Hello, and thank you for visiting my site. I hope that you'll return often and always find something of interest about my world and what inspires me to pick up a pen. (This is a figure of speech, unfortunately. My handwriting is terrible!) Here's what I've been up to recently...

Van Gogh: the Immersive Experience

Ever a fan of Vincent van Gogh’s post-impressionist paintings, I was thrilled to discover that the York exhibition at St Mary’s, the deconsecrated church next to the Jorvik Viking Centre, was re-opening, albeit with safety measures in place due to the continuing pandemic. 

The afternoon began well. Our booking was for two o’clock and, despite some difficulty finding a parking space, we arrived at the venue about twenty minutes early. Pleased to find no queue outside, we donned our face masks and headed down the dark corridor to the reception area.   

 Peering at us through the gloom, a young woman checked off our names, indicated where we might sanitise our hands and told us that we could go straight through the curtain into the main area. There we found already well spaced out van Gogh themed deckchairs, chose a couple in the centre and settled down to wait. Given our early arrival, we weren’t surprised to see only one other person seated in the vast space. He looked up at us, nodded and appeared to go back to sleep. I could see why, because the area was flooded with soothing music. Projections of famous paintings were appearing on the wall at the far end of the building and drifting all the way round, which we thought impressive for a pre-show. They were very colourful, some animated, and we particularly liked the illusion of raindrops splashing into puddles on the stone floor and leaves making their way up the medieval stone pillars of the church.

Two o’clock came and went, a few other people drifted in and there was an air of expectancy. Surely it was time for the main show to begin? By twenty past two, I was feeling restless as well as very hot and sticky behind my mask and got up to study the mock up of Vincent’s famous bedroom at the back of the auditorium. It was excellent and, as it turned out, the best part of the experience for me that afternoon.

   

No guidelines had been given as to what to expect and, some time after returning to my deckchair, I became aware of the fact that the moving images and odd bits of commentary were beginning to feel familiar. People old enough to remember when cinemas had continuous performances will understand what I mean by the phrase, ‘This is where we came in.’

The realisation seemed gradually to dawn on other people too and it took one brave soul to move towards the exit sign for a mass exodus to ensue. Still masked, we passed a large animated vase of flowers, a table on which lay a few colouring in sheets for children, disposable gloves and stumpy crayons and then a sign offering a virtual reality experience for an extra £3. No one seemed to be manning* that, though, so we shuffled past and found ourselves heading up a flight of steps into the tiny gift shop.

*Is that now considered a sexist expression? If so, I apologise.

My disappointment stems entirely from the lack of guidance given to us that afternoon. If there were signs telling us what to expect, we missed them in the gloom and we saw no staff members between the reception area and the gift shop. I should like to go back, the better to appreciate the features that I’ve read about since in various rave reviews. Waiting for ‘the show to begin’, I’d paid scant attention to many of the images drifting past us and even closed my eyes at times or checked my phone. Next time I shall appreciate the whole ‘immersion’ experience of seeing every wall and even the floor beneath me flooded with images.  I shall enjoy seeing framed paintings moving in such a way as to be brought to life with trees swaying in the breeze, boats sailing by and even a train that appears to be entering the auditorium. I shall marvel at paintings folding away to reveal more paintings and flocks of birds flying around the walls. Knowing that I can sit through the 35-minute loop as many times as I like will be a relaxing rather than puzzling experience.

Once sated with all that, I shall track down a member of staff, don the special eye mask and hair cap prescribed and lose myself in the virtual reality of Vincent van Gogh’s France. Next time!.

738 words

 

30 September, 2020 Make the first comment on this story

August 2020 – a month to remember for (almost) all the wrong reasons!

Sadly, August 2020 will be recalled with very little pleasure by most people, myself included. My heart has gone out to examination candidates embroiled in the shambles surrounding their ‘results’ as well as business people and travellers whose lives remain on a roller coaster with no end in sight. The cancellation of the Writers’ Summer School, the high spot of every year since 2006 for me, pales in comparison but was nevertheless a huge disappointment.

With most normal activities curtailed, not going stir crazy has been quite a challenge. However, some people have worked very hard behind the scenes to provide ‘virtual’ substitutes for their normal programmes and I’m particularly grateful to the dedicated staff of Ripon Community Link, the Swanwickers who organised the ‘virtual book room’ and Peter Page, Ripon Writers’ Group’s indefatigable Secretary.

 

There have, of course, been compensations. The sunflowers in our back garden – a ‘blush’ variety –  have reached triffid-like proportions and provided both colour for us and a source of nourishment for the bees. The tomato plant donated earlier in the summer by our good neighbours is groaning with ripe fruit* and the same neighbours have been kind enough to share their plum harvest. *Yes, I’m aware that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad! 

We haven’t ventured far from home, preferring to walk along the canal or riverside, but we did manage a brief visit to the east coast. More popular resorts being ludicrously crowded with ‘staycationers’, we walked down to the sands at Hunmanby Gap. (Hardened by childhood holidays in Bridlington, I was the only one to venture into the North Sea for a paddle!)

This has not been a productive month for writing, but I generally do better once the evenings start to draw in.  No doubt Jago, who loves having his family at home almost all the time, will continue as my co-editor. Watch this space!

3 September, 2020 Make the first comment on this story

Plus ça change…

Over a month has gone by since my last post and I was hoping to report an improvement in the situation. Sadly, that was not to be. Despite some restrictions having been lifted, face masks in shops and most other indoor spaces are compulsory from today. £100 fines are threatened for those who refuse to conform.

Even outdoors, caution is required, as shown by my first post-lock down hair do. Not only were masks worn during the proceedings, but I had to wash and blow dry my own hair afterwards. It’s still going to be messy for a while as, after years with the same ‘style’, I’ve decided to let my fringe grow out. Until it’s possible to tuck my hair behind my ears again, I’ll be resorting to a variety of grips and slides to keep it out of my eyes. Unfortunately, with the addition of my specs, I’ll probably bear a strong resemblance to Olive from ‘On the Buses’! Remember her?

Usually by this time of year I’m making plans to go to Swanwick, having attended the Writers’ Summer School every August since 2006. Unfortunately, that too has been cancelled along with just about everything else I had planned for the rest of 2020.

However, thus far family and friends are in reasonable health, the countryside is flourishing after copious amounts of rain and a fair amount of sunshine, the road outside our house is newly resurfaced and Jago didn’t get his paws into the fresh tarmac. There’s always something to be grateful for! (One of the workmen recommended cleaning said paws with vegetable oil, should the worst happen, but we were able to keep our very resentful cat indoors until the danger had passed.)

As for writing, I’m entering a few competitions and keeping up with Ripon Writers’ Group’s virtual meetings via our group email. Getting together again in the flesh seems a distant hope at the moment, but nothing lasts forever and ‘this too shall pass away’.

 

24 July, 2020 Make the first comment on this story

Life in the Time of Covid-19

For millions of us, this seems like the film Groundhog Day. We wake up each morning and realise that we’re about to relive the same day as yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. This was brought home to me recently when I decided for some reason to wear my watch and realised that I hadn’t yet put it forward to British Summer Time. With no urgency to do anything on a particular day, even to remember which day of the week it is, lethargy can so easily creep in.

So what have I been doing? Well, if I’m honest, not a lot. I’ve discovered that I work far better under pressure and that is sadly lacking. I know that I shall kick myself one day over all this time I’ve wasted and yet getting my brain into gear to do some serious writing is proving impossible. Glorious weather has played its part in that, of course, with the garden and long walks exerting more pull over me than my desk. Ripon, blessed with three rivers, a canal and the glorious Spa Gardens, has more than its fair share of beauty spots to enjoy. 

It’s been good, though, to see the odd article, ‘filler’ and short story submitted before lock down appearing in print. Now that the weather has cooled down, I’m hoping to be more productive. Watch this space!

6 June, 2020 Make the first comment on this story

The joys of social distancing

Well, who’d have thought it a few weeks ago? Everything in the diary cancelled. The world brought to its knees by something so small that it can only be seen through a microscope, panic buying of food and toilet rolls (!) and new laws that would give George Orwell plenty to write about. Big Brother is back with a vengeance with police drones flying over the Peak District to film people walking their dogs and responsible citizens encouraged to report groups out socialising. Taking the daily permitted exercise or going shopping involve leaving a six foot/two metre gap between individuals, rather as though someone is using the wrong (or no) soap. This may be true, at the moment, because soap also fell victim to the initial panic buying, as did paracetomol. Headaches predicted all round, I suppose.

On the bright side, the availability of phone calls, emails and texts would make us the envy of former generations. Disappointed not to be able to see my first born in the flesh on Mother’s Day, I FaceTimed him instead. The rest of us are all at home together for the duration and have fallen into some kind of routine. Too much television, of course – those old films are very tempting – and spinning out our food stocks in order to minimise shopping trips. A brisk walk each afternoon is also part of the programme.

Writing has taken a back seat, although I shall get back to it. That’s a must, because both Ripon Writers’ Group and York Writers are striving to keep things going on line. My greatest accomplishment to date has been the hand sewing of a new zip into one of my summer skirts. No big deal for many, of course, but I’ve never been a keen or accomplished needlewoman and would normally either have given up on the skirt altogether or got someone else to do it for me. Housework has notched up a gear with all this extra time on my hands. Sorting out kitchen cupboards can be quite satisfying, although some of the items lurking at the back wouldn’t bear close examination. 

I can’t finish this post without paying tribute to all those who are doing far more than I can to keep the country going during this difficult time. The NHS is top of the list, of course, now aided by an army of volunteers, but so many more people are ‘doing their bit’, to use a wartime expression. Well, it does feel like a war and there’s no telling how many casualties will have mounted up by the time it’s over. 

 

 

1 April, 2020 Make the first comment on this story

News flash – 900 meetings and counting!

Very happy to celebrate the 900th meeting of Ripon Writers’ Group with some of my fellow members. For more on this, please follow the link to our website.

11 March, 2020 Make the first comment on this story

Reviewing ‘Oliver’

      

Having spent a great deal of time researching the history of workhouses for my latest book, it’s going to be a real pleasure to review Ripon Operatic Society’s production for the local press. Although my story is set several decades after that of ‘Oliver Twist’, conditions were still appalling for the poorest children in our society.

20 February, 2020 Make the first comment on this story

A little January cheer

After Christmas and New Year festivities, January can seem rather flat, which is why Ripon Writers’ Group decided to have a convivial lunch at the Royal Oak on Kirkgate. No speeches, but good food, efficient service and lively conversation were enjoyed by all the members and guests who attended.  

On a personal note, I’m very grateful to the young member of staff who deftly switched my camera to panoramic mode and managed to get us all into one photo. (I’d been contemplating separate shots for each of the two tables and then somehow managing to merge them.)

28 January, 2020 Make the first comment on this story

Christmas Jingles in Northallerton

PYA (Promoting Yorkshire Authors) put on a show to thank the library staff for their support during the year. In a tea shop setting, with copious free refreshments for all, craft and games activities for children, a raffle, book sale and Santa’s sack, we read out poetry, prose and even burst into song occasionally.

Seen from left to right are Bryan Pentelow, Helen Johnson, John Jackson and Kate Swann. Bryan and Kate read some of their poems, Helen gave an illustrated talk on Yorkshire customs at Christmas and John, who really looked the part, read extracts from A Christmas Carol.

Also from left to right, I read a story about a family’s first Christmas in Australia from my Had We But World Enough Collection, the indefatigable Neelie Wicks – who set up the whole thing and provided just about everything that was required – took charge of Christmas hat and card making with the children, Paul Smith narrated the tea shop scenario and Vasiliki Scurfield read a very moving tale about a young girl’s compassion for a German prisoner of war at Christmas.

NB I may have made a new fan during the morning, because the book I read from had disappeared by the time we bade the audience farewell. Happy reading, whoever you are!

22 December, 2019 Make the first comment on this story

A sad farewell to RAP

The Ripon Activity Project (RAP), for which I’ve volunteered for over 20 years, held its final meeting this month. Set up as a social group for adults with learning and/or physical disabilities in the days when little else was available for them, its membership has dwindled over the last couple of years and that – combined with the difficulty of finding new volunteers to run the activities – has sealed its fate.

However, RAP’s remaining assets will be distributed amongst several other local organisations with similar aims, so it isn’t all doom and gloom. Ripon is a small city and we shall certainly all keep in touch.

22 December, 2019 Make the first comment on this story

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A working holiday in France for so little? “It sounds too good to be true,” says Daisy’s mother, but her warning falls on deaf ears.
The 20th century has just dawned when David is apprenticed to a Yorkshire coal miner. But what of the younger brothers and sister he has been forced to leave behind in their London workhouse? Will he ever see them again?
If you can't be famous, be infamous. Wheelchair bound after a tragic accident, revenge is on Kaz's mind when she joins the school trip to Paris...

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