Remembrance Day 2017

This is the post I put up for Remembrance day two years ago. It seems as pertinent now as it did then.

Remembrance Day, and the wearing of poppies, seems to be something that divides opinions and causes a certain amount of friction, especially in Britain.

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On one side, there are those who say that simply wearing a red poppy is a glorification of militarism, whilst on the other are those who argue that it is all about respect; about honouring the dead.

Are we remembering the First World War, one hundred years ago, or are we celebrating it? There would seem to be quite a few people, judging from conversations that I have heard and threads that I have seen, who are happy to confuse the two and seem unwilling to listen to what is really being said.

A lot of nonsense, of course, is spoken by both sides:

‘Every soldier is/was a hero’

‘Anyone who objects to them is a traitor’

‘It is all about glorifying war and militarism’

Unfortunately, as soon as a debate becomes in any way emotional, then there is a tendency both for people’s opinions to become polarised, and for their perceptions of the opinions of others to also become polarised.

And then anything that your ‘opponent’ says is jumped upon as furiously as if they had just advocated the torture and murder of all children and little furry animals.

But they haven’t, so calm down.

Now then, the facts.

It may come as a surprise to some people, but the poppy was not chosen because the red colour of its petals symbolised bloodshed, but because of its ability to bloom where the ground has been smashed and churned up, such as at the Somme, where it was noticed by a Canadian soldier, Col. John McCrae, a physician, who wrote a poem about it, and through this it was adopted later by the Royal British Legion as a symbol for their poppy appeal. It is intended to symbolise how someone whose life has been in dreadful turmoil may come later to peace and normality.

The white poppy was first used in 1933, to remember those who had died, but also as a determination to work for peace. It was mildly controversial at the time, and some women lost their jobs for wearing it, but in more recent times Margaret Thatcher expressed her distaste for it and there are many now who follow her lead.

The Royal British Legion point out that they have no objection to the white poppy or, as some people like to do, it being worn alongside the red poppy.

To return to the controversy, then.

Why does it only commemorate the military? What about the civilians who died? What about the conscientious objectors who died for their beliefs? When it was first used by the Royal British Legion, it was to raise funds for disabled servicemen and the families of those who had been killed, so this wasn’t an issue then. When the white poppy was introduced, in many people’s minds it came to represent those others.

Does it glorify war? In some people’s minds, no doubt, it does, but this is not its purpose. Even the military will say that part of the purpose of Remembrance Day is to help to ensure that a war like WW1 never happens again. It is important to remember the horrors to avoid sleepwalking into them again.

There are also many people who feel it terribly important that it should be worn the ‘right way’, but there is no agreement over what this ‘right way’ is. Some say it should be worn on the left side, some that men should wear it on the left and women the right. Many argue over when it should be first worn – from October 31st? The eleven days leading up to Remembrance Day? After Guy Fawkes Night? Some argue that it should be worn with the leaf pointing to eleven o’clock. There are no ‘official’ guidelines on this.

The poppy, and Remembrance Day, are used also as propaganda by hate groups like ‘Britain First’ (if you have never heard of them, they describe themselves as a patriotic political party and street defence organisation’ – I think that tells you everything that you need to know), who choose to ignore facts such as that 400,000 Muslim and 1.2 million Indian troops fought alongside the allies in World War 1, many giving their lives, and like to think of it as a symbol of white Britishness. This, of course, is not a reason to object to the poppy, but only to the hate groups, especially as this only helps to further polarise opinions.

I do not see, then, any reason why pacifists should object to the red poppy and the Remembrance Day tradition, or why servicemen should object to the white poppy. If they all take the time to understand what each one represents, then they should understand that there is no real conflict in their views, and that both represent remembrance and respect.

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Even MORE impractical gifts for #writers. #SundayBlogShare #Christmas

I know I don’t do a huge number of reblogs, but Barb’s superb post is just too good not to share!

Barb Taub

It’s been a tough year for writers. Sure, we tell lies about our imaginary friends write stories, but it really works best if our worst fears stay within their 85K word count instead of becoming presidential candidates.

Frankly, as the holidays approach this year, that special writer in your life needs more from you than pretending (again) to read their book or even buying it on Amazon. (Again.) They need you to go beyond reminding them about personal hygiene, putting on pants before they go out, or if they’ve been arguing with their characters out loud. (Again.)

Right now, your special writer needs some love. And what better time to show you care than the holiday season? Luckily, there are a lot of absolutely senseless gifts to gladden the heart of any writer. Last year I offered writerly-gift suggestions–

Practical gifts are out, of course, because if writers were practical…well, they certainly wouldn’t be writers. [see:It’s…

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Review: “Making friends with the Crocodile” by Mick Canning

A great review of my book by Christoph Fischer.

writerchristophfischer

Making Friends with the Crocodile coverI am delighted to present you my review of Mick Canning’s novel “Making Friends with the Crocodile”. Having followed Mick’s blog posts about India for some time, I was eagerly awaiting it.
The book focuses on women in rural India. “If you live near the river, you better make friends with the Crocodile” is an Indian proverb.
In the novel we get to see simple lives, where people struggle to make a living, earn a reputation and survive in a world full of crocodiles. Those crocodiles come in all shapes and forms: friends, family, strangers, laws, conventions…
Surviving isn’t easy, especially if you are a woman.

The story of Siddiqui and her family revolves largely around an unfortunate evening incident that involves her daughter in law and the friend of her husband. How people and the community respond to said incident shows the difficulties women face.
At first I didn’t…

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Interview with Mick Canning

My first author interview, with Cathleen Townsend. My thanks to her for generously hosting this.

Cathleen Townsend

Mick CanningI met Mick through his wonderful blog, located at https://mickcanning.co/, and I was delighted when he agreed to be a guest here today.

Let’s start with you, Mick. Tell us about yourself.

I’ve always been writing, and completed 2 novels a long time ago. Both were so awful, though, that I junked them. It was a good learning curve, however, and now I’m hopefully a more mature writer. Until I become rich and famous (!), though, I make ends meet by teaching rock climbing, and occasionally some other outdoor activities.

I love travelling, especially to India and other nearby countries, which probably comes out in my blog posts!

I’ve learned a lot about India from those posts. How did you start your blog? Has it changed over time?

I have been following the blog at Writer’s Village (http://www.writers-village.org/writing-award-blog.php) for some time, and advice that I received in…

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My First Long Trip to India (1)

Fifteen years after my first trip to India, I was back again in Delhi.

On the first morning I had breakfast, and then had a bit of a walk around being hassled. It proved very difficult, as an obvious westerner, to walk around on my own. One or two beggars approached me, although they were neither numerous, nor persistent, at this point. The strangers offering ‘good advice’ made me more circumspect. They may have been simply being helpful, or they may have been touts. I was advised to go to a nearby ‘Tourist Office’ or ‘Travel Bureau’ – usually a private enterprise in India – for maps and information on what to see. I was advised to carry my bag differently to thwart thieves – no doubt kindly meant. Every step that I took deeper into Paharganj I was accompanied by one or two chaps unobtrusively wandering along at my side, until I began to feel that I had had enough of it. A number of people were out to sell me things – anything from hashish to bus tickets. In the end I dived into a café for a cup of tea to give myself some space and to formulate a strategy for dealing with all this. I was, after all, going to be in India for another three months.

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Yes, three months. How came this to pass? The reason was simply that I had become pretty fed up with all of my routines in England. I might say that I was bored; I might say that I felt as though I was stuck in a rut. I might also say that I had come to loathe the work that I was doing. Clearly, some sort of change was required, even if only a temporary one so that I might feel refreshed. Sitting in a pub garden in the sunshine, in a village a few miles from where I lived, drinking a pint of Mr Harvey’s splendid ale, I decided that I would walk around the U.K. As you do. The fact that I now clearly wasn’t walking around the U.K. may require further explanation.

I spent some months working out an itinerary; poring over maps and drawing felt tip lines here and there on them, reading up on places I had never been to, and reading accounts of people who had done this sort of thing before. After rejecting a coastal walk (I’m not mad keen on the coast; I prefer hills and mountains and woods and really don’t like seaside towns) I eventually decided upon a rough route linking up long distance paths and places of interest that ran haphazardly around the island, and decided that I was permitted to take buses and trains to avoid cities and the suchlike. Friends I spoke to said they’d accompany me along the way for a few days here and there, so I didn’t have to put up with my own company all of the time (they generously offered to put up with it instead). I estimated that the project would take four or five months.

I got quite excited about it. And then I decided to walk Offa’s Dyke Footpath (which very roughly follows the border between England and Wales) as a sort of training run (well, walk), and things rapidly began to go wrong.

I couldn’t believe how much stuff I’d crammed into my rucksack. This certainly wasn’t the first time that I had gone long distance walking; carrying everything that I needed to camp along the way, but it seemed that I had about twice as much stuff as I’d ever taken before. How on earth had that happened? I crammed and jammed the last of it in and forced the zips closed. Then I tried to lift the thing; it was ridiculously heavy. I unpacked it and discarded clothes, until I felt that I really had the bare minimum necessary. I got rid of one of my two cooking pans. One of my two books. One or two other odds and ends were jettisoned. I could shut the bag a bit more easily, now, but it still weighed a ton. Should I chuck out the tent and just take a bivvy bag? In the end I didn’t, since it was a lightweight tent that was only fractionally heavier and bulkier than the bivvy bag would have been. Did I really need to take photos? Did I really need to wash? I was still dithering when the time came to leave the house and catch my bus.

The following day I walked out of Chepstow on the first leg of the footpath, with what still seemed like half a ton of stuff on my back. I kept thinking that I’d be carrying even more with me for the four or five months that it was going to take me to do the real thing. But the first day went okay, and I reached the place that I had decided to spend the night after a very pleasant walk. It was the next day that I first twisted my ankle. I’ve always been a bit prone to this; it seems that my left ankle has some sort of weakness, which is probably the legacy of an older injury.

I went down in agony. Eventually the pain subsided enough for me to get carefully to my feet, get my rucksack back on and hobble painfully on my way. It took some while, but after perhaps an hour or two, I was moving fairly well again. Then, towards the end of the afternoon, I began to walk down a hillside towards my campsite, when my foot twisted under me and I went down again with a great yelp of pain and a torrent of bad language.

After that, things just went from bad to worse.

The following day I cut myself a strong walking stick from a wild briar, just outside of Monmouth. But even so, I twisted my ankle a further two or three times that day. The scenery became lovelier and lovelier, but I only had eyes for wherever I was next going to place my foot.

All the joy had gone out of the trip.

On day four, I managed to walk through the best scenery so far without further mishap, and then walked the last few hundred yards into Hay on Wye where, you guessed it, I twisted my ankle. I stayed two nights in Hay, enjoying the bookshops but especially enjoying not carrying my bag around, and the next day I took a bus home, defeated.

I still needed a journey, though, and after a while I thought of India. I had spent a couple of weeks out there some fifteen year’s previously, and had yearned to return and explore it further. And so I began to draw up a new itinerary.

Desert Island Books

This was one of my first posts, which I wrote some 6 months ago when I had very few followers or readers. On a whim, I republish it today.

Mick Canning

There is a weekly program on BBC radio that has been running for almost seventy five years now, called Desert Island Discs. The format is that a well-known, or not so well-known, person is interviewed for forty five minutes on the premise that they are to be stranded on a desert island, and that they can take eight pieces of music with them, so which ones would they choose and why? They are also asked to select a favourite book and a luxury item, and are given the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. This, then, is my take on it, substituting books for pieces of music. The obvious advantage of this is that I don’t have to rescue a gramophone from the shipwreck as I crawl through the surf towards safety. The disadvantage becomes obvious just as soon as I look at our bookshelves or glance through my…

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Jaipur

I have recently discovered Arv’s lovely blogsite ‘Jaipur thru my lens’:

https://jaipurthrumylens.wordpress.com/

and after reading several posts and enjoying the pictures, I felt that I had to revisit my own photos of Jaipur and share a few of them.

They’re a bit of a mish-mash, but, there you go.

I was there in 2009 for a few days, and probably the thing that I remember most about it is that because I was unwell for much of the time (unusually for me),  I did not get to see many of the places there that I had wanted to see.

I think this is why I enjoyed Arv’s pictures so much.

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Pitfalls for writers – 1) language

Pitfalls for Writers, an occasional series; part 1) Language

Language, or, more specifically, its usage, changes so rapidly nowadays that the writer who wishes to sound up to the minute is on a hiding to nothing.

Even if I were to successfully write a blog post using the latest idioms of the street, I suspect it would be out of date by the time it had been up on my site for twenty four hours.

What sounds edgy and street one day is laughed at the next.

Of course, older readers will laugh at it anyway, so whatever I do I end up getting jeered at.

Ouch!

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Let’s go back a little. The language of the Victorian Poor or the upper classes in 1920’s England, say, is easy enough to research and imitate, and also easy enough to understand when read today, which makes it much easier to work with. The only real pitfall might be to use a word at a period of history before said word was in use. A writer could not refer to his seventeenth century English gentleman ‘shampooing his hair’, for example, since the word did not enter the English language until 1762 and even then meant ‘massage’, as was its original meaning in Hindi, and only acquired the meaning of ‘to wash the hair’ in 1860.

The language of medieval England is also fairly easy to research, but the novelist uses it accurately at his or her peril, for precisely the same reason that no one would use Latin to write a novel set in ancient Rome – they would immediately be losing 99.9% of their potential readers.

The first three lines of ‘Beowulf’, in the original Old English:

‘hwæt, we gar-dena in geardagum,

þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,

hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!’

Anyone understand that? Nope, me neither. Seamus Heaney translates it thus:

So, the Spear-Danes in days gone by,

And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.

We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

An alternative translation I came across:

Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kings,

Of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,

We have heard, and what honour the athelings won.

Now, I like the Seamus Heaney translation, but I prefer the second one, since I feel that it gives me more of a flavour of the time. So, the original is fun to read for a scholar of Old English, but if it’s just the story that you want, it needs to be written in a language that the reader understands, perhaps with the voice of the time (or flavour). What do I mean by voice? Let me give an example in an imaginary sixteenth century setting:

‘By my troth!’ he exclaimed.  Or…

‘By my troth!’ he exclaimeth.

In the first case, ‘By my troth!’, true to the time, conveys the voice of the time satisfactorily. In the second, the change from ‘exclaimed’ to ‘exclaimeth’ sounds awkward and cumbersome to modern ears, even if it be yet more true to the time.

Perhaps, then, the author does not need to write authentic language, but just to sound a bit authentic; to use extracts. Give a taste.

So, back to the streets. If I was to persist in my ambition to write a post in the genuine voice of an urban teenager, I am almost certain to fail.

Even if I were to pick up the words accurately, I would probably use them incorrectly, and the majority of my readers would not understand them in any case.

And so my answer would be to attempt merely a flavour of the speech.

What of a story set in a different culture to that of the writer? The novel that I am working on at the moment is set in India, and so I use several words and terms that will be familiar to Indian readers, but perhaps not to western ones.

Do I need to explain them? Or put in a glossary?

My feeling is not. An Indian writer would not feel the need to explain them, and they obviously help to give a more authentic voice or flavour to the narrative. Their use does not affect the flow of the story, either, since the reader can choose to look up the word if they wish, or simply infer the meaning and carry on. We all occasionally meet words we don’t recognise, in any case.

Does anyone think otherwise? How do you feel when you encounter dialect or unknown words in books?