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.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

London Interrupted Part Two

I've been busy lately and felt time slipping by on my London Interrupted project. So, with my daughter off on a camping trip, I decided to explore several places around Notting Hill I'd been meaning to see for quite a while.

Kensal Green Cemetery is one of the 'Magnificent Seven' cemeteries of London. It was a very pleasant summer's day, the morning mum and I wandered around this impressive green space, with its grand tombs and humble crosses. Like a lot of London the place is quite full up, this time with the dead rather than the living.

In the middle of the cemetery is a modern gazebo-like tomb for a philanthropist millionaire, erected in 2014. We sat here and ate sandwiches.

At every turn I was reminded of my favourite Dr Who episode 'Blink' starring the lovely Carey Mulligan. The cemetery boasts a creepy selection of 'Weeping Angels'. Here are just a few of them.


Being a Monday my intended visit to the Museum of Brands was not possible. As an alternative I decided to venture into The Electric Cinema. The cinema is both retro and decadent. There are red velvet king-size beds closest to the screen and armchairs, with accompanying cocktail tables and desk lamps, in the centre. At the back was a lounge area and a bar. I think it would be quite something to experience watching a film in this environment.

Portabello Road Market is open seven days a week. I think it's busier at the weekends, on this particular day we got some good fruit and veg stalls, clothes and brick-a-brack. There are also some interesting shops with an Eastern or vintage flavour to them. We enjoyed Guinness and chips in an attractive cafe-bar before walking to Notting Hill and boarding a modern double decker bus back to Shepherd's Bush.

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Planets

Like 'On the Ice', 'The Planets' video is now available on both YouTube and Vimeo. Amy has drawn many pictures of the planets, we wrote Planet Renga together and I wrote the song Stargazing about a sleepless night spent staring at the stars.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Seven Stages of Teenage Angst

When I was going through my adolescent poetry I found seven very short poems that I thought worked well as a poetry cycle which I have called 'The seven stages of teenage angst'. You can find more of my adolescence poetry in Teenage Troubles on my WattPad pages.


Monday, 10 July 2017

The philosophy of redecorating (5B450)

I have been reading a lot of philosophical books lately and these have helped me to bite the bullet and get the painters in. Below are seven major philosophical points I considered before getting the house redecorated.

1. I accepted the things I couldn't change and got on and changed the things I could more easily change. The kitchen is old but I quite like it, it was the peeling paint I couldn't' stand. The kitchen looks great now, still old but nicely, freshly painted.

2. The nice new painted look won't last, it will grow old, fade, get knocked. Yes, but it will look nicer longer. Just because life isn't perfect, it's no excuse for not doing good stuff; 'Feel the disappointment and do it anyway,' if it's a good thing, it's worth doing, just for the sake of doing it.

3. Somethings don't need changing. The bedrooms, bathroom and downstairs loo didn't need redecorating so I left them out. I just concentrated on what needed doing.

4. I had to accept my limitations. some of the rooms hadn't been painted in twenty possibly thirty years. I am obviously not a person who will paint them herself. I did attempt to redecorate the kitchen ten years ago (hence the peeling paint). We could afford to redecorate. We got other people in to paint the house. It got done.

5. I have limitations in moving stuff around. We have been in the house for over twenty years. We have a lot of stuff, but not too much, it all needed to be moved to get the house painted. In some physical aspects, I am quite a slow, weak person, I always have to work around this fact. It took me two days to move things out of the house and into the garage, but I did it.

6. We all had to be very patient and put up with a lot of disruption when the house was being redecorated. To keep the house running smoothly amongst all the upheaval took some effort.

7. I had to accept that my co-habit-tees would be less patient and useful than even I am, when all this was going on, I'm the one who really wanted it done. We were all disorientated, I did most of the moving stuff myself and made the decisions about the painters and the colours. I had to keep it all together.

It took ten days to get the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the hall, the landing and the porch repainted. I'm really glad I did, it was one of my 5B450 goals. I'm surprised I had to be so philosophical about it, but maybe it's not surprising at all.