Tuesday 29 September 2015

Wood Words – for Rachel’s Wood

Majestic guardians stand tall.
Keepers of our past,
protectors of our future.

Enclosure in decay.
Crumbling atop the earth
where deep below unseen fingers work
breaking down
releasing regeneration, renewing fertility.

Continued and coppiced.
Rustlings release restraint
an upward melody of movement skyward.

© Sheila Ash, 2015

Saturday 26 September 2015

Hommage à Bergman

This weeks homework for our Creative Writing Group was to write 300 words beginning “Yesterday Ingrid came back into my life”. Here is what I wrote.



Ingrid came back into my life yesterday
as she frequently does.
Entering stage right
hers is the intermezzo that holds it all together.
I’m spellbound …..
the famous lines, that look,
belying innocence,
oozing sexuality.
A face that always looked good in hats.

She’d be 100 now and still gets me every time
“Play it for me” misquoted yes,
but yes, oh yes I’d play it for her, for her ….
tender curls rolling down her flawless cheeks,
caressing her angular face,
outlining her cupid lips.
No size zero
but the perfect frame for 40s fashions.

Decked out in virginal white more often than not
Purity embodied as in her Joan of Arc.
The onscreen porcelain doll illusion
broken well and true
for Rossellini’s love .
To leave her man, her child
“an influence for evil” said senators
but still we watch, as they do now I’m sure
bedazzled, enthralled,
hooked line and ….
sink into her deep brown eyes
her eyebrows, full, unplucked -
rampant by today’s trends -
they made her Meir more authentic.

I imagine it’s me
in Humphrey Bogart’s arms,
with Gregory Peck, with Yul Brunner.
Torn between Rick and Lazlo;
saved by Robert Jordan.
personas dramaticus
her life, my life, separated by the flimsiest of veils
Yes Ingrid came back into my life yesterday
as she frequently does.

Words 234

© Sheila Ash 26th September 2015

Monday 21 September 2015

An Inspector’s eye view

This weeks Creative Writing Group exercise was one of tutor’s mystery bags. Picked, contents unseen, these are our starting points. Mine were a half burned candle in a candlestick, a piece of rope, a large peg with various letters written on one side, but not a proper word, a Dictaphone type mini-cassette recorder. We have one minute to decide whether to keep or exchange the bags. My initial thought was “Shit, this is the murder mystery writer’s pouch.” I love reading them  but can’t and don’t want to write them. This is what I ended up with in our 20 minutes. I think of it as what the inspector sees when he first goes into the room where the dead body sits in the chair by the fire.

Molten wax
drip, drip dripping
tape deck
whir, whirl whirring
sound captured
stir, stir stirring
in the chair
sleep, sleep sleeping.

Letters jumbled
Words criss-crossing
puzzles unravelled
pieces missing
caught memories fleeting
on the wash line of life.

Winds of change howling
ties that bind straining
strenuously holding
illusion of life evaporating.

Wick burns out blackening
charcoal ash crumbling
upward smoke floating
body and soul separating
life unravelling
time collapsing
emptiness beckoning.

© Sheila Ash 21st September 2015

Just One More

They sit cross legged
eagerly anticipating.
Passed hand to hand
rapidly at first, then slowly
hoping for the game’s end.

Tiny hands tear at the wrapping
another layer,
an audible sigh,
so on again, back and forth
this way and that.

Crumpled pink and blue bunny rabbits
torn Thomas the tank engines
partial Peppa Pigs
discarded in piles en route to the prize

just one more
just one more paper frontier to be crossed
just one more

© Sheila Ash 20th September 2015

Quest – purveyor of flavours and fragrances

Last week was our first week back at our Creative Writing Group after the summer break. I can never get this consistent regress back to school timetabling, both here and at other things, why people insist on taking holidays in the summer months when the schools are out when they no longer are restrained by such schedules. Anyway, for me it really breaks the rhythm, the discipline of writing. So the first week back is always hard. This time our tutor brought in a collection of freshly picked items from his large garden, many still damp with morning dew, others already decaying, mould filling the air as he emptied the bag containing them across the library table.  These our topic, or springboard for our first piece of writing of the new term when our theme is reflection on memory, mood and the senses.

The memory they conjured up was of a long time ago long term customer Quest International, now part of Givaudan, based in Ashford in Kent, who make flavours and fragrances. What I recall is how the concentrated essences emerging from their refinery were often very difficult to distinguish or identify if you didn’t have a “nose” and that there effect on me was always intense.

Stainless steel tubes and pipes
bending, turning,
intertwining architectures like Terry Gillam’s Brazil,
glistening in the sunshine -
an Escher maze enlivened by heat venting, steam evaporating.
The breeze carries the days refinement far before you see it.
Oxo cubes? Or is it Orange Blossom that assaults my nasal passages?
Sniffles streaming; Sheila sneezing.

Still from the film Brazil

© Sheila Ash 14th September 2015

Monday 14 September 2015

Contrasting coping mechanisms revealed

The Illuminations

by Andrew O'Hagan

Yet another book about dementia and memory!  This time threaded through with the story of dementia sufferer’s grandson, Luke, who is a soldier. Anne, the grandmother, is getting less able to survive in the sheltered accommodation that is currently her home, even with the help of family and neighbours. Luke has returned from serving in Afghanistan, still dealing with the death of his colleague, the inadequacies of their commanding officer and their betrayal by a fellow Afghani officer.

The book alternates  between Annie’s story and Luke’s both in Afghanistan and once he is back home in Scotland. Always closer to his gran than his mother, Alice,  ever has been, he sets about helping her to get ready for the move and discovers much more than they ever knew about Anne’s past. SPOILER ALERT – That past is her origins in Canada, that she came to look after aunts in Scotland, became a famous documentary photographer in the 60s, fell in love with a married man with whom she spent time in a a flat in Blackpool (hence The Illuminations)  and who left her high and dry, pregnant with Luke’s mother and an unknown twin brother, who died as a child, and surrounded by lies.

I like the characterisations throughout – of Anne, of her neighbour, and of Luke and the boys from his platoon. I did struggle with the dialog of the army life, but therein lies the contrasts at the heart of this novel – coping with the battlefield now and after the soldiers try to loose their memories of war in drug fuelled nights on the town, in playing computer games, whereas the Memory Club tries to help the old folk cope with the passing of time, to recall their past youth, the past familiar, to enable them to continue to live semi-independently in the now. As Luke decides not to return to the army life, his exploration of Anne’s past is “illuminating” of her, of his mother’s relationship with her, his own and himself, of different ways of dealing with memories, loss, lies and cover ups.

ashramblings 3* I suspect some people will really like this novel, but for me it was just a bit to sentimental. Not my normal read, but it would make a fine, topical, dramatization for TV.

if I were fishing for a winner…..

The Fishermen

by Chigozie Obioma

A 1990s middle class Nigerian childhood in which the loving Agwu family is torn apart by the prophecy of the “madman” Abulu. Freedom for the four eldest boys comes when their father’s work at the bank means he has to live in Yola in the north far away from their southern home in Akure, returning only at the weekends, and they go fishing in the local river, the Omi-Ala, which has, unbeknown to them a bad reputation, having once been worshiped by local people.  It is there that Abulu’s prophecy of fratricide is uttered.

The character and story of Abulu is marvellous in itself – how he became the man he is today, what he did (raped his mother), how he looks and what he does (public masturbation) and says (prophesies) -  as is the whole mix of African storytelling and Western novel. The  first disintegration is of Ikena, the eldest son who is knocked of balance by the prophecy which shatters his love for his brothers. He begins to seriously fight with Boja, the next in age with whom he shares a room, and so the downward spiral of destruction starts despite his brothers pleas that they love him and would never harm him. The reader really buys into the conflict as retold by the now adult Benjamin recalling his childhood experiences and memories – his child’s voice is very authentic.

Nigerian politics is a backdrop to a number of aspects of the story. The period is that of the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha between the 3rd and 4th Republics, when the father wants his sons to be successful and has planned out various careers – doctors, lawyers etc   - and to put behind them the corruption of the country through education and ambition. The change in status of the river echoes the change in perspective of the regime. The boys meet opposition candidate MKO Abiola and the fate of the gifted calendar is part of the story of destruction.

Likewise the prophesy does not just impact the killer and the killed brother, but affects the others in the family. The mother, unable anyway to cope with the boys unruly behaviour whilst nursing their baby sister, has a nervous breakdown when Ikena is killed. The father has to give up his job and return home as he sees not only his career, his ability to provide for his family, but also his dreams for the boys’ future destroyed in turn. His resolve and love for his wife and children really come through in his determination to manage no matter what – he opens a bookshop to earn money, he hides his wife’s illness so no one will taint her, he tries to cover up his inadequate attempt to deal with Abulu so she will not know and never worry over this as well.

SPOLIER ALERT – the family is in effect hit by multiple tragedies – Ikena’s murder, Bola’s suicide, mother’s breakdown, father’s loss of professional status. father’s inability to see to Abula, and then Obeme and Benjamin’s murder of Abulu and a soldier who interrupts them.  Whilst Obeme runs, it is Benjamin who stands trial, his father encouraging him to stand talla nd tell the truth about why they did it. Condemned to imprisonment till he is 18 years without family visits, he is eventually released when there is a change in government, he is welcomed back home at the end of the book when Obeme also return on the same day “to face their father together”

I loved this story, the writing style, the characters, the the author has Benjamin describe each of the main people of the book in their animal form – tadpoles, falconer etc. As such it really does blend African and Western traditions seamlessly and smoothly. My radar is on high alert for his next book. This one has, quite rightly in my opinion been longlisted for the 2015 Booker, for the Guardian First Book Award and other prizes.

ashramblings verdict 4* and I might even be persuaded to give it more! For me, so far, this is the best of the 2015 Booker Longlist I have read.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Music group playlist

Our music sharing group met again on Thursday this week. The playlist was 

  1. Richard Strauss  - 'At sunset'  from The Four Last Songs (Lisa Della Cara was the singer on the version we heard but I can’t find an online link to her version so here is Jessye Normans)
  2. Michael Brecker  - Escher Sketch  A Tale of Two Rhythms from the  1990 album 'Now You See It... Now You Don't
  3. George Gershwin  (arr P. Grainger)   - The Man I  Love