‘Let’s add ‘Strictly’

Update on previous post……

Since writing my poem entitled ‘Spell check does not recognise Brexit,’ it seems that the people at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) have decided to add the word.

It defines Brexit as ‘the (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it.’

As the nice people at the OED select words based on their widespread use, perhaps I can make another suggestion? During the autumn in the UK, it is almost impossible to read any news site or indeed talk to any other fellow human without hearing the word, ‘Strictly.’

The current definition of ‘Strictly’ is as follows….

  1. in a strict manner; rigorously; stringently: strictly enforced.
  2. precisely or candidly; factually: strictly speaking.
Can I suggest a third meaning?
3. British television programme featuring a ballroom and Latin dance competition, employing the use of copious amounts of sequins and fake tan.
p.s. ‘Brexit’ still isn’t recognised by spell check.

Spell check does not recognise ‘Brexit’

Currently, in the UK there is no escape from something the media has called ‘Brexit’.  It’s one of those media created terms just like ‘Watergate’, and all across Europe I picture journalists’ computer screens filled with wobbly red lines under the word ‘Brexit’, because spell check has no idea what it is.

For those of you lucky enough to have no idea what I am talking about, I have written a little poem to explain, because for some reason, whenever I think about ‘Brexit’ it translates into verse.

Spell check does not recognise ‘Brexit

According to politicians, Brexit means Brexit;
Although, it’s not in the dictionary, so you can’t check it.
It refers to a moment when the United Kingdom decided;
To break from Europe and now be divided.
The voting public were all given a voice;
And this is how they made their choice.

(vote leave)
‘They’re not like us’, I heard people say;
We’ll be better off doing things our own way.
There are too many people on our island already;
We want to set our own rules, keep our country steady.
We don’t want to offend anyone over the sea;
Because it’s not about EU, it’s all about me.

(vote remain)
But they were our friends and we’ve shut them out;
We offended them now, with all our shouting about.
It wasn’t so long since we were at war;
Peace time is precious, but we’ve slammed the door.
Isn’t it better to work as a team;
And all work together without being mean?

The majority rules and we’ve decided to leave;
Our democracy matters so don’t be bereaved.
The people have spoken and chosen our course;
Now, we need a plan, not anger or remorse.
Our future’s uncertain, but with our new stoic PM,
We May or May not be a Great Britain again.



Through a child’s eyes

When I recently attempted to explain to my five year old why there were lots of red posters saying ‘Vote Leave’ on her way to school, I received a fascinating insight into the mind of a child. The conversation went as follows:

5 year old:  ‘Mummy, what does that mean?’

Me:  ‘It’s about a decision that grown-ups are making. We have to decide whether
our country wants to stay being a member of a club.’

5 year old:   ‘What sort of club?’

Me:   ‘It’s a club called the European Union. It’s made up of lots of countries in Europe, like  France and Germany. Some people think that we should stay being a member of the club, but other people think it costs too much money and that it has too many rules.’

5 year old:  ‘That sign says we should leave the club.’

Me:  ‘That’s right. The person who put that sign there, thinks we should leave.’

5 year old:  ‘Why don’t they want to be a member of the club Mummy? Isn’t it better to be in clubs and have lots of friends? Aren’t we friends with France and Germany?’

Me:  ‘We will still be friends with them even if we are not in the club.’

5 year old:  ‘Didn’t we have a war with Germany in the olden days when there was lots of fighting? I remember we all wore poppies to remember it. I liked the poppies.’

It’s difficult to argue with that viewpoint. It’s wonderfully innocent and free of the baggage of fear, anger and jealousy that adulthood brings. It’s a shame we have to grow up really.

It brings to mind John Donne’s famous poem, ‘No man is an island.’

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

It is a piece of poetic history that reminds us to question whether we can thrive in isolation. In this case, that now remains to be seen.


The power of a sentence

Words can be powerful, but most of the time we use them to say bland, everyday things. We clutter our lives with sentences like;

“What’s for dinner tonight?”  “What’s on TV?”  “Have you seen my missing sock?”
“Do you want ketchup with that?”

But, occasionally we use their power to say much more interesting things. We use words to show our emotions.

“This is the best day of my life.” “I can’t believe it!”  “I love you so much.”
“I never want to see you again.”

Some of the best songs, writing and poems capture a multitude of colourful emotions in a handful of verses or lyrics.

A great example is in the song, ‘Headlights On Dark Roads’ by Snow Patrol. I love the first line of the lyric which begins, ‘For once I want to be the car crash. Not always just the traffic jam.’

Or, the first line of the Beatles song, ‘Yesterday,’ – ‘Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.’

Genius in a few words.

My favourite poem is ‘The Listeners’ by Walter de La Mare, which sends chills down the spine with its atmospherically written, otherworldly words. It’s about a man who visits an empty building in a forest. Halfway through are the beautiful words,

‘And he felt in his heart their strangeness
Their stillness answering his cry,’

I would highly recommend the whole poem to you, it’s pure magic.

So, as some of my previous blogs have spoken about being brave and taking a leap, I thought I would do something terrifying and show you one of my poems. It was inspired by a very emotional day in my life when I lost my mum.  I rediscovered it on my computer a few days ago and it took me back to that sad moment in my life. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with you.

  Behind the door
by Susannah Hines

Packets of half eaten mints and old bus tickets
In bags piled up with the shoes
Memories on hangers, alone in a wardrobe
For somebody else to remove

Lying alone on the carpet, now speechless
You curl up with no choice, but to sleep
The rings on your fingers are taken, but worthless
Not able to see everyone weep

Behind the door you won’t answer
The door, closed in time
You know it’s your moment to go
With a note to the postman
To say why you stayed home
The curtain falls ending your show

The cup with the drink in the kitchen
The bags which you left by the door
All clues to say when sleep took you
Alone, by yourself on the floor

Behind the door you won’t answer
The door, closed for good
You knew it was your time to go
With your poems on paper
To send us your love
The curtain falls ending your show



A cloak of courage

There are so many lessons to learn in life and sometimes you have to become a different person to learn them.

I love writing about characters who have to cope with extraordinary situations and experience colourful emotions, almost becoming different people and learning about themselves along the way.

When I was a kid there was a programme on UK television called ‘Mr Benn.’ It was about a cartoon character who visited his local fancy dress shop once a week to try on a different costume. Dressed as a spaceman, chef, cowboy or whatever, he got to become that person for a short time, with help from a magic shopkeeper. He saw life through that character’s eyes and discovered that you can learn a lot if you walk in someone else’s shoes.

In my fruitcake imagination it got me pondering…..wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a costume you could wear that turned you into a braver person?  It could hang in your wardrobe next to your coat and whenever you felt the need, you could pop it on and upgrade your life using your cloak of courage. What could we all achieve if we had one of those?

I used to work in a hospital and I was always amazed by the bravery of the patients, staff and families who were coping with so much. Whether it be a child with a broken arm, a patient recovering from a stroke or someone diagnosed with diabetes who is learning that they have to overcome their fear of needles to inject insulin every day for the rest of their lives. Personally, I know the fear most women feel as they approach childbirth and can understand the bravery in that. You have to ‘man up’ or ‘woman up’ and push yourself to be brave because there’s no choice. Externally we have to become a different person to appear in control, to convince ourselves and others that everything is OK.

But sometimes, I meet people who choose to be brave and do things that challenge them, even when they don’t have to. A friend of mine recently chose to adopt a child, which in my opinion is an extremely brave thing to do. He stepped into the unknown of parenthood and is facing all the challenges that come with it, which has to be applauded. A lifetime’s commitment which will truly help another person.

Whether it is donating blood to help others or telling someone you love them, even when they could laugh in your face, I am always impressed by the bravery involved. Doing anything ‘out of your comfort zone’ is a challenge which should surely be praised.

My dad has always encouraged me by saying, ‘Where’s your sense of adventure Sue?’ So today, once again, I put myself out there by writing this blog. It’s hardly equivalent to donating a kidney, or confronting my fear of large hairy spiders, but for me it’s a good example of me challenging myself and being a teeny-weeny bit brave.



Look before you leap

In my opinion, the world is populated by three kinds of people. People who choose to leap into the unknown with a rush of adventure, people who prefer to hold someone else’s hand to jump and people who prefer to watch others do the leaping. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these, but I think it’s good to know which type you prefer to be. It is one of my starting points for all my fictional characters. I need to know that about them.

Taking an unknown leap, with a sense of adventure is something that every parent tries to instil in their child while eating lunch.

Parent:                 “Eat the tomato, it’s very nice.”

Five year old:      “No, I don’t like tomatoes.”

Parent:                 “You ate a tomato yesterday on your pizza.”

Five year old:      “That was yesterday. Today I don’t like tomatoes.”

Parent:                 “But tomatoes are lovely. They are very colourful and very good for you.”

Five year old:      “I don’t like them, they’re yucky.”

Parent:                   “How do you know that? You haven’t tried it.”

Five year old:      “I just do.”

When I was younger I used to recklessly leap into the unknown, but as I’ve got older, I’ve noticed that I tend to wait for others to help me more. Life deals out its ups and downs and you can become more risk adverse for entirely sensible reasons. Each time you get hurt or knocked back it has an impact and can affect your courage. When I lost my mum, I regressed into myself and my confidence failed me for a while. I remember walking around the supermarket the week after her death in a daze, but I found the presence of other people reassured me. In a shop full of people it’s logical to assume that there are others alongside you in the vegetable aisle who are also dealing with major emotional issues, such as grief, and that gave me some comfort. I knew that if they could go about their daily lives, then I could too.

I learnt that holding someone else’s hand before stepping into the unknown and leaning on each other for support is necessary for most of us at different times in our lives. But, I still aspire to be a leap into the unknown, with a rush of adventure, kind of person. Life is short after all. I can’t help admiring self-confident, charismatic people and entrepreneurs who will take a chance and go for it. They take risks, choosing to ignore the consequences by focusing on their goal.

With that in mind, this week I have done something different. I have taken a leap….. and finally joined Twitter. I admit that I needed a push from my brother to take the plunge, but I’m now @susannah_hines  I have dangled myself recklessly over the edge and gained the ability to share photographs and comments about my day in 140 character bite-size chunks with the Twittersphere. How will that go? Parachute anyone?

Do you believe in the tooth fairy?

The other day I found myself looking for the perfect location for a fairy door. My five year old insisted that the small pottery door, which she had beautifully painted, should be carefully placed against a wall so that the fairies could get through. How else would the tooth fairy arrive to replace her tooth (which hasn’t fallen out yet) with a coin?

Children are marvellous aren’t they? Seeing the world through their eyes is great, so what happens to our imagination when we grow up?

Each time I practice playing the piano, I am reminded of my age by my helpful tutorial book entitled, ‘It’s never too late to play piano.’

Maybe now I’m in my forties, I have to accept that growing up is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean life always has to be serious. Most of us are governed by alarm clocks, calendars and our responsibilities. As we get older, we have to deal with tricky things like bank loans, bills, relationships and the loss of people we love, but please don’t tell me that I need to grow up entirely and let go of my imagination.

The lyrics of the Enigma song, ‘Return to Innocence’, from 1993 tell us to, ‘Look into your heart my friend; that will be the return to yourself, the return to innocence.’ I think that is sound advice.

We are all in awe of famous actors who do an excellent job pretending to be other people and we also think it’s cute when children turn cardboard boxes into spaceships, so what is wrong with keeping a playful attitude to life?

A friend of mine once reminded me that life isn’t a fairy tale, which is true to some extent, but do we always have to ‘act our age.’

I have always loved Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ which begins; ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,’ and warns her readers how she wants to grow old disgracefully, by spending her pension on brandy and learning to spit.

Writing is my way of keeping my imagination active and this week I have spent my time in Iceland, battling to get through a cave that had been partly destroyed by a rock fall. Next week, I am looking forward to trying out some difficult mid-air manoeuvres in a helicopter. This may only be among the pages of chapters two and three of my book, but it is still fun.

I choose to stay in make believe a little longer and continue turning toilet rolls into telescopes with my five year old.




Where do ideas come from?

How many creative geniuses can we name who claim to have literally dreamt some of their best work?

Paul McCartney has famously been quoted as saying he woke up in the middle of the night and composed the hit song ‘Yesterday’ after being inspired by a dream. Other musicians, including Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Sting and John Lennon offer similar stories of having creative ideas while they slept.

Salvador Dali, the surrealist artist suggested that the concept of his wonderful melting clocks paintings came from a dream and the poet, Edgar Allan Poe talked about using his nightmares as inspiration.

I remember when I once had flu, I was in a fog of headache, body aches and sore throat, floating in and out of sleep when I came up with an idea for a story, but it certainly could not compete with the masterpieces listed above. Developing and writing a good story is a tricky business. I’ve had many initial ideas, but there has to be something really special about it to keep going and develop it further.

Sometimes it works to sit quietly, to think up ideas for a section of plot, but often I come up with something better completely spontaneously when I’m doing something else. Inspiration can come from all around, from something simple like a chance conversation, or from travelling the globe and having completely new experiences. Sometimes I am deliberately looking for ideas and sometimes they just pop into my head, gate crashing other thoughts when I’m cleaning my teeth or making my lunch.

The unconscious brain is definitely a wonderful breeding ground for creative thoughts. It holds a lifetime of personal experiences, emotions and feelings which can be mixed together into something unique. That is the world of dreams.

As the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Carl Gustav Jung said, ‘The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.’

All this is very good news for someone like me who enjoys her sleep. The next time someone thinks me lazy for sleeping in too long, I will claim that I am in fact, working very hard indeed.

‘To sleep perchance to dream.’

Good night.



Phantom kitchen utensils

Seeing ghostly objects floating at the end of your bed is fortunately not an everyday occurrence. Most people would attribute it to a vivid imagination, a few too many drinks, tiredness or eating the wrong thing before bed. There is also something called hypnagogia which is a dream state where you can believe what you are seeing is real, even though you are half asleep or half awake.

A few years ago, I visited a hotel in Kent, England where I had this kind of experience and honestly, it completely freaked me out. I thought I saw a floating object, a bit like an upside down colander or large tea strainer hovering above my bed in the middle of the night. When I had calmed down and applied rational thinking, I did some research, only to find that I was not the only person to have experienced strange things at that location. It was listed on a paranormal website with stories of doors slamming on their own and sightings of ghostly staff. Discovering that I was not alone made me feel even more alarmed.

Amusingly, I also noticed that when I shared my story with other people their first reaction was not to back away, instead, they often chose to share their own weird stories with me. I’ve now heard some excellent tales of lights turning themselves on, strange voices and the appearance of full apparitions.

Years later, my experience proved excellent fodder for the first chapter of my first book and sparked an interest in going along to the occasional ghost hunt. My novel is not a ghost story, but investigating the paranormal is a passion of one of my characters and I wanted to write about his experiences with a degree of knowledge. I can now proudly admit to sitting in creepy, freezing buildings in the middle of the night with groups of people who are fascinated in anything unexplainable. I have discovered that there is a whole collection of scientific equipment that is regularly used for hunting ghosts and a host of people who profess to talk to them directly. I have also added a few more weird stories to my collection.

Having a good imagination is crucial to writing fiction, but you also have to do your research. It helps to know exactly how it feels to be alone in the dark in a supposedly haunted location before you can write about it convincingly. If you can recreate the situation in your head, you can explain how the darkness feels claustrophobic, how your body reacts to feeling nervous and how your mind can play tricks on you.

Personal experience is the best way to understand something and, one of the reasons why I love writing so much is that it gives me an excellent excuse to research lots of subjects that I find interesting.

So, if you ever want to write a ghost story, or a tale about paranormal kitchen utensils, I might be able to help.



Wear your underpants on the outside

Why do superheroes wear capes? Do they really need them to fly? Maybe they add the necessary aerodynamic lift to propel Superman and Batman off the ground, but personally I think it’s more about their image. A cape is cool.

Earlier this week, I read my brother’s blog (www.themanatthefront.com) with interest, as his up and coming rock band struggle to find their image. First impressions count and they need to connect with their audience as soon as they walk out on stage, so they are thinking carefully about their costumes.

But, you don’t need to be in a rock band to wear a costume. We all have different guises every day of the week. A few days ago I met a sculptor who, by day, masquerades as a tiler. I once worked with a press officer who became a professional ballroom dancer at the weekend and, years ago I knew a cake shop owner who posed for saucy photos in a men’s magazine.

People are rarely what they initially appear and it can be short sighted to judge a book by its cover. The most interesting people are often those who are completely different to what you first perceive, take Clark Kent and Indiana Jones for example.

In fiction, characters go on their journey through the plot and often end up as different people at the end, just as we do in real life. Our past influences our present, which in turn shapes our future and morphs us into different people.

Jane Austen’s, Elizabeth Bennet is a perfect example of character who gradually transforms from a person who spends her days crocheting, to a feisty female who knows her mind and her heart.

In my own novel, one of my lead characters appears confident and aloof, but wears her persona as a mask to cover her insecurities and the difficulties in her past. She has chosen it as a costume to influence how people perceive her. How many of us do that?

So, do Superman and Batman really wear those capes to help them fly or to make them look cool? I’ve no idea, but I want one.