I was driving to, um, somewhere, a few days ago, and suddenly struck upon an idea that may make a nice (sad, sorry, but short and nice) short-film type script.
So that is this week’s obsession. Well, apart from Christmas officially beginning in my head, since induction and training for the place where I will be Mrs Claus has started this week (well, last night), also. And something to immerse myself in when trying to distract myself from sh*t that isn’t Christmassy, or generally nice. Except, this starts off in a funeral type setting.
I know the premise. And pretty much the story. And the title. (It’s the title of this post, also). I’m pretty confident I can craft this into something nice. Or as nice as it can be, considering it begins with death.
Pretty good idea of who I’d like to cast, you know, in an ideal world. Any takers who might be interested in having a read and maybe producing … let me know …
I haven’t been to Paris for 20 years. And I haven’t posted here for a few days.
Last night I was reminded with a jolt why I began blogging, properly, I mean – rather than signing up, writing one post then forgetting about it.
I’m not going to write yet another lament about Paris. The attacks. Those terrorists. I’m not going to speculate on who was responsible or what their cause may have been. Yes, we all know, and have shared in countless tweets and Facebook statuses (stati???), how horrified we are; how we’ll all stand with the people of Paris; how we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Yes, we’re all devastated. Yes, it’s scary and awful and should never have happened …
Last Thursday should have been my LLETZ appointment at the Colposcopy Clinic. Remember? I wrote this blog entry about being told I’d ‘failed’ my cervical smear test; and got sent for a biopsy…
I ended up having to cancel it … turns out it’s that time of the month . And the letter said to call and reschedule if that was the case. I called twice, the day before, when it was obvious I wouldn’t make it. I got an answermachine, and left a message. It said “If you wish to cancel your appointment, leave your name and address; if you wish to speak to someone in the clinic, leave your name and phone number and someone will call you back”. I left my name and number and message…hoping that I would get a call back to reschedule. I called later and got the same answer machine. I called the next morning – the day of the appointment, and got the same message, so I left the same message, still expecting a call back.
That was two days ago. I have resigned myself to the fact that, if they got my message, they will just send out another appointment letter. I was hoping they wouldn’t do that. I was hoping they would call me back and actually make an appointment with me, so I could check my diary. Because it’s almost December. And December this year, as I did last year, I will be living in Christmas again.
Last year, on a whim, I applied to play Mrs Claus at a large hotel. it really, truly, was a magical, fun, happy experience. Of course the pay was crappy and some of the people one had to work with were … well … lacking people skills, and the Christmas Spirit. Some of the masses and masses of crowds of people jostling for their chance to see the big guy also lacked the spirit of Christmas; there were instances of nastiness and meanness from various sides that could have brought one to tears; BUT, Santa asked me, as we neared Christmas Eve, if I would consider doing it again; and I had little doubt in saying yes, almost immediately. He agreed. There were instances, people, occasions, that COULD have ruined Christmas for us all; but there were SO many more magical little instances that made us want to risk coming back. The happier, smilier, most amazed of the children (and the adults, a surprisingly large number of whom displayed amazing Seasonal spirit!); the individual stories we would hear about, and from the mouths of, certain visitors … someone who had just lost a parent or grandparent; someone who wanted a nice photo with Santa because it might be their last photo; Someone who was so full of amazement and wonder because they’d never seen anything like this before; a group of school children whose class elf had disappeared a week before, then suddenly found his way into my sack of dolly-mixtures … all made the downsides of the job almost disappear.
I wanted to speak to someone and make my appointment in person, so that I could know the date, and not have to worry about another letter with another inconvenient date, dropping through the door. Because with all the ‘not knowing’, something known and definite would be nice. And it would be nice if they could at least let me have Christmas, without having to worry about it.
Like for a while, I’ve imagined I could feel a difference between one breast and the other. The other morning I happened to mention it to the Other Half. And with all this not knowing he leaped on it and immediately made an appointment at the doctors. They had a cancellation, so I was there within 20 minutes. The GP was reassuring, and happy – well, it was first thing in the morning, he hadn’t had the rest of the day to drag him down yet, I suppose – I apologised and explained about the abnormal smear and the waiting for the LLETZ appointment and that O/H, and me I suppose, were on heightened Cancer alert I suppose; anyway, I put it down to my right hand being a lot stronger than my left hand and it being very difficult to tell if both sides were the same; or very different; and in all honesty, I’d been breastfeeding up till a few months before; not to mention had 3 pretty close together; so couldn’t recall what ‘normal’ really was anyway. He put my mind at ease, had a check (with a chaperone) and was pretty confident he couldn’t feel any difference in tissue on either side. So, one minor weight, which I hadn’t really mulled over much anyway, off my mind. But it did awaken me to the fact that it really is always there, in the background, affecting every decision I make.
Which brings me back to last night. And this post. And why last night made me remember to post.
My first post when I began this blog was a wake-up call. A relative had written an autobiography of sorts. Other relatives, although still with us physically, are, for all intents and purposes of learning from them, their philosophies, their history, their lives, are all but lost to us. And then, there are relatives, remembered fondly, with whom I wish I could still chat. Now I’m older, and have children, and have had experiences I could have shared with them, there are more things I would have liked to have asked them, and learned from them. And it makes me sad that I won’t. And in most of those cases, it wasn’t sudden. They were old, and ill, or we could see it coming. And I committed to writing something of my life, even if just here, in a random corner of the internet that most people will never stumble across; so if there ever was a question my children wanted answered; or wanted my opinion on; maybe they’ll find some answer from me.
Last night, people went out for dinner, or to a concert, or to a sports game. And never came home.
They didn’t live in a war zone; or in a region regularly terrorized by hurricane scale weather patterns; they didn’t even live in a country under military rule or in a permanent state of civil unrest. They lived in a country in which I have one close relative already living an idyllic lifestyle; and this week another, even closer relative, has been driving around checking out peaceful places and properties with a view to settling there within a few years.
In 2013, a helicopter crashed into a pub full of people who had, simply, gone to the pub for a quick pint. Even crossing the road or sitting in your car are not things people think of as being dangerous. But events like a trucks breaks failing or driver error, to the families of people who are now no longer here; have this devastating effect as a shooting, or a bombing, or a typhoon … someone dies. And more often than not, people die, for no reason, in the middle of their lives. No matter how many times they went to the gym; how many cucumbers they ate or how many chocolate bars they didn’t. Far more people seem to die when they didn’t ‘plan’ to.
So don’t worry about trying to live forever. Just make sure you live, while you have the chance. And take pictures, and keep a diary. Leave something.
Purely because I want to post today; and really don’t have the mental awareness to concentrate on written content! I’ve always loved photographing things; but have more interest in the artistic, the content of the photo, its composition through the lens, than the technical abilities of whichever piece of equipment. I’ve tried reading manuals and how-to’s; and ‘easy’ beginners guides; but I tend to switch off after a while and just want to go out and take a well framed, in focus, picture, of something I find interesting.
So, here’s a few. Some with an SLR. Some with a DSLR. And some with a mobile phone camera and others with a simple old fashioned point and click compact film camera! Some, I will never be able to go back and re-take with better equipment or better knowledge of technicalities; so they will forever be a frozen moment in time.
I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a cargo ship. Not something that may people have a clue about. I grew up thinking of it as normal. Standard. Something that even if not everyone did, they they at least understood the lifestyle. Now, it seems like a lifetime ago.
I’ve tried starting to write this segment so many times before but always scrapped it. Not as a blog post, but as an opening diary entry; or as the opening to a personal memoir, or an autobiography; or even as some based-in-real-experience fictionalisation. It always got scrapped because… well, I was young. I was an embryo, then a newborn, then a young child, while I experienced all of this. To me, it’s a bunch of muddled memories, some familiar faces and fascinating places – no names or dates or facts or figures. At least, far too few to write an informed, encyclopedic account. But that doesn’t mean the memory of this unusual childhood don’t remain.
It’s not something you see these days. I remember commenting recently, chatting online with fellow ‘children-of-merchant-navy-crew’; how it’s so much against today’s Health&Safety-centric world culture. Someone posted a photo of them sat on their dad’s shoulders next to a massive turbine in the engine room. Irresponsible parenting? Or an amazing experience for a child to have – traveling the world, outside of charter flights and all-inclusives and package holidays and theme parks.
Not to mention those strict rules about taking children out of school during term time. Of course, this was the late 70’s (before I was in school anyway) and the eighties. I’m not sure those rules were in place back then. We did some school work, of course. I recall mum coming out of school one day with a pile of work books to take with us.
Some names of places and things about them I recall; probably because on one of my later voyages, my mum made me do a project to take back to school with me, with a section on every place we went to on that voyage.
As far as I know, from family chats, when my parents first met, Dad was studying at maritime college. Not sure at what point they got married but he was working for a shipping company based in Cardiff Bay (way back in the days before it got rejuvenated and renamed as Cardiff Bay – it was still Butetown … or ‘the docks’, or ‘Tiger Bay’ … where Shirley Bassey was from). Although I remember being told that all of the ships they ran (or owned, or managed, or whatever) were far too big to come in to Cardiff Docks. From memory, I think every time we went to join Dad on board, or saw him off for a solo voyage, it involved a train journey to London, then a plane to wherever the ship he was joining happened to be docked at the time. Again, with no timeline in my memory, he went from 2nd mate (2nd Officer) to 1st mate (1st officer), to Captain, during my memory span.
In fact, I recently learned of a new puzzle piece to fit in – I went on a girl’s weekend to Lisbon, earlier this year. The conversation arose as to whether any of us had been before. I quite clearly remember mum telling us (my brother and I) that we weren’t going home as had been planned, but in fact, we were staying on and going to Lisbon, in Portugal. Shortly afterwards, plans changed again and it turned out that mum and brother and I would go home after all, but Dad would stay on. It was only during the discussion before going to Lisbon this year, that mum disclosed that it was at that point that dad was made up to Captain. He was asked to stay on and Captain the ship to Lisbon, but the family couldn’t stay on in case we were a distraction during his first command. I don’t know why – at the time I don’t think I’d ever heard of Lisbon, but I was extremely upset at not being allowed to go. I think it was just the thought of us going home without dad.
(Incidentally, I loved the city on my visit this year. Will definitely be trying to visit again in the future.)
There are other random memories … or, rather, a mix of memories, and incidences I’ve been told about and have seen or acquired photos to go along with the stories …
I quite clearly remember going to a place called Nouhadibou – it was one of the places in the project I did. It was (well, still is I suppose!) right on the edge of the Sahara desert. We weren’t allowed to go ashore, one reason why I suppose it stuck out in my memory. Usually, during a 24-48 hour stay in a port we got to go ashore and explore the locale at least once while the crew were loading or unloading coal or iron-ore. This place, even then (late 80’s? I think it was my little sister’s one and only voyage, and she was only a baby), on the coast of wild West Africa, was too dangerous for woman and children to be venturing alone. So I only ever got to see it from afar. Sandy coloured everything – ground, roads, hills, buildings, all appeared to be the same colour from our distance. I watched that movie “Captain Phillips” recently, and in addition to it just reminding me of living aboard ship, the dangers we might have faced didn’t seem all that real, at the time.
I’m told that I was on board during a trip Around the Horn – Cape Horn, right at the bottom tip of South America. One of the most notoriously rough shipping channels in the world. I can’t claim to marry the two up, but I have strong memories of being in rough seas, and the ship ‘rolling’ (tipping dramatically from one side to the other). I remember the edges of the dining tables in the dining room, had small ‘lips’, on hinges around the edges, so they could be lifted and clipped in to place, so eating during rough weather didn’t result in one’s soup pouring into one’s lap. And every door had one of those little clips to hold it open if needs be.
In passing conversation, I’ve always shortened my childhood to a logline-length “I went around the world, more than once, before I was 9 years old.” I found this diagram online of world shipping lanes. I have memories of most; except crossing the Atlantic. Although I’ve made up for it in more recent times, but I don’t recall ever visiting North America during my voyages as a child.
New Year’s Eve at sea : I remember having Christmas on board ship, more than once, I think. Mum made the kitchen crew put coins in the Christmas pudding, like my grandmother used to at home; so those lucky enough would get a treat of some pocket money (if they didn’t choke on it first!). We were around northern Europe, somewhere. I vaguely recall going in to toyshops, maybe in Germany or nearby, and seeing puzzles and other toys I’d recognise as being what we would find in the UK, but with foreign writing on them, and different symbols on the price tags. (These were the days before the almighty Euro too, when the UK wasn’t the only one with its own currency).
After Christmas, we sailed up towards Norway. We were anchored off the coast, I think heading for the port of Narvik, for New Year’s Eve. We had an amazing view of the Northern Lights. These days I would’ve probably been up all night with my camera, but as it stands, I have no pictures, just memories of that. There was a tradition (I don’t know if it was made up just for us or if it really was done every year) that the oldest on board would ring the ship’s bell, just before midnight, to ring out the old year; and the youngest on board, would then ring it again to ring the New year in. As it happened, this year was one of extremes. Regularly, a retired captain, Captain Hooper, known to all as Hoops I think, who had been allowed to travel on voyages for his own amusement after retirement, I think. (In all honesty, I never knew why; but if you were a retired seaman who’d spent all of your life at sea, could you imagine being stuck in your lounge looking out the window, or in the day room of some retirement home? Way to suck the remaining life out of you! I like to think allowing him to ‘tag along’ on voyages was a way of him enjoying his retirement. And a little rejuvenating I suppose, having children on board too.) Anyway, he was, by far, the oldest on board; so rung the old year out. My brother must have been 2 or 3 at the time and got to ring the new year in.
The other reason Narvik stuck in my memory, was when we were to go in to dock, after waiting at anchor, the pilot came on board. (Each port has its own pilot. They’re seamen who are so familiar and experienced with their own port, that they are brought on board visiting vessels to guide them in to port). He explained to my brother and me that it got so dark so early in Norway that all the children had reflective strips on their clothing and gave us both a plastic, reflective disk, on a string. I think the idea was to wear it as a necklace. I had that for quite a while, but I’ve moved house so often that somewhere along the line it’s gone. Narvik was one place we DID get to go ashore to look at. for some reason I remember it being pretty quiet. Mind you, this was a day or two after New Year’s, so it was probably still a public holiday or something. It was pretty dead (and snow-covered) in the town square…for some reason, I just remember a large tank parked right in the middle of the square. Also snow-covered. I think we had a photo of it at one point. Lost, in moves, again. I seemed to recall it being something to do with World War 2; so I looked it up recently, and apparently there was a lot of action there in and around 1940.
One year, we were there for ANZAC day in Australia (although it was years before I met anyone else who knew what ANZAC day was…maybe not even until we moved to New Zealand!), and I remember going ashore to a small, white chapel, possibly made of wood panels; with ceiling fans, and sit in a pew and join in a remembrance service. I remember going to a shop that sold touristy things and gifts, and for years afterwards my mum wore a night shirt that had writing on it, upside down, saying “I’m an Upside-down Aussie”. It was funny, to an 8 year old. My brother and I had a stuffed Koala each. We named the Brucie and Lucy. (we had two hamsters at home named that too…not sure which came first). I still have my Koala. I’m not sure if it’s made of real Koala fur but it certainly doesn’t seem like imitation fur; and it’s weird, for a stuffed toy, it quite hard, like a taxidermy kind of thing rather than a cuddly toy type of thing. She’s been lost a few times, and found again. And she used to have little plastic claws on her hands and feet but one of many pet dogs that have come into and out of my life over the years had a penchant for chewing those particular parts of her. She is now claw-less. But, she is one of two things that I still own, currently safe in my own home, from my days at sea.
The other is a Chinese doll, that was (apparently) given to me by the shipping agent in Hong Kong, I think. I’m amazed she’s survived this long, to be honest! Although, admittedly, every pane of glass on her bamboo framed case has been replaced.
I’m sure after I sign off this post, there’ll be more instances (like the fancy dress party, to which two crew members went as a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste, my brother and I were Robin Hood & Maid Marian, my mum was Crystal Tips … amazing how creative people can be in the middle of the ocean with limited resources…) of things I suddenly remember. But at least I’ve finally made a start at logging somewhere that it ever really happened…
I can remember being a fan of various shows as I was growing up. There were special shows for which I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime (“Fame” and “Dempsey & Makepeace” I seem to recall). There were shows that during my teens allowed me to escape teen angst and the growing pains of, like “Quantum Leap“. (Weird teenage hormones … couldn’t decide if I was watching it because I fancied Sam or Al the most … eh?!!), but those were my pre-internet days. In fact, it got cancelled before I got so hooked on it that I realised I was such a fan. Then they started re-runs. And I started writing spin-offs in my head. I guess that would be what is now known as Fan-Fiction. I did a LOT more of that, before I came to learn of the term ‘fan-fiction’.
Due South was my first passionate following, and it happened to be not only right when the internet was making it big, but when I had my first full-time job, which happened to give me constant computer access (I worked in the 151 faults call-center for BT at the time). Remember, this was the days before Facebook (What? You mean there was a time Facebook didn’t exist? O.M.G.!); the days before seemingly everyone had a computer at home, a laptop in their bag and a computer-phone in their pocket.
Yes, I know, these days it seems like so long ago. And recently when someone reminded me it was TWENTY YEARS … yes, 2-0 years, since Due South first aired, I realised that, yes, it actually WAS so long ago. When I was little, it seemed like an age before I would be 20. Now I’m so far past it, it seems like equally an age ago.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the early days of what we now think of as ‘The Internet’. Not the REAL early days, when simple binary message were being sent from black screen to black screen in robotic green typefaces; but when there were forums and chat-groups, and long before any type of instant messenger (remember Yahoo Messenger when it was WOW and NEW and FAB?), when a whole conversation consisted of one-line emails … and I had nothing else to do on the internet; in between calls, on quiet days (for example, it was my first full-time job, I was a moody young person, not yet 20, who couldn’t WAIT for an excuse to escape the good old ‘family Christmas’. So I volunteered for the Christmas Day shift. I sat there for 10 hours and took 2 calls. And one of those was trying to order a takeaway but got the wrong number…).
Do you remember the first ever thing you ‘looked up’ when you got the internet? (Come on, I don’t think there was even Google back then, so you couldn’t have ‘Googled’ anything. I’m pretty sure Yahoo! was EVERYTHING. Unless you were in the U.S.A and had AOL. )
Well, I’m pretty convinced mine was Due South. Seriously, I can’t think of ANYTHING else I was doing on the internet in those days.
A couple of years before, I’d actually expanded my fandom into getting in to contact with other fans, via that old fashioned medium of ‘snail-mail’. There was a short lived, international magazine called E-TV, which specialised in niche-TV shows, like emergency shows and cop shows (E.R., NYPD Blue,). My parents ran a newsagent at the time and I found this on the shelf one day and this particular edition had an article on Due South in it. On the ‘letters’ page (remember those?) there was some guy in Canada who was looking for international pen-friends. I don’t think he was specifically talking Due South but I just cottoned on to the ‘CANADA’ underneath his letter and decided to write. I can’t believe that was so long ago. We sent articles back and forth in the post, about UK shows he’d heard of and seen, and he would write back about Canadian stuff, and Due South.
So, back to the internet. So, I looked up ‘due South, and found a mailing list (I suppose the modern equivalent would be a Facebook group!), which basically consisted of group emails flying about. Discussing Due South, the storylines, the characters, the actors and their other work. And anything remotely related. There could be hundreds of emails a day, I’d have a separate window open behind my work screen and be carrying on a conversation. Don’t forget – of course it would be against everyone’s ‘Internet usage at work‘ policies by now (probably thanks to me!!) but back then, there was no precedent for this. And, even back then I was quite good at multi-tasking, I was still getting pretty good call-handling and file-updating targets and whatever else, despite carrying on an email conversation about a Mountie and a deaf wolf at the same time. Pretty sure they knew … they’re not stupid, but since it wasn’t interfering with my productivity; and to be honest, it was probably enhancing my PC literacy skills beyond anything they could teach me!
I didn’t do it all on company time, however. There was an Internet Cafe nearby. It’s where I would go after work, spend an hour or so. I had an electric word processor at home, which I used to write on. I figured out how to convert what I wrote on there to ASCII text, on a floppy disk. So, I could save a load of emails, mainly the longer ones; at the internet cafe, onto a floppy, take them home, read through them, write some equally long and insightful responses, then on my next trip to the internet cafe, (After the man at the desk had dutifully scanned the floppy for viruses) I could upload the ASCII text files, copy and paste them into an email and that was my contribution to the mailing list…without spending paid for hours at the internet cafe typing it all out!
Goodness, until I started this post I’d not even thought of that little place in years. It wasn’t one of these glossy chain places you might see these days. It was upstairs above an old betting shop or something, a rickety staircase into what was probably a converted living room, with some old tables and creaky floorboards and cheap industrial carpet. There was a castle across the road so the view from the small pokey windows was quite cool.
As a result of that first venture into internet fandom, internet groups and the like, two of my oldest friendships were formed. Well, three, if you include the guy from Canada. Who is still there. I’m still in touch with him; he joined the same internet DS group, and since Facebook (well, hasn’t everyone?). I’ve still never met him in person; but even if I never do, I’d consider him a ‘friend’ rather than an ‘acquaintance’. Incidentally, he occasionally dips is toe in the blogging waters too.
But on the other two counts, we have met. Three of us, girls (ladies) of similar age; similar tastes in TV and literature. We have sporadic but almost regular ‘meet-ups’ (when I’m not living in far flung corners of the world). All because we started chatting randomly on this email list some 15-16 years ago…
Sometimes, well, not so much any more, but I used look at events like ‘Comic Con’ and other fan-centric conventions as being solely the domain of ‘geeks’ and ‘nerds’ … well, they are, I suppose but being one of those is becoming more popular and less … erm… geeky (Don’t ask). And a few years ago, probably wouldn’t have admitted to having any part in ‘internet fandom’ – surely geeking over something online is just as bad as doing it in ‘real-life’. Except, they’re both ingrained now. whatever happens on the internet can so easily be ‘real-life’. And usually is. And, in western society, rarely does anything happen that is not somehow related to the internet, the use of the internet, or else be photographed or written about on the internet.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m grateful to have been there from the early days. Maybe not the very start, but close enough. Before the madness REALLY took hold. What brought this home to me, really, was an older relative, after I showed him how to use his newest smart-phone, asking how I’d learned computer and internet stuff. Because he’d done ‘a computer course’ (and we all know, computer courses aimed at the older generation consist of how to turn the computer on, set up a Hotmail address, send a basic email, use Word and maybe another MS Office program… but even then, I had to show him once how to add a photo as an attachment to an email…). And really, there was ‘an IT room’ in school but we didn’t really delve into I.T. that much…it hadn’t really caught on that much before I left school (am I showing my age now?). I mean, I did a secretarial course, which included word-processing on a ‘computer’ (yup…black screen, green robotic writing…); but the only time we spent in the ‘I.T.’ room was some of the lads drawing rude phallic pictures on ‘Paint’, and using the time to type up essays and print them out.
So, basically, I have DueSouth to thank for my modern take on computer and internet literacy.
Oh, and if you were wondering if I ever worked out who I fancied most out of Sam or Al … Nope. Jury’s still out on that one.
Look, if you’re gonna say “SAM of course” …. maybe it’s just the uniform…