Thursday, 30 January 2014

Fings aren't so bad, are they?

SW presented me with a bundle of her stories, recently. Each one is a little treasure, and will probably find their way to this blog in due course. But I'm sharing one about Anna's first day at school, purely because it's so optimistic.

Anna was on her way to her new school. As she went, she wondered about her new school. Would it be nice? Anna rang her bell, and off she rode.

When she arrived at school, Miss Bun took the register. "Milly." "Yes." "Anna." "Yes." "Ben." "Yes."

Miss Bun said they were learning how to add. "What is 1+1?" Miss Bun explained.
"5322," shouted Anna. "No," she said.

It turned out she got everything wrong, but...

there was one thing she was good at. Ballet dancing.
The school was having a talent show.
When the day came, she performed. The crowd fell silent.
And it was great. So, maybe things aren't so bad, are they?

Monday, 27 January 2014


Odd how looking at a rainbow can quickly take you far away from the initial contemplation of its coloured bands. The last time I saw one, I realised that the true fascination, for me, resided in its arc. The impact of a thing that rises out of nothing, stopping me in my tracks, before fading away into a distant and unknowable part of the landscape.

Disasters arc in the same way. Such an event, natural or man-made,  thousands of miles from the place we call home, rises from a point beyond our consciousness. At its height, we can’t help but engage with what’s happening. We are caught in the colours of catastrophe, feeling the heaviness of someone else’s plight in our hearts. We respond in different ways, and with a variety of offerings. We give something of ourselves in those moments before the arc descends into the aftermath. Everything in that short spell is clear and undeniable. The suffering is palpable, the frailty of existence too close for comfort.

As with a rainbow, the arc of a disaster finally succumbs and vanishes from our view. After only a short period of time, the detail that caused spontaneous weeping and soul searching is just beyond recall. We quickly backfill from the pile of particulars that make up our own lives, and it becomes almost impossible to separate an earthquake in Haiti, from a tsunami in Fukushima.

Almost exactly two years ago, I watched a television news report from Syria. The death of an eight year old girl created a bleak arc for contemplation. I marked it with words, the best I could. Perhaps this is what poetry is for? To trace an arc, to help us remember and, on occasion, to describe the brief existence of rainbows.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Scope and hope, illustrated

Following on from my previous post, I thought you might like to share a little gem. A Facebook 'friend' suggested that the story of Lionel and his Grandad would be ripe for illustrations. Quick as a flash - and I mean, literally a few minutes after I'd replied, with an admission to not having any drawing skills - an old friend and talented cartoonist, Robby Bullen, offered the following.

Grandad raised his hand and pointed at the moon. 
'I remember when a man first set foot on that,' he whispered...

Robby insisted I make it clear that this is very quick and rough sketch. I think it's brilliant and, following a brief and constructive exchange, we've decided on a collaboration. I will pen the stories and Robby will provide the illustrations. It'll be an interesting project, and a relief for me, from trying to bash out a novel for adults. I have to say there's so much more scope and hope in a story for kids. To quote John Betjeman, "Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows."

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Space for Lionel

The children at SW's school have been thinking and learning about space. A shout went out for space stories of no more than 1000 words. Pupils, parents and other family members were invited to get writing. So when my daughter asked me to contribute, I thought it might be fun. And it was.

Lionel was feeling grumpy. Mum and Dad were going to a wedding, and children were not invited. So, it was off to the countryside, to stay with Grandad.

This was bad news. Not only did Lionel hate the countryside, but sleeping over this Saturday night meant that he was going to miss Dr Who, because Grandad didn’t have a TV.

Lionel prayed that the sky would be cloudy for his sleepover. Better still, he hoped it would rain, a lot. He didn't like wet weather, but he knew that if the sky was clear, Grandad wouldn't be able to resist taking a look at the stars before bedtime. To look at the stars, you had to go outside, and to get outside, you had to open the door, and if you opened the door, there was nothing between you and the darkness. Not to mention those things that seemed to move about in the inky black night.

As the car drew up in the narrow lane outside Grandad's cottage, Lionel was feeling extra grumpy because his prayers hadn't been answered. The sky was clear and a frost was forming on the hedgerows. Not only were the stars twinkling in all their glory, but a full moon gave enough light for Lionel to see his way to the cottage without using a torch. ‘Great,’ he sighed, as Grandad held the door open while they waved goodbye to Dad.

'Want some cocoa, Lion?' Grandad asked, as Lionel was looking for a place to put his overnight bag. Oh that was another thing, Grandad always called him Lion. It wasn't really a problem, although Lionel heard his mum and dad moaning once, about how they didn't like shortened names.

'No thanks, Grandad,' Lionel said, edging towards the fireplace.

'Just me, then,' said Grandad, raising a steaming mug in Lionel's direction.

Lionel nodded.

'I was thinking,' said Grandad, between slurps of cocoa, 'it's a clear night, tonight. What d' you say, we nip out and look at the stars?'

'But I've just taken my coat off.' Lionel pulled a face, and shifted awkwardly.

'So?' Grandad replied, with a grin, 'you can put it back on again, can't you? Or perhaps you're not in the mood?' Lionel didn't answer, but his Grandad wasn't one for giving up. 'When I was your age, I was fascinated by the stars. Used to mess about with me mates, playing at being Dan Dare, and all that sort of thing.'

Lionel half turned from the fire. 'Who's Dan Dare?'

'Who's Dan Dare?' blurted Grandad, spraying cocoa down his shirt, 'only the world’s number one space hero, Lion, that’s all!'

'What, like Dr Who?'

'Well yes, er…and no. Don't think Dan Dare ever travelled about in a telephone box with a blue light on it. No, he had most of his space adventures in a ship called, uhh, oh yes…Anastasia!’

'Not a time traveller, then?' Lionel was finding it hard to summon any enthusiasm.

Grandad sighed. ‘No, not a time traveller, Lion. Although, there was an experimental craft. Oh what was it called? Tempus something…’

'Space would be boring without Dr Who,' Lionel interrupted, his eyes still fixed on the fire. There was no answer from Grandad, but Lionel could feel a cold draught on the back of his legs. He looked towards the kitchen and noticed the old man framed in the open doorway, his head tilted back as he gazed up at the night sky. Reluctantly, Lionel shuffled out to join him.

They stood in silence for a few minutes before Grandad raised his hand and pointed at the moon. 'I remember when a man first set foot on that,' he whispered, 'we all sat, glued to the television, and watched it happen, live, right before our eyes.'

‘You actually saw it?’ Lionel asked.

Grandad didn’t take his eyes off the moon. ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘I actually saw it, in July, 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin setting foot on the lunar surface. Magic.’

All at once, Lionel had a thousand questions he wanted to ask, but Grandad continued talking, about the Apollo spacecraft and how it was made in three parts, how the astronauts travelled for three days until they entered lunar orbit, and how they eventually landed in the Sea of Tranquility, which isn’t really a sea, but looks like one from a distance. Some of this information was sinking into Lionel’s brain, but something else was happening. The longer he looked up at the moon, the closer it appeared. The same with the stars. The more Lionel concentrated on the tiniest pinpricks of light, the more he felt he could reach out and touch them. Then, just as his thoughts were drifting far out to space, Grandad said, ‘Brrr, it’s getting a bit chilly, Lion. Better go indoors now.’

‘What? Oh, okay,’ Lionel said, still trying to imagine how it might have felt to be walking on the moon. He took long, slow motion footsteps as he followed Grandad into the house.

Indoors, Lionel sat at the kitchen table, from where he still had a good view of the moon. Grandad had gone upstairs, to fetch something that might be of interest. When he returned, he was carrying a battered cardboard box.

‘What’s this?’ asked Lionel, angling his head and squinting at the contents.

‘Well,’ said Grandad, ‘I can’t offer you Dr Who. But I can give you Dan Dare.’

Lionel lifted an old comic from the top of the pile, and examined it closely.

‘Reckon we’ve done a bit of time travel ourselves tonight, Lion. Back to the moon landing and all that. And we haven’t even got a…you know, a police box.’

‘Tardis’, said Lionel.

‘Exactly,’ said Grandad, ‘hey, are you sure I can’t tempt you with a cup of cocoa?’

But Lionel didn’t hear. He was already living in Grandad’s past, with Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.

© Martin Hodges

Monday, 13 January 2014

Throwing off, and up, in a theatrical manner

First post of 2014. I would have been here earlier but someone must have hit the fast forward button one minute into the new year. I would have been oblivious to the loud click, anyway, as I was tucked up and fast asleep when the wheels finally fell off 2013.

Anyway, strange Christmas holiday with the family falling, one by one, to a stomach virus. We maintained contact via text and telephone and fortunately, after a few days, they were all on the road to recovery. Just as we were spared the strains of Auld Lang Syne, we also managed to avoid the dissonant harmonies of heads in toilet bowls.

We had a planned family outing to the theatre booked for New Year’s Eve, but that had to be deferred until yesterday, when we finally got to take our seats for a production of The Nutcracker. It was excellent. A little dark in places, maybe, but SW and Things 1 and 2 were riveted from the start.

If I’ve had any vague notions with regard to resolutions, they’ve probably included a promise to make more theatre trips. We’re booked for Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, in March, and The Lion King is on the cards. But it’s the smaller production companies I have a soft spot for, and hopefully we’ll get along to see more this year.

Jack Frost appears, courtesy of Thing 2

Of course, vague resolutions will always include writing, although my flying start for 2014 hasn’t been maintained thus far. But one of my other passions took a surprise turn recently, when a few like-minded souls expressed an interest in setting up a Facebook group with a view to discussing and exploring alternative education systems, teaching and learning. The group, and Facebook page, is simply called Another Way. I’m not sure that what we have to say will shake the world of education, but the forum is a place for the exchange of thoughts and ideas about how we educate our children. If you have a Facebook account, and you’d like to ‘Like’ us, or even join the group, please feel free.

Well, a belated Happy New Year to all of you! And a belated thank you for continuing to venture into the Square Sunshine, even though my posts have been pretty irregular in recent months.