Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016 Awards

From the books I have read, films I have seen and songs I have heard for the first time this year, here are my top choices.

Best Book
This year I have completed 14 books, no fewer than ten of which were non-fiction, and generally historical. Because of this (and also because it's really hard to choose - I've not even chosen No Picnic on Mount Kenya, which I loved, but please see my review of it from 16th December) I have decided to have two awards for best book.
     The first is for The Adventure of English by Melvin Bragg. It relates the history of the English language from its early Anglo-Saxon roots, through the many invasions it endured, in which it refused to be wiped out or overcome, to the global spreading of this versatile tongue. Bragg tells it as a story, including many surprising, amusing and, at times, tense events, that this language has seen. It is a very educational book, but also wonderfully enjoyable, and perfectly easy to read!
     The second award goes to Room by Emma Donoghue. This was the one book this year that I truly could not put down, partly because of the dramatic story but also because of the tense writing and interesting style. It is the story of a mother and 5-year-old son (Jack), imprisoned in a garden shed. This home is the only world that Jack knows but the book is as much about what happens outside after their dramatic escape.
     The book only has a few natural pauses, and is written in Jack's voice, which only serves to make you want to read on. It is thrilling and gripping - an excellent read.



Best Film
To date I have watched 16 movies for the first time this year, including three French films (The Untouchables, Romantics Anonymous and The Chorus (English titles)) all of which were excellent. I also particularly enjoyed The Martian and Eddie the Eagle both of which I have watched twice now, and both of which are fantastically fun films!
     My top movie, however, goes to a Disney Pixar film from last year (2015) but which I didn't get round to watching, despite being thoroughly hooked by the trailer. It is Inside Out, a brilliant new concept (unlike many animated movies these days) which follows the different characters, or emotions, that live inside the head of a girl. The movie is appropriately thought provoking and touching and gives a whole new idea to why we think the way we do!

 
 
Best Song
There haven't been a huge number of songs that have grabbed my attention this year and there's only a couple that I think I'll still be listening to in another year's time. One of those, though, wins my award for Best Song. Its soft beats that are both melancholy and yet seem to offer a glimmer of hope. It entices and captivates me every time I listen to it. It was released in November 2015, but only came to my (and I think most people's) attention early this year.
     The song is Faded by Alan Walker.
 

 
 
 

Friday, 23 December 2016

2016: Moving on up

2016, a year of new highs. As I wrote in a post a few weeks back, time keeps moving forward and sometimes it feels like we have to run to keep up.

I'm sure history will have many things to say about this year, particularly politically. For me, though, I will probably remember: five friends (among many), three jobs (two of them new this year), one wedding (my sister's) and thirteen major peaks walked/climbed.
   When I say 'major' I mean of course by English standards, and mostly in the Lake District.

                                Scafell Pike,
                      Broad Crag, Skiddaw, 
              Great End, Bow Fell, Great Gable, 
           Esk Pike, Fairfield, Coniston Old Man,
Green Gable, Whernside, Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent.
 
All in all they amount to 11,069 metres (36,316 feet), while Mount Everest, I might add, is only a paltry 8,848m. Although, I must admit, seeing as I climbed several of those peaks consecutively, without descending back to sea level first, I probably only climbed around 6,000m, but still it was all good fun!
 
Based on the past several years, I'm starting to accept that I can't really predict what will happen in the next year, but taking it as it comes seems to be working so far, so I guess I'll keep doing that.
 
Happy Christmas everyone!

Friday, 16 December 2016

No Picnic on Mount Kenya: Review

I picked this book up a couple of months ago after reading the blub and thinking it sounded interesting. After starting it I quickly discovered that it was possibly the perfect story for me, as it involved both real, historical events and mountain climbing. The fact that it was something I knew very little about all added to the enjoyment.

Here is the blub that first enticed me:

"When the clouds covering Mount Kenya part one morning in May, 1942, to reveal the towering peaks for the first time, Felice Benuzzi is transfixed. The tedium of life in P.O.W Camp 354 is broken by the beginnings of a sudden idea - an outrageous, dangerous, brilliant scheme.
     Few people would break out of a prisoner-of-war camp, trek for days across perilous terrain before climbing the north face of Mount Kenya with improvised equipment, meagre rations, and a picture of the mountain on a tin of beef among their more accurate guides. Fewer still would break back in to the camp on their return."

First, for those who don't know (I didn't before beginning the book) Mount Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa, with the upmost peak at more than 17,000 feet. It also happens to sit right on the equator and is covered in dense forest. At this point in time (January, 1943) probably not more than 20 people had climbed to the very top (which requires ropes and crampons) and they had been excellent mountaineers, well equipped, with plenty of food and assistants. For three, undernourished prisoners, with food collected over months and equipment made from any scraps they could find it seems an impossibility.

More amazing than all this, however - and the story is gripping, tense and exhilarating - is the reason for their journey. Benuzzi begins his story with many fascinating tales of prison camp life and the hateful, dreariness of it. How people can be driven mad, simply by having nothing to do and having life bound by barbed wire. The journey of how they pushed themselves to achieve goals, break boundaries and revel in adventure is a true testament to the human spirit and what we have been created to do. Benuzzi, in beautiful language, takes the reader on the journey, both physically up the mountain, gazing at the wonders around him, but also from captivity to freedom, in body and mind.
     He also puts wonderfully, feelings I have also had, gazing in wonder at the majesty of mountains, albeit smaller ones than Kenya.

"At the foot of one of the branches of the glacier there were two little tarns, one a delicate azure, the other green-gold, the colours pure as jewels. So unexpected was this sight amid the savage scenery of Batian, that I could not help thinking, it is too beautiful, do I deserve to experience it?
     It did not occur to me to exclaim: "Those two tarns are worth so many days in the cells," because spiritual wealth such as we were storing in our memories could have no price at all. Having enjoyed the wonders of the forest by moonlight, by day and by the fire of our bivouacs, having listened to the music of the heath and having seen the ice-bound northern ramparts of Batian at sunrise and sunset, were we really worthy of this further display of beauty?
     If ever since our escape from barbed wire we had utterly forgotten that there existed in this world hatred, war and captivity, we did so at this moment."

As well as the beauty of the language and the sensation of the story, this book has also made me consider our lives.
     Is life something like a prison-of-war, in which we wait for an unknown end and work with whatever skills we have, or don't as the case may be, and are, in the mean time, entertained by the smallest arguments and pieces of  meaningless gossip, usually over exaggerated? When just outside the fence there is a mountain waiting to be climbed, from the top of which a new perspective is gained, a new world discovered, new wonders revealed, which we can hardly imagine. All we need to reach these is hope, something in very short supply in a prison camp, and yet there to be found.

As you may expect, I heartily recommend this novel, even if you know nothing about mountaineering or prison camps. It is one of the best books I have read in a long time.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Time: stop and move forward

I have often considered that we rush too quickly through our lives, desperate for the next thing, not enjoying the current moment but impatiently searching for something new to entertain our eyes, ears and minds. Particularly in the Christmas season people seem desperate to get to the holidays, receive gifts, spend money, welcome the new year and then get on with their lives, while I would rather take it slower, or stop time altogether before even reaching the 25th of December, in order to enjoy the present (if you take my meaning).

Two thoughts have presented themselves to me in the past few days, however, that have suggested other views on 'time'.
     Firstly, we live in a 'self-transcending reality', which means that our universe keeps moving forward, growing in complexity, depth and unity, and while we may wish sometimes, or even oftentimes, to go back to what we imagine was some perfect moment, when our lives, or indeed our world, was a better place, we cannot go back. In fact such thoughts will inevitably leave us feeling worse; partly because we look back with rose-tinted spectacles, and the world was almost certainly not better, it was simply different, but also because we are straining against the pattern of the universe in which time only works in one direction and that is forward.
     I love to study history and there is much we can learn from our past and what went on back then, but we must not start to live in the past because otherwise time will continue on without us and we will get lost.
     Secondly, I have begun reading a book titled 'No picnic on Mount Kenya'. It is the true story of how three prisoners of war escaped from their camp at the foot of Mount Kenya in order to embrace adventure and to bring some meaning back to their existence.
     You see time is valuable, and we can often take it for granted. In a prison, and especially during a war, when there is no definite end in sight to incarceration, the smallest argument can provide discussion for hours. A verbal fight over who will read a book first is, says the author, "a pleasant struggle; as long as it lasts, time has value again."
     Stopping time may seem pleasurable to me, with my freedom to choose when I do things, but to someone with endless days to fill just finding something with a conclusion to reach or a goal to achieve brings life.

So, while we should not live in the future and we should take time to enjoy our present moment, we must also keep moving forward and reaching for the next task, to prevent us from becoming stale or forgotten, even to ourselves.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

What If?

I caught a snippet of a programme on the history channel today where they were discussing a conspiracy theory that I have not considered before: the question of whether Adolf Hitler committed suicide in Berlin in 1945, or he escaped and lived undetected, possibly somewhere in South America. Apparently this was strongly considered in the years after the second world war because there was no body, and though, as I learnt in A-level history, it is now generally believed that Hitler did commit suicide after ordering that his body be burnt, the theory lives on.

All that leads me to the point that we humans love to debate the great 'What ifs?' of life, even when most of the time it doesn't matter and none of the time can we change what has happened. But I wonder if the greatest 'what if' question a person can ever ask themselves is: 'What if I had not existed?' By which I mean 'What difference would there be if I had not been where I was on each day of my life, and thus what difference have I made?' Indeed, what difference will I make in the future? I think these are genuinely worthwhile questions, especially if the answer, or the result of such introspection is positive.

I'm still working on that.

There's my thought for the day.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Mongolians speak Elvish and other things I've learnt recently

Last week I met a Mongolian and while listening to her speak in her native tongue discovered that the Mongolians use Elvish for a language. When I say 'Elvish' I of course mean the vocabulary created by JRR Tolkien for his mythological works. I am not an expert in that language, but I was surprised to hear it spoken by someone from distant Asia.
     The explanation is that Mongolian shares many similarities with Hungarian (bear with me here) and Hungarian is much like Finnish (yeah, who knew?) and Finnish was one of the languages that Tolkien used strongly while developing his own vernacular. It's a strange connection, but it's there.

Another peculiar thing I learnt last week is that you can find Dolphins in the rainforest, admittedly with some difficulty. This I found out from Planet Earth II on the BBC, a programme that never ceases to amaze me. It was in the same episode that they'd filmed a Jaguar taking out a Caiman, crazy!

How about this one, which I only found out last night: Asda owns the copyright on bottom-slapping. Yep, it's true, although I should qualify that. This is bottom-slapping as an action of patting your back pocket to feel how much money is in it. Other trademarked gestures include touching the side of one's nose as if to indicate inside knowledge and tipping a bowler hat, which are both registered by building societies, but I don't know which ones.

And finally, in the 1900 Olympics, there was a Men's 200 meter obstacle race as part of the swimming programme. This involved three obstacles: a pole, a row of boats to climb over, and another set of boats to swim under. I think they should bring this back, but add some of those big inflatables you get at swimming pools.
     I was saddened to learn that an Australian (Frederick Lane) won the race, which has never been held again, but more pleased when I found out he was competing for the British team. Well done him.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

What I found in the basement

Hidden by trees and the shape of the land, there is an old manor house, alone and forgotten. In the basement of the house there is a square, dust-covered rug, which has been chewed slightly at the edges. On top of the rug is a sturdy table and under the rug there is a trap door. A shaft leads down into the dark below. So much have I discovered and I dare not go further.
     The house is not large and part of the roof has collapsed at one end, but most of the windows are still in place and the rooms are largely unchanged from the days of its use, which I cannot determine. I found the basement on my first visit, but it wasn't until my third exploration that I noticed the creak of wood as I crawled beneath the table. I dragged the table far enough to lift the rug and there was the trap door. There was no handle on it and as I tried to lift it I found that it was bolted underneath on all four sides.
     On my next visit I brought a supply of tools and working carefully I was able to dislodge each bolt. The door sat on a ledge that ran around the sides of the hole, to prevent it falling down, and so I eased it up and laid it on the floor of the basement. Then I shone my torch down the shaft. There were rungs down one side, disappearing to a distant bottom that I thought I could just make out. A cold shiver ran down my spine and I leaned back from the edge.  Strange fear overcame my curiosity and I replaced the door, the rug and the table before leaving the house silently.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Three Kings met on the Battlefield

Three kings met on the battlefield.
The first backed down and rode away,
The second saw it a game to play,
The third put up a big display.
 
The battle raged from day to day,
The armies knew not who held sway,
At times it seemed like disarray,
And each King shouted, "Come what may,
I'll live to fight another day."
 
And each King sought to make a way,
And push the other to dismay.
But neither one would kneel and pray,
But swore they'd make the other pay,
Frequently crying out, "Foul Play!"
For to their reputation slay.
 
But somehow to the final day,
Both Kings survived and no delay
Could the bitter war belay.
And how will history portray?
The many soldiers who will say,
"I fought bravely in the fray."
But in the end one could not stay,
The grey haired King was forced to yield.
 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Camping in the shadow of Sca Fell

So it turns out November can be cold, especially when you're camping at 550 metres above sea level.

I enjoy walking, especially in the mountains and I decided to stretch myself this week with an attempt to climb as many peaks as I could in the Scafell Range of the Lake District, over two days. I planned a route that would take in as many as I thought would be possible in the limited hours of daylight available. I also decided to camp to ensure I could make the most of the time, although this meant carrying extra gear.

I set off from Oxendale, climbing the 904 metres to Bow Fell, from where I could see my route ahead and I remained positive that I could achieve my aim of bagging 5 more peaks before the end of the day. The Scafell range of mountains, however, are arranged something like how a child might draw them - i.e. a lot of up and down - so it wasn't going to be as easy as I thought (and I didn't think it would be easy).
     Dropping off Bow Fell I completed the short hike to Esk Pike relatively quickly and then scrambled down the far side, back to 700m. At this point there is a crossroads of paths and more people were appearing from all sides. A couple stopped me and asked if the mountain I had just come off was Scafell Pike and I told them it wasn't but instead was the really tall one behind them.
     Next I climbed up to Great End, which, as it suggests, is a dead end mountain (unless you have a lot of rope), and is flat on top, but of course the highest point is right at the end of the path, so that took up more time than I anticipated. Still I got there and back and carried on (up) to Broad Crag. This is less of a mountain and more a massive pile of enormous boulders (something to do with 2 glaciers and what they've left behind - there's a joke in there somewhere). I get the impression not many people reach the top of this peak and the path skirts around the edge. Certainly it's a challenge to pick your way across this precarious jumble of rocks, and to get back down.
     With that achieved I then had the task of scrambling up to the top of Scafell Pike, the highest point in the England, and in comparison to Snowdon or Ben Nevis it is significantly harder, it almost becomes more of a climb than a walk.
     As you may imagine all of this was tiring and time consuming and my hopes of also reaching the top of Sca Fell (for which, on my route, you must descend around 300 metres and then climb 290) were fading like the light. I can say that I gave it my best shot, but also that I was unprepared for the enormity of the challenge. Scafell Pike is of course impressive, covered in boulders and steep ascents but it is nothing compared to Sca Fell, which is a wonder of creation. Seen from Scafell Pike it is a huge rock face, leaning outwards. The path up it from the east does not really exist but follows a tight gulley down which a waterfall is flowing. Still carrying my pack it took me 20 minutes to reach the top of this climb, which opens into a bowl shaped valley. The path turns right and continues up, but knowing I still had to find somewhere to camp I had to leave this for another day.








Looking up at Sca Fell



  

The "path" up Sca Fell from the top and the bottom. A similar gulley can be seen on the other side of the valley.










So it was another 20 minutes sliding back down the gulley and then on down the side of Sca Fell to a flat-ish piece of grass where I pitched my tent in the evening sunshine. It is one of the more dramatic places I have camped, although I'm not sure I'll spend another November night there.

My campsite, with Sca Fell on the left and Scafell Pike on the right.
 
 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

A Tour of Lancaster

So I've been living in Lancaster, in the north of England for two months now and I thought I'd give you a tour.

Lancaster is a typical English city - at first it seems simple and outdated, then, as you get to know it more, it becomes confusing and quaint (and outdated). Eventually it becomes familiar and homely (and probably still outdated) but I haven't reached that stage yet.
     There is one central street, mostly pedestrianised, off which are various shopping precincts, hidden cafes and bargain stores. Wrapped around this is a short, elongated, ring-road (of sorts), built something like Formula One circuit. However, it operates a frustrating one-way system, as seen in many other English cities, because it wasn't designed for the current quantity of traffic, and thus has an average speed limit of approximately 4.3 miles an hour.
     The city slopes towards the River Lune and Morecambe Bay and the residents commiserate with each other about the exertion required by the hills, but only because they've never lived anywhere with serious climbs, despite the Lake District being just up the road. The city does offer some fine views, however, and partly because the tallest building is the Cathedral Spire (I think there must be some local ruling on the height of buildings). The other noticeable structure is the Castle, which stands prominently overlooking the maze of little roads, the tidal river and the people bustling about the town centre.
     Lancaster may be small but it has a quiet energy, a feeling like things are happening there. I wonder what?

Sunday, 23 October 2016

What can happen in a second

A goal can be scored, a wicket can be taken,
A gold medal won or an old record broken.
A word can be said, for good or for bad,
   but never retracted, for what has happened cannot be undone.
A lie can be told, a heart can be fractured,
A voice cut off, and a life can be shattered,
   but the fallen can rise at the dawn of the sun.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Expressions of Beauty

Sometimes I think we don't spend enough time actually looking at each other, in fact when in conversation we often avoid eye contact. Because of this I believe we can slip into thinking that our faces are all very much alike, but when you look closely you discover this is not even remotely true. Each person has a unique face, with its own expressions, lines and features and each one is beautiful in its own way.

I like to visit the website of a friend of mine who takes fantastic photographs, particularly of people, and I'll admit this blog post is most aimed at getting you to have a look. See how amazing people's faces are, don't just glance and move on, but appreciate their beauty.

These photos were shot by Kyle Jaster and can be found on his website: http://www.jaster.co/



 
 
 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

A Human Problem

The foremost Middle East question in most people's minds today [as it has been for many years] is how to carve up the real estate. Where should the Jews live, and where should the Palestinians live? How should the map be drawn?
     Deeper than this, however, is a problem that one hundred million acres will not solve. It is not a new problem. It is as old as Abraham. It is rejection. It is the attitude that says, 'You don't belong. I don't want you around. Just get out of here, will you?' Even Christians are in the habit of taking a side [usually the Jews].
     The terrorism and violence in today's world is the Arab way of screaming, "What about us? Don't we count for anybody's attention or respect?"
                                                                                 Taken from Once An Arafat Man, by Tass Saada

In any situation where there are a group of children, there will always be some that cause trouble. If you are with the group for a long tie (i.e. months or years) it is likely that at some point all of them will be obviously naughty. Why do they do this? There could be several reasons, but one is that they simply do not feel like they are being noticed. It might be a feeling that stems from somewhere else, but it can take hold of their life and make them angry and distrustful. I see the same effect in Tass Saada's description of the people in the Middle East.
     Tass grew up in the Middle East, as a Muslim, and hated almost everyone for his situation, but especially the Jews for kicking him out of his homeland. He became a guerrilla fighter for Yasser Arafat but later moved to America. After many years he became a Christian, through dramatic circumstances, and now works to bring peace between the peoples of the Middle East.
     Conflicts like this can exist on a small scale too, even down to the level of a single family. It is so important that we do not live for ourselves but for others, ensuring that no one is missed out or unloved. Only this way, will painful disputes be overcome.

Tass continues:
God is in the business of accepting and embracing the people he lovingly created, not rejecting them. As long as we major in rejection, we will continue reaping a harvest of animosity, frustration and death. Rejection is a dead-end street.

We can make life in the Middle East work again through the intervention of the One who said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."













Once An Arafat Man is the incredible story of Tass Saada, and well
worth a read!


Sunday, 2 October 2016

In Pursuit of the Lion

There is a Lion. He is descended from Kings, a mighty warrior and he has many names. He goes into dark places. Places most of us fear to tread. But there are some who follow in pursuit. We hunt his tracks and eagerly desire to catch a glimpse of him. Occasionally he stops and we see him on a hill top, or hear his roar by the ocean.
     Each morning we rise and in joy and strength begin the chase afresh. Some days we may ask someone if they have seen him, or can tell us something about him. On rare occasions we find a person who has met him. On those days we don't go anywhere. We implore the person to tell us all they can of their encounter. It's not unknown for us to spend a whole week learning more about the Lion.
     As we go we tell anyone who will listen about our hunt. Some look at us with scorn or confusion, but others are wide eyed and wondering and a few will ask if they can join us on our mission. Frequently we will run, spurred on by excitement, leading us even to pursue in the night, guided by a light we barely understand. At other times we tire, and that is when we rely on each other to support us, we never leave someone behind. Chasing the Lion alone, is all but impossible. The paths are tricky and we have all stumbled and maybe even fallen, but just when it seems we might lose sight of our target he seems to wait, to allow us another chance. You see this is a Lion who wants to be found and so we will go on searching.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Lights

I have taken to standing outside the back door of my house on the hill after it has gone dark. From there I can see the lights of towns up and down the north Lancashire coast. Lancaster, Morecambe, Heysham, Fleetwood and Blackpool. Amongst them are many different lights, yellow, red, white, small, large and, in the case of Blackpool Tower, flashing and glowing in all sorts of colours. Some of them are in steady rows, some alone in the blackness, others scattered randomly across the expanse. It is a beautiful sight.

Be a light in a dark place. Be beautiful. Be attractive. Be genuine. Be warm, but not lukewarm. Be concerned for the right things, but not worried for yourself. Be significant. Be sure. Hold fast and do not waver. Shine.


 
 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

My House is Burning

350 years since the Great Fire of London

The night is cold but the air is hot. The water is black but the flames are reflected red, yellow, orange, on the surface. Boat bound I watch my city burn, the smoke rising to the heavens. There are no more stars.
     Before, there were screams and shouts, now there is only the crackling and crashing of falling, burning timber and the distant wailing of women. The men are silent, they can only watch as everything they had is slowly taken from them. The sun will rise three times or more before this blaze goes out, but what can rise from so many ashes.
     My house is burning. Why? But there are some questions that can’t be answered. Sometimes the only thing to do is cry together, or stand together, or watch and wonder together, and talking can come later, or not at all. My house is burning, but my land remains, and we will raise yet greater wonders.


Pic. from the 1666 commemoration in London this month
 
 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Moment the World Stood Still

The sun had passed the peak of its arc but still hung high, waiting to dip towards the distant horizon, while white clouds lazily crossed an ocean of blue sky. The people who hurried by slowed in their stride until they stopped altogether and the sound of chatter died to nothing.
     I stood up from my grassy bed, where I had lain all afternoon, and left my body behind. My spirit wandered amongst the people and I asked them, "where are you going?" but no one replied. "The sun may rise and fall and rise again, but what will you gain by rushing on through busy streets. There is not so much to be done. Just one thing is important now. Wash your clothes white and go through the city gates. In there is peace and the sun shines forever."
     I returned to my place on the grass but time did not pass on. Light filled the earth, glinting and making little shadows. A butterfly danced by and landed lightly, wings spread, unconcerned and there it stayed contented for hours, until finally the sun dipped once more and the people moved on.
     "Don't wait for another day," my spirit told them silently, "there will never be a better time than now."

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Western View

The rain has obscured my view. My view to the west from the top of the hill, over the plain to the Lune river and the embankment that runs from Heysham to Morecambe. A grey mist has descended on the trees and all I can see now is the football pitch below my vantage point where soggy players are departing after their Saturday afternoon match. Only dimly can I make out the nearest wind turbine, spinning clockwise in its regular, mesmerising way.
               Peering north there is absolutely no view of Morecambe Bay or the southern hills of the Lake District beyond. On a sunny day the fells show tantalisingly on the horizon. Being able to see them but not actually be there is like the few days before Christmas, excitement building inside.
               Today though there are only grey clouds, and not shades of grey, just one plain, pale silver, without the sparkle; stretching across the sky to the horizon and even down into the trees and reflecting off the damp roof tiles.
               It’s dark, too dark for the first weekend in September, (the wind turbine has now disappeared) but then autumn is coming. The view will soon change as the trees reveal their colours. And we, coming out of our summer haze, will think, ‘what’s next?’

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Bridging the Gap

Changes are coming, and have already come, and I don't just mean the new background to the blog (I'm still working on it).

Indeed changes seem to come quite regularly these days, or at least more regularly than I expected they would years ago, but I'm getting used to them. New locations, new people, a new job this time for me, and always new gaps to bridge. Hopefully I will build new bridges as sturdy and long-lasting as the viaduct in the picture above.

There is a young girl I know, who is just beginning school and is very excited by the prospect, she cannot wait for her first piece of homework. The divide between youth and adult can sometimes be very wide! However, I am aiming to begin this new adventure with the same enthusiasm!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

An Ending

I am not an Olympian, but I strive for the best, for perfection.
I have not won a medal, but I have been rewarded with gold of a different kind.

I have come to measure my success by the reactions of those I work with.
I have discovered joy in the achievements of others and in shared experiences.

I will remember the freezing rain, the wind and the mud and know that difficulties can be endured and overcome.
I will remember the gentle, glorious sunshine and tell myself to get outside as often as possible.

Thank you to the kids, who have given their trust and their love,
Thank you to the leaders, for their encouragement and praise,
Thank you to my colleagues, my friends, my house mates, you were my gold medal.
Thank you PGL for the opportunity to do something I loved and I could excel at. I am not an Olympian but sometimes I have felt like one.

And I'm still working on that.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A Strange Day Out

Just experienced one of the odder days I've had with PGL, chaperoning 50 French teenagers (and their leaders) around Liverpool. They don't speak English and I don't speak French so conversation was limited and they got on fine without me, so I sort of ended up just following them around.
     Now I've always thought the French were a little bit bonkers and sometimes grumpy, but this group were some of the happiest French people I've met (as well as being bonkers). They regularly broke out in song or dance, usually in the middle of the street. There was an impressive group performance of Uptown Funk that drew a fair crowd of shoppers in the main precinct followed by a French version of the Conga. A lot of the Liverpuddlians seemed to enjoy this wacky crowd of French kids, but being British many of them were also not sure if they should be scowling, confused or just laughing at them. Not that the group minded, they were fairly oblivious to everyone else and just out for a good time. As for me, I just went with it, there wasn't much else I could do and anyway it made the day extra enjoyable!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Photographing Paris

What a delight. I spent the day touring Parisian streets in the sunshine and trying to be artsy with my camera. Here are my mixed results.

 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Saturday, 6 August 2016

Olympics are Go!

The sport finally begins after so much bad press. The Opening Ceremony was a bit odd at times, but its simple style and messages of peace and unity were wonderful. I think the best parts were the speeches which highlighted the importance of the games and the Olympic spirit, especially with the new Olympic Laurel award. I hope the latest Olympians will breathe new life into the Olympic dream for our Olympic World.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Big Red Button - Do Not Push

Would you push the button to massacre 100,000 innocent victims? Yes, no?

Well, Theresa May said she would, but she was put on the spot, with the eyes of the world watching (probably), and while backing the move to renew Britain’s Trident, nuclear-bomb-carrying submarines, so she was never going to say anything else. Since then plenty of people have expressed their answer, either in support or complete opposition, along with their reasons. The thing is, I don’t think anyone in this country, given the chance at the crucial moment, would, even Theresa May.

Maybe I’m na├»ve but I don’t believe that a Prime Minister in this country would ever be so barbaric. Certainly I don’t think they’re ever going to use such a bomb in an aggressive attack, not least because we don’t have enough (only America and Russia do), so the only time we would fire this massively destructive weapon is if we have first been attacked in a massively destructive way, i.e. we’re all dead and the only thing left is to wreak revenge, to pay back the enemy in like-for-like fashion. But who are the enemy? Isis? You can’t put a nuclear missile on a lorry-driving lunatic on a beach front.

Britain has in the past been the calm voice of reason when tensions between nations with nuclear weapons have got tight, I hope we will continue to be and I cannot foresee any situation in which we would fire a nuclear bomb (we are British after all). Nor do I see that they work as a ‘deterrent’ to anybody else. I don’t have a problem with a new submarine, (I think four, given the price, might be a bit over the top) but let’s stop pretending we would ever use nuclear weapons. Sending out the message of ‘if you destroy us, we’ll destroy you’ is doing nothing for improving international relations, and I always think, if you’re not going to say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.

If Britain is bombed to the point of extinction I hope that whoever is left with the power to retaliate will realise the futility of it and perhaps come to a different conclusion. Never will the earth have needed the power of forgiveness more.

 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Little Brother

Our little brother, wide eyed and easily influenced. You saw the sweets in the window and squandered your bus fare, but we opted to walk the long way home with you. Your legs soon tired and I gave you my penny for the bus, but you got off at the next stop and ran back to join us. The guilt was too much for you, but the loyalty bound us together.

Mother asked us where we had been and you told her the truth. She sighed and offered a reprimand, which we ignored, but you took to heart. You always took her words to heart. We never doubted who was her favourite, but we didn’t begrudge it either. I wonder if you know that we love you just as much as you love us. After all, you are our little brother.
 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Winmarleigh by Me

A sunny morning for colouring blank pages
 

Oh Winmarleigh is a house, and it's almost like a home,
     But we share it with 300 kids, so it's not quite our own.
                                                    (Song for Winmarleigh)

Friday, 24 June 2016

Referendum Review

Scotland votes in, Wales votes out, Northern Ireland in, England out (apart from London and a few other places). In, out, in, out, we shake it all about. The PM says he’ll stand down and that probably means a new government. The £s go up and down like a yo-yo that the Bank of England are desperately trying to prevent running out of bounce. Meanwhile everyone else is trying to get their heads around the slightly surprising result and what it all means. The only clear thing I can see is that with a 52/48 percent split our country is not quite as united as we like to say, in fact it’s completely divided, but I think we knew that already.

What is interesting as one MP said at some point in the early hours of the morning was that while people usually go with the status quo if they’re a bit unsure, it seems that this time they didn’t. I wonder how many people voted out just to stick one to the establishment, and how many didn’t vote in because they thought it was a foregone conclusion. Hopefully not too many for either, because those are not good reasons. Still this is the result and we must go with it. There are potentially exciting times ahead and probably some challenging ones too, but at this time it’s impossible to say what will happen at all.

It’s probably too early to start looking back, but I wonder if people will say in the future that this result had been coming and we were wrong not to expect it more; that the trend over the past 10 or 15 years was towards independence. Equally looking forward is difficult, but I hope this doesn’t point to greater divisions in our country, continent and world. Only time will tell.
 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Ten thousand is a big number!

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” As said Jack Kerouac.

"Until then I'll just keep putting down whatever comes into my head." Says I.

Thanks everyone for reading my thoughts, my ideas and my little stories. Maybe one day they'll be bigger!

10,000 views is more than I ever could have imagined when I started blogging four and a half years ago!

 
I took my mouth and silence made
But on the page the words don't fade.
 
 

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Living with Wonder

Boredom is the curse of life and wonder is the cure.

Why do I like working with young people? Largely it's their capacity for wonder. Their ability to see possibilities where adults see barriers, and their belief in magic and miracles that don't need to be explained or understood (at least in some scientific way) but are just enjoyed and marvelled at.

Adults, through the extra responsibilities and through the pressures of work, largely lose the wonder they had as a child. Things are explained to them, or if they cannot be explained, then ignored by them. Opportunities for wonder are cut or not taken (there are opportunities all the time and in all places, not just at the weekend, but adults often forget this, especially radio presenters who spend all week counting down to the next weekend on everyone else's behalf). Adults who try to continue exploring the world or have adventures, rather than try to explain and organise and prioritise are often told to 'settle down' and 'get a proper job'. Yet this is often what kills wonder and introduces boredom.

From a place of boredom people try to recapture the fun and exciting parts of life, but generally in the wrong places. We do things in an effort to feel something again, but can end up hurting ourselves more.

To be allowed to wonder and to take time to do so, is really the only cure. Keeping busy can lead to exhaustion, but exploring mysteries can fill the void we often feel.

Here are some things that have filled me with wonder this year:
   A terrified child pushing himself off the zip wire
   The generosity of a friend
   The effects of spring:

   This view:
 
   The stories of soldiers on D-Day (especially the story of Pegasus Bridge, which I read recently).
   The faith of millions of people throughout history (as I also read about recently) often leading to persecution and sometimes death.
   And that I get to live and work here (not for everyone, I know, but perfect for me):
 
 
Don't let boredom bring you down. Keep on being amazed, wondering and enjoying life. (I'm still working on that!)
 


Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Hunter

I try to find inspiration for writing in as many places as possible. This is an opening I have created based on three randomly selected words from a word association game (Codenames). Can you guess which words they were?


One day, while walking along the shore of Loch Ness, I met a man from Germany. At first, I must admit I had no idea he was from anywhere other than just around the corner. His English was impeccable, and his Scottish accent as flawless as the next Glaswegian. As I passed him I noticed that he was digging in the soft earth beside the Loch, and being in no particular hurry I paused to watch him. After a moment he looked up at me.
     "Good morning," I said.
     He nodded solemnly in reply.
     "Are you digging for anything in particular?" I asked.
     He looked at the ground, then back at me and frowned, trying to make up his mind it seemed. Then he said, "A crown."
     This was not the answer I expected, although it could have been anything I suppose. Anyway, I must have looked at least a little surprised, because he added, "a real one, but an old one."
     He went on to tell me how he had been researching about some ancient ruler in Europe (hence my discovery of his nationality) who had to flee for his life and, this man believed, had come to live on the shores of Loch Ness. Some time later the King was discovered and killed, but his crown was never found. The man continued to tell me at length about his studies and how he had now lived in Scotland for many years and had been hunting for the location of the missing crown, as yet without success.
     Eventually we parted, he to his digging and me to my walk. I pondered over everything he had shared with me and I became increasingly impressed by his perseverance over something that could come to nothing. He might never find the crown, and who was really going to care even if he did. The more I thought about it the more amazing it seemed. Gradually, however, I came to wonder if anything he had told me was true at all. Had in fact been led along in an elaborate joke, or was this man covering up something else entirely?


Did you guess the words?
They were: Loch Ness, Crown and Germany

Sunday, 15 May 2016

No Rescue Prevents the Cause

This is a story I heard recently.

It's a lovely sunny day so you and a group of friends decide to go for a picnic down by the river. You get out the blankets and the food, everyone's having fun, when suddenly one of the group spots someone coming down the river. They seem to be struggling and they're being swept along by the strong current. You know that not much further on the river goes over a waterfall; it would be impossible to survive. It is imperative that you act. Holding on to each other you stretch out into the river and catch the person as they come by. You drag them up onto the bank and rap a blanket around them. Everyone's congratulating each other and very thankful that you managed to save the person.
     Just as you're sitting back down though, you spot five people coming down the river, splashing and fighting to stay afloat. There's no time to think. You jump into the water and try to catch as many as possible. Everyone is involved in pulling the people out of the water, but when everyone is back on the bank you only count four rescued people and you realise with heartbreak that two people slipped by.
     Then someone shouts that there are ten people coming. You're all feeling out of breath, but everyone jumps in again. Five more people are rescued, but five others aren't. By now you're tired, the sun has gone in and the wind is picking up. You're thinking of heading home, when twenty people appear in the river. Everyone musters themselves and you go again, this time rescuing ten people, but losing another ten. You don't know whether to rejoice for the rescued ones or mourn those who have gone.
     It occurs to you that this doesn't seem to be stopping and as valiant as your rescue efforts are, at some point someone has to go upstream and find out who is throwing these people into the river in the first place.


This story was used as an analogy of human trafficking. All the time there are people being rescued from horrific situations, but the number of people in slavery around the world continues to grow.


Monday, 2 May 2016

Fear Misplaced

I've lost count of the number of times I've asked a child, "What are you afraid of?", when they tell me that they're feeling nervous, or scared of the zip wire/climbing wall/abseil tower etc. The answer though is always the same: "Heights".
     My response has become equally repetitive. "No, you're afraid of something else." I then get them to figure out what it is that makes them scared, to which the answer is: falling.

I have come to the opinion, and I believe it is the truth, that no one in the world is afraid of heights. We are all, however (and this is proven fact) afraid of falling. It is one of just two fears that we are born with. It's a good thing to be afraid of, because we don't want to fall, falling is bad and our body reacts against that. Sadly, we have come to refer to that fear as being afraid of heights, which is nonsense. Just because you're in a high place does not mean you will fall. Helping kids to understand this is a big part of getting them to give the challenging, high-up, activities, a go.

Thinking about this led me to consider what other fears we have that are misplaced.

Fear of the dark is in fact a fear of what may come out of the dark.
Fear of flying, relates back to the fear of falling/crashing.
Fear of dentists or doctors or needles, is presumably a fear of pain (to the body or the wallet, or both).
Fear of death. I guess this is really a fear of the unknown, of what, or what doesn't lie beyond.

If we could come to see our fears for what they really are, maybe we would be better at overcoming them, or changing our attitude towards them.

(By the way, the other fear we are born with is Loud Noises. Not a fear we easily recognise. But you blink every time someone is hammering a nail!)

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Shakespeare

“On it like a sonnet” as Shakespeare used to say. Or maybe not, who knows? Ah, that brilliant writer of the great and beautiful English language, now 400 years departed, and in commemoration I have found a sonnet with which I can associate, working at an outdoor centre.

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out! Alack! He was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
     Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
     Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.


Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Adventure of English

English is a language that has spread further than any other and is now spoken as a first language by vast numbers of people all over the globe, and by even more people as a second or third language. It has always been a greatly adaptable language pulling in words from other tongues and simply adding them to the ever growing list of words that fill the English dictionary. What started as a humble language spoken by small tribes has been shaken by invasions, and by invasion has shaken the world.

So often described as a Germanic language yet it is filled with Latinate words, mainly thanks to the French who almost wiped out English, and phrases that stretch back through time so that we have forgotten their original meaning. It has been moulded and stretched by great writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare and Dickens, while others, like Samuel Johnson, have tried to contain it in dictionaries and have people speak it correctly. Yet today accents and dialects are stronger than ever, within England and without. Words can be altered, grammar can be changed (or ignored – again both overseas and in Essex, I mean, England) and yet still we can understand each other (just).

This is the adventure of English, as described by Melvyn Bragg in his novel by that name. A fascinating story of how a language has changed and how it has changed the world. It is a gripping, twisting narrative with times of trouble, great victories and a cast of colourful characters who have all impacted the way we speak today and indeed the way I write this post now. So if you’re looking for something to read, something that will surprise you, amaze you, make you laugh and teach you more than you can possibly imagine about a language you probably thought you knew well, look up The Adventure of English!
 
 
 
 

Monday, 11 April 2016

When a family member gets married

I have now had the joy of attending the wedding of an immediate family member (my sister) and while I have been to many weddings over the years, I found this one at little different. The closest comparison I can make is to Christmas. There was the big build up, the preparations and excitement, which came to a head in the final week as my family gathered together. Then there was the day itself, full of fun, a trip to Church, handing over of cards and presents (although the happy couple won't open theirs for a while) a large meal and seeing old friends and family. Following the wedding, we had a quiet(er) day, going for a walk in the afternoon before ending up in front of the TV (to see an Englishman win the Masters) and the weekend crossword in the Times.

For the wedding I had the privilege of being an Usher, which seems to me to involve about 50% sitting around, 40% being told to do a wide variety of tasks by other members of the wedding party and guests and 10% actually doing things - such taking certain import items like these to the church:





Monday, 28 March 2016

Classical Music Hall of Fame

The Classic FM Hall of Fame is always a pleasurable listening experience over the Easter weekend, as they count down the top 300 pieces of classical music, as voted for by the public each year. However, I am starting to feel that the public are losing imagination as this year the top 6 were exactly the same as they were last year, and even in the same order, and the top 2 haven't changed (besides swapping every so often) for at least 8 years. This surprises me because over the 21 years of the chart there have been many changes and my personal choices have varied enormously as I'm made aware of new (usually old) pieces and as my tastes change. I still approve of and appreciate much of highest placed pieces but my top few would be a little different.

Here are the Top 15 from this year's Hall of Fame:

1. The Lark Ascending - Vaughan Williams
2. Piano Concerto no.2 - Rachmaninov
3. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis - Vaughan Williams
4. Enigma Variations - Elgar
5. Piano Concerto no.5 - Beethoven
6. Miserere - Allegri
7. Clarinet Concerto - Mozart
8. Symphony no.6 - Beethoven
9. Symphony no.9 - Beethoven
10. Cello Concerto in E minor - Elgar
11. Violin Concerto no.1 - Bruch
12. Adagio for Strings - Barber
13. 1812 Overture - Tchaikovsky
14. The Planets Suite - Holst
15. The Armed Man - Jenkins


By comparison here are my Top 15 classical pieces (as they currently stand)

1. Enigma Variations - Elgar
2. Violin Concerto no.1 - Bruch
3. Piano Concerto in A minor - Grieg
4. Cello Concerto in E minor - Elgar
5. Clarinet Concerto - Mozart
6. Piano Concerto no.2 - Rachmaninov
7. Spiegel im Spiegel - Arvo Part
8. 1812 Overture - Tchaikovsky
9. The Armed Man - Jenkins
10. The Planets Suite - Holst
11. Jazz Suite no.2 - Shostakovich
12. Miserere - Allegri
13. The Lord of the Rings (soundtrack) - Shore
14. Scheherazade - Rimsky-Korsakov
15. Piano Sonata no.14 (Moonlight Sonata) Beethoven

The really tricky thing is that it is so difficult to compare any two pieces of music and that is why I have voted for 13 different pieces in the past 7 years and why I expect my favourites to change regularly. My hope is that there will be at least some change on Classic FM in the future too!

 

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Problems of Adventuring

The little boat crunched ashore and the three explorers congratulated each other on their successful voyage. For months they had stood on the cliffs of their native homeland and gazed across the huge expanse of water, but now they were here, the first to arrive on this foreign soil.
There was no-one around, no-one to welcome them. Clearly no-one had seen them as they approached; but then, they told each other, no-one would be expecting them, or maybe there was no-one else here at all.
They looked across the wide and flat land. It was grey and muddy and boring.
‘Bit of dump this place, isn’t it?’ Bruce said.
‘Yeah not much here,’ added Dexter.
             After a moment however Silas did spot something: a road a long way off. ‘Well’, they said, ‘it must lead somewhere. So they made towards it, the sticky silt oozing between their toes.
‘Wish I’d bought my bog boots,’ Silas said, ‘At this rate I’m going to get trench foot.’
‘Well, at least you have long legs,’ said Dexter, ‘I wouldn’t want to be in Bruce’s shoes. A case of trench armpit is more likely with him.’
The taller two watched as Bruce tried to pick his way through the mire without ending up to his knees in stagnant, sand-hopper infested sludge, his rotund midriff wobbling as he walked.
Once on the road, which was little more than dirt-compacted track, they picked a direction and set off. For more than half an hour it remained deserted and rather lacking in signposts, but finally they saw someone coming towards them. The man, who was walking at a tremendous pace, began shouting at them from a long way off and waving his arms about.
None of them could understand a word he was saying but just before they collided Bruce realised the man wanted them to move to the other side of the road. However, that split-second of deliberation was too long for Dexter and Silas as the man sent them sprawling into the ditch. He then bounced off Bruce’s belly onto the opposite side of the track, leaving Bruce clutching his knees, winded. Instead of stopping, however, the man picked up his pace again and passed them, still shouting and shaking his head.
Dexter crawled out of the ditch on his hands and knees and using Bruce as a hoist got to his feet. ‘Stupid man.’ he said picking bits of bracken out of his mouth. ‘Do you think they all walk on the wrong side of the road?’
 
 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Mud Wars with the Scots

Old enmities awoke today as the plucky English, heavily outnumbered, sometimes by as many as 12 to 1, bravely attempted to right the many wrongs of previous skirmishes with our northern neighbours.

The battle took place in badly waterlogged ground at Winmarleigh Hall in Lancashire and the Englishman (me) successfully tied down several of the scots on many occasions (they didn't have a choice seeing as I needed them to belay for their fellow soldiers on Jacob's Ladder) in order to inflict much grubbiness to their faces. They in turn launched long range mud missiles with some success, but most were deflected by my armour (raincoat).

The battle lasted all afternoon and some of the scots became almost unrecognisable but rallying at the end their numbers proved too much and I succumbed to heavy bombardment. I did however have the final say as both sides retreated - to the showers.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Today I gazed at stars

Today I gazed at stars
and pointed out constellations to bewildered children
who became obsessed with Betelgeuse,
while their teachers tried to fall asleep
in the darkness of the planetarium.

What’s a supernova and how far is a light year again?
Is it Jupiter with the rings and which planet is blue?
Is that named after a Roman god or a Greek one?
To be honest, I haven’t got a clue.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Creators - Short Story no.2

Ariana lay back in the mid-morning sunshine, gazing at the bright, blue sky.
               “You should be careful,” said Ruben, beside her, “you’ll hurt your eyes.”
               “It doesn’t bother me,” she replied.
               “What doesn’t?”
               “The light. And anyway, the sun is so beautiful.”
               “Nah, it’s just a burning mass of helium, and one day it’ll go out, but I intend to make the most of its heat while it’s still there.”
               Ariana didn’t say anything. After a while Ruben rolled on to his side to look at her. He stroked her arm softly, but she continued to stare into the sky.
               “What you thinking?” Asked Ruben.
               “About stars going out. They last a long time, but like everything else they are destroyed and then remade as something else. Like those new stars.” She lifted a long arm and pointed to the sky.
               Ruben looked up. “What new stars, you can’t see stars in the day time, and even at night you need a telescope to see nebulas.”
               “You do,” said Ariana.
               “And you don’t, I suppose. You can see all the stars and watch them dying and being born.”
               “It’s all part of being a creator.”
               “I don’t understand you, sometimes,” said Ruben shaking his head and lying back down.
               “No, and that’s all right. You don’t have to understand everything you know. Not knowing is wonderful too. It means you can still be filled with wonder.


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Thoughts on being an EFL groupie

This week at PGL I have been a group leader for 63 Italians and their teachers. As with all groups it’s much easier when they listen, do what you ask and are generally polite, which this group was, but this week has extra fun. Even though I couldn’t get to know the young people really well because of the language barrier we have had some great moments playing games, singing (indoor campfire - it was too cold outside apparently), dancing (disco went on a long time), teaching them some English words and trying to learn some Italian. In the end I think my list of words stretches to:
     Tavolo (Table)
     Sedia (Chair)
and an Italian tongue twister that a couple of girls taught me, which goes like this:
     Supra la panca la capra campa
     Sutto la panca la capra crepa
which, translated into English, is something about goats and benches (I think like all tongue twisters it's nonsense, but they were struggling to explain it to me).

The strangest thing to get my head around is that they're basically the same as any other English group. They listen to the same music, wear similar clothes, play table tennis and table football, lose stuff on buses (like mobile phones and passports - we got them back) and laugh at you when you mispronounce their names. It's just that conversation is limited to a few words (they did get better over the week) and many hand gestures. Still I'll miss them, for a little while at least. 

  

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Creators - Short Story no.1

James was running hard, his shoes slapping against the pavement erratically. He turned around corners and disappeared up dark streets, silent in the late hour. Every now and then he would hear other feet and shouts and occasionally a siren would whirr, but he kept running. His heart beat fast with the exertion and fear.
               Suddenly a figure leapt from the shadows and grabbed his jacket. “Gotcha, stand still, this is the police,” the man said from behind.
               James instinctively shot out his left arm, directing it towards the feet of the man. Immediately green shoots burst from the ground, wrapping around his feet and legs, tying him to the spot. James wriggled free from the policeman’s grasp and leaving him there he ran on again.
               Streetlights cast their orange glow on the tarmac and James dodged each one as best he could, warier than ever. More footsteps sounded behind him and he glanced over his shoulder to see two policemen chasing at a distance. Again James stretched out his arm and the ground came to life as long tendrils rose up, tripping the men and pulling them to the ground. James didn’t stop to watch.
               Further on he dived into a darkened doorway to catch his breath and consider his options. He needed to cross the river, but the bridge was risky. It was open and bright. Still, he couldn’t wait any longer. He darted out again, hugging the buildings for as long as he could. When he drew level with the bridge he ran out, ducking low and sprinting as fast as he could. The water rippled dully below him but James kept his eyes dead ahead. The end of the bridge drew nearer and then he was off it, turning left and running along the embankment. The road was narrow with a low wall on the river side and tall buildings on the other. Then ahead of him, hidden by shadows James saw a line of policemen, blocking his path. Immediately two police cars pulled out behind him, preventing retreat. James reached out both arms and charged. The ground literally writhed with plants growing up around the police line, then tuning he directed his attention at the two cars out of which more officers had arrived. They, too, quickly found themselves rooted to the spot.
               “Stop,” shouted a clear voice.
               James turned to see someone stepping from the line of policemen. He fired out his hand and shoots rose up, but this time they withered and fell back. Again James reached out but again the plants barely brushed the legs of this newcomer before falling away. James looked up to see the person remove her hat and long golden hair spill out around her shoulders.
               “No, not you,” he said breathlessly. Then darting forward, he grabbed the woman by the neck and pinned her to the wall.
               “Let her go,” called another voice, even higher and clearer than the woman’s.
               James looked around to see a girl, no more than twelve push through the line of policemen, still held fast to the ground. James stretched his hand towards her but once more the green shoots rose up and withered.
               “How is that possible,” James whispered.
               The girl pulled back her hood. She too had long golden hair and bright eyes that shone even in the dim light. James relaxed his grip on the woman and stared at the girl. The girl started back and James saw that her eyes were not the same as the woman’s but more closely resembled another’s he knew well.
               “Natasha,” he said, softly.
               The girl blinked and glanced at the woman who had collapsed to the ground. “Mother,” she said, her voice trembling slightly, how does he know my name?”
               “Because,” said James, stepping towards Natasha, who instinctively stepped away, “I know your mother and-”
               “No you don’t,” snarled the woman from the ground.
               James looked round as she pushed herself up and then ran at him catching his arm and pulling it back. He grimaced and looked around. His plants were beginning to relax and the police were fighting to free themselves.
               “The police are going to take you, James,” said the woman, still gripping his arm tightly.
               “Then they’ll be taking the wrong man,” he replied through gritted teeth.
               “It’s over, James,” she said, ignoring him and pushing him further back towards the river until his legs touched the stone wall. Over her shoulder he saw the first policeman break free and run towards him.
               “It’s never over,” he said, and suddenly wrapping his free arm around the woman he fell backwards over the wall, pulling her with him.