Cat and apples

I read in an article that people look at pictures of cats on the internet more than any others. So here are two.

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He is Salty and is Christine’s sisters cat who was staying at Christine and George’s when I was there a couple of weeks ago. He’s getting on and just sat in the sun enjoying the warmth with apples dropping around him. He didn’t seem concerned when I photographed him, couldn’t care less really.

Until Milo arrived in my house 13 years ago I hadn’t had a dog before and Milo was not by choice but I took him over. When I got Oskar I had thought about another cat, but Oskar arrived. I always had cats the last two were Smith and Minnie. Smith (below) was a ginger hard case, three legs, no tail. This must be about 1997 taken using my Olympus OM-2 with 100mm lens I would think.

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I had a wonderful cat called Biddy in Cardiff. I was a student, she was tiny and never larger than a kitten, a friend found her in a plastic bag in one of the arcades, only a few weeks old. But she could climb; eight of us lived in a three-storey house in Riverside, she would jump out of upstairs windows, then somehow make her way to the pitch of the roof, when I was close to home across the square (often drunk) i’d see her up there and by the time I opened the front door she was waiting there for me!

Between those lots of cats many who seemed to appear in later life and my home seemed to be a quiet place away from kids, warm and always something to eat!

We always had cats when I was living at ‘home’, for a while we had 7, one called Everybody because that’s what my mother shouted when food was ready and she would only come to that name!

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The best view in Wales…

A couple of weeks ago I visited one of my favourite places, Llysfaen nr. Colwyn Bay in North Wales. It was where we had a caravan from when I was about 4 years old (where I lost the top of my finger!) and spent many holidays. Telegraph Hill, or as it should be called Mynydd Marian, was central to my experience there, and a poem about it is in my publication Gathering Grief, which you can see and download free in ISSUU by clicking on the link to the right.

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It was a fantastic day to visit and I took many photographs including these panoramic photos. They look best if you click on them and see them larger. As I was looking south (above) towards Snowdonia a woman came and we chatted and she said “It’s the best view in Wales” and with all it’s personal connotations I can’t help but agree with her.

The caravan site was behind The Semaphore Inn, the white building in the photo below, looking north over Bae Colwyn and The Irish Sea.

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It was called Telegraph Hill because of the ship signal station at the top of the hill for ships entering The Mersey, which is in the distance beyond the outcrop which is Rhyl.

It is probably my favourite place.

Underpainting 8

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Chapter 8 of my novel Underpainting set in the early 1990’s. The previous chapters can be found in the link above.

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The early morning clouds were pink and grey through Clare’s window. She could not remember when she had last been up at six. Matthew wasn’t home yet, she wasn’t over concerned, after all he was nineteen, but it was getting into a pattern, and patterns concerned her. The drug councillor told her to look out for patterns of behaviour, and this was the fourth night in a row that she knew he had been out all night. He had also started locking his room again.

Clare surveyed the street; cars parked bumper to bumper, a black cab setting off to work in the West End, through a corner of the bay window she could just make out Holloway Road at the end of her street, red buses regularly passing even at this time, and the glint of the mirror shop. She lit another cigarette, tied up her dressing gown, which was always falling open, and heard post falling through the letterbox, which made her jump. She looked outside and the postman was already next door.

“Hmm he’s alright,” she said to herself, “nice bum”.

She went down the hallway to the front door and stopped in front of the full-length mirror at the bottom of the stairs, opened up her dressing gown and looked at herself, naked.  Morning light streaming through the front door glass softened the edges. Clare knew she looked OK, she worked at it. She pushed her breasts up and felt she could do with a boob job, though no-one else seemed to mind, and where would she get the cash anyway. Stomach still flat (when she breathed in!), ‘nice legs’ she thought, ‘always had good legs’.

“You’re not bad for 37” she said to her reflection, and moved closer to examine her deep blonde hair. The dark parting was getting wider, “need to get that sorted don’t want to look like a fuckin’ tart”.

She picked up the mail, and decided she quite liked the quiet of the morning. Water bill, two catalogues, those damned electricity people again, and a handwritten letter from Knype. She opened it as she walked to the kitchen.

A note was hurriedly written on University paper, and she read:

Dearest Clare, sorry not to have been over on my last couple of visits, been really busy. I’m coming down soon for a couple of months to work on the set, so I’ll have plenty of time to see you then. Hope enclosed OK. Hope all’s well with Matthew, Peter.

£80 in twenty’s was folded up with the letter. She put it a drawer, screwed up the letter, and tossed it in the waste bin.

Clare knew Peter from her days at art college, he was a regular now. She’d been a few years older than most of the other students and was ambitious to make money from her painting, which separated her from the others. She already had Matthew who was nine when she had started at Knype, and that too set her apart. Peter was her personal tutor in the second year.

Since an early age she’d known how attractive she was to men, including her father, the thought of which made her shudder, however she never told anyone, he’d never touched actually her, except to slap. Attraction she’d tell herself could be both useful and a nuisance, and she had an ease about her that attracted men, as well as her body. Within ten minutes, they had usually told her their life story, or what was worth telling anyway. She’d learnt it was profitable to show great interest in their self-indulgence.

Soon after starting at Knype, Hilton Douglas, one of the painting tutors, asked if he could photograph her, he’d pay. From her first few weeks there she was expecting this; Hilton undressed her with his eyes every time she entered the studio. She needed the cash, Hilton promised the pictures were only going to be for his own use, and she knew what that meant. At the end of the second sitting, he offered her more cash and she gave him a blow job, after the third they had sex, he was gross, but it was money. Even now she shuddered at his stained black beard, mass of red/grey pubic hair, and greasy hands, but Matthew needed new shoes.

Hilton Douglas drank too much and talked freely, and by the end of her first year, she had lecturers from various departments of the university visiting her. Clare was discreet and became friends with a couple of their wives, who would quite often look after Matthew for her while (unknowingly) she was with their partner.

It was not until three years after she’d left college and had moved back to London that Peter started to visit her. She’d met him at a friends’ opening at the Clouds Gallery with Marianne, who she had always liked. They arranged to meet so they could look at her new work, Marianne couldn’t make it, and to the surprise of both of them, after talking very personally she and Peter had sex. She thought Peter didn’t realise how many regulars she had, she never talked about anyone else, and Peter didn’t ask.

At first, they would spent some time talking about Marianne, as well as Peter and his work and rise to success. Over the last year or so, he’d stopped mentioning Marianne; in fact, his hour with her was often spent lying on the bed chatting, about his work, college, Matthew, Dover Passage, students. Less and less sex, she didn’t mind, it was cash whatever the outcome. They would go into the room she used to use for painting, and they’d talk about what she was planning to do. The next time he came the plans were still to be started.

Clare heard the door open, and someone creeping in.

“Is that you Matthew?” she called out.

“Yes I’m knackered…. off to bed… wake me at one”

“Good” she thought to herself, “he’ll be gone in time”. She had a client coming at seven, she also hoped he’d brought her the diazi’s she’d asked him to get, he always seemed to know where to get them.

Over the past ten years Clare had slowly built up a regular clientèle, she liked them to be married and if possible, over fifty, easier to deal with, usually better manners, no hassle over wanting a ‘relationship’. Then ten months ago, her house had changed hands and her new landlord had asked her to a meeting. She had lived in Disraeli Street for eight years, and thought the meeting was to get rid of her, the area was changing, lots of yuppies moving in, higher rents, and she was ready for a battle.

Clare was ushered through a suite of offices just east of the City, to an oak panelled room and was sitting in front of a large desk, behind which was her new landlord, Frank Butter, behind him stood what she thought must be his minder, a tall good looking blonde guy, with cold blue eyes. She’d noted he had some good paintings and was surprised that Frank Butter wanted to see her personally; not leaving it to an agent to deal with what was a minor matter.

“Miss Forester” he opened abruptly, “I have a proposition”

“I know my rights Mr Butter, and by the way I have reverted to my mother’s maiden name Zetzer three year’s ago, I did inform the former landlord”

“I’m sure you did… Miss um… Zetzer” he looked at some papers on his desk, and wrote a note, “we’ve been noting who comes and goes at your house”; he put his hand up to stop her protesting, “we weren’t spying. As you probably know the house opposite is one of mine as well, and next door, well I just noticed someone I knew, and then looked a bit further into things”

“I have many friends Mr Butter, I’m an artist”

“Yes. Well Miss Zetzer, I want to make a deal with you. I’m sure an offer to let you live virtually rent-free wouldn’t come amiss?… No?” she nodded. “I thought not. I have many business acquaintances, often visiting from abroad, they usually arrive alone. I need someone to entertain them. Someone with a bit of class, who can talk intelligently, eat and drink properly, know which knife to use”, he put his hand up again to stop her interrupting, “…in addition, I need to know a little bit more about them, give me the edge when we’re finalising things. Do you understand me?”

Clare did and they came to an agreement. As well as her rent being cut by 90%, Mr Butter would remunerate her per visit, and sometimes the gentlemen would add to that with ‘tips’; she would let Mr Butter know what had been said, what had happened. Clare didn’t have to discuss the ‘tips’.

She didn’t really like the arrangement but felt it was hard not to accept. It reminded her of the time when she was desperate for cash and worked for an escort agency. She preferred the cosy arrangements she had with her regulars, but the extra cash would be handy, and London was getting expensive. However, she didn’t feel fully in control of her life and promised herself to get out of it as soon as she could. She never thought herself a prostitute, just someone who offered a personal service, a sort of therapy.

In the ten months since that meeting, she’d only once had to complain to Mr Butter about one man. She’d kicked him out after he’d given her a love-bite, a cocky man who said he was in the music business, wanting services she certainly wasn’t willing to offer. She was a bit worried when she told Frank Butter, but he didn’t mind, in fact he laughed very knowingly, and said that she was right, if he wanted that sort of thing he knew plenty of others who could help, he’d be more careful in future who he sent, and thanked her for the information which may be useful in the future.

Clare went back upstairs, and began tidying her bedroom, which didn’t need much doing, she was a very tidy person. Moishe the one-eyed black cat was asleep on the bed, she shewed him off and reluctantly he left for the warm kitchen. The room smelt of lavender to cover smoke and sweat. She had a round table in one corner covered by a white tablecloth, on which a rose patterned china tea set was set out, her gentlemen often liked to sit and talk over a cup of tea. It was part of her act and it filled time they were paying for. She had acquired a posh accent at the boarding school her grandparents’ had paid for, very English, and always wore smart clothes, not tarty, and thought she played the part well.

The evening’s client was initially one of Mr Butter’s business acquaintances, but had become a regular. She thought he must be at least seventy and he spoke with a strange accent. She felt a little uneasy because she had decided not to tell Mr Butter everything. He called himself Harry, but she thought that wasn’t his real name. He always brought with him a beautiful soft leather briefcase with the letters CLF embossed. She wondered if he was a politician.

He paid her well, far more than anyone else, so why bother what his name was she thought, and it was always in well-used ten-pound notes in a long blue envelope, which she didn’t open until he’d gone. They didn’t have sex; when he came, he took from his briefcase a black broad old thick leather belt, with a silver buckle shaped like two eagles. He stripped naked and knelt down, and told her to beat him with it, at first, she just slapped him, but he told her to beat him, hard, harder. The last two times he also brought a silver framed photograph, which he put in front of him, of a young man in uniform. As she beat him he cried out in a language she couldn’t understand. The one thing she didn’t like was that he’d asked her to shout anti-Semitic insults as she thrashed him. The worse the insults and harder she hit, the more he paid. £450 last time. She knew those insults from the time her drunken father hit her when she was home from school the week after her mother had died. Nevertheless, she knew it was business and you had to put up with things, especially as she’d seen a coat she liked, so today she planned to really let loose. At the end of each session, he’d dress, put on the belt, go into his case, turn and fill then hand her the sealed envelope, arrange another meeting, shake hands, and go; always through the back door. She told Mr Butter each time he came, in case he was monitoring her, but just told him he liked a blow job, she knew his need came from much deeper than Frank Butter required to know about.

The front door slammed, Clare looked out and saw Matthew walking quickly down the road.

“Damn” she said, she hadn’t got her diazi’s from him.

Dark clouds had gathered and it started to rain. When she went downstairs, she noticed the kitchen drawer was open and the £80 gone. She knew he was back on the stuff and hoped he wasn’t injecting.

Writing Workshop Gladstone Pottery Museum

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Writing Workshop Sunday 8th September

Elisia Green and I ran a workshop as part of a weekend of workshops at the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent. It is a lovely venue to work at, a Victorian pottery with the bottle kilns and work areas beautifully preserved, well worth a visit if you are coming to the Potteries.

Our two hour afternoon workshop Using your own experience as a basis for fiction, followed a morning workshop on Short Stories run by Peter and Jan from Renegades. It was based on one I have done a few times and consists of a series of practical exercises that work on many levels.

We had 13 people attending, a couple of who were ‘new’ writers and others with plenty of experience. That is a perfect number, too few and there is no variety, more then there is no time to read out and discuss.

Instead of handing out notes I have put together what took place with a couple of the writing examples in this blog.

It’s not a devastating revolution in writing workshops, but useful exercises at whatever level of writing you participate in and a way of seeing through different ‘eyes’. If it is any use to you please use the workshop for others.

  • We began by sharing one word to sum ourselves up, which I wrote down. I used ‘Arrogant’ for me. Each person came up with a different word, and we made use of them later. (Interestingly when a few years ago I worked with a room of nearly 150 writers, where they had to write their ‘defining’ word down and someone else read it out, there were no two words the same. I used ‘Saviour’ that day!).
  • After a short discussion about what sort of experiences to use, why writers use their own lives and some examples of novels closely based on people’s own lives we set forth.
  • Exercise 1 – Write down in no more than about five or six lines each, three events in your life – (births, wedding, first day at school banned!).
  • I read the following example (if you convene this workshop it is worth bringing examples):

I was 6, on holiday with the family at our caravan. I was playing with the caravan tow gear which was painted silver and solid. Suddenly the pin dropped and chopped the end of my finger off. I ran inside and held my hand up to my mother blood going everywhere. My brother fainted. I was taken to the hospital and remember the glass cabinets full of shining knives and operating instruments. I can still remember the feeling of sewing back the pieces of my finger.

  • One of the participants Sue wrote:

I went cycling last week. We took the bikes to the coast the head wind was cold and strong. Cycling against the wind. What a waste! Those coming the other way had the wind with them. Easy.

  • Exercise 2 – Rewrite one of the stories as if happening now, first person present continuous tense (I think!). Rather like from one of those point of view computer games or films .
  • My example was:  

A big gun, that’s what it is, a big gun. Need to move this push this a bit; it’s stiff. Better get both hands at it. Painted up, bang it a bit and push from the bottom. Ooh that’s hard, c’mon shift, need to move that to make it work. Ahhh. Blood. That’s blood, darker colour than I thought. That hurts, that hurts. Shooting pain up my arm. Better see mummy, she’ll know what to do. I’m probably in trouble, she’ll tell me off, daddy will be really annoyed, perhaps she won’t tell him. ‘Mummy, look what I’ve done, I’ve made  a mess all over my shorts’.

  • Some of the group read their pieces out. Sue’s was:

Hot and cold in patches, warm where your legs burn, round and round. Cold where the wind catches, head down. Bum out. And your hair flying across your eyes. Eyes that leak salt – blown away. A force that pushes, biking into cold jelly. What’s that you say? Should have come the other way.

  • Exercise 3 – Rewrite the story as if someone else not involved is watching the events happening, Elisia came up with a good phrase – ‘A witness to the event’.
  • My example was:

“What’s that lads’ name Ida?”

“Which lad?”

“You know, the little one, blonde curly hair… the old fashioned sky blue caravan at top of site. Think they come from Stoke. Always seem a bit stuck up to me”

“Who? Oh yes I know who you mean. Seem a nice family, always say hello. Now what’s his name… Christopher… or is it James? No, no I remember, Timothy, yes Timothy”

“Bloody posh name, think they’re better than us…”

“Why you asking Jim?”

“Well he’s just hurt himself playing round with the tow hook, blood everywhere… look all up to the window, a right mess”
“Oh dear Jim! Oh dear, we ought to help, they don’t have a car. He’ll need to go the hospital poor little man. Go go see if they need a lift Jim”

“I’m not getting my car covered in blood, bloody good leather that. No, let ‘em sort it, don’t get involved that’s what I say Ida… Don’t get involved and let ‘em look after themselves. I’ll close the curtains so they don’t come askin’…”

  • Sue’s exercise was:

They parked, I’m sure it was over the line. Right next to me it was and the shouting and clanking – I couldn’t hear the news. The robins flew away, but they don’t care, no. Unloading great hulking bits of iron – are they fly-tipping? No. It’s bikes – they are standing them up by the tree. Can’t keep to their own space can they? Quite puts me off my tea… oops the flask cup is shaking on the dashboard as their doors bang. Crumbs on the floor, I’m going to have to get the vac out. Silly hats! Off you go. Why they have to treat the countryside like a gym I don’t know. Thank goodness for that, they’ve gone; a bit of P & Q and a little drop of the hard stuff in me tea to calm me down I think…. Oh no! Here’s some more and they’ve got a dog.

  • Exercise 4 – Change the ‘nature’ of the person involved, writing the story from a different emotional point of view. So using the word they had come up with at the start, choose one of the other words. For instance if they were ‘quiet’ then write as an ‘outgoing’ viewpoint. This worked ok, but maybe needed more time and discussion between the participants.
  • People appeared to get a lot from this workshop, and found that they were able to disassociate themselves from the events, but still able to use what they knew, which were the reactions of others, of the ‘character’, smells, feelings and so forth.
  • If anyone who attended wishes to add their exercises to this please send them to me and I will update the blog.

The photograph is of the group busily writing!

Chicago 1978

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Today are some photographs I took in Chicago around Christmas time 1978. It was very cold! These are street photos of the EL, which fascinated me, taken late in the day on Ektachrome 200, much too slow a film hence they have some shake and odd focussing, however, I have always been quite pleased by the atmosphere they create and that is why I got them copied. I loved Chicago and would love to return, but I doubt I will.

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George and Christine’s Garden 2…

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Today I am using more photographs of my friends garden in Chalford, Gloucestershire, taken last week on warm sunny days. The garden is a rich mix of fruit, flowers and fruit. At the bottom is a stream and a canal. The photo of the steps to the stream looks like it is waiting for Ophelia to enter! This is a lovely time of year where colours are vibrant and many flowers are ending creating rich browns in the leaves and interesting shapes. I had never seen a red sunflower before, the colours have not been enhanced.

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