Hurrah for poetry…

Once again I have been taking part in the annual IW Music, Dance and Drama Festival, where I won the cup for the best adult poetry composition – it’s the sixth time I have won this particular award in recent years, although I am a regular winner of the short story, one act play and article-writing cups too.

My winning poem was inspired by a piece of verse written by another Island writer, Joan Waddleton, and I was very much thinking of the cliffs at Compton Bay, here on the Isle of Wight, at the time. In writing it, I was also reminded of the fact that my father found a body washed up at Compton Bay in the early 1990s (it was a young woman who was thought to have jumped from the cliffs at nearby Tennyson Down).

Here is my winning poem:

GOOD ENOUGH 

Not the most breath-taking of cliffs –

Rust-stained crumbling sandstone,

Winter storms threaten dereliction –

Makeshift repairs forestall the inevitable.

 

Spring arrives: seabirds seek ancient nest-holes,

Drifts of pink thrift blur the cliff’s toothed edges,

A hare bounds and swathes of bold bluebells blaze –

Sandcastle flags make a mock of butterflies.

 

Summer hosts barbecues on the beach –

Cliff echoes with the sound of laughter,

Sailing dinghies skip through the surf,

Children squeal on discovering a crab.

 

Autumn brings mellow days for fishermen –

Mending lobster pots, pulling up boats for winter,

Dog-walkers, horse-riders and flying kites,

A nip in the air, as day fades to night.

 

Winter returns: short days of damp light,

Christmas Eve and a policeman is despatched

To close the record on one person’s despair –

One fact is clear: the cliff was good enough.

 

On looking through the various verses saved on my computer tonight, I discovered I had written two versions of this poem. In the second version, I had inserted another verse in between Autumn and Winter (verses four and five).

The new verse reads:

November gales bring howling winds,

Skirls of seashells shatter on the sands,

Pieces are torn from the ancient shipwreck

By a churning soup of seaweed and dead fish.

 

Which version do you think is better – with the new verse, or without?

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Another charity challenge…

Not quite on the scale of A Trans-Siberian Odyssey, but I have another escapade lined up.

As you know, I have recently had a flare-up of psoriasis – a perfectly irritating auto-immune condition, which not only brings you out in unsightly spots and patches, but normally manages to make you feel pretty self-conscious, if not thoroughly blue, as well.

It’s not contagious – although plenty of people automatically shy away from psoriasis sufferers, presuming they have got some sort of bizarre tropical disease.

It’s irritating in another sense – the spots/patches are itchy and flaky. In the simplest mechanical terms, it is caused by the immune system causing skin cells to multiply far faster than they should, resulting in red raised blotches, with silvery, flaky dead skin on top.

Worse still, it can affect any part of you – I have it on my face, hands, feet and all over my body. I even suffer psoriasis of the nails – my fingernails have dents in them, so I can never wear coloured nail polish, while I am physically missing some of my toenails.

Luckily, there are some very helpful groups, including the Psoriasis Association, which was founded in the late 1960s.

As I am a keen runner, I have agreed to run the Virgin Sport Westminster 10k (formerly the London Vitality 10k) in London in July, in aid of the Psoriasis Association, which is a registered charity.

You can find out more here:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Kate-Young16TeamPSO

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Getting creative…

I was walking through the town the other day, when I saw a young mum struggling with a pushchair and three young children. You might think: ‘So what? Happens every day!’, but I was reminded of a poem I once wrote about a friend who seemed permanently frazzled.

It started me thinking about all the poems, plays, short stories, flash fiction and other things I have written during the past few decades.

Apart from my daily writing tasks as a journalist, I am actually quite a prolific writer, with a number of small prizes and awards to my name…as well as A Trans-Siberian Odyssey.

I started thinking about the fact my honours degree is in Writing and Publishing and actually included a lot of creative writing and I vowed that I really should be more creative once more!

Then I started hunting about in my bookcases for the poetry anthology which housed that poem about my frazzled friend.

The anthology was published in 1996 by Hilton House and was called Poetic Inspirations. I found it almost immediately and on reading the poem again, thanked my lucky stars for how wonderful and supportive my husband is (for sharing household tasks and childcare!)

Here is the poem:

 

I WAS…

I was that dancer

That you saw pirouetting in the park in Paris –

Flowing between the trees like liquid silk,

Graceful and feather-like,

That sparkle of spirit that you

Wanted to hold in your hand.

 

The problem was you always closed your fingers!

 

I was that girl

Who laughed in the face of the dawning sun

After a night spent in the company of the moon –

Full to burst with life, sidestepping,

Evading you and your grip of domesticity.

 

The problem was you caught me!

 

What I am now

Is tired, threadbare,

Worn with hours of your dirty washing

And kids screaming on my eardrums.

That vivacious girl

Is blunted under the weight of

The endless duties of

A good wife and mother.

 

You clenched the fist and entrapped the dancer

In the prison of your fingers –

Barring freedom with possession

Under the empty guise of partnership.

 

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Is beauty only skin deep?

Alas, I am covered in spots from head to toe again.

The dreaded psoriasis is back. For those who haven’t come across psoriasis before, there are a few things you should know…

Firstly, don’t shun a person with psoriasis. It is not contagious and you can’t catch it – even if you are very intimate with that person. By acting normally, you reassure them that they are still socially acceptable.

Secondly, many skin specialists now consider psoriasis to be a chronic mental health condition because it is closely linked to depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. I personally know self-esteem is very easily affected, as it is hard to feel good about yourself when you are plastered in ugly-looking spots. Even events you were looking forward to become a minefield because you are worrying about how to dress and whether you should try to hide your spots, or let them show and hope people won’t be repulsed.

Thirdly, remember psoriasis is a chronic condition because there is no cure. It is possible to treat the spots themselves until they fade – which may take several months – but it is by no means easy to predict when sufferers may have another flare-up.

Many people ask me how psoriasis is caused. The simplest answer is that it is a genetic skin abnormality which causes the skin cells to grow at a vastly accelerated rate. You are born with psoriasis and you only discover it when you get your first flare-up. It does sometimes (but not always) run in families – my father has it and so do I. I hope my son hasn’t inherited it.

There are various types of psoriasis and different people have different triggers for their flare-ups. For some people, it’s stress, such as losing their job, or a trauma in their personal life, such as the death of someone close to them.

For other people, it is things in their diet – if you can pinpoint what your triggers are and remove them from your diet, you may remain spot-free for quite some time.

Unfortunately for me, mine is usually triggered by an assault to my immune system. It normally occurs when I have had an awful lot of things on my mind and then bang – a serious infection. I have pinpointed it to infections of the ears, nose, throat kind and the last two flare-ups in spring 2014 and now have both been caused by severe throat infections.

Sadly for me, I am allergic to penicillin, and many other antibiotics simply don’t work for me.

Despite trying to stay healthy – I eat well, I run, I go to the gym and I am fairly fit for a mum in her 40s – it is impossible for me predict when I might catch a cold, which then develops into an infection of the psoriasis-triggering kind.

I have had a few flare-ups in my life – some have stayed fairly localised on my legs, but this latest one is by far the worst yet, as I currently have spots on my face, ears, neck, shoulders, chest, stomach, back, arms, hands, legs, feet – well you get the picture!

It is also quite worrying that this is the second full-body flare-up in two years, when I had previously stayed spot-free for almost 15 years. So many things have happened to me in the past 12 months and it’s making me wonder if I should make some lifestyle changes.

I want to educate more people about psoriasis and I am not afraid to let my spots show. It’s a condition that affects between two and four per cent of the UK’s population, yet very few people ever realise how serious it can be.

While most normal people simply feel stressed, psoriasis sufferers see their problems emerge in the physical manifestation of spots, generally followed by a downward spiral into depression about their appearance and anxiety about their health in general.

Fortunately for me, I am a cheerful soul by my very nature. My husband married me while I was covered with spots – he realised that beauty is beyond skin deep and you simply have to see past the spots to admire the soul. I hope other people will realise this too.

 

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From zero to ten-mile hero!

I have had a challenging year in more ways than one, but probably the most amazing thing is the way my running has taken off.

In January, I entered the Sport Relief Mile, having not run since I left school around 25 years ago.

Having successfully completed the Sport Relief Mile in March, I found local running club Ryde Harriers was running a zero-5km course.

I am reasonably fit from my life with horses, but being in my 40s and not too sure of the best way to train, I thought joining this course was a great idea – and I was among a great bunch of people who attained their 5km at the end of May.

In August, I took on a virtual running challenge – when I joined up, I thought it said run 100km in a month, but as it turned out, it was run 100 miles!

Despite the (pretty big) difference, I ran 100 miles within the month of August and even did a nine-mile run along the Cornish coast, while on holiday.

In September, I took the plunge, joined UK Athletics and registered to do my first official race, the multi-terrain 10km at the New Forest Marathon meeting.

During September and October, I did a number of other races of between 5km and 5 miles, including my first night run, my first trail race and the Great South Run 5km.

November was fairly quiet on the running front, as I adjusted to the fact the nights were now dark and I don’t like running on my own.

On December 4, I went to Portsmouth for the 70th anniversary of the Victory 5, a five-mile road race, which forms part of the Hampshire Road Race League. It was freezing and I didn’t have a great race, but I did finish and it marked my debut at league level.

Last weekend saw my first attempt at a ten-mile race – the Chilly Hilly on the Isle of Wight. This is a notoriously stiff cross-country race which involves 1,651ft of elevation gain over some of the biggest downland areas on the Island.

I was deeply pleased with  myself when I finished and even more so when I realised I wasn’t last!

So what’s next? I have already entered a couple of 10km, ten-mile and half-marathon races for next year and I am really enjoying being fitter – can’t help feeling I missed my vocation somehow!

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Just back from rural North Devon…

I have just spent a week away in rural North Devon with my husband and five-year-old son. We stayed at a 17th Century cottage on a farm where the nearest villages were little more than half a dozen houses. We had no broadband or wi-fi and the valleys were so deep, there was virtually no mobile phone signal.

It was bliss!

As much as it is vital to be connected in my line of work, there are times when I really don’t miss it – I just take the extra time to enjoy the countryside around me, rather than constantly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, emails etc.

The countryside around Cookbury, near Holsworthy, near the Devon/Cornwall border was truly spectacular. Few beaches can compare to the sandy expanses and interesting rockpools of Widemouth Bay at Bude – we found fish, shrimps, shellfish and starfish galore.

By contrast, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor were both stunning in their ruggedness, but perhaps my favourite discovery was the National Trust-managed Lydford Gorge on the edge of Dartmoor. Here we went on a three-hour hike around the gorge, which boasts the 30-metre high Whitelady Waterfall and the awe-inspiring Devil’s Cauldron – a truly exhilarating experience which was well worth every penny of the admission fee.

The roads in North Devon were also an experience -the lack of a decent GPS signal meant sat nav was often non-existent, but we cruised through beautiful villages on single car-width roads with grass growing up the middle and it made for memorable motoring.

Perhaps the most long-lasting feeling I have brought home from this trip is that it is often worth taking a step back and spending time learning to love what is literally right in front of your nose.

 

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Life in the Ghetto!!!

IF you didn’t already realise it, I live on the Isle of Wight in southern England – the place Ofsted chairman David Hoare recently described as a poor white ghetto, where there had been in-breeding. He went on to give the impression that the Island had under-performing schools, drugs, crime and a lot of unemployment.

Being an Islander born and bred, I was horrified. Having grown up here, I think there are few better places to bring up children – there’s a wealth of healthy activities for them to enjoy, as we have more than 500 miles of public rights of way to walk, cycle and ride, plus sea to sail and surf in, beaches and forests to explore and much more.

Generally our schools are improving, even though we have undergone a lot of change in recent years, because the Island has switched from a three-tier education system to a two-tier one.

As one who is Island-educated, I have GCSEs, A-levels and trade qualifications galore, as well as a BA Honours degree, a Higher National Diploma – oh, and a decent home and a job which I have now held for 20 years.

David Hoare may since have tried to apologise, but it got me thinking about how easily people can say something that proves absolutely devastating to others – even if they didn’t necessarily mean it that way.

The moral of the story is please think before you open your mouth – and remember things can be interpreted very differently to the way you meant them!

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Filed under challenges, children, David Hoare, education, happiness, health, joy, morals, Ofsted, Uncategorized