Twitter Tantrum

It was interesting – or demoralising – to follow a couple of threads on Twitter today where the vast majority of contributors remarked that if someone followed you, you HAD to follow back. If not, you’d be unfollowed instantly. I noticed this because a few times recently I’ve been followed, only to be unfollowed a few hours later, presumably because I hadn’t followed back. This tells me these new followers had NO interest in what I might post, only in boosting their followers total. And if that’s what the majority think, then why on earth bother posting anything if the only reason anyone else is there is to gain followers?

Just go away. We don’t want your sort in here.

Panicking Pigeons and Floundering Pheasants

Some birds look particularly elegant and graceful when they fly…

And some don’t…

Panicking pigeons are pitiful things,

Flapping and slapping and clapping their wings,

Each one has only one thing on its brain,

And that’s searching for insects, for seeds, and for grain.

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Walk-bobbing-walking like chickens on speed,

Or speeded up clockwork or on some doped seed,

Cooing down chimneys and shitting on folks,

A ridiculous call like a ghost being choked.

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A floundering pheasant’s a physical freak,

With a whirring of wings and a creak from its beak,

You would think they would hide up and shut up all day,

But a clattering rusty noise gives them away.

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There are plenty of elegant fowl in the sky,

The swift and the swallow, the eagle and kite,

With a breath-taking swoop or a beautiful song,

At times, though, evolution just got it plain wrong.

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And on the subject of birds, I couldn’t let you go without letting you listen to the blackbird in our garden who I mentioned in the previous post, who has been singing his little heart out every day:

Saturday Rumination

Sometimes, when the sun is shining and a blackbird is absolutely singing its heart out, so the air is filled with the beautiful liquid notes of its song, and when the spring leaves are coming out, nothing more is needed for contentment than a beer and a book in the garden.

There is still a keen freshness in the air, and the scent of the hops in the beer seem especially fragrant.

Nothing more is needed then than, perhaps, a ghostly, misty, shape arising from the marshes and speaking one’s name…

Smallpox, Vaccinations, and my Ancestors in Essex

One branch of my family came from Essex. In the eighteen hundreds they lived in the Ashen area, in Ashen, Ovington, Clare, and, I expect, other nearby villages. Extended families all living within a few minutes walk of each other as was the way then, both in urban and rural areas. They were all farm labourers making more or less of a living and I would imagine they found life quite a struggle. Most did.

Yesterday I made a systematic search through the parish records for the Ashen area, looking at every page between 1800-odd and 1890-odd. The pages up to approximately 1815 are water-stained and virtually indecipherable, and they finish around 1890. This branch of the family were named Hickford and I decided to extract every entry of that name to help me piece together the relationships. These records are of Births and burials and, before 1837, marriages. After this date the marriage records were held in London.

I don’t propose to bore you with any details of the family, but I was particularly struck by the following entry:

Mary Hickford was only thirty five when she died on June 16th, 1839. What is interesting is the note appended to her burial record by the rector. And it was the only such record I noticed, although I might have overlooked one for another family. It reads:

She died of the small-pox between 3 and 4 o’clock on Sunday the 16th and buried a little after midnight. I read the burial service over her grave at 10 o’clock this same morning. L Squire, Rector of Ashen.

So much haste! No sooner is she dead than she is buried – in the small hours of the morning, no less. The gravediggers must have started work almost as soon as she had breathed her last. It illustrates how terrified people would have been of catching the disease.

We have forgotten how virulent and frightening smallpox was, since it was finally eradicated by vaccination in 1979. Up until the 1800’s it killed thousands of people, and disfigured many more than that. Attempts to protect people from it by vaccination go back much further than Edmund Jenner famously inoculating a boy with ‘cow pox’, essential a milder form of the same virus, to produce antibodies that would protect against smallpox. He had learned that country folk had noticed that milkmaids who worked with cattle all the time might develop cowpox, but rarely caught smallpox, and would occasionally inoculate themselves with cowpox to ward of smallpox.

A thousand years ago in China, healthy people inhaled a powder made from smallpox scabs which provided some protection against the disease. Another method was to scratch the surface of the skin and introduce the powder into the body that way. Versions of this circulated around Asia and Africa until stories reached the west in the 1700’s.

Since the disease killed so many, especially children, parents were keen to have their children inoculated. But naturally there were scare stories. There was an anti-vaccine movement ridiculed in this well-known cartoon by the then prominent cartoonist Gilray, in which patients are seen developing cow-like pustules as soon as they are innoculated.

These, of course, were the nineteenth century version of today’s anti-vaxxers protesting with no proof whatsoever that the vaccine is a way of inserting microchips to monitor and control the population, of ignorance rejecting science. And just as true.

Happy Birthday to my Little Brother

Who would have been 62 today.

Grief is a powerful emotion. It can be debilitating and overwhelming. It can consume people, preventing them from living their lives.

Although it sounds a fictional cliché, In some societies ‘professional’ mourners will attend funerals, intentionally provoking powerful outpourings of grief by almost theatrical displays of wailing and crying; perhaps ripping their clothing, throwing themselves to the ground, and thrashing around in distress. This helps to move the bereaved through the process of loss, by bringing feelings and emotions to the surface, rather than allowing them to linger unexpressed for months or years. It helps the mourners to move on – not to forget, but to allow life to continue.

I can understand this, having met people who have been unable to move through grief, seemingly trapped in an ‘I’m okay’ situation, refusing or unable to display their emotions but presumably storing their grief up inside, unexpressed. Refusing help. People who have appeared unable or unwilling to move on. I was fortunate, my grief striking me like a clenched fist and, for periods, I had no choice but to allow myself to weep and rail at fate. But this allowed me to eventually move on, my grief evolved into sadness.

And for anyone struggling with grief themselves, something that helped me at the time was to write a letter to my brother. In my case after remarking it had been a while since I had heard from him, I filled it with humour, using in-jokes we had shared, although other people might have found a different approach beneficial. And the letter sits on my computer still and every once in a while I read it, and it helps me to smile and remember and, of course it makes me feel sad.

But that’s good.

I shall read it again today, and remember.

So Little Time, So Much To Do

The last week or so seems to have been ridiculously busy. All my own fault, of course. I’ve become exceptionally good at realising I’m doing rather a lot…and then starting a new project to add to it.

I’m making good progress on my current work in progress, A Good Place. Check.

Totally irrelevant photo, but one of my favourite shots. Small boy carrying dead sharks on a donkey. As you do.

Now that I have unpublished both of my books from Amazon, I have submitted Making Friends with the Crocodile to a publisher who will accept work that has been previously self-published and am waiting on a yes or no from them. Check.

I have edited two of the poems I wrote last month during my Poem-a-day-for-a-week experiment, and my talented friend Mark Prestage is including them in a pamphlet / zine / chapbook /call it what you will with some of his superb linocuts and photos. More on that when it’s out.

And while I’m thinking about that, perhaps I should have a go at another Poem-a-day-for-a-week soon, it worked quite well, really.

What I haven’t yet done is put my short stories and poem book, The Night Bus, up on a new platform. This will probably be Lulu, and I really ought to do that soon.

I haven’t been very good at visiting blogs recently, as you might have noticed. I need to do a bit more of that.

I was going to start a painting, which I haven’t managed to do yet. Really, I do sometimes set myself too much to do.

So, a new project? Really? Well, yes, actually. Forty years or so ago my father began a family tree, which I occasionally helped him with. It has sat in a cupboard since he died thirty years ago. And now I’ve had the urge to take it up and do some work on it, partly because I’m aware that there is a whole branch of my family which has died out, and only myself and one cousin would still remember any of them. And, we’re not getting any younger, you know. So I’ve begun researching that.

And I wonder where the time goes.

Publishing Platforms – 2

My thanks to those who commented on my last post. I have now unpublished both books from Amazon, although Amazon won’t delist them on the grounds someone might want to sell them second-hand through their platform. I can’t do anything about that.

Making paper by hand, Kalimpong, West Bengal (2)

I will shortly re-publish The Night Bus, probably on Lulu, although I haven’t definitely decided on that platform, yet. I’ll do a little more research, first.

As for Making Friends with the Crocodile, I am persuaded to have a go at finding a publisher for it. We’ll see how that goes.

And in the meantime? Writing…

Publishing Platforms

I have three questions for everyone out there who has self-published a book or books.

If you used a platform other than Amazon, which one did you use, why did you use it, and how do you promote and sell?

I have published two books, both on Amazon, and I used that platform as it seemed the easiest and is obviously popular and sees lots of traffic. Yet I would now rather not use it. I actually avoid buying anything on Amazon if I can, feeling there is so much about it (and its founder) that I do not like. But equally I would not like to be a hypocrite, so I need to find another platform which will work for me.

Irrelevant-ish photo – making paper by hand in Kalimpong, India

What is the answer, good people of WordPress?

Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year, that is. The year of the Ox. Here are a few pictures I’ve taken of Chinese New Year celebrations in the past. With Lockdown, I don’t suppose there’ll be too many going on this year, at least outside of China.

First of all, some from London about thirty years ago:

Chinese New Year 2013 in Kolkata:

And a couple of my own paintings:

Gong Xi Fa Cai!