Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Goodbye to All That (5B450)

2017 has ended up being quite a goal orientated year, mostly because of my idea for a 5B450 project which I had at the beginning of the year. The idea was to do five achievable things that I'd always wanted to do, but never got around to doing, before I reached my 50th birthday in November. These are the five things I achieved.

1. See a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre
One of our favourite London walks is between the Royal Festival Hall and Southwark Cathedral. Near the end of it is the Globe Theatre. Every time we passed it I thought 'we must go and see a play there'. We saw 'Romeo and Juliet' in May 2017.

2. Attend a School of Life event
I have been a fan of the School of Life since it was set up in the late noughties. The 'How to be serene' seminar I attended in June fitted in with my newly developed Stoical philosophy of life.

3. Get the house redecorated
Some of the house hadn't seen a lick of paint since we moved in over twenty years ago. I'd been dreaming of a pale orange landing (mango melody shade 3) for over ten years. Now I see it every time I exit my bedroom.

4. Join a book club
Always having my young daughter around meant not joining groups where I could socialise in the evenings. I finally joined an evening book club in early October 2017.

5. Visit New York City
The biggest of my 5B450s was my visit to New York City in late October 2017. I'd been wanting to go there since I was about 15. It felt like a dream when I rode in a yellow taxi from JFK to my hotel and sat at my hotel window looking out at Upper West Side Manhattan. I now have my photos and diary to look back on and I'm really pleased with myself for making that trip.

As well as these five things, I wanted 2017 to be memorable in other ways too. I made sure I had something special to do each month; whether it was a Bowie book signing in Kensington, a London walk, visiting Brighton and the Lake District, doing a craft fair or just enjoying a celebratory meal. I also had a few virtual goals too, like producing over 50 blog posts, making more use of Wattpad and writing more book reviews. I don't know what 2018 will bring, whether I'll attempt some goal free living, more in depth work or just help other people more. In the words of someone suffering from severe short term memory loss, I think I'll do 'whatever is beneficial'.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

London Walks: a ghost walk

One of the highlights of my 2012 visit to Edinburgh was the ghost walk. Edinburgh is a great place for a ghost walk, an old Scottish-Gothic city with a murky past of fake witchcraft, over drinking and English nastiness. Cardiff in 2013 was too new for a ghost walk, but there is still enough of the old city of London to make for a substantial ghost walking experience. My ghost walk was a birthday treat on a misty chilly evening in November.

We started at Bank Station. I know from experience that Bank-Monument tube station is a tangled maze, so I was quite careful to get the exact exit to meet up with our guide and fellow ghost-walkers; the guide was an articulate English lady in a flowery hat. After the rules of the walk were explained to us we ventured out into the modern city. Most people on the walk were tourists and there was a little explanation of traffic protocol, in particular zebra crossings, before we proceeded into the shadowy alleyways of the City of London.

There are many old churches in the city, our guide pointed out one which had been bombed out during the blitz leaving it a particularly eerie looking sight on a moonlit, late autumnal night. We often found ourselves walking in the footsteps of Ebenezer Scrooge, down the alleyways of old London and within the earshot of the church bells that heralded the arrival of Scrooge's three redemptive spirits. The whole atmosphere and lighting of our walk did invite ghostly imaginings of half seen reflections and illusions, of odd shapes and figures.

There was talk of supernatural dramas and Harry Potter films around Leadenhall Market and our walk ended in the shadow of the Guild Hall. The London ghost walk was not as creepy as the Edinburgh ghost walk, but I'm glad we did it, maybe the Jack the Ripper walk would have proved more chilling.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Poppies in November

I buy a remembrance day poppy every year and think I will continue to do so, however I do find the regular poppies rather difficult to wear. After seeing Amy's godmother wearing a very pleasing crocheted poppy, one evening at our church concert, I decided to have a go at making one myself. I went on to make several poppies one of which now belongs to my niece.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

New York Top Twelve (5B450)

My much anticipated trip to New York did not disappoint. The city was every bit as surprising, diverse and fascinating as I thought it would be. I was on my own and had a packed itinerary for myself, visiting about four interesting places each day over the six days I was there. Although I enjoyed everywhere I visited, these are my top twelve NYC highlights.

1. Central Park
Beautiful in autumn, vast, so I only saw bits of it. I enjoyed Strawberry Fields, Alice in Wonderland, the boating lake and a pumpkin muffin and earl grey tea in Le Pain Quotidien.

2. Brooklyn Bridge
A most unexpected bridge with the walk way in the middle of its famous intricate structure. Quite a walk with breathtaking views all round.

3. Lincoln Center
It was nearly sunset when I visited and the center was at its most glittering. All the theatres in the center looked lovely and inviting. The most spectacular was the Metropolitan Opera House. Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to see an opera, but I did visit the gift shop and bought a postcard.

4. Grand Central Terminal
The most beautiful railway station I've ever seen. The zodiac ceiling is exquisite and the polished surfaces, grand staircases and sparkling main hall are all quite mesmerising. I lingered a while and drank iced tea in the downstairs food hall.

5. Metropolitan Museum of Art
I thought it would be good, but it turned out to be even better. The building itself was spectacular and beautiful and likewise the exhibits within. My favourite of all was the recreation of a Frank Lloyd Wright drawing room, but there was so much more, the recreation of rooms from French palaces and an Egyptian tomb were also further highlights.

6. New York Public Library
I have never before encountered such a beautiful public library as the one on 42nd Street New York. The entrance reminded me of the Paris Opera House. The reading rooms were grand, gorgeous and open to anyone. A very inspiring space.

7. Staten Island Ferry
I didn't want to do anything too touristy on my holiday and someone suggested that viewing the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry was a good alternative to an organised tour of Liberty Island. They were right, it was good enough for me and Staten Island is also an interesting place to visit if you have time to linger a little while.

8. Poe Cottage
Being a big Edgar Allan Poe fan I felt I couldn't leave New York without visiting Poe's Cottage and visitors' centre located in Poe Park, the Bronx. It was an unexpected pleasure to enjoy the personal talk, brief tour and film about the last three years of Poe's life, looking after his dieing wife and finally making that last fateful trip to Baltimore, all from this tiny home. It was all very sad, sobering and poignant, not to mention thought provoking.

9. The Highline
A disused railway line turned into a beautiful park; the idea itself is wonderful. I walked all along the High Line back and forth and enjoyed all of it. Amongst the autumnal leaves and flowers were weird, modern art sculptures every so often and some of the most comfortable street furniture I've had the pleasure to sit on.

10. Coney Island
I could not have gone to New York and not visited Coney Island. I did not know what to expect, October is most definitely out of season. What I received was unexpected and intriguing. The strong Atlantic winds blew across the promenade, which was eerie and nearly deserted except for a few stragglers. All was shut, including Nathans, except for one lone retro beach shop. I'm glad I got there.

11. 9/11 memorial
Like all great cities New York has had its fair share of rough and smooth, good and bad. I found the 9/11 memorial a particularly touching commemoration of this, most possibly, darkest episode in the life of this beautiful city.

12. Top of the rock
I felt I couldn't leave New York without getting high up and looking down at the city from a great height. I chose the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Center for this particular experience. It cost a bit of time and money to do it, but I think the views speak from themselves.

These are merely my highlights, the list could go on but for now I will stop there.

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Abandoned Baby

Amy came up with this sweet, but sad picture story a few years ago now. I have since put it together into a nine picture cartoon strip.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Book club adventures (5B450)

When I was running my SubVerse Poetry Group in the early noughties, two other tempting ideas were popular which I didn't have the opportunity to explore at the time. One was reading groups and the other was blogging. I finally started blogging in 2013 and joining a book club became my fourth 5B450 goal for 2017.

My first foray into reading groups was a complete disaster. There was a breakdown in communication, there was no room in the group, I left the library dejected. I ended up in the local pub, drowning my sorrows over half a pint of Guinness.

My second attempt to join a book club was even more of a disaster. The time listed on the meeting page was in total conflict with reality. The book club was meant to meet at 7 pm, when the library was in fact closed.

For my third attempt at joining a book club I turned away from the library avenue towards the modern Meetup internet avenue. Here I found Ruislip Readers who meet monthly in an unassuming pub in Ruislip.

It was October when I joined and they were in a Halloween mood. In this month we were reviewing Stephen King's 'The Shining', a book I had already read, although had not reviewed on Good Reads.

The Ruislip Book-to-Film Club did not disappoint. The company, chat and accompanying craft beer were all quite wonderful. I had to rake through my memory for choice nuggets about The Shining, both the book and the film were mild obsessions of mine about twenty years ago. While the first hour was full of Stephen King chat, the second was mostly preoccupied with what we were going to read and watch next. I put in a bid for Daphne Du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rebecca'. I left satisfied with the proceedings and the upcoming prospect of reading and watching Agatha Christie's 'Murder on the Orient Express' ready for the next meetup in November.

The Shining - Review by LJ Finnigan (read at Christmas, 1995)

I don't read many Stephen King books as I find them so scary. This one I found to be particularly so. There is a bit of background story about the father's job situation and his son's specially sensitive nature, 'the shining', before we arrive in the main setting of the story. The Overlook Hotel is a huge, hollow place in the middle of nowhere and is a fully blown character in itself. In this desolate building, the father, Jack, his vulnerable wife, Wendy, and special little boy, Danny, arrive as guardians for the off-season. Winter deepens, the hotel gets snowed in, the family gets more isolated and the nightmares become more real, in particular the father becomes even more scary than the ghosts, that inhabit the hotel. The father was very vividly brought to life, in Stanley Kubrick's film, by Jack Nicholson, for me the most stand out performance of his career. The endings of the book and the film are quite different, I preferred the book's ending. That said, I think the book and the film are both great.

Monday, 9 October 2017

The Antique Junk Shop


I wrote this poem as a teenager, it was somewhat inspired by 'From beyond the grave' an old Amicus portmanteau horror movie starring Peter Cushing. I drew the old man who runs the shop and owns the cat based on Peter Cushing. You can find the poem on my WattPad adolescent poetry page and as a small montage movie on YouTube.

Monday, 2 October 2017

52nd Book Review on GoodReads

I recently finished reading the book Room by Emma Donoghue and enjoyed it so much it has now become my 52nd Book Review on GoodReads. Below are images of the book's cover and my review which is now on my GoodReads page.

Room by Emma Donoghue

I was a bit wary of watching the film, let alone reading the book, considering its distressing subject matter. Having now read the book and watched the film I would say they are both strangely heart-warming, life-affirming and quite inspirational. To five year old Jack, Room and Ma are the whole world. There are dark secrets lurking and an escape is planned, but because of Ma's great mothering skills Jack finds the outside world a much scarier prospect than life with Ma in their cell-like room. I won't give too much away, but I would reccommend both the book and the film, they are thought provoking and could provide some strength and encouragement to those in difficult situations, trying to find a way to both cope, with how life is, and to escape, to something better.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A choir of sleeping angels

The sleeping angels have gone through a variety of changes since I first thought of them in 2010. The first ones wore dressing gowns, then they grew more angular and their hair grew longer. I'm very happy with my latest design for them which is softer and more flowing.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Sunday School Ideas

From September 2010 to June 2011 I was a Sunday School teacher at my local church. I was helped a lot by the website Sermons4Kids and built ten main lessons from it, which I have listed below.

1. What to wear. This lesson revolved around a dress up doll and the words compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness, patience, gentleness 'and above all love'. These words have since formed the basis of my virtuous flower brooch.

2. Don't bury your talent. In this lesson we did a lot of origami.

3. All you need is love. In this lesson we discussed the things in life we love and drew hearts.

4. Don't be afraid. In this lesson we concentrated on things we were afraid of and drew lots of candles to cheer ourselves up.

5. The tater family. This lesson was about the fruits of the spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We spent our time drawing a big tree, cutting out paper fruit with spirit words on them and sticking them onto our tree.

6. Look on the inside. In this lesson we discussed what makes someone look great on the outside and also what qualities make someone great on the inside.

7. Things that go together. In this lesson we discussed things that go together in the material world like fish and chips and also things that go together spiritually like faith and good deeds.

8. A topsy-turvy world. This lesson was more ambitious as we tried to write upside down poems, 

9. Riddle me this. In the lesson we answered various riddles and tried to make up our own.

10. The greatest gift of all. In this lesson we made origami gift boxes and made special note cards featuring the spiritual gifts of grace and love to put in them.

I was pleased with my ten months of Sunday School teaching, although quite overwhelmed with other stuff in my life at the time, so I was also pleased when I gave it up. Below is a collection of some of the resources I built up in my time as a Sunday School Teacher and the virtue card matching game I created is at the top of this post.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Last Bus Home on Wattpad

I decided to publish Last Bus Home on Wattpad before I visit NYC. The six parts of the story cover six weeks in the protaganist's life, so I shall publish one a week, between now and the end of October. Below is a summary of the story.

Last Bus Home

Wednesday nights were dark and lonely, waiting for the last bus home from college and then Miranda entered my life. She was a free spirit, mysterious and unearthly. With her came change, I could see more clearly, experiences became deeper, more meaningful, I could see the truth and the way to move forward. After Miranda I never felt alone again.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Load of Hay Market

I wanted to do my twelfth craft stall before my long anticipated trip to New York in late October and so took part in the Load of Hay Market in South Ruislip on the first Sunday in September. I was hoping to have some time to arrange my craft stall with a little more flair than usual. We were a bit late, but I think the stall still looked slightly more artistic, I even changed it around a bit, about half way through.

After a slow start business picked up. An enthusiastic lady bought a number of items from me, a lavender owl and a lavender cat, a poppy brooch and several cards. A little girl was very interested in my lightest, brightest doll and a little boy bought a knitted purse.

The highlight for me was talking to the other crafters, especially the eclectic ladies next door to me (craftsbytopazmoon) and a Polish lady who crocheted exquisitely (mwojciechowska).

Monday, 28 August 2017

Practical philosophy and stoical self-help

I have been reading many modern philosophical and Stoical books recently and they have proved very enlightenning, comforting and inspiring. Below are my reviews of my six current favourites.

 Stand Firm by Svend Brinkmann, Polity Press, 2017

I read this book after reading a passage of it featured in the Guardian's 'Inner Life' section. It was the book that lead me to explore Stoicism further and reconnect with my earlier love of philosophy. The book is a kind of 'anti-self-help' guide and uses a seven step model to help us resist the craziness of an accelerating culture. The steps recommended include stop trying to find yourself, practice negative (Stoical!) thinking, say no to change for the sake of change, read more fiction and spend time reflecting on the past.

The antidote by Oliver Burkeman, Canongate Books, 2012

This book felt much lighter than the other books I have been reading. It is less about philosophy in general or Stoicism in particular and more an entertaining romp through modern self-help ideas, which he goes on to dissect and offer 'antidotes' to. I'm happy that Stoicism is offered as one of the cures as is Buddhism and John Keats.

A guide to the good life by William B. Irvine, Oxford University Press, 2009

This is my favourite book on modern Stoicism written in a very readable style. It contains lots of good, common sense advice on dealing with insults, doing your duty, overcoming 'anti-joy' and facing death. It also explains how to use Stoic techniques to live a better life, such as negative visualisation which can help you escape the hedonic treadmill by encouraging you to contemplate the loss of that which you cherish. It also covers fatalism, self-denial and meditation. There is a historical look at the ancient Greek and Roman stoics at the beginning and some guidance on how to adopt stoicism as a philosophy of life today at the end.

Philosophy for life and other dangerous situations by Jules Evans, Random House, 2012

My philosophical reading had been somewhat fixated on the Stoics and I was beginning to wonder what valuable insights other ancient philosophers might be able to bring to my modern life. This book and its author satisfied my curiousity quite nicely. The book follows an imaginary study day at the ancient School of Athens, an interesting mind excursion to a different time and place. The day begins with a lesson about practical philosophy influenced by Socrates. The author discusses Socrates' teaching, illuminated by his recent encounters with CBT. The day continues in a similar way, the Stoics take over the morning lessons, with excursions into Epictetus and the serenity prayer, Musonious Rufus and Seneca. We get Epicurus for lunch and mysticism and skepticism in the afternoon. After a bit of Plato, Plutarch, Aristotle and politics we return to Socrates to contemplate our own ends. Despite its ancient roots many of the experiences illuminating the philosophy were modern. It felt a very relevant and satisfying read.

How to be a stoic by Massimo Pigliucci, Penguin Books, 2017
This book is more specific than just being about stoicism. The author focuses on one particular stoical philosopher, Epictetus. Epictetus is known as the slave-philosopher and his tough, but also gentle, advice runs throughout this thought-provoking book. The part I found most useful were the twelve practical spiritual exercises at the end, these were a kind of stoical twelve steps to help you live more in tune with the four stoic virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and temperance. In these twelve steps the author encourages us to look beyond the impression of things, to see into their nature, to pause and reflect, to make good choices and to be humble and generous.

The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton, Penguin Books, 2001

I nearly forgot that my modern interest in philosophy began with Alain De Botton's 'Consolations of Philosophy' and before that Jostein Gaarder's 'Sophie's World'. This book was turned into a wonderful six part TV series called 'Philosophy: a guide to happiness', about seventeen years ago.

The book begins with Socrates who offers us a consolation for unpopularity. Socrates was ugly, eccentric and annoying, but also wise and the be-all and end-all when it comes to philosophers. He was so unpopular that the people of Athens condemned him to death, which lead to him being compelled to take his own life. He shows that regardless of whether it's popular or unpopular you should always endeavour to do the right thing.

Epicurus offers us a consolation for not having enough money. The Epicurean way was to enjoy a simple diet, a few friends and to savour what you have, not waste money on extravagant luxuries that ultimately won't make you any happier.

Seneca on frustration is a brief introduction to this great Stoical philosopher. He lived in a time of great turmoil and uncertainty and was eventually sentenced to death by Emperor Nero. Seneca and the Stoics believed that a life of practising virtue and reflection could lead to inner peace and a better world. Eventually the Roman Empire would be ruled by the Stoic Marcus Aurelius, which I think is a great advert for the steadfast, Stoical approach, which could also be a workable solution in our own lives of quiet desperation.

In Montaigne on inadequacy we become acquainted with a lesser known philosopher who made a habit of dwelling on humankind's more embarrassing aspects, frailties, failures and weaknesses. Perhaps this is why he is lesser known.

Unromantic, grumpy and misogynistic: Schopenhauer does not seem the ideal candidate to offer us consolations for a broken heart, but by concentrating on the biological need to reproduce and to reproduce well, he does just that.

Difficulties are left up to Nietzsche. He had interesting things to say about striving for better things in life, that good comes from a struggle. He didn't like Christianity and criticised it for celebrating subjection, weakness, mediocrity and failure, or something like that. I think I'm a Stoic Christian, which, for me, is about accepting my weaknesses and living a virtuous life while also striving for something better; a kind of middle way approach.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Poems for Yin

I spent some of the late 1990s and early noughties trying to get to grips with what femininity was all about. It was also the time in my life when I became a mother and was also trying to get to grips with being the best mum I could be to my baby daughter. With hindsight maybe the best thing to do with femininity is just be it, if that's how you feel and maybe try not to analyse it too much. My 'Poems for Yin' are written at a time when I was trying to analyse femininity. I heard an Indian saying once, intended for both men and women, which states 'Walk in the feminine but be mindful of the masculine,' so maybe this subject is worthy of deeper thought.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Twelve of the best

After being caught short on the church art exhibition in July I decided to work on getting six paintings by Amy (above) and six paintings by me (below) ready for the next church art exhibition or in preparation for another opportunity to show our art somewhere else in real life. I'm pleased with the results.

Sunday, 6 August 2017


SunDazed follows the  progress of Charlotte Brown, a gentle soul who is struggling with self discovery in a harsh and unforgiving busy city. Charlotte's journey is psychological, emotional and spiritual rather than physical but by the end of the story she is a lot more self-aware and confidant than she was at the beginning.