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Are Hurricanes Shakespearean?

Published 16/10/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

As I type this I’m looking out of my window at a sky that is somewhat hazy. I’ve been told it is because of the sand that has been whipped up from the Sahara by Hurricane Ophelia. Shakespeare’s Ophelia merely lost her mind and drowned herself, but today’s press is confirming that the storm of the same name is the most powerful to travel this far east of the United States, and deaths are already being reported in Ireland. In the UK we are getting the very mild remnants of this tropical storm, which reminds me of my experience with Hurricane Irma when I was in Cuba last month.

Our holiday was interrupted by the arrival of Irma a couple of days after we had arrived on the island. Instead of our proposed itinerary we were told that we would be evacuated to Varadera for safety reasons, to a hotel that had been built to withstand hurricane conditions.

Before our vintage American car journey to the coast, we were able to spend two nights and one day in Havana. It most certainly was the lull before the storm and a day in which I spotted this painting of (literally) the eye of the hurricane, which struck me as a piece of ironic art.The Eye of the Hurricane September 2017 (2)

Our 1950’s Chevvie dropped us off early in the afternoon and we were advised to prepare for the imminent arrival of what had now been upgraded to a category 5 hurricane, the strongest Cuba had experienced in 85 years. Like other fickle people, Irma had changed her mind and her course and was forecast to pass directly overhead.

By nightfall the humidity had risen and the air was strangely very still. We went to bed, but woke several times during the night, disturbed by the wind and the realisation that the electricity was no longer running, with the subsequent loss of air conditioning and the sudden silence of the refrigerator that was no longer humming. The power came back intermittently, and eventually went off completely. By morning we were awoken by hotel staff bringing us food. This carried on throughout the day, except it started to become cheese and ham sandwiches and bottles of water. With no functioning fridge it was difficult to keep food fresh or drinks chilled, but we all kept calm and carried on – even those who weren’t British.

As the day wore on the winds got stronger and the glazed balcony doors began to rattle ever louder. I recalled King Lear’s speech during the storm in the play of the same name: ‘Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout / Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!’

With no power we were rationed candles: one for the bedroom and the other for the bathroom. Some of the guests (we found out the following day) had blockaded their balcony doors (which had already been protected with criss-crossed tape) for protection. Around 5pm we were advised that Irma was getting closer and, as we would now be in her eye, we should spend the next few hours in the bathroom, which was made of solid concrete with no glass, and would therefore be a safer place.

We tried to make the best of things. I took the upholstery cushions off all available chairs and laid them out on the bathroom floor. It was so hot and humid that my other half refused to shut the door, so we couldn’t both lie on the floor. He chose the bath and I stretched out and managed to doze off, awaking some time later to the realisation that rainwater had been blowing in wherever it could, and that my cushions were soaking up the liquid like sponges. What do you do in a dark room with the wind whistling overhead and the rain battering at the windows? We played I Spy until we got bored and eventually tried to sleep some more. Finally (around midnight) the storm began to abate and we went back into our bedroom and attempted to sleep. However the floors were all wet and we were paddling in about an inch of water. At least our windows had not blown in like those of some other guests.

On the second morning we peered cautiously out of our room door to take stock and found others doing the same. We tried to mop out our rooms and were treated to tubs of ice cream and vanilla yogurt. I assume they had to use up the perishable food that could no longer be refrigerated or frozen. A little before midday the hotel staff allowed us out of our rooms and our hotel blocks and we went to investigate the damage.

The structures had all held firm, but cladding and roof tiles had been dislodged. Vegetation had been uprooted and palm trees had lost limbs. As the hurricane approached I had watched the tree outside our balcony waving its arms frantically in all different directions at the same time, like a creature possessed, and now some of those very branches were lying on the grass, exhausted.

Hurricane Irma2 September 2017 (2)


After Hurricane Irma September 2017 (3)

However we were safe. The hotel staff had taken good care of us, although the Minister for Tourism visited and gave instructions to close the hotel. With only one generator working out of three there was no electricity or running water and no fresh food. A little over 72 hours after our arrival we moved to another hotel for the duration of the holiday.

We were the lucky ones. Many Cubans lost their homes and their lives, Havana was under water for several days, and towns were without electricity for far longer than we had been.

In the words of my sister after I arrived home ‘Why on earth did you go to Cuba during hurricane season?’

Please Help my Daughter to Heal

Published 25/02/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

There can’t be a mother in the world who doesn’t pray for the health of her unborn child throughout the nine months of her pregnancy. However, delivering a healthy baby is only the beginning. It has not all been plain sailing for our family and one of my daughters is struggling with a cruel combination of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Toxic Mould Poisoning.

As a writer, poet and facilitator of creative writing workshops (although she is not well enough to work at present) Roberta can tell her story much better than I can. I am linking to her appeal to raise enough money so that she can relocate to a warmer and healthier climate for as long as it takes for her body to have an opportunity to heal itself.

We are grateful for all donations, and I would urge you to feel free to share this among others, who you feel would be able to respond.

Click here to read the story/donate

Religion? Belief? Spirituality?

Published 11/10/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

I’m writing this a few hours before the start of the most solemn day in the Jewish religion: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It is the last of the Ten Days of Repentance that begin with Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. These are days of introspection and repentance, a time when Jews the world over look back over the past year, examine their wrongdoings and look forward to the coming twelve months with every intention of being a better person. Depending on the level of orthodox or liberal belief, we are taught that these ten days encompass the period when the Book of Life is opened and those who will live or die in the coming year are inscribed on its pages. Yom Kippur commences at sunset on the previous evening and ends at sunset 25 hours later. During these hours we don’t eat or drink, and we spend the day in prayer.

This time of year also has a particular poignancy for me. My mother died two years ago on Erev Yom Kippur (the day before the Day of Atonement that begins with the evening Kol Nidrei service). One of the Yom Kippur afternoon services, known as Yizkor, takes place and provides an opportunity to remember those who are no longer with us. As my mother left this world the day before the Day of Atonement, and as this date is commemorated according to the Hebrew calendar, it means that I light a Yahrzeit (literally time of the year) candle in her memory. This is lit at sunset the evening before and burns for 24 hours. Although mum died on 3 October, the anniversary always falls on 9 Tishri (the day before Yom Kippur) in the Hebrew calendar

This morning I left home under a perfect blue sky with a glorious sun shining over my head. It was chilly, in keeping with an October morning, but it felt to me as if the candle I had left burning at home had been superseded by the sun reaching out to shine on me. In fact, I became quite emotional as I convinced myself of this, and consoled myself with the belief that my mother’s soul was reaching out to me.

This was merely the culmination of events that began a few weeks ago when I found a clothes hanger (that used to belong to my mum) hanging on the outside of my wardrobe. I have no recollection of putting it there. Then my daughter (who is very intuitive) told me that she was receiving messages from mum to be passed on to me. Finally, a few days ago I was aware of an aroma that immediately took me back to my grandmother’s (my mum’s mother) home. It wasn’t a food smell. In fact, I can’t describe or recreate it but I knew that I had last smelled it at Grandma Jenny’s, and she died when I was 16. By the way my eldest child was born exactly 10 years to the day after my grandma died.

Make of it what you will, I can only relate what I have known and experienced.

When you have to worry about your mum as well as your children

Published 23/06/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

Somebody once told me that you’re never truly grown up while your parents are still alive. Well my dad died more than 30 years ago, but you’ve probably seen from some of my other posts that my mum is still with us, even if not in the best of health.

When we were children I can recall my grandma worrying about us, and my mum’s response used to be that she couldn’t wrap us in cotton wool. My sister and I grew up and made our own lives and mum continued to live hers in her own way. Sometimes it seems that she’s invincible: a heart attack, a close call with pneumonia, a broken hip and now dementia. A few years ago when she was healthier she used to give me pep talks and remind me that she wouldn’t be around forever but her GP has referred to the indomitable spirit that has kept her going.

However (I bet you heard that word coming) she is becoming weaker and frailer. Her lack of interest in food means that her calorie consumption has dropped with the resultant loss of weight. She probably has no idea what she looks like as she won’t permit herself to use a mirror. The lady that was known for clacking around on her high heels now slops around with back-trodden slippers, using a Zimmer frame for balance. Her pride in her appearance has gone as she has no interest in checking it. Her former insistence on foundation garments (a good bra and a belt) has been transplanted by going bra-less and wearing knickers that are several sizes too large, and sometimes the latter fall off so she goes commando at home. Make up is now never applied, with the exception of a bit of lippy for a funeral a few weeks ago, she hasn’t had her hair done for more than six months and many of her clothes have burn holes from the careless discarding of cigarettes.

This morning my sister phoned to tell me that even mum’s carer was concerned at her lack of energy and interest. All she wants to do is stay in bed and sleep, or go back to bed for another sleep if she has been persuaded to leave her bed. The mother who would never get dressed without having a bath, now has to be coerced into getting in the tub about once a week, and often shows a lack of interest in even having a wash.

I’m sure many others have been in my position and it will continue to happen. But how do you stand by whilst a loved parent neglects themselves to such an extent? She isn’t tempted by food, stating that she’s never enjoyed it anyway. The less she eats the more her stomach shrinks and the less she can cope with. A while ago I scrambled two eggs and put them on two small slices of toast: one for her and one for me. Even her portion was more than she could eat. She used to love my scrambled eggs, and my husband is often critical of ones that are served in restaurants or hotels, preferring my lighter, fluffier home-made versions.

Unfortunately I missed the doctor’s responses to my phone call, so will have to speak to them tomorrow although I don’t know what they can suggest or do. She refuses to drink the Complan that has been prescribed to add to the few calories she consumes, and all the health care professionals state that she maintains capability so her wishes have to be respected.

Tomorrow I will visit again, armed with another 200 cigarettes as she values them more than she does food. I will again phone the doctor and see if somebody can visit her at home while I am there, so that I can countermand her declarations that she is fine. If she isn’t too tired I may be able to encourage her to watch some Wimbledon tennis on the television, or I will deal the cards for a few more hands of kalooki, and I will again try to coax her into eating something, in spite of her protestations that she doesn’t really fancy anything.

And all the while I will try to put into practice what my counsellor is trying to instil in me: the fact that I am important and do matter and must take care of myself, and I will also attempt to work on the de-stressing strategies and spare some time for relaxation meditation before my next workshop to counteract the stress of keeping all the balls in the air at the same time.

One rather tired hamster wants to climb out of her wheel until tomorrow and build up the reserves needed to cope with another day. If only I could get a good night’s sleep. The irony is not lost on me: my mother just wants to sleep, and I can’t.

I thought I needed a holiday, but I didn’t realise how much I needed a holiday until I went on holiday

Published 03/10/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

Just over a year since our last holiday and I was counting down the days until the next one; a Mediterranean cruise

when I would finally get to visit Israel after two previously aborted attempts.  The idea of a 6 am flight was not particularly something I was relishing, but there was no alternative if we were to board the ship before it sailed from Rome. 

The planned early night never materialised.  (Does it ever?)  A 2.30 wake-up call   was necessary to be sure of getting out of the house just after 3 am.  The only plus point was the lack of traffic on the roads at that time of the morning, and it was a huge surprise to see several others leaving their cars at the ‘Park and Ride’ at that time of the morning.  Heathrow airport at 4 am is a rather unusual sight.  Only one check-in desk was open in Terminal 4 for the early flyers, and everybody was queuing there, meaning that we had to line up for an hour although we’d already ‘checked in’ online the day before.

Alitalia is hardly generous with their onboard refreshments.  There was a choice of salty or sweet biscuits, actually a 25 gram pack of mini nibbles, washed down with a cold drink.  Thank goodness for the cappuccino  and Danish pastry we managed to buy on our way through the terminal, as we were not to eat anything again until after boarding the ship at lunch time.

Arrived at Fiumicino we eventually located the people organising the shuttle bus to the docks, although there was no bus!    After a phone call and a wait of about an hour it duly turned up and drove us out to the coast.  Despite having a list of travellers, the bus driver decided that our names didn’t match those on his list and was about to refuse to take us to the ship.  He did actually take us for a round tour of the port, before finally deciding that he could actually deposit us at the embarkation point.  After that, it was all plain sailing – literally.

The King’s Speech

Published 26/01/2011 by damselwithadulcimer

It was time for me to see the film that recalls the dark period of England’s history, the time when we were preparing to go to war with Germany for the second time in a quarter of a century. Although the film ends with the declaration of war under the kingship of George VI, it takes us back to his father’s reign, the abdication crisis of 1938 and to his own personal battle to overcome his stammer. In a world dominated by the media of film and television, it’s difficult for us to project back to a time when radio (or ‘the wireless’) was the nation’s chief source of news. The film opens with the, then, Duke of York’s live speech to the British Commonwealth at the closing of the British Empire Exhibition, and uses this occasion as the springboard for the Duchess’s (later the Queen Mother) quest to find a speech therapist to help her husband conquer his vocal problems.

We have recently embraced a resurgence of English period drama, but this film moves on from the Edwardian period (as in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs) and into the between-the-war years from 1925 until 1939. The imagery of the British Empire Exhibition and the glimpses of the BBC network that encompassed the British Commonwealth lead us conveniently into the Duchess of York’s meeting with Lionel Logue, an unorthodox speech therapist from Australia. Nearly a century later, and with the loss of most of our old empire, it is difficult to imagine how much of a reach England, and her Royal Family, had around the world. This film makes England’s dominance paramount.

The film is beautifully photographed, using stately homes as well as Royal parks, as locations. I’m sure that one of the earlier scenes, where the Duchess takes a taxi through a pea-souper, will appeal to those filmgoers abroad that wish to believe that London is still cloaked with fog. Additionally the attention to period costumes is a fashion watchers delight. More than anything else we are reminded of the stilted Received Pronunciation that was prevalent amongst the upper classes and obligatory for BBC presenters. The King’s Speech is not concerned with the lower classes as were the programmes mentioned above, although a clash of social groups occurs when the Duke and Logue fall into dispute. However this is later surmounted when the postscript at the end of the film informs us that the King and Queen remained lifelong friends with the Logues.

This is a piece of cinema that reminds us of our past, hints at England’s struggles during World War II, but also pinpoints the private struggle of a very public person to overcome a speech defect. Several times during the film we see a young Princess Elizabeth (later to become Queen Elizabeth II on her father’s early death in 1952) and this serves as a reminder that she is still on the throne and was an observer to the events portrayed in the film. Additionally there are several perfect cameo roles to support Colin Firth’s Duke of York/King George VI and Helena Bonham Carter’s Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth. Derek Jacobi is a beautifully sycophantic Archbishop of Canterbury, complete with gaiters; Michael Gambon is a convincing and bullying King George V and Timothy Spall encapsulates Winston Churchill without caricature. T S Eliot believed that his past was in his present, and this is a perfect encapsulation of what England once was and is a cinematographic piece of history that deserves to be duly rewarded.