Tuesday 23 June 2015

A Song of Joy and Pain

Sitting there upon your knees

Hair blows gently in the breeze

softened up by all your charms

resting peaceful in your arms


Sinking gentle in the waves

Smoothing all my woes and pains

Was the moment that you came

Loudly shouting forth my name


Paradise upon the ocean

Thrilled by love and devotion

Looking only for the sun

Life together just begun


You said we would be forever

Always holding fast together

Through until the end of time

Staying true and being mine


From the moment I first met you

From the moment that you shook me

From the moment I first took you

was the moment that you hooked me


Still waters still run deep

Memories invade my sleep

Broken hearts alone remain

Nothing left can be the same


Mother nature cannot shift you

Fork lift trucks cannot lift you

Little pills cannot rift you

from deep inside my brain


Nothing I do can ever move you

Nothing I say can ever restore you

Nothing I feel can ever replace you

There is nothing without you


Broken hearts alone remain

Bearing all your brutal pain

Drowning daily in the strain

I love standing in the rain


Washing away all my tears

Washing away all the years

Washing away what could have been

Washing away the great unseen


© Sheila Ash, 2015

Monday 22 June 2015

Planning my writings


A couple of weeks ago it was my turn to talk about my work in Progress at our Creative Writing Group. I spoke about my planning of the stories for my Stories from Nemia fantasy work. This is a picture taken by my colleague of me explaining the storylines using my storyboard/mindmap.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Fleeting by – a story of childhood

As a child she had kept caterpillars in a glass jar. Slightly hairy, black and white curly things she’d found on the blackcurrant bushes on the waste ground where rumour had it more swings were to be build, but which continued to house the village’s Guy Fawkes Night bonfire. Not at all like the normal green ones found in the garden. She’d looked through her Enid Blyton books and some encyclopaedias from the library to try and find out what they were called when after a few weeks they turned into beautiful black, white and orange moths. Or were they butterflies? Butterflies were always prettier colours than moths with their drab greys and browns. Pests according to her dad, eating his peas and cabbages, privet hedges and lilacs. Magpie moths. Like the birds. Thieves.

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told

Perhaps they’d spin some silk? She always took care to put a few of the leaves of the currant bushes with them in the jam jar, as large as she could get from mum’s collection. Her mother made jam. Lots of jam. In the summer the house was filled with its sweet smell, either in the kitchen as the sticky mix boiled away in the enormous jelly pan, or in her parent’s bedroom where the broom pole was laid to rest between two spare dining chairs with the jelly bag hanging from it so the jelly juices could drain through into the pan standing on the floor below leaving the coarse brown bag covered in a pink layer of spent bits of fruit. She was never tempted by those remnants. The texture of the bag gave her the creeps. But the spoonfulls of the jam left on a saucer to set by the back door, those were something else. As long as the wasps had not settled on them and got stuck. She’d been stung in the mouth on the way back from the village school one lunchtime, dragging her hand along the hedgerow singing away to herself. The bee, or wasp, had been disturbed and flew straight in, luckily stinging in front of her teeth not on her tongue. Sipping cold water through a straw for the rest of the day was the outcome as her face swelled up. Now she was afraid of being stung again and wouldn’t be for another 50 years.

But that hadn’t stopped her exploring the fields, the hedgerows, the back lanes, running wild around the farm, clambering into the rafters of the old part of the farmhouse, crawling down into the subterranean foundations on the building site, climbing trees and finding other peoples secret places. She’d found their hide. It was not like she imagined a hide to be, roughly strewn together from branches, twigs, bits of this and that, well camouflaged into the woodland so no one could see it. Somewhere you’d camp out with billy can and fire. No, this was a properly build hut. Probably Sue’s dad’s handiwork. She couldn’t imagine Nora’s dad, spending time doing that. There it was a child sized garden shed, complete with door, painted a bright apple green, with curtains at the windows, hidden by the summer growth on the bushes along the wild space between the farmer’s field behind her favourite climbing tree and the ends of the gardens of houses on the new estate which had sprung up surrounding the village. It looked just like a play house. Yes they were the sort of girls who liked to play house. She’d seen them disappear down that hedgerow from her perch high, unseen up the tree. What were they doing down there? When she went back the second time, hoping to catch them there, it lay in ruins. Somehow she knew. They’d been followed. She’d been followed. She’d led him straight to it. Wonton destruction, the bully. Not the worse of them though. Perhaps he’d had help, after all the hut had been well built, it wouldn’t have been that easy to pull down, much less trash the boards. How cruel and unnecessary! She’d never have done that. She just wanted to be friends.

She had been with Nora for a while, but then Sue came to the village and she lost her friend to the new girl. They all rushed to be friends with whoever was new. Not her. She preferred to watch and wait. Her friendship with Nora had spoiled, not only because Sue came, but because they were different. They had gone out walking one day, down the country lanes, up the hill past the farm, past the hut which her dad said used to be a workman’s lunch stop and which he often used as shelter when caught out in the rain. He’d sit there with his binocular’s watching the bridge being built. One of the largest in the world he’d told her. They continued down the other side of the hill. She’d been this far before but not Nora. She never went far from home. No sense of adventure. We’ll get lost. Just because you don’t know where you are doesn’t mean you are lost. We know how we got here, so we can go back the same way. Anyway this road comes out on the road near my uncle’s house so we just need to walk along a bit to the east find his road on the left and then come back north that way. A round trip. Easy. Nora had not been so keen. But on they walked, playing various games along the way, not seeing a soul. She broke of a grass leaf to make a whistle like she seen her dad do by making a small cut in its centre. Nora liked that and had tried to do the same but the leaf cut through her skin on her finger and made it bleed. Don’t worry, suck it to clean it, spit it out and tie a dock leaf over it. It’s only a cut. But Nora was having none of it crying that she wanted to go home. Disappointment because her friend had not enjoyed their big adventure, she also felt some self-pride that her understanding of the terrain had got them home. It was only geography and basic geometry after all, knowing your north from your south, your east from your west. Something all those walks with dad had taught her.

Those were her summers. Free to roam, to explore. Alone or with whoever was her current friend. But like the hatched moths, friendships bloomed then quickly faded, leaving her for new best friends, or when their parents moved away.

1132 words

© Sheila Ash, 21st June 2015

We each build walls to protect ourselves



Eduardo Halfon

I read and reviewed his Polish Boxer late last year and was mightily impressed. In this his second book Halfon continues his flowing disjointed stream of stories. Are they biographical or not? Big question! They are however all about identity.

In the first chapter entitled “Tel Aviv was an Inferno”  we see the young man from Guatemala visiting Israel for his sister’s wedding. He is repulsed by the ultra conservative group she is marrying into – he fails  to see the young girl he recalls from their youthful days in the bewigged adult woman before him. As he leaves the ultra orthodox community, stones are flung at his taxi because taking a car is forbidden on Shabbat. The anti Arab sentiment he encounters in another taxi reminds him he is 3 parts Arab, 1 part Polish – his grandfather being an Arab Jew from Beirut, his grandmother an Arab Jew from Alexandria, his other grandmother an Arab Jew from Aleppo. He recounts his trip to the Wailing Wall , its touch only feeling of stone – which prompts the recall of his previous trip to the last remnants of the ghetto wall in Warsaw and the imagery it inspired in him. What touching something signifies also come up in his second chapter, entitled “Bamboo”, after the bamboo cage in which a poor indigenous family keep their son  - mentally ill or alcohol dependent?  As readers we never know the cause, neither does Halfon’s narrator, who wants to feel the reality of the bamboo, to not feel his own or his country’s indifference to such a situation. In the third chapter, entitled The Birds are Back, he feels like he wants to hug old Don Juan Martínez after the old coffee farmer has told him why has farm was called  San Andrés, why each of his 5 daughters were named, but does not say why his murdered son was so named – “I suddenly thought I saw his eyes begin to get misty, but the kitchen was dark and smoky and I couldn’t be sure. We kept silent for a moment, and I got a fleeting urge to hug Don Juan Martínez. Maybe for consolation. Maybe for his nostalgic tone and his sad and subtle sense of humour. Or maybe for reasons much more my own.”

The chapter entitled “White Sand, Black Stone”  to me seems to epitomise Halfon’s style. Ostensibly an account of him crossing the land border between Guatemala and Belize, it is a series of discrete yet connected snapshots of life and coincidence, mixed with memory (his grandfather’s ring) , imagination ( how the ring got to Central America) with metaphor (the captive macaw with his own need for flight from the coincidently  (or not) pursuing immigration officer). His crossing of the border at Melchor de Mencos recalled my own same crossing ten years ago. I liked this chapter/story very much.

The final chapter entitled “Monastery” is at one level the account of Halfon’s escape from gong to his sister’s wedding instead going to the beach with Tamara, an Israeli girl he had once met in Antigua, Guatemala. In it he returns to his thoughts about walls as they pass the separation well between Israeli and Palestinian areas. He recalls the various stories of how individuals escaped from Nazi persecution and death, surrounding themselves with walls of protective lies, dressing up as Germans (his friend’s grandfather), Catholic Christians (the family of Polish writer Jerzy Kosinski), taking false names and identities, including the touching story of a Jewish family who transformed their boy in to a Catholic girl and left her at a Monastery to be the only one to see out the war safely. “A wall is the physical manifestation of man’s hatred of the others” “ A wall is never bigger than the spirit it confines”.

ashramblings verdict 4* - I think that Halfon’s writings are quite distinctive and ripe for academic analysis, but they still make for a very interesting read because of their individuality whilst addressing issues we all have in common, namely one of identity in a global world. I look forward to more being translated into English.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Stories from the Land of Neme

So I have been writing more bits of Stories from the Land of Neme,  (see Tala’s story) my fantasy collection which is my work in progress at my Creative writing group. This is one of the unknown Nemian people’s songs which is a secret prophesy foretelling the return of the Blue eyed black hair warrior messengers of olden days

Patrolled the waters of the Great Divide

Kept the peace on either side

Blue eyes will come again this way

Telling stories from far away

Of peoples strange

and times of change

Messenger warriors of yesterday

Tuesday 16 June 2015

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

The Sound of Things Falling

Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean

Longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, 2013

Columbia, has we know had a period in its recent history when it was notoriously synonymous with drug lords and extrajudicial killings under the auspices of infamous drug king Pablo Escobar. This period of Columbian history forms a backdrop to Vásquez beautiful, yet sad, story of Antonio Yammara as he searches for the reason why has been shot alongside his now dead new friend, the older Ricardo Laverde, an ex-pilot whom he has met in a billiard hall in Bogatá. As he unravels the older man’s story, meets his daughter from his marriage to an American Peace Corp volunteer in the early sixties, when their innocence led her to Columbia to “make a difference” and him to pilot shipments of the marijuana he thought would one day be legalised, Antonio’s own family life, his wife and daughter, take on a similar parting of the ways that Ricardo had done. Like the mate and child of the now dead hippopotamus from Escobar’s private zoo, wives and daughters are cast alone to face the world. The final lines of this novel read “..the world is too risky a place to be wandering on our own, without anyone waiting for us at home, who worries about us when we don’t show up, and who can go out to look for us?

Note: Anne McLean has twice won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize – in 2004 for Javier Cercas’s Soldiers of Salamis, and in 2009 for Evelio Rosero’s The Armies. She was also one of the translators who worked on Eduardo Halfon’s The Polish Boxer which I reviewed previously on this blog.

ashramblings verdict 4* the translation reads exceedingly well and the storyline hooks the reader from its strange opening story about the shooting of a hippopotamus that had escaped from Escobar’s old private zoo in 2009.

Monday 8 June 2015

Lost souls – lost soles

IMG_1065For our regular Monday morning brain teaser, our Creative writing tutor had spread before us a collection of various old shoes, boots, plimsolls, sandals etc. We had 10 minutes to write something. Here is what I wrote.





From dance halls to football pitches,

From nightclubs to farmyard ditches,

High heels and Cuban wedges,

stacked along the tables edges.


Polished under sergeant’s orders,

scuffed by playful playground dodgers,

worn, buffeted and battered,

unlaced tongues lie shattered.


Bejewelled and velcro’ed knots and straps

studs and hooks lie back to back

upright, sidewise, upside-down

A collection of soles from the lost and found.


© Sheila Ash, 8th June 2015