Category: Thoughts

Prom Dress Shopping

Photo by Arsham Haghani on Pexels.com

Suddenly, we find it. The prom dress shop. Right up till that moment, we’re still not sure we’re on the right road, and I for one am completely convinced that we must be wrong. No way would a posh frock shop be situated in such a downbeat place. We’re in the most downtrodden of areas, just outside the bus station. On this pedestrianised stretch, only one shop in every six is still trading. Most are boarded up, desolate and dirty, and despite the day being bright and clear, I’m uncomfortable here. The brightness is that of a grating strip light and the air metallic. People are shabby with eyes downcast.
I still can’t believe my daughter, who had always insisted that she would never attend prom, is dragging me here to a posh frock shop. I also can’t believe how excited she is. She’s been non-stop talking and practically bouncing as she walked.

She bounces even more as we open the door. We’re here because her friend Emma has a Saturday job at the dress shop. Caitlin and Emma aren’t traditional friends, and it is becoming more and more common that friends haven’t met in person. In this case, Caitlin and Emma have met. Ish. It was when we went to see Harry Styles at Manchester Arena. We had been drawing pictures in the air with our phone torches and noticed that another group of three about quarter of a mile across the arena, were copying our actions. Then we copied theirs. We did so for hours, and went home feeling as if we’d communicated in an age-old signalling ritual. That evening, one of the girls posted in Harry Styles fan group that they’d been copying flashing phones across the arena. They told the group where they’d been sitting and where we had been. Caitlin replied. ‘That was us!’. And voila, the online friendship of Emma and Caitlin was born.
The two girls run to each other and hug and talk non-stop. They know each other so well, but have never been in such close proximity. The shop is all bridal dresses on the lower floor, and the furniture metallic and sumptious. Black and silver. White and ivory. Velvet and steel. But Caitlin notices nothing, just shrieks excitedly with her friend.
Emma soon directs us upstairs and we walk up a twisting staircase to the top floor where we were confronted with alien swathes of satin, lurex, taffeta and lycra. Most of the gowns are royal blue, baby blue, peach, beige, red and navy. Three jump out as the freaks in the room: peppermint green, lemon and buttercup yellow. I’m immediately drawn to them as their colours are different though the styles are the same. I wonder where a person would go if they wanted a gown in deep purple or bright orange. Or if they wanted a non-traditional style. Long sleeves. Shorter skirt. High neckline?
While non-stop chattering, Caitlin chooses her first 3 frocks and I am led to a set of bright modern chairs (lime, pink, blue and scarlet) to wait. As I sit, I glance at laminated photos of the various dress styles and effects. They leave me cold, though it’s nice here. I’m happy enough to look at the royal blue carpet with occasional spilled sequin, and to wonder what’s happening behind the matching royal blue curtains with silver sequinned stripe.
The strip lights buzz reassuringly, so I write and wait.
Caitlin and Emma, secreted in the large dressing room, are giggling as if they’ve spent their whole life as best friends. Over this, I occasionally hear the near- whispered conversation of women in the next dressing room. That young woman is apparently a size 4. Size 4! I don’t think my girl was a size 4 even at primary school.
Its incongruous. The staff here dress in navy jeans, navy uniform t-shirts printed with the shop’s logo, and flat white shoes, yet they coax young women into tiny dresses and enormous heels in shades of peach and grey and shiny nude.
Still, I sit and listen as the curtain rustles and ripples and Emma fits Caitlin into the first of five dresses. There are mild noises of cars outside and occasional shouting of drugged up or drunk men, and I feel as if I’m in another, far more privileged world than that of the outside.
The kids now demand so much more elegance than I did at the same age. Tight bodices and floaty skirts. Off the shoulder strips of satin. Fairytale frocks.
I sit and make notes and observations of this alien place with its fleur de lys wallpaper and the clean glowing chrome curtain and clothes rack rails. I turn my head. Next to me on the painted white shelf, is a long bent pin, but it isn’t the pin that catches my eye. It’s a box adorned with pink and white stripes and displaying the product name Nudi Boobies – “Reusable Backless and Strapless Silicone Bra”. It takes me back to the days of working at Transformation in Prestwich when I assisted transvestites with their silicone breasts. There it smelled of old buildings and mildew. But this place doesn’t smell of mildew. It smells of nothing but the lightest of floral perfume.
Maroon 5 come on the shops speakers. Memories. I love this song and sing along which makes the girls giggle a little more.
Caitlin has decided to try dresses only in grey tones. She plans to rainbow colour her hair so wants a simple dress She’s ready to show me the first, and even I feel the sense of anticipation and thrill as the curtains are swept back.
The gown has an off the shoulder, tight fitting bodice and floor length A line skirt. Grey. Not metallic, but silvery blue dove grey with a corset back. It looks lovely on her, its satin drapes and sparkling lace bodice, with lace drifting from below the bodice, weeping organically onto the skirt. I can’t fault the dress and how it fits her.
Caitlin’s second choice is far simpler but looks equally lovely. It is black and silver lurex with a corset back.
Strange how she should choose such tones as she’s such a colourful character. Around me are sumptuous deep cherry red gowns of satin and taffeta, covered in beads reflecting light. My daughter’s usual butch style, her denim coat with blue and white polka dots. 1980s shape. Tan leather, her broken iphone lies on top. Screen cracked in a spider web. Her pink and green charging cord snakes around it.
I’m struggling to see her as a fairy tale princess, yet she is clearly not uncomfortable.
I’m also no princess, and neither do I feel uncomfortable though I’m scruffy here in my oversized jumper, flat laces ups and old jeans.
Now the shop’s stereo is playing disco classics from the 1980s. Wailing ‘Don’t leave me this way’ puts me in a good mood.
Caitlin tries another two pale grey dresses. Neither fits properly around her lower half. We discard them immediately. Her final dress is of a dark teal colour: very slinky with a mermaidy look which was not at all flattering.
With very little discussion, we choose the first dress she’d tried. As she dresses again in her own clothes I hear the girls talk of the corona virus and how there are now quarantined Chinese people being cared for in the Wirral. Strangely, the location of the quarantined Chinese people is round the corner from another of Caitlin’s friends.
We leave after paying the deposit and giving more hugs. Unsurprisingly, my daughter is high as a kite for the remainder of the weekend!

The 'Gypsy' Caravan

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Some weeks ago, just as my personal crisis was reducing to a manageable normality, my friend, Tabitha, informed me that she needed my help in getting rid of her caravan. The storage site was having some issues, and had told her that the caravan needed moving by the end of the month. I told her that I couldn’t really help as I didn’t have a towbar, but our conversation led to my already overactive mind cogs leaping into action.

I thought Tabitha had sold the caravan before she set off on her holiday to Greece, and forgot to ask her about it for a couple of weeks, but when I finally did ask, she admitted that the sale had fallen through. This led me to think even more, and the thinking pattern went like this…

My first novel, Past Present Tense (published under the name of Lesley Atherton, and now republished as Finding Dad by Meredith Schumann) was primarily about hoarding, but a subplot was about alternative life, and time spent in a caravan. My second novel, The Waggon, is basically set almost entirely within the setting of a traditional gypsy waggon.

So, my thinking was that
1) I could acquire Tabitha’s caravan and pay someone to transport it to my driveway.
2) I could use a lot of my creativity (at that time, deeply frustrated) in updating the inside of the caravan by doing a lot of sewing and painting (two of my favourite things).
3) I could get someone (possibly my daughter) to spray paint the outside of the caravan in the style of a gypsy caravan.
4) I could set up the inside and an awning to be a kind of shop for the crafts that we make, and we could travel to events and festivals, selling stuff and running workshops etc.
5) I could get someone to signpaint text on the rear and side of the caravan, in order to promote the two novels which mention caravans.

I believed I might get the therapy I needed from all the making and painting, and would also end up with a useable promotional tool, a potential working space (writing room or craftervan), a potential holiday home for me, and a potential holiday home for others (a decent money earner, according to my friends) should l need any of these things in the future.

So, I acquired the caravan. It had a flat tyre, but I was able to get hold of a local guy on Facebook who was willing to transport it half a mile to my driveway, for a small consideration. It arrived, and then the work began. Being of a creative attitude, rather than possessing an engineering state of mind, I began with the bits that I could see, rather than the hidden bits. My thinking was that I would enjoy the caravan space far more if it looked and felt good.

First of all, I pillaged my secret DIY space (behind the fridge and freezer) and scooted around for some spare paint in interesting colours. My first task was to remove most of the curtain fittings (not the pelmets) then to get painting. So, in vinyl silk throughout (as recommended by many caravan adaptation websites) I began painting the ceiling a deep, dusky pink, the walls of the living area a paler grey-pink, and the walls of the kitchen area a funky blue. Once this was done, I began on the soft furnishings.

I bought thousands of metres of a subtle ethnic stripe fabric in shades of red, gold and green, and covered each of the seats. The rear of the backrest cushion was also trimmed with an ethnic tapestry design. Then, the four weirdly shaped armrests were upholstered with a funky green wool fabric, with fancy trim. I’ve had the fabric for many years, and had never found a use for it! After that, I made seven cushions, some with printed panels of a gypsy fortune teller, or gypsy dancers. I also mended three rag dolls (the two largest made by a friend of my mum’s and the smallest a Holly Hobbie doll I found in a charity shop’s 10p bin).

After that, it was curtain time. I used the same fabric as the seat covers, but trimmed it with lots of ribbons, braid and black cotton lace that I’d acquired over the years. I then made the pelmet covers from the most expensive of all the fabrics I’d purchased (£12.99 a metre!), and created the net curtains for the kitchen window, and long drapes separating the bed area from the kitchen area. These aren’t ordinary nets – they are embroidered with red and yellow flowers in a Jacobean style. I’ve still to make the curtain tie backs. I purchased braid online for them as I couldn’t find anything nice locally, but only then did I realise it would take 2 months to arrive as it was coming from Hong Kong.

The kitchen, being a brighter area than the more subtle sleeping/living area, was given a set of rainbow stripe curtains. Lovely. And, while I’m in the kitchen, I managed to get hold of a lot of bargeware and brightly coloured items. They fit in beautifully, including pans and a kettle, storage pots and tins. Then, using rugs pinched from my house – red fur and a circular rag rug – I laid the floor and was set up. I began to move things in – cutlery, plastic pots, toiletries in tiny bottles, some of my home made items for the craft shop, a television and DVD player, some brightly coloured plastic plants, lanterns and candles, books, and a few rapidly dwindling snack items. I even moved in my wooden parrot and my painted African four string oilcan guitar, and they look amazing!

I was then ready for the next step, and painted the cupboards a fantastic combination of forest green and ruby red. I’m still in the process of doing this, and absolutely love how homely it looks. A cross between a caravan, a narrowboat and a gypsy caravan. Now, I want to buy a bigger and more powerful car so I can get the caravan out on the road, but before I do anything like that, I have to get the outside of the caravan sorted.

My idea of painting the caravan’s exterior in the style of a gypsy caravan has been taken on board by my daughter who says she’ll do all the painting and design work in exchange for a new mobile phone. OK, I said, so that’s in the design stages at the moment, which is fantasic.

So, that’s the story of my caravan. I’m writing in it at the moment, and it is a lovely work space with muted lighting, and is peaceful most of the time. My recommendation, for anyone who is creative and is going through a dark time – find yourself a project. A big, but deadline-free project seems ideal to me. Give yourself no pressure, but do give yourself as much ambition and enjoyment as you can manage at any time. The caravan has been the saving of me, and for that I am very thankful!

#meredithschumann #author #authors #thoughts #gypsy #gipsy #caravan #wagon #waggon #thewaggon #project

What I Fear

Photo by Soumya Ranjan on Pexels.com

A strangely structures circular prose poem.

What I fear about FOOTBALL is the obsession with BALLS.
What I loathe about BALLS is the sheer bloody MACHISMO.
What I dislike about MACHISMO is EVERYTHING there is.
What I object to about EVERYTHING is its overwhelming BIGNESS
I don’t like BIGNESS because it makes me feel SMALL.
I don’t want to feel SMALL because I’m not UNIMPORTANT.
I hate feeling UNIMPORTANT because NOBODY is.
I’m unhappy about NOBODIES because the term is so INSULTing.
I hate INSULTS when they scorn the WEAK.
I fear for the WEAK who may well fail at SPORT.
I totally despite SPORT because it attracts CROWDS.
I don’t like CROWDS because they follow the PACK MENTALITY.
And I am scared of the PACK MENTALITY, especially when it relates to FOOTBALL.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #poem #poetry #football

Capybara

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The zoo was too small and looked underfunded. Scruffy, even. And, to a person who is very torn about the whole issue of keeping animals in captivity, it hadn’t been my first choice for a day out. Still, we were on holiday, we were in a remote area, and there weren’t a huge number of other options for tourists. So, combined with the undoubted strength of ‘pester power’, the zoo it was.

We’d already encountered a few weird and wonderful creatures. The lemurs had been so close to us as they sat cross legged on the inner window ledge of their enclosure. At one point, eight were sat staring at us, but the core number was two. The same two. One was clearly a mum, and one her baby… The mum picked at her baby’s fur, and the baby fidgeted. It was an image of domestic bliss, till another lemur began to poke the mother in the eye. I hoped that the baby wouldn’t learn this abusive behaviour from its older enclosure mate, especially as the mother lemur seemed to allow the abuse. She didn’t retaliate, vocally protest or even move away. I was reminded of myself – not long out of an emotionally abusive relationship – and I shivered in distaste.

The zoo’s selection of monkeys was a small one, and we quickly tired of the bullying lemur, so moved on to the next section where a red panda, curled into a ball, was asleep atop a modified dovecote. We all agreed that the red panda was cute, though boring, but just as we began to move away, we saw the panda’s legs twitch and it rolled towards the edge of the dovecote. The red panda was no longer boring as it plummeted to the ground, limbs outsplayed, and landed on the muddy grass, seemingly unharmed.

Not having learnt its lesson, it climbed on the network of ropes to position itself back on the dovecote once again. It rolled into a ball and, presumably, fell straight to sleep. I found myself wondering how many times each day this might happen to the red panda, and, even, if it chose to fall for attention, or even to provide us with a more interesting floorshow. I remembered a young prairie wolf cub we’d watched at another animal park. It had a ball playing up to the cameras of excited onlookers. While its brothers and sisters hovered around the wooded area in the middle of their compound, surrounded by the shelter of undergrowth and their pack, one little wolf had decided that people were more fun. People would provide it with interest, so it would provide us with interest in return. It was the sweetest thing – the way it acted just like a domestic puppy, rushing round, doing zoomies, waiting for us, jumping off a branch and pretending to fall off.

The red panda fell again, and we soon grew bored. I hoped it had company in the shed at the back of its enclosure as I hated the through of it being alone. As I looked around, it became obvious that it could easily have roamed free throughout the zoo, and given there were no predatory creatures there, I reckoned it would be safe enough. But it chose to remain where it was, stumbling and getting back up to provide momentary amusement to passing humans. So, I guessed, partner or no partner, it was happy with its lot. I was glad of that.

The lack of a map (nobody had picked one up) meant that we were wandering erratically from one area to the other, and were unsure of what we’d encounter next. But when we turned the corner from the red panda, we moved into something that was clearly a different form of habitat altogether. There was nothing fencing the animals in and separating them from the human visitors. All we could see was a huge, grassy and muddy field, which surrounded a central large pool. Around the edges of the field were trees and hedges and huge beds of straw, but there were no creatures to be seen.

Our first thought was that this was a bird area and that the birds were perhaps wildfowl or of the kind that spent certain hours of the day elsewhere off-site. We thought no more of it and prepared to follow the path to the next mystery area when suddenly we noticed something weird. It seemed that a creature was emerging from the pool, and it wasn’t large enough to be a hippo. Still, it was large enough, and bulky too, with a solid body and skinny legs. It must have been completely submerged till that point.

My heart almost burst with delight, and I said out loud. ‘Capybara, my favourite animal in the world. It’s a capybara.’ It was indeed a capybara, basically an enormous brown guinea pig. I immediately squatted down and held out my hands to this drenched yet still-muddy creature, which shook itself as soon as it was fully clear of the pond. I smiled encouragingly, and was so happy when I realised it noticed me. ‘Come here, cappy,’ I pleaded. But the magnificent capybara turned away from me with what looked like a shrug. I wanted to hug it. I wanted to take it home. But all the capybara wanted was to rest itself post-bathe in the hay strewn sunny corner of its field. I got up, feeling stupid, and the capybara sprinted away. Still, I’d seen one, and that was what mattered.

A moment of joy. A moment of sheer happiness that I’d encountered my favourite animal, in the flesh. And a moment of realisation that I would never mean the same to it, as it did to me.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #zoo #flashfiction #capybara

There's More Than One Way To Bin Your Kin

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Daphne was driven. The life she’d been given
Was clearly no better than bad.
Her husband, a user, a nightmare, a loser.
And she knew that she’d surely been had.

What reason was there, for his ripped underwear?
For his stubble, his hairpiece, his scowl?
And how might he explain his pretences of pain
When presented with spade or with trowel?

If his body was lazy, his mind it was too,
He lived in a permanent mist
Of smoking and drinking and drug-addled thinking.
Of his vices… she’d written a list!

Of how he would curse, in the car it was worst,
Of how he would hate and berate her.
And then he would calm, say ‘I’m sorry, no harm’
And take it all out on her later.

Oh, but how he relied. And how she had cried,
When again he demanded her wages.
She screamed ‘It’s abuse’, but still couldn’t refuse,
For fear of his terrible rages.

On Friday she planted a kiss on his cheek.
She said, ‘See you later, okay?’.
‘Whatever,’ he said. That’s when she wished him dead.
Cos he didn’t care, he had nothing to say and she knew that he’d always
Keep acting that way.

It was all about him, how he’d gain, how he’d win.
It was all about what he could get.
He exploited her caring with his own brand of sharing
A minefield of doubt and of debt.

She lay in the bath, contemplating her wrath,
And thinking of what she might do.
She came up with a ruse for her crime without clues.
And was sure what she needed to do.

She would get her revenge, she would seek out new friends.
She’d prevent her life plunging to hell.
She would simply say ‘Bye’ to the hate of her life
And leave him to fend for himself.

Inspired by Paul Simon’s ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’

#meredithschumann #author #authors #poem #poetry #revenge #paulsimon

True Crime Detection

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Written for one of my writing groups…

This group is crammed with poets; accomplished and expressive writers who create in their preferred format, often carrying out the impossible task of producing more than one fantastic and competent piece per session. The talent and competence of these poets regularly takes my breath away, but I know I will never be able to join their ranks. As you will be aware from listening to my readings over the months, I am naturally wordy and longwinded, and therefore best suited to being a writer of prose. I have my skills and talents, but poetically succinct expression and short, sharp sentences don’t come easily.

So, I thought I’d share with you the sentiments of what my poem was hoping to express. My intention was to explore the dynamics of detective work in the dramas I watch the most. I wanted to explain that solving crimes is dependent on the work of skilled men and women and that the more experience these detectives have, the more chances there are of the crime being solved. This is where my problems begin. I wanted to begin my poem with the line ‘It all comes down to history. That’s how they solve the mystery’. It rhymes and says what I wanted it to say, but it’s clunky and juvenile, like a song lyric that 10 year olds might compose. Or it could even have been a rap. ‘It all comes down to history. That’s how they solve the mystery.’ Yes, that’s it. It’s a pathetic little rap lyric. Nothing more.

But I wanted to extend my explanation. I wanted to clarify that the mysteries were those ‘Of criminal urges. Intangible surges, Adrenaline rushes, and trilling wire pushes’. There’s a nice rhythm to the words, and I like the way they all sound together. But I couldn’t fit them in as they needed an explanatory first line which would serve the purpose of informing the listener that the lines related to forensic methods and inspiration.

I carried on by writing ‘Detectives think over the crime,’ and genuinely couldn’t find a good way of introducing the idea of fingerprint patterns, DNA testing, and many of the other chemical processes that prove or deny the presence of certain substances within a test sample. So I wrote ‘Detection test fizzes, the rages, the steams it fazes. Wire in the blood. Theoretical stuff. Genetic kinks. Unforseen links’. Not quite a clickety clack rhythm, but also neither flowing nor easily understood. I clearly am unable to master the skill of explaining without the provision of an introductory explanation. Which, of course, renders the entire subsequent poem pointless.

Also, in this poem I almost created, I wanted to explain how the detective drama, ‘Wire in the Blood’ uses as its title, a phrase from TS Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’. As so… ‘The trilling wire in the blood / sings below inveterate scars / appeasing long-forgotten wars’. Apparently the star of this drama, Robson Green, believed it was intended to refer to a genetic kink. Such a kink was impure and unusual and of the kind that leads to the form of psychosis that the psychologist, Dr Tony Hill might deal with. Interesting, though Val McDermid believes something different – that the phrase ‘wire in the blood’ was ‘a metaphor for the thrill of adrenaline surging through the bloodstream’.

So, not only would my hoped-for poem, in tribute to many of the detective greats, have talked of ‘Partnership drinks. Encouragements to think,’ it would have ended, just because I liked it, with the line ‘Might, Flight, Sight and Spite’. I’m guessing that this must be a fairly standard poet’s problem, but how annoying when you come up with something that feels right and sounds right, but doesn’t fit at all. Especially when it is your entire poem that does this.

I do not write good poetry. I do not even write barely competent poetry. What I write is inexplicably shortened prose, and tiny strings of rhyming words.

So, I’m sorry that I couldn’t fulfil the homework mission set for us all this week, but felt the need to relate to you all my attempts at work in progress. I didn’t want to simply say that I had tried yet failed. But it was the truth. Anyway, at least I tried.

#author #truecrime #detective #crime #shortstory #shortstories #meredithschumann #fiction #authors

Inviting Facebook Scams

The online life can be quite an adventure of discovery. Recently, I set up a Facebook page and account under my new author name, Meredith Schumann. I don’t much like social media, but it seems to be an essential tool nowadays for author promotion and integration. As I wanted to keep my personal and author accounts separate, I decided to add Meredith’s account to various writing groups, and to make an occasional post within those groups, suffixed by the words ‘Feel free to add me as a friend’.
I wouldn’t usually be so free with my friendship but was conscious that I was starting from point zero, and I needed to have SOME friends to be accepted as a member of some of the more particular groups.

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At first, things were quiet, but then a couple came through. What to do with a random friend request can be a bit of a grey area, and, yes, for me a few friend requests appeared that didn’t seem quite right. I deleted most as obvious spam, but then I thought, what harm can one new friend do?
As I said, it’s useful to have a few Facebook friends, even on a brand new account, as it gives more of an impression of authenticity.

So, I accepted one request, just to see what happened. And from this (shock horror) there appeared another 500 auto-generated requests from another 500 men that I don’t know. Not a single woman! Most of these profiles indicated males that were from Nigeria, the far East, Arabian countries and the US. Almost all had bland and impersonal profiles and would send bland and impersonal messages.

I’m no scam victim; I’m just a person interested in how the scammers work, what the ‘friendly guys’ had to say, and how their messages aligned with their profiles.

I didn’t make a note of the first fifty messages I received as I was busy with other stuff. But the contacts seemed to be triggered by my logging into Facebook, and they occurred despite my profile clearly stating that I would only respond to messages about writing and books.

The men’s words indicate that they are either not reading my instructions or that their silly little messages are automated. OK, so let’s go. I’m logging on now.

The messages are so bland and NOT writing-related. You are so pretty today. What are you doing? Hello. Hello? Hi? You There? Hey! How You Pretty Lady! And I looking for nice England lady for marry.

The ‘people’ who are messaging don’t look much like my usual friends, though it isn’t always easy to tell. Iyobor has a bike frame as his profile. Innocent seems about 12 and asks if I had a good day at work. Egonu wears a basketball shirt, is from Nigeria, and without my responding to anything he says, informs me that he longs to travel and that he ‘likes big woman’. Ozzy’s profile photo is a nondescript bowl of something unappetising. You can tell it must be food because there is a spoon balanced on the side of the dish.

Oddly (and cynically) I notice that Ozzy’s only friends are also friends with me! Gosh, what an incredible coincidence. We aren’t members of the same groups, and yet from across the globe, I have acquired non-friends of non-friends. I am such a lucky lady.

Donald Smith from Indonesia has a profile picture that shows a very young Asian man holding a cute dog. I delete him as soon as he messages me. I have nothing against Indonesians nor tiny dogs. I do have something against a stranger who informs me that he plans to travel to the UK and that I (not he) would like to meet up. It is the most presumptuous statement!
Henry’s profile picture is of a cute black baby, but I delete him as soon as he tells me he is looking for beautiful woman. One of his friends claims to like guns, and he is also instantly deleted. Uchenna and Ogun say Hi and Hey. Capo says Hello, and so do Iyobor and Kelechi. Gosh, I’m utterly overstimulated and can’t keep up with their incredible witty banter. The latter’s profile picture is dull purple with what looks like a very tiny guy peeping onto the bottom of the photo. I think he’s trying to be cute and quirky, but he just seems as if his photo studio stool is far too small.
After each contact, I delete the sender as a friend, though I respect their astonishing inventiveness and inspirational literacy.

Over a couple of weeks, I also receive fourteen video calls. I ignore all fourteen. I don’t even always answer the phone to people I love, and I HATE video calls. One example was when little Uchenna (who looks about 20) tried to video chat me at midnight. I was asleep, but he was persistent. ‘Hello beautiful, good morning over there, how are you doing over there?’ No punctuation or capitals and wow, I was seduced. Really, I was.
Contacts continued for a couple of weeks. I was deleting everyone who messaged me about anything that wasn’t writing-related, and I lost a couple of hundred so-called friends. I was gutted, of course, to have mislaid such precious life-companions, but it genuinely couldn’t have been helped.

I must resign myself to ignoring every one of these auto-generated unreal characters, and watching their numbers reduce day by day. I look forward to the day when one (just ONE) of these genuine ‘friends’ decide to converse about books or words.

#meredithschumann #facebook #scam #scammers #facebookscam

Review of Ivan Campo at the Harris on 14th February 2020

Have you ever walked into a gig and felt calm and inspired, even before the music begins? Even when you’re an ancient prog-folk-rocker like me, and even before you’ve sat down? Well, that’s what happened when I went to see Ivan Campo at Preston’s Harris Art Gallery on Valentines Day 2020.

Firstly, the location was gorgeous. I’ve been to the Harris many times before but never to an event, so my assumption was that the concert would be held in a suite deep within the building: somewhere dull and bland with flat acoustics and plenty of audience space. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we arrived, the band were setting up in the space just behind the lobby’s glass doors. In front of the small stage we could see a chic collection of bistro style chairs and tables.

It was then that I realised this was to be an intimate gig of maybe 50 attendees, yet the space was vertically massive. The ‘concert hall’ was three storeys high, and the band’s tuning-up sounds floated around the tables and up, through the art galleries, into the stunning ceiling cavity. When the doors opened, we accepted a free glass of Prosecco, then sat ourselves directly in front of the stage.

Ivan Campo has a seemingly simple set up: Adam on lead vocals and guitar, Will on keyboard, guitars, backing vocals and glockenspiel, and Ben on guitars, bass, percussion, clarinet and backing vocals. But Ivan Campo’s sound is anything but simple. Of course, they utilise many elements of folk music, particularly in the vocal harmonies, but the band exhibit elements of pop and choral music too, as the band’s musical influences are multiple and complex.

Each person listening to their music would be aware of different influences, but I found myself hearing Nick Drake, early Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, The Beatles, The Trees, Mellow Candle and even early Genesis. I even detected elements of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, though these are rare! In ‘Darling Diva’ , there’s definitely a Bonzo feeling to the enunciation and of the verses in particular, and with its near-muted backing voices, the lead voice floats.Whatever their influences, Ivan Campo’s musical talents blend together in a cohesive whirl of gorgeous sounds.

I didn’t stop smiling the entire time, as watching and listening to Ivan Campo transcended pleasure and became unaccustomed joy. Yes, it was certainly connected with the quality of the musical performance, but also with the music’s feel. It exuded positivity and optimism – particularly ‘The Bloodhound and the Fox’ with its gentle organ sound and powerful lyrics, and in the bouncy harmonies of ‘Roll On’ with its staccato guitar and enticing foot-tapping rhythm.

This gig showcased some great music that moved between genres. ‘Forgetful Fredrick’ had a great reggae/calypso sound with its snappy, syncopated guitar and jolly glockenspiel. Incidentally, the whistling in this and in other tunes is an unexpected pleasure that’s simple but so effective. More jolliness arises in ‘Lotus Eater’ – a feel-good song with an early-Beatles skiffle feel, that changes to The Everly Brothers when they sing ‘Every day, gets a little stronger’. Taking a totally different tack, ‘A Chancer’ incorporates reggae-sounding rhythm guitar and a gorgeous lead guitar in this understated piece. Taking another direction, ‘Roller Disco’ tells of waking up in 1959 wanting to go to a roller disco. With its delightful hand shaker, doo-wop backing vocals sound and bass, it is funny, sweet and very feel-good. Weirdly, ‘Local Dealer’s catchy piano reminds me of Billy Bragg’s ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forward’!

Ivan Campo have a wonderful percussive sound, especially as there is no drum kit. Everything is percussive! Consider ‘Season of the King’ with its gorgeous, rolling piano and motifs, with a tune that particularly suits Adam’s voice, and is brought into another dimension with the clicked-fingers percussion, shakers and syncopated rhythms. Also, in ‘The Mirror’ , amidst the gorgeous seemingly-complex harmonies of a tune that seems too pure to have arisen in our cynical times, the timings are satisfying and tight, assisted by sonorous clarinet notes and the clicking of clarinet keys for percussive effect.

The harmonies and the way the voices merge together are just mild-melting. In ‘The B&B’ the lyrics are great ‘ I know I’ll survive only if I try’, ‘A real reverie.’. ‘Wouldn’t you agree?’ ‘Was it all just a dream?’ My particular favourite part is the ‘It’s difficult. Impossible to see.’ There’s something astonishing about how those harmonies are delivered and how the words are articulated with a beautiful use of silence. In ‘Invisible Man’, the simple effective guitar picking is topped with almost-whispered singing of ethereal harmonies, and the simplest of keyboard accompaniments. ‘Crome Yellow’ presents us with such a Kinks-like feel at the beginning (Kinks but darker), with rich folk harmonies, and syncopated rhythm guitar. In ‘One Minute War’, the articulation of the word ‘Suddenly’ is gorgeous.

Not every band is able to use sparsity to the best effect, but Ivan Campo does. They use a chugging guitar sound on ‘Hurricane Ivan’ to start, and this is reflected by the singing style. As the song progresses, the tune becomes more lyrical, though the sparseness of the arrangement is effective. In ‘Blind Spot’ the harmonies and lyrics are exceptional especially on the lead up to the chorus. Even the chorus is pretty sparse, but so beautiful as a result.

It’s as if the band has fully orchestrated, then stripped right down to only what was essential.

And it is this musical self-awareness that made the band so special. These guys were not afraid of using their instruments and voices unpretentiously. ‘Liquor Mountain’ was sweet and reminiscent of something in the long ago past, and ‘Obscene Dream’ was glorious with its descending and ascending sweetness, and of silence. And again, reminiscent of a time gone by with its gentle, almost-whispered singing, ‘Rat Race’ begins in the manner of one of those brilliant busking tunes that cheers you as you walk past. But soon it becomes a hush little baby style version of something Beatles-like. How could such a thing be described in mere words? In ‘Could the Devil be a Gentleman’ I was instantly reminded of the Orkney and Shetland folk I adored in my teen years. I love the clarity of the fingerpicked guitar and the sound of the voices, especially the line ‘By the thoughts of a restless day’ which gives me tummyache and brings tears to my eyes.

This was one of the best gigs I have ever attended. Perhaps the best.

Acoustic music is often considered to have less breadth and depth. Not so. Of course, the grandeur and echo-chamber effects of the venue added to the atmosphere. But it was all about the band and their pure music. I purchased Purchased four Ivan Campo EPs on my way out – and have been listening to them ever since. This will definitely not be my final Campo gig.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #review #reviews #ivancampomusic #prestonharris #harris

Darkness.Chill.Silence.Bliss

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Summer isn’t ice-cream and beaches. Not to me.

The summer forces windows wide, admitting birdsong, creaking gates, the whirring of mowers, the madness of hedge trimmers, and the rhythmic cawing of noisy birds.

Neighbourhood children add to this with shouts, as do their mothers, while the grinding, grating power tools amplify their white noise backing track.

The skies are bland and blue, adorned with swathes of dove-grey clouds.

We wake early and retire late, and doze through the heat of the day, to be wakened by the ‘Greensleeves’ of the ice cream van.

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Houses remain empty while gardens fill with barbecue smoke and the snuffles of meat-obsessed canines.

But, to me, summer’s not ice-cream and beaches.

Neither are the darker months merely times pre- and post- the manic expectancy of Christmas; the craziness of shops, the worries of the poor and the extravagance of the rich.

It’s more than that.

Winter brings its own silent, deafening beauty and the comforting sounds of rain and wind.

Summer’s muggy blankness is a barrier of brightness.  

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Yet I’m drawn into winter skies; as tangibly solid and grey as my bed sheet. Winter rises late and snuggles down early in duvets that wrap us in their womblike comfort, while streets echo with cloistered emptiness.

I celebrate the differences of our seasonal extremes, but winter’s majesty, winter’s peace and winter’s rest are the introvert’s perfect backdrop.

Winter’s chill factor warms and energises my soul.

And autumn is a welcome transition.

Only five months more…

#lesleyatherton, #summer, #winter, #scottmartinproductions