Aloha from Hawaii

Instead of sending postcards, I thought it would be more fun to write a blog about my visit to Hawaii.  It’s almost over now but my experience of Big Island (Hawaii Island) is wonderful.  The people here are really friendly, the Island is one of huge contrasts, fabulous beaches, volcanic wildernesses, lush tropical rainforests and waterfalls.  This place has it all.

Rainforest at Akaka Falls

Rainforest at Akaka Falls

We stayed mostly on the largest island in the chain – Hawaii Island or Big Island as it’s known (for obvious reasons).  This is where Mauna Kea, the mountain with the world’s largest astronomical observatory perched on the top, is located.  In Winter Mauna Kea is covered in snow for three months of the year.  In Summer it is often enveloped by cloud.  It is said to be the tallest mountain in the world (measuring it from the sea bed) – 32,000′.   This too is a summit you don’t mess with.  We were advised to stop at the Visitor Centre at 10,000′ to acclimatise to the thinner atmosphere.  When we went, I certainly felt a bit breathless and dizzy to begin with.  They recommend you wait at least half an hour before proceeding on upwards.  We heard all sorts of horror stories about the dirt track that leads up to the summit that can only be done in a genuine 4WD car.  After hearing about the number of cars that had gone off the edge, I changed my mind about going up to the top!

Then there is Kilauea Volcano situated in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  An extraordinary place, much of it is barren; a wilderness of solidified  lava floes, while other parts have lush green vegetation with some very rare plants – wild orchids abound. The caldera of Kilauea is steaming, an active volcano which has regularly spewed fiery fountains and rivers of molten lava.  There are warnings everywhere not to breathe in the fumes of sulphur dioxide.

Standing in front of Kilauea caldera

Standing in front of Kilauea caldera

The rainforests are gorgeous – rich with the sound of zebra doves and numerous other bird and animal life. Our visit to Akaka Falls didn’t disappoint – a short walk through the rainforest led to one of the tallest waterfalls in the world – 440′  – past bamboo, plumeria, bird of paradise flowers and red ginger.

Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls

Totems at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau

Totems at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

We also visited some historic sights on the Island.  The Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park is a place where defeated warriors and violators of the kapu system could go voluntarily to escape punishment.  A kind of Hawaii sanctuary.

A very poignant place to visit is Kealakekua Bay which is most easily reached by boat.  This is where the British explorer Captain James Cook was murdered by Hawaiians in 1779.  It seems it was all rather a huge misunderstanding but very sad nevertheless.  The area where a large white monument to Captain Cook has been erected is British soil.  What was left of his body was buried at sea not far from the bay.

Monument to Captain Cook

Monument to Captain Cook

Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach

Of course we did normal touristy things like spending time at the beach and watching some amazing surfers perform somersaults among the huge waves. And we couldn’t possibly go to Hawaii without going to a luau where we were given welcome leis, several cocktails and a show of Polynesian dancing that seemed to please my husband – although some of the male dancers were none too shabby.

Polynesian dancers at the luau

Polynesian dancers at the luau

On our last day we flew to Oahu, a short flight from Big Island.  Now due to the Government shutdown, we’d heard that all National Parks, including Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial were closed.  When we got there, buses took us to USS Missouri in ‘Battleship Row’ where all the warships were destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into WWII.  Although the Arizona memorial wasn’t open, we did go on board the Missouri where the Japanese surrender was signed.

Arizona Memorial

Arizona Memorial

I found the whole experience of visiting Pearl Harbor very emotional, particularly thanks to our guide, Linda, a navy wife who painted such a vivid picture of the Japanese attack that it became very real and human.    We visited the airbase there too and it really doesn’t seem to have changed much in 60 years – but perhaps that is deliberate.

Control tower at Pearl Harbour air base

Control tower at Pearl Harbour air base

Oahu is very much more commercialised than Hawaii – big island and felt familiar, like many towns in the United States.  Big Island was a really exotic island, full of unfamiliar flora and fauna and some very friendly and welcoming people.  A great experience.  Mahalo Hawaii.

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Relationships in the workplace

One of the most common reasons that people of working age sought counselling when I was working for the Plymouth NHS was related to workplace bullying and coping with power relationships.

As an interested onlooker I have noticed this myself in recent years and feel sad for people whose lives are made miserable due to a culture of selfishness and protectionism in the workplace.  Most often I have observed that an insidious form of bullying comes from the very top, perhaps not overtly but present nevertheless.  Why is this?  There can be a lethal scrabbling for position in management roles, a need to empire-build and preserve positions of power.  This frequently filters down to the very least amongst us.  And it is the very least who most often need their jobs to keep body and soul together; it is usually the lowest paid who have to stay in an unbearable working role, simply to keep their families fed, a roof over their head.

Some years ago, I spent six months working for a very powerful woman.  As I signed a non-disclosure agreement at the time of joining her, I cannot divulge her name, nor her highly visible role.  But she was a monster.  There were young interns working for her, being paid a pittance, working all hours.  Bright, intelligent young people who needed the approval of this person and continued employment to show on their CVs in order to proceed further in their chosen careers.  After a matter of months working for her, some were reduced to gibbering, stuttering wrecks.  It was painful to watch.  Nor did I just watch.  The first time I resigned, I cited her behaviour towards these young people as my reason for wishing to leave her employment.  The reaction was breathtaking.  Either she was completely delusional or a fantastic actor.  The shock that registered on her face when I accused her of bullying the staff members was as if I had slapped her.  Actually, now I wish I had.  I frequently felt like it.  She belittled them, she humiliated them in public, in front of their peers, the public, the other staff.

Clearly this came from her need to feel superior and I won’t hypothesise the reasons for her feelings of inadequacy.  She was universally hated, not just by her staff but by colleagues.  I never heard a good word said about her from people who actually knew her personally.  And yet she managed to hold her position of power for years and years.

To a lesser extent I am aware of certain people who rule by a culture of fear today.  There seems to be a general lack of respect for the members of staff who actually get the work done.  Many of today’s management appear to spend their days in meetings without achieving anything, they seem incapable of making decisions and certainly unable to make any good ones.  Why is this?  I wonder if perhaps it is a result of the very regimented and formulaic way that businesses are conducted today.  All the courses and inductions and form filling and tick boxes seem to drive us all into the same channels, the same ruts, the same mistakes.  Where is the humanity in working relationships?  Do we really all have to perform to prescribed paths, achieve outcomes that can be measured on an annual basis?  On this our progress depends;  this decides if we earn more, earn less, keep our jobs, pay our bills.

Whatever happened to simply talking to our staff, getting to know their strengths on the basis of conversation and praising them when they do well, rather than ticking a box to say they have achieved specified outcomes.?  I wonder where this is all leading us – how working relationships will fare in the future.  It is quite a scary prospect.

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A question of priorities

How to reconcile the fact that I run a writers’ group and don’t have time to do much writing myself?  Or is it procrastination?  In theory I have three days off a fortnight and on those days, at least one of them could be devoted to writing (which I do try and do).  However, it is always like pulling teeth, forcing myself to sit down in front oWriters blockf the computer and produce words that are meaningful and entertaining and contribute to the overall excellence of what I am trying to produce.  So, writing this on my day off, I realise I am taking time away from writing my novel and later on today I need to prepare for my writers’ group meeting tonight!  This is ridiculous… and to top it all, the sun is shining outside and summer has arrived after all these months.  On most days I am working, standing in my hot wool Tudor costume in temperatures reminiscent of Palm Springs or Cyprus.  Why am I inside struggling with fleshing out my characters?  Why can’t I let go of the writing bug?  For years I have fought the urge to write.  What could be nicer than to spend my free time reading other people’s work?  Except that it isn’t enough.  I enjoy the creation of people, putting character into my characters.

Like many other writers I struggle with the work but simply can’t give it up.  So what’s the solution?  I guess carry on doing what I’ve been trying to do… finish the novel.  Although, at this rate, I’ll be well into my dotage before I get to write the final words – ‘The End’.

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Evolution of a group

It’s over eighteen months since my writers’ group began and in that time we have seen a few developments.  It’s interesting how group dynamics work and Tuckman’s model of group development – Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing seems to more or less fit our evolutionary process .  Tuckman maintains that all these phases are necessary and inevitable for groups to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems and find solutions, plan, work and deliver results.  However, as with all groups, it seems that some people join to observe and others to take part.  The ethos of the group was always about professionalism.  I didn’t want to start yet another group of weekend writers or people who wanted to simply read out their work to have others admire it.  My aim in starting the group was to attract dynamic people who wanted not only to write, be published and motivate others – it was also to take an active part in group activities.  As it has turned out, there have been a few members who have been actively writing and participating in meetings, some who have contributed greatly to the growth of the group and, inevitably, those who just want to come along and participate at meetings, without necessarily contributing to the group’s evolution.

Since we started we have welcomed two guest speakers, a publisher and a creative writing teacher; developed a website; joined the National Association of Writers’ Groups; snuggled under the umbrella of the Bear Pit, a local arts group; changed our monthly meeting venue  to an eminently more prestigious and comfortable place and have plans to participate in the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival in April.  Our members have had articles published, won a short story competition and self-published a crime novel.  Many others continue to write their novels and enter short story and poetry competitions.

The aim of the group was to encourage and motivate writers who wanted to be published and the frequent email ‘traffic’ between members testifies to the frequent dissemination of market information.

One regret I have in starting this group is that when I began all those months back, I wasn’t employed and therefore had much more time to devote to the organisation and running of the group.  Now however, I am working virtually full time and it is often a struggle to achieve all that I want to in furthering its scope and profile.

Nevertheless, I do feel we are getting somewhere and though sometimes I think it would have been simpler to just develop my own writing and continue writing my historical novel in isolation, the friendship and camaraderie of the group has more than made up for the extra work, stress and frustration I have sometimes experienced.  So… bring it on.  Let’s see what we can achieve in the next eighteen months.

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Finding Richard III

It was never going to be possible for me to remain silent about the amazing discovery and verification of Richard III’s bones in Leicester.Richard III

Richard III

I have always been fascinated by Richard and growing up in Leicester felt a particular affinity with him.  Shakespeare’s description of him never sat comfortably with me and so eventually, I joined the Richard III Society.  I wonder why some of us have such a passion for history and sometimes feel personally involved with the lives of those whom we cannot ever really know.  For me historical figures, no matter what their status at birth, are simply people with the same foibles and flaws that we possess today.  That is one thing Shakespeare got right, people don’t change though their circumstances and environments do.

Was Richard an evil murderer, intent on killing those who stood in his way of the throne?  Not, judging by the evidence.  In fact, up until his brother, King Edward IV died, he was an extremely loyal, fair, hard working and brave brother.  What could have made him change character so completely?  It’s a question I have no answer to.  I am sure, however, that over the next few years there will be many historians who will revisit the story of Richard III and hopefully some of them may come closer to a realistic conclusion.

I am, of course, delighted he will be finally laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral.

Memorial sundial at Bosworth Field

Memorial sundial at Bosworth Field

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Year Gift

Well, my new year’s gift has been more work – that is, extra days rostered to dress up like an Elizabethan servant and tell thousands of people about the social history of William Shakespeare and his world.  Fab – really grateful and pleased.  Yet it has left me with a bit of a problem.  I have so little time to write now, I’m having to squeeze it in on the days I’m not working.  Having said that, this might be fortuitous.  I always write better when I have a deadline (I think most people are the same).  When I had all the time in the world to write – somehow I managed to faff around getting very little done.  Being short of time focuses the mind wonderfully and so I seem to be getting a fair bit of writing down in the cracks in the day.  But something will no doubt be sacrificed – I’d love to say it is housework – but I sacrificed that long ago when I realised it wasn’t a skill or pastime I wanted to develop.  What I am finding is that I seem to get less time to read now and that simply isn’t on.

So my new year’s resolution (yes, I know it’s a little late) is to schedule my life better.  Now this sounds appalling – who would want their life scheduled?  (Well, I suppose Her Majesty’s life is one long schedule but then there are compensations!)  Is there something wrong with me that I like the idea of having a schedule for my day?  A little sad perhaps?  Not at all – I’m a bit of a control freak, as I think I may have mentioned before, and need to know exactly what I am doing at a particular time.  So, I aim to ensure that no time is wasted;  every moment of my life will count for something.  I will not waste a moment and most important of all, I will not be distracted by the internet… no matter how tempting.

Happy New Year to you all – out there – if there’s anyone reading this…

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Call yourself a writer?

I’m talking to myself here.  I’ve just realised it’s been well over a month since my last blog.  I’ve only written a few thousand words of my novel in the past few weeks and not even started some of the articles I had ideas for back in January.  Why this lack of activity?  Well, since taking on my guiding job at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, my days off have become a bit busy.  Working every other weekend means that I now have to cram all my visitors into the weekends between work.  I seem to have had one load of visitors after another.  During the week I still work at the Royal Shakespeare Company one morning a week and occasionally other days when I have other duties with them.  I still owe loads of invitations.  Every weekend is now accounted for up until the end of January.  Sometimes I long for a chance to sit and do absolutely nothing.

Yet I do call myself a writer and run a writers’ group with the aim of encouraging others to get on with it.  Hypocrite!

I’m really struggling with my historical novel.  I naively thought that having done all the research for my dissertation, I could just get on and write, creating wonderfully imaginative prose to bring my characters to life.  This is what I learned:

  • Historical fiction requires much more research than factual work, you need to know every last detail of the character’s lives; what they’re wearing, eating, looking at, how they’re talking…. there’s so much to it.
  • Even when you know very little about a real character you cannot just create them like a sculptor would, taking a piece of stone and chipping away until it becomes what you would like it to become.  There is always a clue to your character in their actions, their circumstances, the events that take place around them.  They are not a blank slate – you know certain facts about them and they may turn out to be quite boring and unlike-able. Unless of course you aren’t going to stay faithful to the historiography… but then there’s little point in creating historical fiction with real characters.  You might just as well make up the whole thing.  I wanted to tell the story of someone I came to admire.  If I’d known how hard that was going to be I might have given up that idea when my MA was awarded and just felt satisfied with that.
  • I think I’m inherently lazy – given the choice between reading and writing, I would reach for a book every time.  Unless I happen to be in one of my manic writing phases (no I’m not bipolar but I do get suddenly keen every so often!) and then there’s no stopping me.

So, I am a little disillusioned with myself and feel I need a kick up the rear end.  But at the moment, I’m feeling too lethargic to even do that.

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Fact or supposition? That is the question.

Since taking up my role as a period guide at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, I am sometimes uneasy with some of the information we give our visitors.  Although there is quite a lot that we do know about Shakespeare’s life, some of it is speculation and guesswork.  Whilst studying for my MA, I was very aware of the need to cite sources for everything I quoted.  The practice has become ingrained and I am uncomfortable with stating some facts about Shakespeare when I have no primary sources to refer to.  (However, there are few historians who do not, at some time, have to make assumptions to make the pieces fit the jigsaw.)

For example, to say that we know that William helped his father out in the leather goods workshop because there are over 70 references in the plays to glove making, seems like a bit of a stretch.  Sure he knew about glove making, he could hardly have escaped the business since it was carried out in his family home.  But do we know definitely that he made gloves?  How do we know, for example, that his father didn’t send him outside into the yard (what is now a pretty cottage garden) to help the apprentices?  One of  their tasks would have been to treat the animal skins once they were delivered.  The apprentices would need to soak the skins in copious amounts of urine held in pits in the yard – the pits would also have contained excrement and noxious dyes.  Would his father have expected him to start at the very bottom (no pun intended) before allowing him into the workshop itself to make any goods?  I think it’s highly likely.

We clearly have  to make some assumptions in order to tell a coherent story to the thousands of visitors that come each year to see where Shakespeare started out in life.  When we show the visitors the Birth-room, we say ‘this is where we believe all Mary Shakespeare’s children were born’ rather than, ‘this is the room where William Shakespeare was born’.  We are virtually certain he was born there.  People have been visiting  the Birth-room (and paying for the privilege ) since the early 1700s.  However, we do know William was born in a plague year.  It is entirely possible Mary Shakespeare moved out of the town and to the family farm in Wilmcote to give birth or at least to take her newborn child there after the birth.  She had already lost her first two children, Joan and Margaret and so she would have been unlikely to take risks with her surviving child, especially since it was her first son.  Am I being too literal?  Possibly, I may be  a smidgen pedantic.  The majority of visitors just want to hear a little about William and the social history of Elizabethan England and to enjoy their tour.

I love my job – one of the greatest rewards is registering the looks on some of the visitors’ faces while you’re telling them about Shakespeare’s life.  Their eyes literally shine with pleasure and enthusiasm. We have had people from China and the U.S. telling us how they have have waited all their lives to see the house.  It’s quite humbling. (Not everyone of course is fascinated – some of the children on school trips are almost catatonic!)  But there is something wonderful about sharing the knowledge we do have about the person who is arguably the world’s greatest playwright and England’s greatest son, that makes me extremely proud.

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Waiting on other people’s decisions

It’s hard to hand over control…. especially for a control freak like me.  Right now I’m waiting.  Waiting for others to make a decision about my future and it’s frustrating.  My current contract expires in a week’s time.  There’s a chance I could be offered a more regular one.   There’s also a chance I may be offered another job entirely in which case I would have to consider whether to accept the job I love doing or accept one with more regular hours and more money which I would find stultifying.  There’s a possibility I won’t be offered either and I would have to continue working on an ad hoc basis but doing the job I enjoy.  For me the frustration comes not from being in a position where others are deciding my fate.  My problem is that I need my life mapped out.  I like to know what I’m doing when and so can neatly fit other activities around work.

So I am waiting…. in two weeks I should know what I am doing for the next six months, possibly longer.  I have discovered how empty life is without a purpose.  Working not only makes you feel useful, that someone is prepared to pay for your skills but it is nice to earn money too!  Once I know where I am with regular work, I can then fit in my article writing and continue writing my novel.  All this uncertainty makes concentration very difficult.  Well, that’s my excuse anyway…

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Reality bites on returning home…

So, back from a wonderful holiday in fabulously hot temperatures, relaxed and looking forward to upcoming events.  But nasty surprises awaited!

The day I got back, I learned a very old friend had died – someone I used to work for many years ago.  Then I discovered the article I’d been expecting to appear in a local glossy magazine hadn’t made it to the July issue.  There was no chance it would appear later as it marked an anniversary that fell in July.  Third rubbish thing that happened was that my email account was hacked.  Nightmare! The first I knew was that I kept getting phone calls and messages asking if I was all right.  It slowly emerged that everyone on my email address list had been told I was in Madrid, had been attacked and had no money.  The email purporting to come from me asked my family, friends and colleagues to send money.  I, of course, immediately sent out a message to everyone on my address list to inform them that this was simply a hoax.  And then I discovered I’d been locked out of my email account.  I changed the password only to find I was locked out again.  This happened twice more – I wasn’t happy as you can imagine and really quite scared about the repercussions. I went into my settings menu and changed some things around.  That worked!  Once back into my account I found that every single email I had ever received or sent (all neatly labelled in a really well organised filing system) – well, they had all gone.  Disappeared.  Stolen.  I emailed Google and they replied that they were gone forever, there was nothing I could do.  Almost on the point of hysteria now and I started getting all the emails I had sent people saying the previous email was a hoax, returned to my inbox, undelivered.  I soon saw why.  Every single one of my 600 odd email contacts had been corrupted.  The addresses all had an extra ‘on’ added to the name before the @ sign.  It took me until almost two in the morning to change them back again.

Why did this happen?  Well, I later discovered what I had done – on my return from holiday – jet-lagged and needing sleep, I had received a message from Gmail telling me they had upgraded their security system.  To make sure I was covered by this extra security I had to simply click a button…. I clicked!  I was hacked!

Days later I’m still livid.  What was the worst thing about this?  An elderly neighbour of mine received the appeal from ‘Madrid’ and didn’t know what to do – she asked her dear old husband’s advice.  He told her to quickly send me some money!  Fortunately she was one of the ones who did receive my message about the hoax before her address was corrupted.  I wonder how many other people are screwed over in this way?

The internet is a wonder and a joy, it gives us information at our fingertips and helps us communicate with our loved ones at the touch of a button – but when it goes wrong – it is a living nightmare.

And then I reminded myself – no-one was physically hurt and in a few weeks’ time it will be a thing of the past.  Lesson learned the hard way.

So, not a great welcome back to Blighty but we move on…

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