Monthly Archives: January 2014

Live In The Present But Treasure The Past

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Robert & Mona Litchfield

Coventry, 24th December 1944

My Nan and Grandad were married on a Christmas eve during the second world war. As I mentioned in my last post, my Grandad was in the Merchant Navy and had seven ships sunk under him. He was either hideously unlucky or gloriously lucky, depending on whether you focus on his repeated survival or how often a watery grave tried to claim him. It’s crazy to imagine how easily I might not have existed. 

My Nan worked in the local pharmacy. She was originally from Wales, but her whole family moved to the city of Coventry, famous for Lady Godiva and the Coventry cathedral, which was destroyed in the blitz in 1940. My Grandad had been inside, putting out incendiary bombs, but the rescue attempt was no use and now only ruins remain. 

I don’t know how my grandparents met. I know that my Nan’s previous boyfriend died, his whole family victims of one of the Coventry bombings. I just can’t imagine what life must have been like, living in ever-present fear and losing people constantly. It makes me determined never to take my peaceful existence for granted.

When I was little and my grandparents babysat my younger sister and I, we used to tear around their little house, playing at dressing up and uncovering secrets in the jewellery boxes and containers hidden in the cupboards. I once found an old biscuit tin full of alien items from another world – ration stamps, identity cards, badges, pins… And letters – love letters.

When I was a teenager, my Nan died after a ten year battle with cancer, leaving my Grandad inconsolable, just waiting until he could join her through the years that followed. He counted every day. When my Grandad finally left us as well, my Dad and I cleaned out the wee house that he and his brother had grown up in. I squirrelled away treasures for keepsakes, such as the photograph above. I hunted high and low for the biscuit tin but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was devastated not to find the box of memories and momentos of love.  

I love letters like I love books. You can’t hold or smell a text or email. It’s a different feeling. I still write letters and fill cards every so often for that reason – the feeling I have when I receive one myself. I love having something that can be touched; something physical to pin up or put away to look at another day, maybe years away. Maybe one day a grandkid of mine will find a tin, read my writing, and wonder what my life was really like – I like the idea more than the thought of them finding my Facebook. I want them to feel how I feel when I hold a faded photograph and read a letter like the one below. 

I couldn’t find the biscuit tin. But when I picked up the picture of my grandparents on their wedding day, housed in a silver, gilded frame, I had a funny feeling. I opened the back and, sure enough, found a piece of what I’d been looking for. A moment in time. A memory. A reminder that, whatever era you live in, the greatest treasure is love. 

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What’s your favourite keepsake? It’s so important to live in and for the present, but we should never forget the inspiration to be found in what is past. 

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There Are Stories All Around Us – Happy Stories, Sad Stories & Cover Stories

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(c) 2013 NKW-Illustration. All rights reserved.
 

This post isn’t going to be as light-hearted as usual. It’s still going to be hopeful, however. I hope that in all my posts, hope for the future shines through. Happiness and hope are inextricably linked. And so are stories. I’ve been to a couple of very interesting writers’ meetings recently, where stories real and imagined have been shared. Sometimes the truths in people’s pasts are stranger and more fascinating than the fiction we share with each other.

The more I learn about people, the more I realise that there are stories all around us, even when we’re not conscious of them. Sometimes the pursuit of a make believe story can distract me from the real stories going on around me. Sometimes I’m reminded with a bump. I’ve recently discovered that one of my writing comrades lost a leg in a motorbike crash (he illustrated this by taking it off and placing it on the restaurant table) and ended up counselling his psychoanalyst in subsequent therapy; that another’s father was one of Winston Churchill’s bodyguards during the war; and another’s grandfather was part of the platoon sent to clean up Bergen-Belsen when the war was over.

I ended up sharing that my grandfather on my dad’s side, who was in the merchant navy, had seven ships sunk under him. How I wish wish wish he was still here, so I could record his story. My grandparents on my mum’s side emigrated from China when the communists took over. They had 8 children – their eldest was left behind and adopted in China (that’s another story). My mother was the seventh child, born after they’d settled in Malaysia, once they’d hiked through the jungle from Thailand, the eldest son nearly dying from a snake bite en route. The family had stowed away in the hold of a ship in order to escape China and make it to a safe place. It’s a happy story.

One friend from the group is developing writing courses to help people cope with trauma. She mentioned how people have ‘cover stories’ – they can tell you what happened to them, but they’ve come up with almost a soundbite for it so that the telling of it doesn’t bring back the hurt and harm. To help work through it, you have to slow it down – bring out the details and face them. I’ve done the same when explaining sad things that have happened – skimming over talking about a bereavement so as not to feel it again. My granddad’s told the soundbite of the ‘seven ships’ – but I only know the cover story – not the details. When my friend’s granddaughter asked what it was like, cleaning up Birkenau, all her grandfather said (/could say?) was, ‘horrible.’

And then, today, I saw this Ted talk on everyday sexism from a girl I went to university with, Laura Bates. She’s talking about and encouraging people to share the stories that no one wants to tell and no one wants to hear.

And that links to one of the aims of a charitable organisation I’ve become involved in – Haven Trust (website under development). It has been founded by a lady who escaped a situation of domestic abuse with her children. She was forced to leave with nothing. She’s acquired the management rights to a hotel in Queenstown NZ and is planning to open a centre for victims of domestic violence. She then aims to open 5 more across New Zealand. She started the trust to provide a stepping stone for other families in her position, making it possible to leave when it seems impossible, providing shelter and employment opportunities to help people start over. What she and her children went though is horrific. But horribly commonplace. A purpose of the trust is to help people coming through record and share their stories with the world. Stories that might never else come to light, because of the prison of silence that allows this kind of abuse to go unnoticed and unpunished.

I’ve never experienced anything like this – I’ve been lucky. I’ve known it goes on, but it’s never been near enough to personally affect me. Then, just before I became involved with the trust last year, I found out that a friend was abused by her husband over a long period of time. And no one knew because she didn’t tell anyone. He made her feel like it was her fault. And now he’s divorced her, which is her lucky break and has finally meant she felt she could break her silence. How many other stories are there that don’t make it past someone’s lips and into the world? How many people never get help?
Does anyone have a good story? I think everyone has a good story. The mission of Right Ink On The Wall is one of encouragement. We want people to write ink on the wall of the world. We want people to make the right mark. I want to know people’s stories. Some stories should be shared. Happy stories and sad stories. I want to get to the bottom of people’s cover stories. Because it’s through sharing our stories that we’ll make a better world. Shared experience can inspire action. That’s the hope.
 

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When Life Gives You Nuts – You Can’t Always Make Nutella / The Pain Of Peanut Butter In The Jam

ImageNuts. Enjoy them while you can, everyone. Because when I take over the world…

I was going to leave that sentence hanging but actually I won’t – when I take over the world… that’s it. It’s over. They’re gone. Banned. Big Brother has nothing on me. Never mind your basic human rights and freedoms. No more nuts.

I’m sitting here with a fat lip, courtesy of my partner in crime. Normally I would be charmed by an affectionate peck on the lips (thank goodness that’s all it was) – but not today.

I completely understand why it’s difficult to remember to take a nut allergy seriously – and I’m the nut allergic one.

I’d always shuffle around the subject when someone was cooking for me; feel self-conscious bringing it up in a restaurant; fail to complain to housemates when finding peanut butter in the jam.

A few near-death experiences have just about cured me of all that. And it’s not the only aspect of life in which I’ve learned not only to take myself more seriously, but have found the self-permission to ask other people to take me seriously. Some things – they might be as small as a nut or as big as a dream – some things are a matter life and death.

I’m no longer backward in coming forward about being allergic to nuts and I’m no longer backward in coming forward about being a writer. I have even written a *book* (watch this space to view future worldwide success / fame / fortune / the-location-of-a-copy-in-a-library-near-you-that-I-sent-to-them-free – coming soon).

Sometimes, when life gives you lemons, you can’t make lemonade. Sometimes they’re so damn sour there’s no amount of sugar in the world that can make them right. Throw out the lemons. As Kristen Lamb tells us, so well as usual, in this post – it’s ok to quit! In fact, sometimes, you have to.

If the book bombs – that’s ok. I’ll already have written the next one. I will have learnt from the last, so the next will be better. And the one after that. If there’s peanut butter in the jam – no amount of scooping it out will make the jam good again. You’re just mixing it up in there. You’re wasting time risking your life trying to fix something when you should give it up. Move on to the next, new pot of jam. (And tell your housemates to keep their £$*&@ peanut butter out your jam). 

Don’t let nuts get you down! Carry a metaphorical EpiPen in your mind so there’s always adrenaline on hand to save you from anaphylaxis (I have been the boy in the picture. My throat has closed up and I’ve nearly suffocated to death. Following my dreams is now a necessity – must become rich and famous before the nuts have a chance to end me altogether – they’re sneaky and they’re out to get me, they must know I plot their ultimate doom). 

Is anyone out there bogged down by the nuts of life? Tell me – take a lexical anti-histamine. And listen to your medical professionals (all those successful, wonderful writers out there blogging, kind enough to be sharing their wisdom). They want you to succeed. They want you to survive. And so do I  😀

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Just Keep Swimming & Other Solutions To January Blues

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‘Just keep swimming’

– Dory

Sigh. Is anyone else prone to January Blues? The run up to Christmas is a blur, the holidays are a blast.. And then it’s back to the grindstone, with a lot of work to catch up on now all the fun’s been had, an empty bank account, and all these resolutions, which don’t seem so shiny when it’s time to actually sit down and *do* them. To make things worse, NZ has decided to make like UK and rain on my 2014. Note to NZ: It’s meant to be *summer* here right now, not monsoon season.
The list of things I haven’t so far achieved could go over more than one blog post. I’ll stick to something good that’s happened – I swam today. It may not seem like a big deal but, having put a fat cross against last year’s ‘fitness’ resolution (don’t even tell me how very un-measurable / un-quantifiable / un-specific / un-viable-when-still-eating-copious-amounts-of-fried-chicken that resolution was) – I decided that this year I would swim once a week and ride Enid into town (an epic proposition, trust me) at least 3 times a week. And that last can be either in the direction of house to town or swimming pool to town, so I can kill new year’s birds with stones. I have also resolved to eat no fast food this year^ (I wish you could change the size of font on this thing so I could have written that *really* small). [^definition of ‘fast food’ includes McD and KFC, does not include pizza and Chinese/Thai/Indian takeaway. Or fish and chips.]. I once swore off fry-ups for a while and that actually worked, so I have high hopes.
So my to-do list is long and getting longer, and I did not want to get up this morning to be the ‘new me’ that swims and cycles constantly. But having got home from road-trippage and epically failed to clean the house, write my blog, start to fix my novel, or, hell, even unpack the car – at least I *did* get up today and do one thing I wanted to do – I swam before cycling to the ‘day’ job. If I just keep swimming, January will be over before I know it and I’ll have put in place some good habits and done more things on the list. I admit I did do one other thing on the list and take down the Christmas decorations, but that was sad. 
If you’re finding it hard to do anything – do something. You’ll feel better. If you do something good several times a week, you’ll feel fantastic. And once the anti-countdown to the end of Jan is over, you’ll be in the swing of it. That’s the plan 😀
Who else is struggling with the brand new start to the brand new year? Is it just me that has heard it’s unlucky to have decorations up past the 6th? (Ooh inspiration strikes for blog post on superstition). I started another item on the resolutions today and visited a few new blogs, commenting where I cared. I want to find one new blog I care about for every day of the year and find time to follow it. The world is full of blogs and there are stories all around us, just waiting to be discovered – but that’s another post for another day…

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