s views on the West’s denial of the role of Saudi Arabia in the rise of so-called Islamic State / ISIS / Daesh are well documented and his writings provide an illuminating insight into the culture clashes now being played out in Europe and around the Med stemming from, he argues, the paradox of sex within the Arab, Moslem world, and the West’s reactive Burkini v Bikini battle. According to Daoud, writing shortly after the Cologne attacks,

“What Cologne showed is how sex is "the greatest misery in the world of Allah.
So is the refugee 'savage'? No. But he is different. And giving him papers and a place in a hostel is not enough. It is not just the physical body that needs asylum. It is also the soul that needs to be persuaded to change.
This Other (the immigrant) comes from a vast, appalling, painful universe - an Arab-Muslim world full of sexual misery, with its sick relationship towards woman, the human body, desire. Merely taking him in is not a cure."

This resulted in academic and journalistic frenzy of attacks on Daoud, accusing him of racism, self-hatred and saying “his arguments play into the hands of the anti-immigrants in Europe who can now use them to nurse their own "illusions" .”, such statements even coming from writers who had previously supported him, who had seen him as a man “who believed that people in Algeria and the wider Muslim world deserved a great deal better than military rule or Islamism, the two-entree menu they had been offered since the end of colonialism” I note with interest that article mentions a campaign in Oran which used the slogan “We are Kamel Daoud” existed way before the “Je suis Charlie” slogan in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In the confusing world of Algerian politics, nevermind the maze of Arab and Moslem politics, I find myself at sea in its myriad of perspectives.

However, back to the book. Written as a conversation between Harun and an unnamed listener, a journalist, overshadowed by the ghost (of Camus/ Meursault?) in the bar, it held me throughout its exploration of the life of Haroun, his relationship with his mother – tender, resentful, angry, admiring –”Mama is still alive” “I’ll invite you to her funeral” is continually says. I’m sure if I thought more about this I could make an analysis of this book in terms of mother = Algeria and Harun’s drunken musings being the mess that Algerian society is post independence, post civil war with its high unemployment, moslemisation, and its still split personality – French  / Arab / Berber.  Reading it, its stream of consciousness style, I found myself recalling reading another likewise styled book many years before, namely “The Thief and the Dogs” by Naguib Mahfouz, another psychological portrait of an anguished man bent on revenge. That book open up a whole new world of reading for me. Harun too is a man who represented a certain aspect of Algerian psyche, he did not fight with the “brothers” for the revolution, he does not believe in God, and mourns the demise of liberated woman like Meriem from Algerian society, whilst remaining forever defined by the acts of both coloniser and colonised, actions beget actions, war begets war, vengeance begets vengeance, hate begets hate, a never ending spiral in which Harun in effect follows in the very footsteps of his brother’s murderer.

ashramblings verdict 5* I love what the author has done with this story, the style he used to portray it, it’s intimate relationship with its mirror image, Camus’ The Stranger, and its postcolonial currency. One of the most gripping book’s I have read this year.

Notable Reviews

By Laila Lamai in The New York Times
By Robin Yassin-Kassab in The Guardian
By Claire Messud In New York Review of Books

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The drunken sailor’s revelry

For this week’s Creative Writing class exercise, our Tutor brought in a tallship in a bottle to use as a springboard for our writing. It was a 3-mast sailing ship in a Smirnoff bottle. I imagined an old salty dog/ sailor sitting with is drink remembering his old days on a whaling ship.

Old Man Seated, with Reading Glasses and Pipe*Smirnoff_Red_Label_8213[1]imageimage

The drunken sailor’s revelry

Smirnoff on ice, clear and cold,
Yet strangely warm,
His old blood pounds and pumps up
images of glacial artic waters
Whalers riding out
Fast and furious, flapping sails bellow in the wind.

“All hands” the cry goes up.
The deck, a sudden rush of bodies pulling,
lanyards lashing, sea spray splashing,
curses lost to nature’s noises.
The hunt is on
boats bobble to the rowers’ rhythm
rocking the waves
to Shanty chanting voices.

All stilled now , as woosh,
the harpoon flies across the bow.
its target hauled home upon the flows
for chopping, slopping, slashing
until the silent, sunset sea encircles the remains of man and beast.

The ice cube’s melted in the glass.

© Sheila Ash 14th September 2016

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History

by

Donna Tartt

It is a “why dunnit” for the first half of the book at least. I found it a bit overlong, just as I did her book The Goldfinch, while at the same time wandering what exactly could have been taken out.

This story not only revolves around a group of Classics Students, notably Greek studies, but aspects of Greek culture, aesthetics and myth are critical to the plot. Tartt clearly researches her background very well and in great depth. But at the same time I always wander whether the necessity of this context makes the story less accessible to readers, yet at the same time I seem to find that she makes it easier for the reader without this background (how many of us were taught Greek in school!) to continue with the book. Similar, to the feelings I had when reading The Goldfinch, so perhaps this is typical for reading her books :) I'll try [book:The Little Friend|775346] one day and figure it out.

I assume that Greek scholars would agree with her description of Greek rings true. She has her narrator describe Greek as "that language innocent of all quirks and cranks; a language obsessed with action, and with the joy of seeing action multiple from action, action marching relentlessly ahead and yet with more actions filing in from either side  to fall into neat step at the rear, in a long straight rank of cause and effect towards what will be inevitable, the only possible end. "

This paragraph stopped me in my tracks. For those of you who know the storyline it is on pg 224 in the paperback edition, and comes just after the revelation to the narrator of Bunny's extortion of Henry, Francis et al following on from Bunny's uncovering of the incident in the woods. Being a “why dunnit”, rather than a “who dunnit*, we know what happened and here is the author making sure we are on the correct track in her unravelling of the process of getting to that conclusion of events expounded in the prologue, to that "inevitable,....only possible end" Her description of Greek, the glue which binds the characters together initially, and how at the same time this describes the train of events which subsequently binds them together - Brilliant. Of itself, this half paragraph enforces in my mind the talent that is Donna Tartt.

ashramblings review 4* No wonder she writes so few novels! Thus we can savour each one.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Gothic dreamland drama - Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Marina

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Lucia Graves (Translator)

In his intro to this book Zafón says it is perhaps his favourite work, I can see why. It is dark and chilling, yet this is beautifully counterbalanced with the growing tender affection of teenage love . The straightforward and accessible prose hooks you into the story of 15 year old Oscar Drai and Marina Blau as they unravel the mystery of the woman in black discovered laying a single red rose on a Barcelona grave, unmarked except for the engraving of a black butterfly. Full of original simile eg “A strange sound throbbed in the darkness. A metallic murmur, like the sound of a venetian blind quivering” , bloodcurdling imagery, the dolls, and wicked juxtaposed last lines of chapters and section, enforcing the turn of the page.

ashramblings verdict 5* For me Zafón is a modern master of suspense.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Midnight Palace (Niebla #2)

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Lucia Graves (Translator)

This is the second in Zafón’s Niebla series. Each book stands as a story on its own but the three are linked by the theme of the dark side of a soul tormented.

Set again in the the early part of the 20th century, this time in Calcutta, Zafón masterly creates another highly visual series of fiery transformations for the tormented soul of this story, Jahwal. Oh for someone to make these books into a movie, they are ripe for modern cgi techniques to transform them for a wider audience on screen.

Ben, Siraj, Roshan, Seth, Michael, Ian and Isobel are the Chowbar Society of friends who meet each night in a dilapidated building they affectionately call the Midnight Palace. All residents of an orphanage who on turning 16 will be turned out onto the streets to find their own way in life, dealing with whatever the world throws at them. Their last night together holds revelations, tests their commitment to each other and those of Arayami Bose (such a wonderful grandmother figure) and her granddaughter Sheere through the auspices of the bedevilled Jahwal.

Zafón crafts all his characters well, each of the members of the society are well rounded, well formed individuals, especially when one considers that this series was his first books even though they were translated after the success of the English translation of his later ‘The Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ series. Yes, reviewers and perfectionist have found some inconsistencies in the plot but in my opinion these are minor and don’t detract from the overall effect and impact – that marvellous opening scenes as Lieutenant Peake flees with the new born twins, the wonderful old lady that is Aryami, the gruesome ghostly apparition of the train, and the fiery bloodbath that unravels in the railway station.

ashramblings 5* I just love this series of books and can’t recommend them enough

Thursday, 11 August 2016

September lights / The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

September Lights / The Watcher in the Shadows (Niebla #3)

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
I am not sure why the renamed this book written in 1995 but only finally being translated into English in 2013!
It is a fantastic thriller for young adults, or as its author says for those young at heart who like a good tale of intrigue and adventure in the vein of Dumas, Verne and Stevenson. The third in his trilogy of books for young adults (The Prince of Mist (Niebla, #1) , The Midnight Palace (Niebla, #2),
The Watcher In The Shadows (Mist, #3) ), in my opinion, this is the best of the three. They can be read separately and out of sequence.  
Bookendend by a letter from Ismael to Irene, and a letter from Irene to Ismael, the story is set 10 years before the letters in 1937 when they meet on the Normandy coast where the widow Simone Sauvelle has brought her two children Irene and younger brother Dorian, to take up a post of housekeep to the mysterious recluse, the toymaker Lazarus Jann. The magic of that youthful summer is captured as the two youngsters explore the world around them, discovering each other and uncovering the mystery of Alma Matisse in a mysterious diary. Their innocence is shattered first by the death of Ismael’s sister and then by strange happening at Jann’s house Cravenmoore, the surrounding woods and Seaview, the Sauvelle home in its grounds. Zafón builds the plot and tension very well to its ominous, atmospheric and highly visual climax where all the story elements come together to explain the dreadful deeds, the source of the mysterious shadow and how it links the story told in the diary to their own.
It is ripe for making into a movie with the toys and the automatons which inhabit the toymakers world, the beautiful sail boat trips across the bay, and of course the evil shadow’s wanderings and destruction. As far as I know none of Zafón’s books have yet been filmed. Such as shame. For anyone who has read his The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) , The Angel’s Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #2) or The Prisoner of Heaven (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #3) but has missed out on his others, I highly recommend this one. All translated to English by Lucia Graves.
ashramblings verdict 5* I can’t but give this book 5 stars as it is a gripping tale, beautifully written and well told.




Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Desert Rose

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Tonight the desert comes to Norwich
And I will dance the night away
Listening to the music
Remembering the starlight sky
Under which we slept.

Tonight the music will fill my heart
And I will sing your songs
To guitar strums
And pounding drums
And memories remet.

Across the world they travel singing
Songs of suffering and death
Of family and a nation lost
Of love and self respect.

Their message travels far and wideDesert-rose-big
From homelands turned to dust
Their voice a woeful desert blues
Of loyalty and trust.

For me they sing a memory
Cloistered deep within my heart
Of love across the desert
The sorrow of being apart.

Some say the desert’s empty
But they don’t have eyes to see
The wonders of its wildness
And the rose you gave to me.

© Sheila Ash 18th June 2016

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Ode to the Halesworth 5

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Standing proud the five triskelions
Raised by some night rapscallion
Tower above the fields and trees
Preparing to tumble with the breeze
In beautiful rotational symmetry
With grey industrial efficiency.

Motionless till the wind obliges
The gathering of nature’s prizes
Loved and loathed in equal measure
Perhaps a future Nation’s Treasure?
These acrobats in lycra
Bare, metallic, three headed hydras

Successors to Spender’s pylons 1
These new electrical producer icons
Move gentle through the air
With an abundant graceful flair
That belies the power they truly wield
To generate increasing yields
To satisfy our greedy demands
For power to power our idle hands
That every day require the force
To flip our screens and brown our toast.

© 10th July 2016 Sheila Ash

1 see http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-pylons/

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Betrayal

Carrying on our theme at our Creative Writing Group of looking at emotions, this weeks we tackled betrayal. Here’s my piece.

The wilderness of concrete blocks
Overgrown with grass and moss
Interspersed with remnant towers
Industrialised relics rusting down.

The corners, bare of buildings, stand
Desolate, deprived and sad
The only occupants of late
The hookers, dealers and the mad.

Lost generations, generating hate
Lives lost in an external wait
For betterment that never comes
For promises broken one by one.

Disappointment and dismay ingrained
Despondency ascends and reigns
Demoralised by poverty
Their only hope the lottery –

That dream of a chance to replace
This bleak and dreary wasted place
Of grey skinned gloom and leaden hearts
Once happy families torn apart

Let down by unions, banks and bosses
Suffering long and hard the losses
Of jobs, self-respect and pride
They grasp the last hope plebiscite.

Attentive to their inner voices
They put a cross aside their choices
And giving up their final prayers
Voted out those dammed betrayers.

© Sheila Ash 6th July 2016

See

Why we voted leave: voices from northern England from Guerrera Films on Vimeo.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A Poem about Fear

For one step the world stops,
time is lost to any clock.
For one step the only sound
her pounding heart beating down.
For one step adrenaline rushes,
around her veins her blood gushes.
For one step there’s unseen rampage
as lungs press hard against her ribcage.
For one step her grip is locked,
muscles rigid, hard in shock.
For just one step all courage mustered,
remaining calm, not getting flustered.
For one step she does not hear
the cheers of friends standing near
that sends her off along the wire
as camera lenses flash and fire.
Just one step to conquer things we dread
that only live inside our head.

© Sheila Ash 2nd July 2016

Friday, 1 July 2016

Poems from 1998

I wrote these poems in 1998 during a holiday in Ireland with a friend who challenged me to write a four line poem, the first of the following was the result. The second I wrote after watching her write whilst on Inisheer, Aran Islands, and the third is for NB.

The Famines and the Troubles took her promised men from every generation past
Now like an annual Brig-a-Doon each May her bottom drawers lay strewn on every bough
Her greyed fingers scour the green in search of her own match never made in the Ireland
- A lady left alone by time

_________________________________________________

What secrets lie on pages hidden
Whose paper folds like memories
Storing, indexing, archiving and retrieving
better than any neural net
for jogging visual cortices?

How do they enhance, solicit and inspire
from visions held in cranial vaults
your pictures, poems and stories?

_________________________________________________

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If I could see the stars you see
then that would mean you were here with me
or I was there with you.

When my sun is up, yours is down
this old world keeps turning round
to make my day your night.

We never see the same sunset
or feel the same breeze round our necks
or blowing up autumn leaves.

Maybe someday as time stands still
the distance between will become nil
and we shall see the same sunset
and feel that same breeze around our necks
as we kick up autumn leaves.

© Sheila Ash 1998, 2016

Iceland v England

Facing defeat the players froze.
Heads dropped,
Eyeing their own feet’s futility
Lacking in agility
Stumbling immobility.

They cower before the opposition lines
Love’s labour lost
Floored by the feats of others
Sapped by sudden equalisers
From that band of northern brothers.

Failed faces turned towards the turf
With ostrich like unbelieving
Leaden legs to jelly jaded
Their lack of skills paraded
Their lead relinquished, twice invaded.

In desolation they lie
Exhausted and dissipated
Ceding all thoughts of glory
Remaining ever stationary
Stuck in a shameful purgatory.

They slink off-field,
Off-camera,
Off home,
Without pride.

© Sheila Ash, 30th June 2016

Monday, 27 June 2016

An Elephant never forgets

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An elephant never forgets
as neither will I.
The circle of cows around the unmoving new born.
The gentle prodding of trunks.
The Matriarch in charge
places guards to warn the herd
of approaching hunters.
Me.
Crouched down,
watching, transfixed.
As slowly through breath comes life
A stirring from the babe
A tonal change in sound from mother and her sisters
Time of the essence
The calf wobbles on its legs
tries to rise, fails, tries again.
Success!
Its first steps,
safe behind the herd’s protective wall.
The call goes up.
The whole group slowly moves off as one protective collective.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Where once love lay

I do not want the morning sun to rise
To bring another day of bright blue skies
I do not want to face the ache of loss
The pain of past memories
Gnawing hungrily at my heart.

My face, against the pillow, lies
Smothered by the scent of absence
Drowning in the tears of loss
Sinking in a sea of sorrow
Suffocated by the silence
Of the void left by your voice.

Let me stay here in the dark
Where love lay so beautifully.
Reminiscing meadow walks
Replaying the touch of skin
Nestling in the curve of your caresses
Before it fades and vanishes.

Do not let the daisies grow in our special place
Where others walk now, in our steps,
In summer dresses,
faces smiling,
bodies touching
under a prematurely starless sky

I do not want the morning clock to chime
The radio to blare its love songs
Just let me lie
Shrouded in bedroom chaos
Maddened by misery
Anger raging unabated.

Do not lift the blanket
That covers me in the fog of forgetting
And keeps the world at bay
Do not let me hear the cries of our children at the bedroom door

© Sheila Ash, 24th June 2016

Monday, 20 June 2016

Trapped

At our Creative Writing Group this morning we were looking at emotions and how to write them. Today’s one was Joy.

Out of work clothes, hardly recognisable
he walks across the square, two kids in tow.
One in a chair, pushed in front
a balloon flying Pooh-like from the back.

“For a moment, please, I need to go pee”
he rushes off, leaving me with unrequested responsibility.
“Heads up Jamie” seems to be the key
the balloon the ploy to unlock lost eyes
into a moment of joy.

Goodbyes are said
I stroke his cheek
his eyes release a smile
that leaves me weak.

© Sheila Ash, 20th June 2016

Friday, 10 June 2016

Untitled rendering

From out of the blue it came
washed up
left behind
a residue deposited on my shore.

Does curiosity reign supreme
prompting me to open it
enquire
probe
this unsolicited gift
for contents which may change my life?

Does compassion compel
its lifting up
its cleaning
its repairing
its restoration to health and a fruitful life?

Do I return it to whence it came
unwanted
unloved
its fate the decision of others
the uncared for debris of a life unfulfilled?

© Sheila Ash, 6th June 2016

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Fenn Halfin and the FearZero by Francesca Armour-Chelu

Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero (Fenn Halflin, #1)

by
Francesca Armour-Chelu
The author is one of our local librarians and I went last week to her book launch party in our local Library and of course bought a copy to support her endeavours. Quite often after a few pages I find such books are not for me and give up. Not so with this one. I was hooked early on by the story Fenn the foundling babe found by the ship wrecking Halflin whom he grows up knowing as his grandfather. Marked out as a Seaborn due to his cut apart webbed feet, Fenn  has to remain hidden from the Terra Firma led by Chilstone who are seeking to stamp out Seaborn resistance to their rule following the flooding of most of the world because of climatic change.
This review contains SPOILERS - Inevitably there will be comparisons to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, to the Kevin Costner film Waterworld and other post apocalyptic tales, but in my opinion Fenn Halflin and the FearZero holds its own. The reader sympathises with the boy as he sneaks out from his confinement to spy on his grandfather at work, empathises with him as he is sent away aboard a ship to escape the coming wrath of Chilstone,  fears for his wellbeing when set adrift in The Shanties to fend for himself. There Fenn ends up in a Dickensian nightmare reminiscent of Oliver Twist when he falls into the hands of Fagin-like Nile but the reader cheers on his camaraderie and concern for others as he shares his takings from selling rat meat with his companions to steer them clear of Nile’s wrath and maintain their rations of food. In this unlikely place he finds friendship amongst the other children working for Nile, but no sooner has he done so than Chilstone’s men are upon them again. As Fenn saves the day our story is again disrupted by the uncovering of Nile’s real reason for keeping the children working for him and where others have disappeared to. In a hilarious, yet heart rending, rat infested waterside scene the friends finally escape to unknown freedom. They go of in search of Fenn’s grandfather and a place of safety, but Fenn is now much more aware of the world, its politics, and his place in it and recalling his grandfather’s analysis of an animal’s options as being to kill, be killed, to hide or to run, he is not going back to hide but is going back to fight. His parting of the ways from his friends as they set of to find their safe haven, leaves him alone once more, but we hope not for long as the beacon of resistance is lit and Fenn and us await the world’s response to it in Volume 2 Fenn Halflin and the Rising of the Seaborn.
ashramblings verdict 4* Page turner! Excellent first novel. Really looking forward to Vol2.



Saturday, 19 March 2016

Ballad of Pittencrieff Park

Will it still be as in my childhood memories?…..

Behind the wrought iron gates
lush lawns, open spaces, playful parks
of gala days
tartan rugs laid down
and sandwiches shared.

Peacocks strutting
spreading tails wide and high
their blue green feathers
banned from houses
for fear of bad luck and death.

Hidden nooks and crannies
amidst the granite stones
Queen Margaret’s Bower
dank, dark, dismal remembrances
of love and religion

Ruins laid bare
rebuilt like Lego
to create a vision of past Abbeys
in front of the new

Only later did I know the story
the activist’s son, Carnegie as in the Halls,
who made good on the backs of workers
bought it for his mother
and gifted it for all, for all time,
to the people free from the landowner’s ban.

© Sheila Ash 19th March 2016

The Shape of Life’s Signatures

It was the letter A that caused the problem
Large or small case variant as a first letter?
Connecting, or not, my new surname to my old first?
It took me months to decide how to write it
now as familiar as the prior one
it flows naturally from my pen.
Years later, deciding not to make a further change,
I kept the name, the signature, and discarded the life
Comfortable in my choice of uppercase A.
Still haunted by another life,
prematurely discarded without consent
before I even had time to write its name
to shape its signature.
The final Y of that unused first name
would it have have the straight lines of neoplasticism
or curvaceously baroque curls?

© Sheila Ash 19th March 2016

No touch

No hands to hold me
No arms to embrace me
my body alone like never before
waits and waits for touch.

No tickles to make me laugh
and squirm up into a ball of glorious childish giggles.
No feathers float in my bedroom
now pillows are only used as headrests.
No one to share dessert with
Only memories to share with myself

© Sheila Ash 19th March 2016

Pleasingly affective

Encapsulated in pink and orange
the plastic dolly mixture
sits on my tongue
going nowhere fast.
The taste of toys, of rainmacs
fills my fungiform papillae
dry without saliva
awaiting helpful water.
I gulp and gulp again
to ease its passage
but sticking fast
it releases the gag reflex
like a blocked sink
another vacuum punches delivery down my throat
to settle in the quagmire of stomach acid.
Coatings collapse, digested, dissolved,
time controlled release
distributes its hidden particles
into my bloodstream
pleasingly affective over time.

© Sheila Ash 19th March 2016

If I wasn’t awake I’d miss…..

Pencils scratching paper
ruffles of armed sleeves
softy shuffling sighs
Aires of composed concentration
broken by unseen beads of sweat dripping
as tense foreheads line up
Coffees interrupt.

Fumbling fingers
play with uncooperative pens
find mouths and jersey necks to suckle absentmindedly
hands supporting heads dropping
forearms guarding pages
onto which ink floods
in a blue black alphabet soup
jumbled like the fridge door magnets
slowly shaping into stanzas.

© Sheila Ash 19th March 2016

A friend

I have lost more lovers than I care to remember

but only once did I find a friend.

 

© Sheila Ash 19th March 2016

Loss of perspective

I lost my sense of perspective

- under the influence of too many martinis

- in a field of Henry Moore’s

- listening to Donald Trump

 

© Sheila Ash 19th March 2016

My mother’s hand

I lost my mother’s hand the day I was born
but another reached out for mine and held me dear.
I lost her hand in Woolworths
amongst the monstrous mahogany counters
of broken biscuits and loose buttons.
When I lost my footing on the garden wall
her lost hand warmed the bump I still have on the head.
I lost my mother’s hand as a teenager in spite….
In spite of which it was always there.
There until the final last loss with death
and its rediscovery in a box of old photographs.

© Sheila Ash 19 March 2016

Friday, 18 March 2016

Jungle juju

Jack led the way, slashing furiously with his machete at the dense undergrowth. The others trailing one by one behind him. His shirt stuck to his body with the effort. The cut branches discarded by his other hand lay trampled underfoot by his weary followers, each of whom were now suffering varying degrees of exhaustion in the humid tropical heat. “We’ve got to stop and rest” cried Stephan. “No, not here, we have to reach higher ground to see exactly where we are” replied Jack. “Lost is what we are” mumbled Norman. All round monkeys screeched. Their screaming was endless. Their makeshift fly swats had been discarded, useless, consuming too much effort under the continual onslaught of biting flies.

After what seemed like hours, Jack shouted out to the others. “I think there’s a clearing ahead” With a few aching arches of his arm he thrashed through into it. As they all stumbled in, they fell to their knees, gasping for breath, mopping their brows. Only then did they notice Jack was still standing, his machete hanging limp in his right arm, staring in silence straight ahead. The clearing was undoubtedly man made, but instead of any hoped for native huts or view out the forest, in the dead centre of an almost perfectly circular clearing about 20ft in diameter, there stood what appeared to be a great wooden hand stretching out of the forest floor. Its cut off branches resembled stubbly fingers on which various artefacts rested – plumage presumably from some local bird, a piece of cotton material covered in writing or hieroglyphics, a set of large rusty old keys and 4 human skulls.

© Sheila Ash 21st February 2016

The Guardian

The visual trigger for our Creative Writing group a couple of weeks back was an old factory clocking in machine. We were asked to use it as a trigger for a short story.

 

 

 

 

 

The Guardian

In his left hand the man held a clipboard with the latest list. The walking stick, in his right hand, steadied him. His frame, slightly bent with age, walked along the corridor. His once grand robe, faded and greyed hung loose around him. Looking too large for its owner, it dragged along the corridor floor gathering dust. The old man was thinking about his need to find an apprentice. It was becoming urgent. The number of entries under his Guardianship was increasing. The lists were getting longer. It was definitely too much for him to do alone. Errors might begin slip in and that could not, would not, be tolerated. There would be no putting it off any longer. He’d have to find an apprentice and train him up. However, a job in the Bilbliotecus was not a job for everyone – It demanded a high level of responsibility, requiring total dedication to long hours of monotonous work necessitating total accuracy and attention to detail. He sighed, stopped and studied the list. It was another long one. As he scratched at his beard, his eyes settled on the first entry, James McNaughton, before making his way through the Catalogue Hall to the Stack for Ms.

Once there, his first task was to find the corresponding key card. He flicked through the catalogue, Mc, McN, McNa….McNaughton….McNaughton, James. He crossed checked the man’s date of birth to ensure he had the correct one. 28th November 1935. “Ah a long lifetime” he thought. He took James McNaughton’s key card and placed it on the large key ring he carried attached to his belt and ticked him off his list. Next on the list was Sue Petersen, Date of Birth 1st February 2014. The first of the children. These always made him sad. The long walk from M to P gave him time to ponder this. Too much time. Her key found, it was added to the ring and ticked off the list.

So his work progressed until one hundred keys were so acquired and each one ticked off his list in due order. His key ring was now full and quite heavy. He left the Stack and headed over to the Hall of the Great Timekeeper, the first of many such trips he would make during this work cycle. At the Hall’s doorway, he paused, put his walking stick over the arm holding the clipboard, placed his right hand against the gigantic door and waited. A moment later a slight tingle flooded through his right arm and not long after that the door swung open. The Hall’s lights activated automatically. Even now after all these years, this still shocked his eyes, used as they were to the dark Stacks. Allowing them to adjust before proceeding, he heard the Great Timekeeper welcomed him. “Guardian Cronus, welcome. Please approach”. He walked across the room, slowly, under the weight of the full ring and sat down in front of the great machine. Taking his key ring off his belt and laying it on the desktop, he began the next stage of his work.

The same sequence as used in their acquisition was followed for their processing. He removed James McNaughton’s key card from the ring and placed it into the main slot of the Great Timekeeper. The machine blue hue intensified, it muttered some mechanical clicks and motioned its workings into action. McNaughton’s key card disappeared from view to be returned a few moments later marked with a seal, dated and time stamped. Meanwhile, the old man had taken a second key ring from his belt and had laid it down on the opposite side of his work area. He transferred the sealed key card onto this second ring, taking great care not to break the seal. Sue Petersen’s key was next, and with what might have been thought to be water in his eyes, put her key in the slot. Not for a moment did he consider not doing it. Once, early on in his career in the Bilbliotecus, he’d done exactly that with terrible consequences, both for him, but more worryingly for the soul in question. He’d never done it again. The pain, the noise, the darkness. It had all been too much. He knew he never wanted to repeat that experience, never.

So he continued his work, till all 100 keys were processed and transferred into the second key ring. He loaded the two key rings back onto his belt, stiffly raised himself from his work console, and began to walk back the way he’d come towards the doorway. “Goodbye Guardian Cronus” said the Great Timekeeper softly as the old man saw the heavy doors open for him to leave. He crossed the corridor and entered a second great Catalogue Hall and systematically filed the sealed keys therein.

All his re-filing finished, he gathered up his two key rings, now empty and lighter, and attached them back to his belt. He signed off his list as complete, removed it from his clipboard and placed it in the Work Done tray.

As he turned and left the second great Catalogue Hall, he felt his burden of responsibility lightened for his return journey, enabling him to turn his thoughts back to his search for his apprentice. The door swung closed, once more sealing behind him the Book of the Dead as he set forth back along the corridors in the direction of the Catalogue of the Living to pick up his second list of his work cycle.

Words 923

© Sheila Ash 18th March 2016

Writer’s block

This week’s visual trigger for our Creative Writing Group was an old wooden writing case - a lockable box, key lost, meant to store paper, pens and ink, complete with blotter and hard writing surface It was scribbled all over in childish doodles, grown up jottings and maths calculations from many years of use. It had been found in a junk shop filled with small remnants of china, tops to ginger jars, handles to tiny caskets and pots, other brass locks etc

Mechanical movements
seized with age
forget to grind and groan.
No key to unlock fortune or fate
parts lie discarded
for generations to come
to quizzically ask
“who wrote these words?”
“what childish hand drew here
before the elder’s calculations?”
The blotter’s tales
kept encased
till we lift the lid
releasing musty airs
and histories fly forth
to pens anew

© Sheila Ash 14th March 2016

The Door

Our Writing Group challenge was to envisage a door, real or imaginary, and to describe what we see through it. I wrote of memories of my mother making jams in the kitchen.

The door ajar stands still yet strange
no name, no number, no sign remains.
The handle creeks, the hinges groan
the wind surrounds a soft sweet moan
the light escapes, the heat abounds
the clamour, clanking, busy sounds
the clinking glass, the dripping bag
the buzz of bees gone slightly mad
jell set stiff, sweet berry flavoured
Jam of heaven forever savoured

© Sheila Ash 29th February 2016

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Legends to engender women’s rights

The Palm Tree Bandit

by

Nnedi Okorafor

Available online at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2000/20001211/palm_tree_bandit.shtml and in her short story collection Kabu Kabu

Continuing my reading of Okorafor’s short stories, I found this one flows much better, even thought it is a much earlier story written in 2000.

As a mother plaits her young daughter’s hair, she tells the folklore tale of her grandmother, Yaya, after whom her daughter is named. In days when woman were not permitted to climb the date palm tree, Yaya crept out from her marital bed in the middle of the night to climb up and carving a moon, the traditional sign of the female, into the tree. After doing this a few times and engendering the wrath of the menfolk and the quiet smiles of the women, as well as getting herself inebriated on the palm wine, Yaya finally gave up her nightly wanders and remained in her marital bed but the activities of the Palm Tree Bandit continued, spreading to other villages, becoming the stuff of legends.

ashramblings verdict 4* a well constructed story about women’s fight for their rights.

Mixing juju and technology with mixed results

Hello Moto

by

Nnedi Okorafor

Available online at http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/11/hello-moto

Having read two of Okorafor's books now I thought I'd try some of her short stories, this is the first one I found online. It was written in 2011 a few years before her other works I have read the novella Binti in 2015 and her novel Lagoon in 2014. She excites me as an author because of her Naija Scifi/fantasy bent.

There is an interesting premis to the story but I'm not sure it completely comes off. Rain has made herself and two girlfriends, Coco and Philo, wigs blending technology and juju, a mixture which, of course, doesn’t quite have the effects Rain had intended, instead turning the wearers into vampires. I can relate to the picture of these women that Okorafor creates – fashion conscious, preoccupied with hair where hair and identity are intimately linked, pampered and privileged living in a society which is many people are not. Whether this would come across well enough to a reader without any experience of Nigeria I am unsure.

ashramblings verdict 3* I’m still encouraged to read more of her works

Monday, 22 February 2016

African culture meets scifi – a fusion of promise

Binti

by

Nnedi Okorafor

My second book by this American – Nigerian author having previously read Lagoon.

I loved the way she takes two ostensibly diverse topics namely African culture and SciFi , and creates a fusion genre. Why shouldn’t a Himba woman become a student at the most prestigious university in this futuristic universe? Would the same prejudices follow her from Earth into the far reaches? Be echoed in the attitude of other beings?

Binti is the first Himba to attend Oomza Uni. Her family think it will change her. Other humans regard her (otjize) sweet smelling orange clay covered skin with disgust. They make her leave her bangles when boarding the space shuttle. From a family of harmonisers she uses her skill with mathematics and her particular cultural heritage to first survive a Meduse attack which wipes out the rest of the shuttle, then to mediate peace and create understanding where there had been none. Binti’s apparent differences in the end save her, humanity and their adversary, the Meduse.

ashramblings verdict 4* I hovered between 3 and 4 stars, finally settling on 4 because I am so intrigues by the premis for this short novella and by the promise it holds of hearing more from this exciting voice.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy

The Sunset Limited

by

Cormac McCarthy

Astounding. I listened to the excellent Audible version with Ezra Knight reading Black and Austin Pendleton reading White. It is like reading a stage play and made me go get the faithful to the book movie version which has Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones teaming up with Jones directing with which it compares very favourably. What struck me about the writing was the way McCarthy's dialog beautifully creates a realistic intimate atmosphere between the two men who discuss the meaning of life after Black has stopped White from suicide on the station platform that morning. Their two perspectives are the result of differences in their race, their class, their educational background, their belief and non belief, their life experience as ex-con v professor, their attitude of eternal hope v despair and cynicism. Can Black save White? Can Black understand White's view? Can Black convince White? They hear each other out, but Black cannot stop White heading out to his date with death leaving Black still believing, till intending to be there for White on the station platform again tomorrow but asking his God "why didn't you give me the words?"  It leaves the reader wondering if they are two sides of the one persona, perhaps even America itself.

Footnote: I researched the train name and found that The Sunset Limited was a transcontinental train that crossed the American south from Atlantic to Pacific.

ashramblings verdict 4* astounding dialog, powerful performances. Highly recommended reading