Author Archives: Sheila North

One Shutterbug: Point of View – A Poetic Blog, for Father’s Day

Shutterbug’s delight: Doncaster, 2016ish

This poem was written for my father. I hope he likes it. In its own way, this is one of the most personal things I’ve ever posted.


One Shutterbug: Point of View

shutterbug (n) – “an amateur photographer, especially one who is greatly devoted to the hobby” First recorded in 1940 – 1945

Picture the shutterbug.

For certainly, he’ll picture you:

in a group, in a crowd,

singing out loud,

in chapel, in temple,

in church and up steeple,

on dunes, and on hills,

after bicycle spills,

in the piney, reminiscing,

quite possibly, kissing.

Up steeple – St George’s, Doncaster

And the trumpet does sound

from a blue stereo.

Where to begin?

After taking it

on the chin,

a glider disaster,

international plasters,

that first picture:

why, it’s him!

The gift of an uncle:

a “unchi” says,

Johnny, Ionel,

here, take this:

may it give you

great joy, it is more

than a toy: it’s an eye,

a way of looking,

a history book,

for each picture took

tells a story, or three.

And a white flower blooms

from a blue stereo.

A puff of fresh smoke

from a trusty old pipe,

a friend in common,

and indeed, a first

dazzling meeting

with the beauty

with the smile:

they chat

for awhile.

No points for guessing

how these things proceed.

And a September song croons

from a blue stereo.

A wedding in white,

two different families,

polite, where next

from here?

There’s no chance

of a beer, a dance,

or some wine, til

after the cake, why,

it’s honeymoon time.

And the hammiest voice

in all Michigan

speaks of a brave steamshovel.

Family times

are the shutterbug’s dream:

like a cat with some cream,

the albums fill quickly

with children crying,

and crawling,

laughing, and bawling:

it’s slide shows, and sodas,

pancakes, and stew,

colac, corn bread, too.

And the hammiest voice

in all Christendom

tells of bunnies: flopsy, and true.

The shutterbug’s collection

grows with those kids

who he packs into a car

10 days each year: going

there, travelling here,

in a brown Meteor

with toys, books galore,

the beauty she reads

as the shutterbug drives,

whilst the youngest melts crayons

on the the back of the car,

and America unfurls,

like a flag filled with stars.

Sorry about the crayons – 1960s

And the hammiest voice

in all Michigan

goes down a Hobbit hole.

Come Appalachians,

come DC, come Boston,

and Nashville! Summon

crowds of great aunties,

and uncles, with photos,

through crick, hill

and churches, and always,

reminiscing, with y’alls,

and kissing.

Come Smokey bears

begging, early morning

petrol stations, with the kids,

and the wife, waiting.

On return, the shutterbug’s

sorting, collating, a bin

by his side, once the vacation

has ended,

but never the journey:

with all America,

waiting, always

still waiting.

And black-red-and-white dances

on an old stereo.

He once crossed an ocean:

the skies, the ship’s motion,

ending with the Lady

his parents saw before him.

Now travelling in mind,

in photos, and time,

he’s weathered the longest.

The last leaf,

or the strongest?

And the tenderest voice

in all Christendom

reads through her Bible,

and sings their old hymns.

With his lady – 1970s

I love you, Daddy.

June 2017

Tagged: America, children’s books, family, Father’s Day, Frank Sinatra, Handel, music, nostalgia, photography, Romania

23 Random & Not So Random Reasons Why I Love Steampunk

 

Julian Herbert Least-Weasel: art by Tom Brown, from “When Stoats Go Wrong”

Being a List of the Various, Sundry, and Indeed Random Reasons I Enjoy Steampunk, with Occasional Interruptions by Weasels, Stoats, & a Badger Who Likes to Play Suduko, as Well as Praise for the Beauty that is Doncaster Mansion House

  1. I already love Victorian clothing, history, and architecture, and the Victorian era & influence is, as I understand it (1), a central core of Steampunk.

    Oh Victoriana! Folly from Broadsworth Hall gardens, Doncaster.

  2. The celebration of eccentricity, & the way it makes me feel at home.
  3. Colour: you’re never short of it when Steampunks are around.
  4. Greaveburn, a Steampunk novel by author Craig Hallam. Contains one of the best ever anti-heroes, great world building, plus some fab pseudo swearing.
  5. Creativity: whilst Steampunks appear to love buying things created by fellow Steampunks, there’s a lovely emphasis on creating your own clothes, characters, ephemera, & the like.
  6. All those lovely looking blokes in their gear, especially their waistcoats: flattering on any fine figure of a fellow.
  7. The emphasis on manners. More, please!
  8. Tea, glorious tea!

    A cup of brown joy

  9. Speaking of which, Professor Elemental
  10. Tom and Nimue Brown, who I met at the Doncaster Steampunk Festival, a few years’ ago
  11. Tom’s lovely illustrations, including the weasel picture above, as well as the banner featured on this, and my “About” page, plus many, many more drawings.
  12. Plus, of course, Hopeless, Maine
  13. Did I mention splendid looking chaps in their lovely costumes?

    Suits you, sir! Taken at the 2015 Doncaster Steampunk Festival

  14. How could I mention tea, and not mention the puzzling yet polite custom which is tea duelling?

    Sadly, not an action shot – they were too quick for me: Turn the Page Literary Festival, Doncaster

  15. It’s so very, very British (2)
  16. The fact that Sherlock Holmes fits so nice and snug into Steampunk
  17. Plus HG Wells “War of the Worlds”, one of the inspirations for Steampunk, as well as for some damn fine music
  18. The fact that Steampunk can be a many tentacled thing:

    Cthulu loved the 70s: art by Tom Brown, colouring by me

  19. Steampunks are so much fun to photograph: they may even pip the post with Goths (3)
  20. I love contraptions: so much, that one features in my story “When Stoats Go Wrong”, featuring Julian Herbert Least-Weasel and his extensive family.
  21. Also, motorbikes and bicycles, even if I’ve never rode on the former, and keep falling off the latter:

    Fab, fab, fab: Doncaster Steampunk Festival, 2015

  22. I have a stall at the Doncaster Steampunk Festival, on 8 July, from 10 while 17:00. It’s being held in Doncaster’s beautiful, historic Mansion House. Come by & wave hello (or a tentacle, if your name happens to be Cthulu)!
  23. Steampunk helped influence two of the stories in “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”, the upcoming short story collection I’ll be selling at the Festival: not just “When Stoats Go Wrong”, but also “Sherlock Jones and the Geek Interventionist”. “Geek” features Sherlock Jones, a descendant of the original Sherlock’s lesser brother, Mortie Holmes; Boswell, a badger who is Sherl’s bosom friend, and Doctor Marguerite “Daisy” Lestrange.
  24. Like Sherlock Holmes, the Good Doctor dips ever so nicely in and out of the world of Steampunk, witness episodes such as “A Town Called Mercy“, not to mention the deranged, Mary-Poppinish delight that is Missy.
  25. The fact that my character, Dr Daisy, will be wearing the Doctor Who charm bracelet which the Beloved gave me.
  26. Oh dear, that’s 25 reasons, not 23.
  27. I do hope you don’t have to be able to count to be a Steampunk.

Two Doctors, with Who inspired charm bracelet, plus vintage brass tray from Rewind.

(1) Defining what is and isn’t Steampunk appears to be only slightly less challenging than herding wildebeests through the London Underground System, whilst simultaneously whistling the Star Spangled Banner.
(2) Always excepting, of course, when it isn’t.
(3) Of course, there’s that confounded overlap between Steampunks, and Goths, which can make things jolly confusing. Dash it all, let’s have some tea, and cake, and never mind about all that.

Tagged: A Yorkshireman in Ohio, charm bracelet, Craig Hallam, creativity, Cthulu, Doctor Who, Doncaster, Greaveburn, HG Welles, Hopeless Maine, Nimue Brown, Professor Elemental, Rewind, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Jones and the Geek Interventionist, Steampunk, Tom Brown, War of the Worlds, When Stoats Go Wrong, writing

An Inelegant Deficiency: Anxiety, Writing, & Loss

Set us free: British Library, London

“It’s an act of faith. It’s going on when you no longer believe. It’s walking right into that wilderness.” – Natalie Goldberg, “Wild Mind”

“I’ve had an elegant sufficiency, and anything else would be flippity floppity.” – my mum-in-law

What gives you comfort? And what do you believe in? How do you go forward when all you can see is failure, and grief, and loss? How do you walk “right into that wilderness“?

When it seems like all you ever do is fuck up, over, and over again? When we see that life is sad? 

I write about loss a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m pushing 60, so close, ever so close now, and with what seems like precious little to show for it: and that what I do have, I don’t deserve. Or maybe it’s because I’m posting a card to an elderly relative, not knowing whether they’ll make it through their operation, or whether that card will go onto the doormat of someone who will never open it, never see it?

I write a lot about death, too.

True loss: London memorial to the women who also served.

Gods’ plural truths, I try and appeal to my better nature. Sometimes, though, it seems the “better” part just doesn’t exist. That god(s) created me, not in his/her/their image, but that of a maudy, angry old cow.

The quote from Natalie Goldberg is about writing. It was Goldberg’s response to a woman who had started several novels, got to around page 180 – no mean feat – then would “lose interest, or wouldn’t believe in the story anymore”.

I let the writing slats get kicked out of me, not long ago. No one’s fault but my own. I took something to read, but couldn’t face it. A waste? Not entirely: for one thing, it made me finally replace my printer cartridges. Cue much swearing, but I did it.

And so now more slats have been kicked out: and, once again, it’s down to me.

Time and time again, it is writing which helps restore me: which comforts me, and gives me hope. Am I writing the poem a loved one requested? Am I making my way to page 180 – and, gods help me, beyond – on my current work in progress (WIP)? Editing & publishing my next short story collection?

Nope, nope, & nope. I’m blogging. Which admittedly is better than putzing around on FB, Twitter, or YouTube: my usual refuges in times of stress, and anxiety, and sadness. Which, in turn, is at least better than hiding in bed, or being stuck to the settee.

Of course, my life isn’t all gloom and doom. For one thing, this merry traveller recently returned, after being missing for nearly a month:

Back in the camp chair again: Al, Beltane, 2017

All the things I love are still here: okay, not all of them. But there is enough: compared to many of the people I meet, I do indeed have “an elegant sufficiency”.

And it’s up to me to rediscover it.

I love you still: Detroit, 2006

Tagged: ageing, anger, anxiety, bereavement, cats, grief, Kate Bush, loss, mental health, Natalie Goldberg, nostalgia, poetry, Wild Mind

“Bile”

Leeds, 2016

Some flash fiction for you. Warning: do not eat while reading.

I wanted that dress. I mean, brick through the pvc window; alarm goes off; blood on shattered glass, and hands, and frock; dress itself proper shredded as I drag that red, sequin covered beauty through the broken window, and make off with it.

Truth told, I didn’t so much want the dress, as I wanted to smash a window. Not just any window, but that one: the bay one that had “Pretty Things for Pretty Women” smeared above it, and the door. Not literally smeared: the sign was plastic, shiny letters, not scum, or shit.

A lovely sign, lovely place: Leeds, 2016

Okay, so the sign did have some vomit. Also, piss. I’d happened to find them the night before, and decided they were wasted on the pavement in front of the corner shop next door. But I didn’t put them on the main sign, oh no: they were on the one which read “Pretties by Karli” Only, instead of a dot, there was a love heart over the “i” in “Karli”.

I ask you, what sort of grown woman uses a heart instead of a dot? One who hadn’t properly progressed, mentally, physically, or emotionally, since she was a scrawny 14 year old, all long legs, and pouty lips, and make up, and the sort of notebook that has multiple “Karli luvs Jason” and “Karli + Jason 4 Eva” scrawled across the cover.

For starters, who the hell is Eva? And why is she in a three some with that bitch Karli?

The Elephant in the City: Sheffield, 2016

Ok, I know she really meant “forever”. Stupid cow. She doesn’t just deserve vomit paint, or a brick through the window. The woman’s simply crying out for English lessons.

You think this is about Jason, don’t you? Poncy git, I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole. Thwack him with it, maybe. Touch him? Not even if he were the last man on the planet, and the universe was gagging for a fresh crop of human beings.

Miserable species, humans.

Why? Evidence one: Karli. Evidence two: her “love heart” dot. Evidence three: Jason, a man whose brain has evidently been replaced by a very small bowl of oatmeal.

I bet they start each morning by flossing between the ears.

A right cow: London

Read my books:

Koi Carpe Diem
The Woodcutter’s Son
What! No Pudding?

Tagged: A Yorkshireman in Ohio, anger, Books, fiction, flash fiction, hatred, Koi Carpe Diem, Leeds, Sheffield, shopping, short story collection, The Woodcutter’s Son, What! No Pudding?, writing

A Tale of Two Libraries

Bust of Dylan Thomas at the Poetry Library, London

“There is no love without loss.”

When I walked into the British Library, or, later that same day, the Poetry Library, I wasn’t thinking of my sister, who’s a medical librarian. I wasn’t even thinking of my late mother, who was a children’s librarian, and the key person responsible for my love of books.

That day, last week, it was all about me, and them: those magnificent keepers of the world’s knowledge, and passion. Because what is poetry, if it isn’t full of love, and loss, and the bittersweet experience we call life?

Today, though, I feel the distance between myself, and those I love: the distance of an ocean, and air miles, in the case of my sister; and death, in the case of my mum.

If there’s a heaven, it should include this: St Pancras Hotel, London, 2017

Can books, and in particular, poetry, bring us closer to those we love? I believe they can.

So many books take real people as their starting point. Sometimes they’re novels, with a person – living or dead – the basis for one or more fictional characters. Other times, they take the form of biographies, or even autobiographies, where the writer’s purpose is as much to bring back lost loved ones, as to record their own accomplishments, and – if it’s a good autobiography – failures, and more memorable mess ups, too.

Look up: look waaaaay up. British Library interior, 2017

Last Wednesday, I made a library sandwich, visiting the British Library in the morning, and the Poetry Library in the afternoon. The filling was the meeting I went to, inbetween. Both my library visits were brief. I had breakfast in the cafe in the British Library courtyard, where I also wrote a poem, then hit the gift shop.

I’ve been to the British Library at least half a dozen times now, but this was my first visit to the Poetry Library. My gratitude goes to my friend the author Stephanie Cage, who suggested my visit.

A door with a quote: the Poetry Library, London, 2017

The Poetry Library is on the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall, some place else I’d never been before, and which I found thanks to a friendly Londoner who was originally from Sierra Leone, and was attending his daughter’s concert at the Hall.

The library itself was much less grand than I’d expected, yet it was no less of a pleasure to visit. After a long, information packed meeting, it was good to get on the Tube, and then walk to, what was essentially a small, poetry-specific, library.

Having taken some snaps, and had a quick (Michi)gander, I decided to read some poetry by a writer who I’d previously avoided. All three were edited by her late husband, the Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, whose festival is next month.

A small pile of Plath.

I’m sorry, Sylvia. I’m going to borrow one or two of your books from the local library. I’m still staying away from the “Bell Jar”, though. There’s only so much my bipolar tendency toward severe depression can take.

I like to think you’d understand.

It’s easy to misjudge people: write them off due to their mental, or physical health; or, indeed, both. To avoid them because of the way they smell, or think, or come out with inappropriate remarks from time to time.

Because they are them, and not us.

Statue of Nelson Mandela, outside the Royal Festival Hall

I took several photos of Nelson Mandela’s statue, as well as reading the inscription below. The older I get, the more I’m impressed by people who can move from positions of great suffering, and / or hatred, toward working with those who oppose, and opposed, them. People like Mandela, and Gandi; the Irishmen Martin McGuiness, and Ian Paisley. Which isn’t to suggest that they were all necessarily admirable people, for no one is, not all of the time.

Over the years I’ve shown a tendency to act like a record which keeps sticking, and skipping, in the same grooves, over, and over again.

It’s hard to move on, difficult to let go. And difficult to know when we should move on, and when we should stick to our metaphorical guns, and turn to our physical pens, and pencils, and keyboards.

I wish you a blessed and thoughtful Sunday, whoever, and wherever, you may be. May your thoughts be helpful ones; your library, peaceful.

A child’s view of the rules: Poetry Library, May 2017

Tagged: bipolar, British Library, family, grief, libraries, London, Nelson Mandela, poetry, Poetry Library, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Ted Hughes Festival 2017, The Bell Jar, writing

Light the Way: Beltane, 2017

Elder leaves against a Beltane sky: 2017

Feel the power of the earth, wherever you are.

It may be your garden; it may be a friend’s, or, perhaps, your local park. Better still, a wood, a meadow, a glade. Even, perhaps, a hill or mountain side, with the wind so strong you can almost lean into it. Feel it, the element of air, thrill, and support you.

On Castle Hill, Huddersfield: love you.

Visit the seaside, at least once, early: preferably, at dawn, or soon afterwards. Walk along the beach while it’s still empty, save for the sea birds, and your own company, or that of a silent someone you love, and trust to keep still.

Feel it: the power of water, the wonder of it. Walk in the rain, let it dampen you, if not drench you. Just once, just the once.

The light on the water

This earth is ours, and we are the earth’s, as a poet once said.

Tonight, by some people’s reckoning anyways, is Beltane: a pagan fire festival. Do you have someplace you can safely make, and then watch, and put out, a fire? Maybe you have a firepit, maybe, if you’re lucky, a hearth. If not, you can always burn some candles.

When hearth means home

Feel it, the power of fire. Everything it evokes in us: comfort, fear, delight. Fire was a key element in so much of what makes us human: warmth, a place to gather, the cooked food which gives better nutrition.

Some speculate that it was fire that drew the wolves which would eventually evolve into dogs. Maybe, even, the wild creatures that, over time, became domestic cats.

Chaircat of the garden: Beltane, 2017

Feel them, the power of the elements: earth, air, water, fire. However much we may kid ourselves, these are the things that sustain us, that draw us together; and yes, which we fight over: the basics of life. And yet, foolishly, we try and control them; even, to deny them to our fellow human beings.

We, the creatures who have denied others access to water; who grab land from each other at the drop of a pound coin, a dollar bill. Who deny the plants and minerals of the earth to others. Who leave our fellow humans to starve, to shiver, and to die. Who sometimes abandon our children, our old ones, our companion animals.

But we can change. We can strive to be our better selves. Our better angels, if you prefer. The ones that care, not just for others, but themselves, too. Who care, not just for ourselves, but for each other.

This Beltane, let us light the way. Fight fire, not with more fire, but with the ties that bind us to each other, as well as to this earth.

Beltane blessings to us all, as we make our ways through life.

 

 

Tagged: air, Beltane, cats, dogs, earth, fire, gardens, humanity, joy, Loreena McKennitt, love, May Day, paganism, Robert Frost, seaside, the elements, The Gift Outright, The Old Ways, water

Lurgy, the Protestant Work Ethic, & Me

Most raccoons’ worth ethic is simple, ie, 1) eat,  2) make more raccoons.

Warnings for: self pity, hacking cough, the smell of onions, strong likelihood of swearing.

I spotted the happy looking little chap with the bow tie, and arresting blue eyes, over the weekend, at a writing day with some writerly friends. We, and our laptops, were at Doncopolitan HQ, here in Donny town. It’s an old Co-op building which those nice chaps and girl bosses at Doncopolitan magazine share with several small businesses.

I highly recommend Donco HQ to anyone in the area who is looking for space to have a similar event, including a band looking for a place to practice. There’s plenty of space to write, chat, and relax, plus a kitchen in which to prepare your cuppa, or lunch. Plus, we got to use their mugs:

Mugs advertising a recent play about the local coal mines

For those who don’t already know, Doncopolitan Magazine is a free ‘zine which carries articles about everything from art, to pubs, to gigs, and social issues, for and about the town of Doncaster. It’s been going for at least two years now, and as well as writing a few pieces, I’ve been reading it from the start.

Gerald C Dalek and I reading the first Doncopolitan.

I’m sitting here, writing this blog, whilst eating the stinkiest food possible – spring onions, regular onions, & garlic; all that’s missing is curry – and feeling slightly guilty about calling in sick earlier today. The Beloved assures me it’s not the first time since working in mental health that I’ve rung in sick due to a physical problem, rather than a mental one. Feels like it, though.

Damn that Protestant work ethic of mine. Even though I know that night shifts & a bad case of the lurgy do not mix, not if I want to do a proper job that is, I still feel bad about not reporting to work. I had to cancel a CBT appointment, too, not something I’m thrilled about, either. I’m sure it’s possible for me to reflect my conversion of 20 + years ago, and develop a Pagan work ethic, but how would it differ, beyond taking home as much recycling, and compost, as possible? (1)

Suggestions on a postcard – or, better yet, the comments section below – please.

Adding to my guilt, for no good or useful reason whatsoever, is that I had a really good, productive time at yesterday’s writing day. I wrote most of Chapter 4 of my work in progress (WIP), and made decent headway into Chap 5, which also represents the 2nd of 9 intended sections. I ran out of steam around four-ish, and gratefully accepted a friend’s offer of a lift home, as the lurgy had started to really go for the (sore) throat.

We interrupt this blog for two definitions of lurgy:

  1. My, non-native speaking, description: “A horrid something which is more than a cold, less than the flu, and involves some, or – if you’re really up shite creek, looking mournfully for that fuckin’, missing paddle – all of the following: lethargy, aches and pains, snot, sore throat, hacking cough, sneezing, and – if you’ve well and truly been stuffed by life, and germs – sick.”
  2. The dictionary definition of lurgy: “noun (facetious) any undetermined illness”.

Huh. Get you, dictionary. I think my definition is a lot more interesting than yours. Not that it matters: if you’ve got the lurgy, you still feel pants.

Writing companions: Nothing to do with the lurgy, really: I just thought that yellow chap looked well cute.

(1) Something I’ve been doing for awhile now.

Tagged: dictionary definitions, Doncopolitan magazine, guilt, lurgy, mental health, Pagan work ethic, physical health, Protestant work ethic, stinky food, writing

Like Wheat that Springeth Green: Easter

Rabbit in the green: April 2017

Most adults accept that, even after great loss, in some form at least, love will come again. After bereavement, though grief never truly leaves us, there is always love enough out there for new friendships, perhaps a new partner, or a new birth.

“There is no loss without love; there is no love without loss.”

Always, there are ways of honouring our beloved dead. When I feed the wild birds in our garden, I honour my father, who fed them; my mother, who watched them; and my father in law, who did both. This Easter morning, I put out a mix of seed, sunflower seeds, and mealworms on the old bird table his eldest son, my Beloved, rescued from my in laws’ garden, shortly before their house was sold:

An Easter feast, April 2017

One of my tasks for this spring into summer is to repair Dad’s bird table, by doing some small repairs, painting both parts a jolly colour with some protective paint, then re-attaching the “house” section to the table.

Bird table shelter + favourite watering can

Holidays often bring a keener sense of loss, as we go over memories of what we used to do, and with who. Such a sense of nostalgia does not necessarily represent literal death, but more the death of relationships, and / or the cruelties of distance.

For example, it crossed my mind earlier this weekend to take a bottle of white vinegar from the cupboard, and smell it. Weird? Yes, and no. The smell of vinegar can bring back memories of dying hard boiled eggs with my brother, and my father, back when I was a kid. Both of them are still alive. However, it’s nearly a decade since I’ve seen my brother, and around five years since I’ve seen Dad.

When I’m not in a bipolar depression, I’m a fairly sociable person. So in that five years, more so in that 10, I’ve made a number of friends, and warm acquaintances. Some of those friends are quite dear to me. More recently, I’ve become friendly with at least two people who I can see a real possibility of good friendships.

A dear friend of nearly two years: April 2017

Likewise, children have been born, including one who I owe an “Easter book”. The Easter book was a big, looked forward to part of my childhood: one which sometimes included two Easters, thanks to the Romanian Orthodox side of the family. One of the staples of my childhood was the holiday bread, “colac”, which Mama Buna, my Romanian grandmother, baked for Easter, and Christmas.

We’re lucky to live a short distance from a shop run by a lovely Kurdish fellow, which stocks a lot of Romanian food. I didn’t find any colac, but I did get a beautiful cake called “cozonac”: beautiful because I just had two tasty pieces of it, for my breakfast.

I recognise the words “cozonac” and “si” (and). Sadly, that’s about it.

Whether you celebrate Easter in a religious or secular way; or whether, like me, you’re a Pagan for whom it’s another day to observe how “the green blade[s] riseth”, I wish you joy.

Rabbit with wild violets, and a Dutch tulip: Spring

Tagged: America, bereavement, bipolar, birds, colac, cozonac, Easter, Gardening, gardens, grief, love, paganism, Romania, Romanian Orthodox

Being Doctor Daisy

It’s a start: phrenology head locket, from Rewind.plus beautiful notebook from Waterstone’s.

The Holmes side is … crawling with spies. The Mycroftian branch … spends so much time undercover, they never travel anywhere without a duvet.” – Dr Margeurite “Daisy” LeStrade, from “Sherlock Jones & the Hound of the Basingstokes”.

Today’s tune is “A Cup of Brown Joy,” by Professor Elemental. Because you can’t get much more Steampunk, and jolly, than this. Plus, I love tea:

A cup of brown, caffineated joy.

Dressing up at a Steampunk, Doctor Who, Cosplay, etc, convention, can be a way of letting our child-self out to play, in a safe environment. Safe, because we’re surrounded by other people who are also playing in the same colourful sand pit. Plus, our play time is limited: just for that day, that weekend, that week.

Alternatively, are adults who dress up seeking ways of covering up the grief of living? Of gift wrapping our fear of mortality, and loss?

If you’re wondering where the bit about grief came from, in a blog about creating a Steampunk character, and her costume, well, join the club. I was planning to chat about my initial steps to put together a costume for myself to use at several Steampunk festivals this year. Here’s what I’ve got for Doctor Daisy LeStrade so far:

Pocket watch & chains, broach, ring, and half penny, plus hair pins.

I also have a handkerchief I carried at our wedding, and which no lady would be without (because, otherwise, she cannot properly deal with a touch of catarh):

Borrowed, & blue

Someone who knows me well, or just follows this blog, will know I’ve had a long(ish) running interest in Steampunk. I love colour, creativity, and people having a good time in ways that doesn’t harm anyone, including themselves. And Steampunk has this in teacups, with an added emphasis on manners. I’ve attended at least two, more likely three, of the Doncaster Steampunk conventions. Cross fingers, Dr Daisy and her costume will be making their debut at this year’s, which is on 8 July.

Doncaster’s magnificent Mansion House, location for this year’s Doncaster Steampunk convention

My amateur photographer side – very amateur – is thrilled at the thought of taking photos of people in full Steampunk attire in such a lovely old Georgian building. Sadly, it looks like my hopes of having a stall with other writers is unlikely, as the trade off for such a historic location is fewer stalls than usual. So it looks like myself, my writer friends, & Dr Daisy are going to have to find another convention(s), if we want to sell books.

Those books include my upcoming collection, “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”, as well as “Koi Carpe Diem”.  Both include stories about Sherlock Jones, and his cousin Daisy, as well as artwork by the magnificent Tom Brown.

Boswell “Bozzie” Badger, cosplaying the 4th Doctor. Art by Tom Brown.

For the time being, though, all that’s going to have to wait, as I sort out my US taxes. It’s not something I like doing: indeed, it’s a major trigger for my mental health, which is a bit wonky just now. Has to be done, though. Still, it’s a beautiful day here in Donny, so at least I can escape to the garden, if and when things get a bit difficult.

Whatever you decide to do with your sunny Sunday, I wish you joy, and peace.

Cat & pyjamas: back garden, earlier today

Tagged: A Yorkshireman in Ohio, Boswell Badger, conventions, cosplay, Daisy LeStrade, Doctor Who, Doncaster, fiction, grief, Koi Carpe Diem, loss, mental health, Professor Elemental, Rewind, Sherlock Holmes, short stories, short story collection, Steampunk, taxes, tea, Tom Brown, triggers, writing

The Art & Practice of Being Normal

Passport Day, September 2016

“Hide, hide, the cow’s outside!” “I ain’t afraid of no cow.” – final lines to a child’s joke, circa 1960s

I’m paid to be normal: compassionate, encouraging, yet normal. Because I work in mental health, and it doesn’t do for the worker to be even more distressed, and out of touch, than the client(s).

Assuming however that there really is such a thing as “normal” when it comes to human behaviour, and mental health, then I don’t really qualify. Not just because I have bipolar, and – all too frequently – crippling anxiety, but also because it’s hard to come across as normal when you’re the only Yank in the village. (1)

Thanks in part to policies about boundaries, none of the people who I meet at work get to see how I really live: messily, often lazily, and with more knick-knacks, pictures, and pencils than you could shake a stick at. If, of course, you just happened to have a stick ready for the shaking. (2)

In my opinion, there is no such thing as normality: what passes for it, is really down to how good you are at hiding.

Blurred round the edges: Sheffield station

Me, I’m not so good at it. This is partly because of an accent which, to your average Brit, sounds like I’m fresh off the peanut-butter-and-jelly boat. Despite 30 years’ effort at picking up the local slang, and practicing my “ooo” sounds, I cannot blend in unless I don’t open my mouth, at all, to speak. (3)

Then, there’s that slight tendency toward eccentricity.

Do you like my hat? 2015

What’s so great about normality, anyway? Isn’t that just a more grown up word for the “cool” that I briefly chased, before giving it up as the hopeless quest it was, back in junior high, and high school?

We recently made our leisurely way through the first three or four box sets of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. It was a funny, nostalgic trip down someone else’s high school memory lane, infinitely better, I suspect, than an actual trip back to not-so-dear old APHS would have been. Plus, all that Giles, Oz, and yes, damnit, Xander loveliness. Yes, I can see the appeal of Spike, and even Angel, but, to be frank, I have never been able to separate the supposed sexiness of vampires, from the fact that those guys are not just dead, they’re cold.

Body heat, folks! Where’s the love for body heat? Clearly, vamp fans have never tried sleeping in a house with no central heating, during a South Yorkshire winter.

Winter at our house, 2013 It’s not Michigan cold, but it’s still cold

Watching “Buffy” again reminded me that the initial hook, for me, was how accurate “BtVS” is at portraying just how miserable high school is, if you’re not part of the top 1% tier of the pretty, the talented, the athletic, and / or the “too cool for school” brigade. It’s especially horrific if you’re crawling along in the bottom 1%, sub-strata of the “too uncool, even for school”.

So un-cool, I was nearly cool. Except I wasn’t.

Awful though it is, high school can teach at least one valuable lesson: that life isn’t, and seldom ever will be, fair. Sadly, many of us sub-strata types were too thick to learn that lesson, at least, not for many years. Some of us never do learn it: due less to being thick, than continuously smacking our heads against a big brick wall, with the words “Tough luck, kid!” painted in big, angry letters.

A local author, Craig Hallam, likes to use the phrase “Embrace the weird!” I like it, and it suits someone who, like Craig, writes about Steampunk, and horror.

If you’ve ever been to a Steampunk convention, or just hung around a Steampunk net group, you’ll know that your average Steampunk does indeed embrace their weird. And why shouldn’t they? Or I? Or, indeed, you, oh gentle, and perhaps just a bit odd reader?

For starters, it’s a damn site easier than hiding.

Embracing my weird: with Gerald C Dalek, & Jake the Cat. 2004, just before it all kicked off.

(1) I’m not, of course: I recently discovered another American
(2) Why you have that stick, and what you plan to do with it, is not my concern: it’s yours.
(3) And a damn fine idea that would be, at times.

Tagged: accents, bipolar, Books, BtVS, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Craig Hallam, eccentricity, fairness, Gerald C Dalek, high school, mental health, normality, peanut butter and jelly boat, school, Steampunk, vampires, work