Category Archives: Writing 101

One Lovely Blog Award

I want to thank MargretDJ for nominating me for the One Lovely Blogger Award. I am always grateful to everyone who drops into my little corner of the internet to check out what I have written.  I am even more grateful to those who take the time and trouble to like a post or, even better, to leave a comment.

As I am sure you can imagine I was delighted that Margret took the trouble to nominate me for this award.  I shall therefore do my best to follow the rules and spread the love 🙂

lovely-blog

The One Lovely Blog Award nominations are chosen by fellow bloggers for those newer and up-and-coming bloggers. The goal is to help give recognition and also to help the new blogger to reach more viewers. It also recognizes blogs that are considered to be “lovely” by the fellow bloggers who choose them. This award recognizes bloggers who share their story or thoughts in a beautiful manner to connect with viewers and followers. In order to “accept” the award the nominated blogger must follow several guidelines:

  • Thank the person who nominated you for the award.
  • Add the One Lovely Blog logo to your post.
  • Share 7 facts/or things about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 bloggers you admire and inform nominees by commenting on their blog:

Seven facts about me:

1. I have been married to Shirley for 21 years.

2. I love reading fantasy novels my favourite authors are Terry Goodkind, Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan

3. I grew up in Northern Ireland but joined the Navy at 16 and never went back.  I have lived in England since 1977

4. I listen to any type of music and never go a day without listening to at least one album

5. I Have seen Van Morrison live over 200 times

6. I am not much of a TV or movie fan.  If I watch TV by choice then it is probably to watch sport, especially Rugby

7. I am a diving instructor and am qualified to dive mixed gases to 100M (330 feet in old money)

I am hopefully nominating some new people for this award, they also have a lovely blog:

  1. Side by Side in Mental Health
  2. Doug Warren
  3. A Momma’s View
  4. Stories without Border
  5. Sofia, Wisdom of the ages
  6. The Inspiration Angel
  7. Inspiring Max
  8. Flooding August
  9. State of my Heart
  10. Zen and Pi
  11. Sunday Epidemic
  12. Blue Crescent Fading
  13. Little Learner
  14. The quiet Fantasy Book Blog
  15. Stark Raving Mad

The majority of these bloggers are making their early inroads into the world of blogging so do pop over to check them out and give them some love.  If I do say so myself, this is one lovely list of blogs!

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The Forget-me-not – Writing 101

Todays writing 101 task is to talk about an object that we treasure.  This was an interesting challenge for me as I am not a hoarder.  Well I am not a hoarder of anything except my music collection.

I don’t have possession of a single item from my childhood, I left home not long after my 16th Birthday.  My parents put me on a boat from Belfast to Liverpool with a single bag.  From Liverpool I travelled to Plymouth to join the Royal Navy.  My parents divorced shortly afterwards and after several house moves both settled with new partners.  I spent 9 years in the Navy, married and had several house moves myself eventually settling in Dorset.  As a result everything from my childhood was lost through the years.  My younger brother even sold my collection of rare and fairly valuable LP’s.

In 1991 I became a Freemason.  Shortly afterwards my mothers partner, who was also a Freemason, gave me a small lapel pin.  A little blue forget-me-not.  Freemasons began using the flower in Germany in 1926 as a message not to forget the poor and desperate. Many other German charities were also using it at this time. In later years Masons in Nazi Germany adopted the flower as a means of recognition in place of the square and compass design. This spread across Nazi occupied Europe to avoid any danger of being singled out and persecuted. The symbol of the forget-me-not in modern Masonry has become more prevalent and today it is an interchangeable symbol with the square and compass.  Some also use the forget-me-not to remember those masons who were victimized by the Nazi’s. In English Freemasonry it is more commonly now worn to remember those that have died as a symbol that you may be gone but not forgotten.

In Newfoundland the forget-me-not was a symbol of remembrance of that nation’s war dead. This practice is still in limited use today, though Newfoundlanders have adopted the the Flanders Poppy as well.

Sadly Trevor, my mother’s partner, died from a particularly virulent cancer shortly afterwards and so my little forget-me-not became a memento of someone I was very fond of.  It is however so much more than that.  Given its symbolic origins my forget-me-not is a symbol of freedom, of resisting oppression, of distrusting authority and of my abhorance of prejudice, discrimination and inequality.  Now thats a lot of symbology from a little flower.  Let me try to explain a little more.

I have written a lot recently about my views on the illegality and futility of the so called ‘war against terror’ in the Middle East and I promised in an earlier post about the situation in Gaza that I would try to give some insight into how and why I believe that some of the people in Gaza become radicalised and carry out terrorist atrocities against the Israelis.  I grew up in Northern Ireland, a small province that was torn apart by “the Troubles’, a period of sectarian conflict that cost over 4000 lives.  The Troubles began in 1969 when I was just 9 years old.  The reasons are complex and beyond the scope of this post but if you would like to know the background there is a comprehensive summary here.  Shortly after the troubles began my family moved from Belfast to a small coastal village in County Down.  It was the sort of place where kids were safe to run free on the beaches and in the fields.  The community was almost entirely Unionist and of the Protestant religion.  There were only a couple of Roman Catholic families in the village.  You knew immediately who the Roman Catholic families were because the children went to separate schools.  This is a situation that still exists in Northern Ireland today.  Isn’t it incredible that in Britain in 2014 a social apartheid still exists, even today over half of the children in the province attend schools where over 95% of the pupils are of a single religion.  In the 1970’s it was much worse.

My first real personal exposure to the troubles came in 1974 during the Ulster Workers Council Strike.  In May of that year the strike brought the Province to a standstill, schools, offices and factories were closed by the strike.  Even the power companies closed down meaning no electricity.  Loyalist paramilitary groups setup road blocks and barricades to ensure that the strike was not broken.  My friends and I manned some of the roadblocks around our village.  At just 13 years of age we were delighted that the schools were closed and we thought manning the roadblocks was great fun.  In all honesty at that time I didn’t really understand what was going on, but there was an association with Loyalist paramilitaries.  Several of my friends and I were also in loyalist flute bands in what we saw as a celebration of loyalist and protestant culture.  Of course what we did not understand was that many of the adults involved were members of paramilitary organisations and that we had already been identified as possible recruits.  Dod we see those friendly laughing, joking men as terrorists?  Of course not, they were simply guys who were in the band, who lived down the street or who drank in the pub with my dad.  The terrorist you see isn’t necessarily a monster, they simply feel that their situation is hopeless, that no-one is listening to them and that they have to take radical action to be heard.

A sense of injustice can so easily lead to young people being radicalised and becoming involved in terrorist organisations.  Indeed many people I knew as I was growing up and even members of my family ended up in jail and some died as a result.  The economic system in Northern Ireland was dire indeed and for many the only way out was to do as I did and leave the country.  Of my peer group and classmates at school some joined the armed services or the police, others emigrated, some turned to religion and others joined paramilitary organisations and got involved in terrorist related crime.  The Northern Ireland I grew up in had the army on the street, Police stations were behind high fences, parking in town centres was almost impossible as parking was not allowed because of the fear of car bombs.  You had to pass through security checkpoints and submit to searches before you could even enter Belfast town centre.

The situation was not helped when the Westminster Government introduced internment without trial for those suspected of being involved in terrorism.  One of my Uncles spent over a year in prison.  He was never charged with any crime, he was imprisoned because he knew people who were suspected of being involved in terrorism.  He tells tales of beatings and torture by the Police and security forces.  Internment proved to be the biggest boon to recruiting that the paramilitary organisations ever had.  It is so easy to draw comparisons with the situation in the Middle East.  Whilst I do not condone terrorism in any shape or form my forget-me-not reminds me how easy it is for the marginalised to be drawn into armed struggle.

As I mentioned above I left home at age 16 and joined the Royal Navy.  After completing my basic training and my trade training I was waiting for a posting to a ship.  Whilst I was waiting my class were asked to volunteer to attend the military research facility at Porton Down to assist with research into finding a cure for the common cold.  We were offered additional pay of £10 a day and an additional two weeks leave if we volunteered for the six week trial.  This was a huge amount of money at the time, my first monthly wage after I joined the Navy was £28 after food and accommodation charges were deducted.  Thankfully I had learned early in life that if something appears too good to be true then it usually is.  It has since emerged that those who thought they were helping with research into a cure for the common cold were in fact being unwittingly subjected to the testing of chemical weapons.  My forget-me-not reminds me that you cannot trust those in authority.

I mentioned above that my mothers partner, Trevor, had died from a virulent strain of cancer.  Trevor had served as a Royal Marine and had been present when the UK carried out the testing of nuclear bombs at Christmas Island in 1962.  Those present were not given any form of protection, they were simply told to turn their backs on the explosion and to shield their eyes with their hands.  Many of the veterans present during those tests later died from cancers.  The UK Government and Ministry of defence fought tooth and nail to avoid paying compensation to those affected or their families.  You can read more information about this situation here.  My forget-me-not reminds me that Government cannot be trusted to look after those who serve their country, and of course it reminds me of the man who gave it to me.

Many of you will remember that in 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.  The British Government sent a task force to the South Atlantic to recover the Islands and in the ensuing conflict 907 people lost their lives this included 86 Royal Navy personnel and 27 Royal Marines.  Several of the Navy personnel who died were former shipmates and friends of mine.  My forget-me-not reminds me of those who lost their lives during that conflict.

In recent years I have seen at first hand how the UK government marginalises and criminalises those who choose to live differently to the rest of society.  The root of my awareness lies in the criminalisation of those who chose to live on the road during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The introduction of the Poll tax by Margaret Thatchers Government was seen to be so unfair by some people in our society that many people moved to of their homes and into vans, buses and trucks to avoid paying it.  As a result government passed laws making it an offence to park on land and even made it an offence to damage grass on the land they parked up on.  The media in the UK portrayed these travellers as drug crazed thugs and sparked a moral outrage across the country.  I came to realise that the people they were talking about included my little sister.

In recent years the government and the media in the UK has been on a crusade to portray those on welfare benefits as feckless scroungers.  They give the impression that huge amounts of cash is being ‘stolen’ by those who are not entitled to support.  The fact that the vast majority of welfare spending goes to old age pensioners or to the working poor seems to be immaterial.  This is merely an excuse to demonise the most needy in our society whilst taxes are cut for the richest.

The media and government continuously demonise those who seek political asylum in our country, claiming that the vast majority of immigrants into the UK are economic migrants who come here to sponge off the welfare state and the National Health Service.  The fact that the vast majority of immigrants are from EU countries and are entitled to settle and work anywhere within the European Union is conveniently ignored.  The remainder are often those who are displaced by conflict in those countries in which the western governments are waging war.  Once again the most vulnerable in society are a convenient scapegoat to cover up economic mismanagement by successive governments.  My forget-me-not reminds me that government often makes bad laws and demonises the poor and vulnerable, society is unfair and over the last 35 years the rich have got richer whilst the   poor get poorer.  It reminds me that inequality, prejudice and discrimination are rife in our society and that government sometimes make laws that reinforce that inequality.

My forget-me-not may only be 10mm across but it provides something of an anchor and I think you will agree it has quite a story to tell.  It is a treasure beyond value.

The Dangers of Blogging!

I was pleased to see that todays assignment is a free write, because I have had something on my mind for a couple of days now and I really wasn’t sure how to approach it. A few days ago a fellow bloggers wrote a piece on ‘Open Mic Nights’ a phenomena that is becoming increasingly popular in my hometown.  He used the piece as an opportunity to vent his spleen in what was perceived as an attack on ‘Open Mic Nights‘ and their comperes.  The problem is that the piece was an opinion piece and clearly designed to generate discussion.  Boy did it do that!  I don’t really think that that the writer anticipated the kind of discussion it would generate. Unfortunately the discussion was interpreted by some as an attack on certain individuals who host Open Mic’s around our area.  It wasn’t immediately clear that he intended a follow up piece in support of the events.  Before he managed to publish his piece he was subjected to a torrent of abuse and personal attacks, not just on his comments page but also by e-mail.  Although he did post a follow up in favour of the events the next day he was accused of writing the second piece in an attempt to pacify his attackers.  I was saddened by this as I know the writer personally and I know that he is a massive supporter of the local music scene.  His WordPress site  exists solely to advertise, support and review local gigs and artists.  I suspect that this article and the response it illicited has harmed his credibility with many of the artists and promoters who are influential in the local music scene.  I do hope that a temporary increase in traffic driven to his site by the article doesn’t in the end harm his site. The attacks on the article writer had me thinking about my own writing.  By coincidence I had an evening out last night and a friend informed me that some of my own articles had been noted by others and that they could lead to difficulties for me at a later stage.  Initially I was a bit annoyed by this as the articles were picked up via my private twitter feed.  My feed does not identify me as a member of the organisation I attended nor do the posts relate to that organisation but the message was passed to me that “I should be careful about posting articles which are controversial”.  This was a clear reference tony recent posts criticising UK Government Policy in a number of areas, particularly with regards to the war in the Middle East and it’s approaches to welfare. I have given the issue a lot of thought.  What came out of it for me was the fact that opinion pieces are likely to provoke strong responses, that they can be controversial and that people in influential positions may take a dim view of your public writing. What also came out of my thoughts is that I will not be cowed, if I see something as an injustice I will speak out.  I will not be silenced.

Black Dog Attacks

I can feel him long before I see him.  He is drawing closer, slowly, stealthily, hiding in the darkest corners, keeping to the shadows.  The muscles in his haunches are bunched and powerful, rippling under his jet black fur.  As he creeps forward he is almost silent but I can hear him breathing.  He begins to pant, gently at first, not through exertion, it’s his excitement that has raised his heart rate.

“I am coming for you” he whispers, I can hear the hatred in his voice.

“Keep back”, I shout, “I don’t want to see you, you are not coming in”.  He withdraws a little but starts to move forward again as he detects a tremor in my voice.  He can sense my fear, the signals passing down the invisible leash that connects us.

“Go away!  leave me alone” I yell.  I hear him moving slowly closer my yells and screams have no effect, he feeds on my fear.  For the first time I can make out his shape, his body a slightly darker black against the blackness of the shadows.  As he looks at me, I can just make out the whites of his eyes, rimmed in red, demonic.  I hear the beginnings of a growl rumble in his throat, I can feel his hackles rise and for the first time I see the glint of his teeth through the darkness.

“I am coming for you”, he says “You can’t run, you can’t hide”.  My heart starts to beat faster, heat rises to my face, my palms start to sweat as I feel panic rising, fear beginning to take over as he says  “Come on let go, one more minute and I have you”.  Suddenly it hits me, knowledge comes to the surface.  Through the morass of fear that my mind has become, a strand of sanity arises, a thread of hope.  I remember!

I have owned dogs all my life and I know that the vicious ones are usually the most cowardly, they feed off fear, they hide their fear behind aggression.  To defeat them you must remain calm, to assert control of them you have to project your authority.  Any dog can be mastered with time, calm and patience.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply, in through my nose and out through my mouth.  In for five seconds, hold for three seconds, out for six seconds.  In for five seconds, hold for three, out for six, and again, and again.  I focus on my breath, on the expansion of my chest, feeling air fill my lungs, feeling calm descend.  I can hear the dog getting agitated, angry.  “I am coming for you” he barks, “you are mine, I have got you”.

I stand taller, calm now, my breathing slow and steady as his anger rises.  I raise my hand slowly, palm out towards him. “Stop!”  I say, my voice firm and steady, calm.  “You only have power over me if I let you have it”.  “No he screams, you’re mine, I will drag you down, tear your throat out and feed on your entrails”.  His anger is rising, I know I am winning.

“Down boy” I say, smiling now as calm spreads through my body, spreading with the oxygenated blood pumping from my heart as it flows through my body.  I step towards him and he starts to whine. “Quiet now, Good boy” I move slowly, looking at him but not into his eyes.  I want him to submit, not feel challenged.  “Here boy” I say tapping my leg. Slowly he emerges from the dark and moves towards me, ears down, tail between his legs, beaten again, at least for today.  He comes to my side, I reach down, scratching between his ears.  “Good boy, now go in your box” I say.  He turns walks to his crate and lies down, his stomach exposed, showing me that he has submitted to me at least for today.  He may try again tomorrow, but for today at least the black dog of my depression has been vanquished once more.

The end.

This post is my response to a writing challenge where we are asked to express contrast through a dialogue.  Having suffered from depression for many years I have discovered that mindfulness exercises really help me.  The key to mindfulness is to try to live in the moment, to accept and acknowledge your feelings, to put them away and to move on.  To be able to do that a form of guided meditation can be used and I find the best route into this is through controlled breathing.  I came across the story of the black dog whilst dealing with a bad bout of depression.  I love dogs and have lots of experience in dealing with them.  Patience, calm, reward and repetition are the tools that work best when training a dog.  The same tools can be used to master your depression.  When you are training a vicious dog, if you show fear you are likely to get bitten.  I have found the same when I feel the black dog of depression creeping up on me.  I have tried to use this exercise to explain how I try to tame my black dog.  I hope you found it interesting, informative and entertaining. 🙂

Black dog image from:  http://positivepsychologynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/blackdog.jpg

The Homecoming – A Marines Story

The crowd is huge today, they stand waiting patiently in the autumn sunshine.  It won’t be long now, the aircraft passed overhead some 30 minutes ago.

Amongst the crowd stands a Royal Marine, his Green Beret positioned perfectly on his head, the Globe and Laurel cap badge highly polished.  The sunlight glints off both the badge and the row of medals on his chest.  As you would expect he is immaculately turned out.  His shoes highly polished, the creases in his trousers razor sharp, no fluff on his jacket.  He stands tall, his shoulders back, chest out, back straight, his bearing unmistakably military.  His now white hair and moustache neatly trimmed, his bright piercing blue eyes alert as he glances down the road waiting for the first glimpse of his brothers car.

Meanwhile, just a few miles down the road all is ready his brother is about to disembark from the RAF Hercules Transporter plane.  In his mind he knows that his brother will be greeted first by seven of his younger brothers.  They will board the aircraft, proud but nervous, lost in their own thoughts and memories.  They will touch the simple casket and then slowly and reverentially they will cover the casket with a union flag before placing a green beret above their brother head.  They will slowly and carefully slow march down the aircrafts loading ramp and they will place their brother into the waiting hearse so that he may complete the last few miles of his journey to the arms of his grief stricken family.  As the casket is placed they lower bared heads in respect and grief at the loss of a fallen brother.repat 3

As the hearse moves slowly away they give knowing glances to each other.  They know that their brothers story will never be known to the wider world.  They know that as a member of a family within a family the details of their brothers death will never be revealed to the press and never be discussed outside of the Special Forces Base at Poole in Dorset.  In the operation centre a photograph and a plaque will join the others on the wall, it will give only the time and place of his death no details.  The full details will only be known by those from his unit of the Special Boat Service.  To the rest of the world he will be known simply as a Royal marine who died on active service.  The details of the operation kept secret lest it provides the enemy with intelligence that could endanger his brothers later.

The hearse moves away with it’s Police escort, blue lights flashing as it drives the couple of miles to the memorial garden in Norton Way.  Those lining the roadside stir as the cortege approaches.  As if by telepathy the old men come to attention and the Marine raises the standard of the Royal Marines Association.  Dozens of standards are raised as the men and women from veterans associations the length and breadth of the country come to pay their respects to the fallen.  There may be over fifty years separating these brothers, they have no blood connection but the grief is palpable.  The Green Beret that they have both been proud to wear a badge of honour and a bond of friendship that will never be broken.  In this, the 350th Anniversary of the formation of the Royal Marines, the bond of tradition and shared history is even stronger.  repat 2wb

As the cortege reaches the memorial it slows to a crawl.  The standards are lowered in salute and people leave the crowd to place flowers on the hearse.  Thousands stand to honour a young man who fell serving his country, united in respect and grief.  The Marine cannot even remember how many times he has done this, he has attended almost every repatriation for well over a decade.  He has stood in silence to honour the fallen hundreds of times, first at Royal Wooton Bassett and now at the memorial gardens.  He is 74 years old now but he stands straight backed and head held high to honour his brothers in arms.  it gets a little more difficult on every occasion but he will continue to do it for as long as is necessary or until death or infirmity stops him.  On every occasion he marvels at the dignity and shared sense of loss of those who gather.  On every occasion he hopes it will be the last time that they have to gather.  On every occasion a tear forms in his pale blue eyes and his heart swells in pride and gratitude to the fallen and to those who come to honour them.  As always he feels particularly sad when the fallen comrade is a Royal Marine for the loss is the loss of a family member.  Those who have earned their Green Beret share a lifelong bond, they are a family and each time a brother falls a little piece of them dies too.

Scotland the Meek – Writing 101

As I walked through the early morning rain todays news ringing in my ear, I bend and pick up an open letter urging the people of Scotland to say yes to Independence.  The reply shoots into my brain:

When we needed our courage

We chose to be weak

No more Scotland the Brave

Now it’s Scotland the Meek

Serially Lost – Procrastination

They say that procrastination is the thief of time, well I have learned over the past few years that there are much bigger thieves of our time.

There are many things in our lives that we can lose, loved ones, pets, marriages, trust, hope, money, keys.  You name it and we humans can probably lose it.  Some of these things have a major effect on our lives, others slip by causing barely a ripple on the surface of the lake of life.  Some loss has a devastating effect on our lives, others less so.  Many of the things we lose we can replace or regain in one form or another.  There is one thing that you can never reclaim however.  Time!

Time has a way of just slipping through our fingers.  One day you are at school, you look around a moment later and your own kids are leaving school and getting ready to leave home.  What on earth happened to those years?  Where did they go?  How can it be that one day you are in front of the mirror fussing over your hair and the next you are wondering where your hair went. How can you go from almost weekly trips to the barber to having more hair on your back than you do on your head?

In the 21st Century one of the best ways to lose time is by sitting in front of one screen or another.  If we are not watching television we are sat in front of a computer screen, playing games, writing blogs.  Sometimes we even use them for work.  If it isn’t a computer it’s a tablet, our iPhone or some other gadget.   dinner_instagram-small_0

Recently my wife and I spent an evening at a fairly expensive restaurant.  It’s a nice place, great food, great range of cocktails, good wine, great staff and a great atmosphere.  Why then did the young couple on the table next to us spend the entire evening with their faces buried in their smartphones.  Ignoring each other, seriously what ever happened to talking to each other whilst you are on a date?

Screens may be a major way to lose time, but there is something else that steals away your life.  Something quiet, invasive, all consuming and insidious.  Something that creeps up on you and steals away a huge chunk of time.  So what is this thief of time?  Well dear reader you will have to wait for my next post to find out.

Cartoons from http://s42.photobucket.com/user/rockdogrecords/profile/