Monday, 12 March 2018

Let's talk about death

My new piece of flash fiction on Wattpad, 'The Discomfort Zone', explores what happens to Jenny, one grey afternoon, when she visits the Death Cafe.

I first heard of the concept of 'Death Cafes' a few years ago. They were thought of as friendly places you could go to confront your own mortality, with other interested souls, over a cup of tea or a latte.

I think Jenny is also accompanied by the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe as well as the other seven guests she encounters. I hope you enjoy reading my work as much as I enjoy writing it. You can read my story here.

The accompanying picture for 'The Discomfort Zone' is called 'The Last Latte', it is my latest picture on DeviantArt.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Amy's Games

Agatha Christie once said that the best thing you could give another human being was a happy childhood. I always tried to make Amy’s childhood as happy as I could. Part of my positive parenting endeavours was a struggle against the lure of the screen and one of the things that helped in this struggle was developing our own board and card games.

Monday, 26 February 2018

More hearts and flowers

My original heart felt pendants and crochet flower brooches were not at all popular at my craft events in 2013. Since then I have developed them into fabric brooch cards and lavender scenters, which have both proved to be much more successful.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Yin and Yang of ACT

I have been enjoying exploring a new psychotherapy. It's called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I have found it to be the most useful psychological therapy I have come across. After delving deeply into it I think it is because it is a middle way type of therapy. To me it has a Yin side and a Yang side to it. The picture poems below show a little of why I feel this way.

Yin-Vibes = poem for acceptance

I really enjoyed reading 'The Happiness Trap' by Russ Harris. A large part of the book was about accepting difficult emotions.
Acceptance is more than just the Yin-vibes I include in my picture poem, but for me they were a good place to start. Really accepting the dark places deep in my soul, the hurt, the pain, the sadness, the helpless feelings, vulnerability, fears, anxiety, failure, rejection, loneliness, death, anything and everything I find negative, can be very liberating. It's like you are giving up the struggle against your innermost feelings and can really open up to new challenges and positive experiences.

Yang-Vibes = poem for commitment

My Yang poem is about opening up to new challenges and postive experiences. It's positive psychology but because it's Yang there is also anger and attempts to control in there as well.
I think ACT is a big step up from plain old positive-psychology because of the bigger emphasis on Acceptance, which is a kind of negative-psychology technique. I feel we live in a Yang oriented world and connecting to my Yin side, however I manage to do it, has been very important to me over the years, helping to keep me healthy and sane through everything life has thrown at me.

The Middle Way = Poem for ACT

In my middle way poem I bring the Yin and Yang concepts together. Maybe ACT is about accepting negative feelings and committing to positive actions. It's about bringing things on and letting things go. It's about the balance between extremes.
I really like ACT because it isn't a religion or a philosophy, it's a useful therapy that could help and heal anyone.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Emotional LIfe Songbook

The 'Emotional Life' songbook features fifteen of my songs, including Island of Happiness, Stargazing, Scorpio Eyes, For What I Am and Alive at last. It is a kind of sister publication to 'Something More' which features twenty-three of my poems along with nine of Amy's illustrations. These booklets have both sold quite well on my craft stall. My songs can also be found on my YouTube Channel here and my 8tracks channel here, I have also included some of them on my Vimeo Channel here.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Paris Top Twelve

I have visited Paris five times in my life, each time I have found something new and exciting there. When I first visited I had to take the ferry between Dover and Calais, now I can take Eurostar and be there in a couple of hours. Inspired by my New York Top Twelve I thought I would develop a Paris Top Twelve, to remember twelve of my favourite Parisian locations.

1. Paris Opera House
My daughter's favourite place in Paris, so good we visited it twice. Sheer beauty and grand gorgeousness. Look up in the auditorium and you see the surprising ceiling, full of whimsical charm. We lingered along the sultry halls and staircases, soaking in the glamourous atmosphere.

2. Musee D'Orsay
A great imaginative use of a disused railway station. I loved the impressionist paintings and period furniture. It is a vast museum, so we found a cosy nook for my dad and daughter to sit in, while mum and I walked all over the various, treasure filled levels.

3. The Louvre
The impressive glass pyramid above the Louvre's entrance promises of the delights this famous art gallery has to offer. There always seems to be great security and crowds around the Mona Lisa, but there are many other great paintings with a much better view, one of my favourites is 'The Shipwreck of the Medusa' by Theodore Gericault.

4. Montmatre
The art market itself is quite crowded and touristy, but the galleries and surrounding area are well worth a visit. I couldn't resist taking pictures above these famously picturesque MontMartre steps.

5. Sacre Couer
It is quite a crowded walk up to the Sacre Couer, but quite enjoyable, especially if you turn around and take in the wonderful Parisian views.

6. Notre Dame
It is situated by the Seine in a very pleasant spot. We ate sandwiches there, before venturing into the cathedral which is beautiful and magnificent.

7. Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is so big, you can see it from all over Paris. We didn't go up it, just to be near it and appreciate its greatness was enough.

8. La Galerie Lafayette
I'm not so keen on shopping, but knew, from my guide book, that there is much more to this emporium than mere consumerism. We ventured up the escalators and staircases, taking in the sparkling surroundings until we reached the very top and were treated to great views of Paris from the terrace at the top of the shop.

9. Pere Lachaise Cemetary
I visited this on my first trip to Paris made in 1989 when I was 21. There are some spectacular graves here but the one I was most keen to visit was that of one of my musical heroes, Jim Morrison. I didn't take any photos on my first visit to Paris, but here are a couple of postcards I bought to commemorate the occasion.

10. Champs Elysee
Paris is a planned city and this becomes more obvious when walking down the Champs Elysee and looking back at the Arc D'Triopmph that marks the centre of Paris. There are wonderful green spaces in which to sit and enjoy a cool drink and a crepe suzette, on a long, hot afternoon.

11. Rodin Museum
I visited the museum dedicated to the artist August Rodin in 1995 with my fiance. His work was superbly displayed in a very elegant house and garden. Most memorable were his famous sculptures the thinker and the kiss, but it was wonderful to appreciate his lesser known works in such a well thought out setting.

12. EuroDisney
I feel that Disneyland Paris has been a welcome addition to the traditional Parisian sights on offer to the humble tourist. We enjoyed Walt Disney Studios more that the Disneyland Park, in particular the Tower of Terror, the history of film show and the special effects ride.

I have really enjoyed thinking about Top Twelves for Paris and New York. I am now thinking about what my London Top Twelve would be, which would be coming from a different perspective being a Londonner, rather than a tourist.

Monday, 29 January 2018

New York faces, New York places

My first big apple is filled with the faces of people who most inspired me to make my trip to New York in 2017.

Alicia Keys
A beautiful singer responsible for my favourite New York song of recent years 'Empire State of Mind'.

John Lennon
John Lennon thought of New York as a big Liverpool. Tragically he was shot dead by a fan outside the Dakota Building in December 1980. Strawberry Fields in Central Park is Yoko Ono's memorial to him.

David Bowie
A London boy who lived a rich life in New York, but kept his creative spirit alive to the end.

Quentin Crisp
A self-proclaimed 'stately homo of England' and the inspiration for Sting's 'An Englishman in New York'.

Debbie Harry
I got turned onto pop music and NYC after watching Debbie Harry singing 'Hanging on the telephone' on a chaise longue on Top of the Pops in 1978.

Lou Reed
I'm still discovering more of Lou Reed's music. I've been a fan since I discovered the Velvet Underground in the 1980s. I got his homage to Edgar Allan Poe 'The Raven' for Christmas.

David Byrne
'Psycho Killer' is my favourite track, but there is plenty of thoughtful pop to enjoy from Talking Heads.

Patti Smith
She had a big hit with Bruce Springsteen and 'Because the Night', but most of her stuff is more alternative and poetic.

Rosemary's Baby
So many of my favourite films star New York City. 'Rosemary's Baby' is one of my oldest favourites.

My second big apple is filled with the names of the thirty places I managed to visit during my one week stay in NYC.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Fall of Ursula Usher

The Fall of Ursula Usher is the story of a lonely pop star. Her efforts to keep the haunting ghosts of her life at bay are continually thwarted by a nosy journalist determined to discover what makes her tick.

Each chapter is named after a character who left a lasting impression on her, they are ...

Steve, Sara, Joe, Miss Prince, Gordon, Louise, Mr Willison, Simone, Mike, Rosemary, Nick, Uma, Aunt Frances, Jason, Colleen, Charles, Tony, Ursula ...

Ursula's public persona is somewhat based on the work of Tori Amos and Kate Bush.

Monday, 8 January 2018

London Walks: the Thames Path

One of the major joys of living in London is walking along the Thames Path, Over the last ten years I have walked the whole of the central London part of the Thames Path from the Thames Barrier to Hampton Court. These are my highlights of that well trodden path.

Part One: The Thames Barrier to the Cutty Sark

The Thames Barrier was built in 1984 but I didn't see it for real until 2014 when I decided to visit the official start of the London section the Thames Path. The barrier stretches across the width of the Thames looking a little like the curves of the Sydney Opera House. There is a small cafe and visitors centre plus a grand view of the river. 

The Greenwich peninsula has seen a lot of building work over the years, but there is still something quite desolate about it. The O2 is a welcome public space. There are interesting retro outlets here, bars, walkways and restaurants, as well as a gateway to the entertainment arena. Security was very tight when I last visited.

The Cutty Sark is an impressive ship named after the witch from the Robert Burns' poem 'Tam O'Shanter', the name means 'short shirt'. It was a good place to end the first leg of the Thames Path.

Part Two: Cutty Sark to Tower Bridge

We did part two of the Thames Path on the north side of the river. The most memorable sight was the traffic light tree on the Isle of Dogs, an artistic statement about man and nature, utterly confusing for motorists. We did this part of the path in reverse and crossed back to the South Bank via the Greenwich foot tunnel.

Part Three: Tower Bridge to Westminster Bridge

Amy, mum and I often walk the stretch of the river between Waterloo Bridge and London Bridge. There are many places we like visiting around this area: the Royal Festival Hall, Gabriel's Wharf, Tate Modern, the Globe Theatre, Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market. We are generally blessed with a good, clear and sunny, day, the river generally looks lovely and there is usually something vibrant, exciting and good natured going on. Stretching this walk out on either side, you can also take in the London Aquarium at County Hall and the Tower of London on the North side of the river near Tower Bridge. 

The highlight of London Aquarium for me was the rays and especially the rays at feeding time. These flat fish are extraordinarily cute, beautiful and fscinating. There is a Sea World type glass tunnel with sharks swimming, to the side and above you. 'Finding Nemo' was all the rage when we visited and the clown fish and angel fish were very popular.

The Tower of London includes a number of buildings circling a central court. Most interesting are the crown jewels, which had a long queue to it and a moving walkway to keep viewers circulating. A popular part of the tower is the Bloody Tower; well-known 'guests' in the Bloody Tower have been Queen Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Walter Ralegh and the young princes, Edward and Richard, all of whom met very sticky ends. The last time we visited the Tower of London we kept bumping into Dr Who's River Song, which made the day even more thrilling.

Part three of the Thames Path is very special and I think deserves a blog post all of its own.

Part Four: Westminster Bridge to Putney Bridge

The highlight of this stretch of the river was definitely Battersea Park. I have visited this park several times over the years and find it surprising, green and spacious. I first brought Amy here when she was six. She loved the zoo, the carved wooden animals, the fountains and the water features, as well as the rough and ready adventure playground. My favourite part of the park was the retro cafe by the lake, it was like being back in a work canteen in the 1950s.

Part Five: Putney Bridge to Richmond Bridge

This was the most straightforward of the walks, it was surprising how much the riverside had been developed, mostly flats and accompanying restaurants, bars, green spaces and helicopter pads. An interesting diversion could have been the London Wetland Centre at Barnes. Richmond Riverside was a good place to end the walk, with a cup of tea at the Tide Tables riverside cafe.

Part Six: Richmond Bridge to Hampton Court

This part of the path felt very familiar to me, it is near the area I grew up in. The riverside walk between Twickenham and Richmond is particularly lovely. On the way is the Marble Hill House and gardens and a lovely children's playground. This walk passes through a lot of greenery and ends up at one of my favourite London places: Hampton Court. 

The last time I visited Hampton Court we were treated to many different historical scenarios. Amy was pleased to meet Catherine Parr in one of the drawing rooms, a conspiracy concerning Charles I was being conducted in a shady passageway, jousting was taking part in the grounds. We also visited the wardrobe costumes for the Other Boleyn Girl. The cafes have become crowded and overpriced, but the maze is definitely worth exploring. 

The Thames Path continues past Hampton Court, maybe I will explore it further, beyond London, in the future.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Continuing in Concert

I had my first piano lesson in 1975. Since then I have played the recorder in local Eisteddfods and music festivals, sang in a choir, participated in a college musical, completed an acting course and performed my songs in folk clubs in and around London and South East England, however it wasn’t until 2010 that I started playing classical piano pieces in public, primarily in local churches. 

Since 2010 I have developed a repertoire of over twenty pieces that I find very enjoyable both to play and to listen to. You can listen to these favourite piano pieces by going to my ‘At the piano’ playlists, which are available on YouTube and 8Tracks.

Monday, 18 December 2017

ALF Christmas cards

After designing my own grown-up Christmas Cards in 2015 I went through Amy's old drawings and found six that I thought could be developed into lovely child-like Christmas card designs. Together with mine they form the basis of a ten card collection.

Monday, 11 December 2017

ALF @ Landmark

I watched this church in Teddington deteriorate, over the years, from the top of a double decker bus on the way to Kingston. A few years ago it was taken over by the Landmark art centre. Now you can visit various arts and crafts exhibitions, held there on occasions throughout the year. In 2016 Amy and I visited twice.

The first visit was to the art show which Amy found very inspiring. The artists came from all over Britain and beyond, we especially enjoyed the natural landscapes and floral designs. The second visit was more crafty and Christmassy. There was food and drink on offer as well as glass fusion pieces, pottery, candles, porcelain lampshades, handmade soap and various needle-crafts. There were a few painters but not so many as previously. I bought Amy another needle-felt slide for her hair.