Shropshire in the Sun

It was a bank holiday and we went out exploring a nearby Medieval castle and a village little changed since the industrial revolution. With the wedding nearly two months behind us, we’re still taking advantage of the free things to do around the Midlands for an unusual day out, to enjoy the tranquil lull after four months of non-stop running. As we explored the castle, and wandered along the river with our ice-creams, I remembered my childhood visiting French castles and tiny northern villages, and realised I’ve always been a daydreamer, walking carefully and inventing stories in my head :

This room might have been a drawing room, or an armoury, there were no battles fought here but imagine the nobleman wishing he could prove his might over this area. The King came here, maybe he made some important decisions here, right here leaning against this wall in all its glory with tapestries and candles, with a burning fire and gazing pensively out this window at the valley surrounding the manor, the same valley that surrounds us seven hundred years later when all that’s left is a tangle of stones and stories and imagination…

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Acton Burnell and Ironbridge

These old track ways, leading up to the door of what is now the tourist information office – once used for transporting goods from the bank of the river to the warehouse. Now that I work in logistics I think of the money that changed hands, the deals that were made, shouting and running – businessmen with their warm coats overseeing the commerce. A tender of rolled cloth is unloaded from a barge, it reaches the shore and positions itself within the ruts carved in the stone floor. Setting off a loose cutting falls and gets caught in the wheel, the whole tender spills out back into the river, ruining its load. The worker pushing the cart is fired on the spot, a valuable consignment from China is ruined, he walks the two miles home to his family of six children not knowing how he’ll feed them tonight…

Written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Tangle

Acton Burnell Castle is cared for by English Heritage and is free to enter

Ironbridge Gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, looked after by English Heritage and free to explore

Birmingham : Europe’s No-Go Zone

This is the most hilarious thing on the internet in a long time, once I got over the shock. Steve Emerson of Fox News has stated that there are officially a number no-go zones in Europe, in particular – Birmingham. Apparently the non-Muslims that live in Birmingham are living their lives in fear. Well I tell you now from Europe’s no-go zone, that Fox News has broadcast complete and utter bollocks.

As a lot of my readers may have heard or seen this story I need to tell you, I feel more uneasy when the British National Party are out in force than when I see a student wearing a hijab, or a young man in a thobe on his way home from the mosque. There may be some areas, Small Heath or Spark Hill for instance where the Muslim population is much higher than other ethnicities, but it doesn’t make people avoid it. I was chatting with my Daniel about whether everyday Muslims (the non-extremists) are fearful now of people saying things in the street, I bristle when I think about it.

It’s true that when you leave your house you could be in uncountable states of danger, from falling down the stairs to a car accident to a random armed robbery. Now as a white woman – living and working in Birmingham – being a victim of Muslim extremism is more or less the last thing on my mind when I get in the car to go to work, or when I pop down to Tescoes for tomatoes.

I really fail to understand where this “terrorism expert” got his information – religious police patrolling some areas of London, areas of Western Europe are closed off completely due to Muslim extremism? Well, the Brummies and Brits of the internet have at least had some fun with it, and some of these are hilarious. All courtesy of Buzzfeed News, I especially love the cricket player guarding the gates!

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Apology from Steven Emerson

Silly Steve Emerson has since apologised very publically and he seems genuinely ashamed, and to make amends he is now planning to make a donation to Birmingham Children’s Hospital. But as there are a lot of people out there that will just blindly believe him, please feel free to sign this petition to ask him to put it right on TV :

https://www.change.org/p/fox-news-on-air-apology-to-the-people-of-birmingham-uk-for-saying-non-muslims-can-not-enter-our-beloved-multi-cultural-city?just_created=true

#JeSuisCharlie

Yesterday morning the deadliest terror attack seen in France happened quietly in the suburbs of Paris. Three gunmen forced entry into the headquarters of satirical publication Charlie Hébdo, and launched fire, killing twelve people in the name of Islam. The magazine had just moments before, published on Twitter a cartoon appearing to poke fun at the Prophet Mohammed.

Not a stranger to violence sparked by its content and satirical view on the world, Charlie Hébdo’s current incarnation has been the target for Islamist wrath since 1992. In 2006 a copy-cat article following the Danish satirical cartoons apparently mocking the Prophet Mohammed, ended with a court case and the then-President Chirac warned them to be more careful. Satire and freedom of expression are two immensely French values, so this did not stop Charlie Hébdo. As reported by the BBC at the time, an issue renamed Charia Hébdo, guest edited by the Prophet Mohammed himself, sparked fury among the Muslim community, leading to fire-bombing and hacking of their website.

 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali of The Daily Beast brings a very powerful question to the forefront of this saga : “The questions going through my mind are: How on earth are there Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers in the heart of Paris? How did they get it in there? You think it’s only these three guys? There’s a whole network. There are a lot of people hiding weapons…”

Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, are brothers, the main suspects and still at large in the streets of Paris. Both were investigated on terror charges in 2010. A third suspect, a boy of 18 turned himself in overnight. “Two witnesses outside the Charlie Hebdo office building quoted the Kouachi brothers claiming they were members of al Qaeda. Security experts have suggested the brothers must have had some kind of military or weapons training in order to have carried out the attacks with such an air of professionalism. One police officier was cooly dispatched as he lay wounded on the sidewalk. Ten members of Charlie Hebdo staff were reportedly assassinated after being asked for by name

The brothers were well known with links to French terror networks Buttes-Chaumont, which in turn link to worldwide organisations, Newsweek has a very interesting read on this network of jihadi training in France, and their threat in Europe.

 

 

The hashtag that followed #JesuisCharlie, stands in solidarity with those killed and threatened while enjoying and employing one of the most fundamental human rights : Freedom of Expression. Social media was flooded with photographs of journalists taking cover on the roof, relief efforts of the medical services, and the gunmen casually walking towards their getaway car. Paris congregated in silent vigil to remember the ten journalists and two police officers that lost their lives yesterday morning. “I’ve seen today the images of the sea of faces in European capitals holding placards saying “I am Charlie Hebdo.” That is beautiful and it’s the perfect thing to do. Tomorrow they should hold placards of the cartoons Charlie Hebdo had printed. Asserting our right to free speech is the only to ensure that 12 people did not die in vain. – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (The Daily Beast).

Tonight Birmingham joined together in solidarity, a massive thank you goes out to Zoé Pelletier for organising the beautiful vigil in Victoria Square, and poignant remembrance outside the Library of Birmingham, the most fitting place for the event. People joined and held placards, with chants of “On n’a pas peur! We are not afraid” and the French national anthem.

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#JesuisCharlie Birmingham

We remember that while France is in mourning today, all of the Western democratic world is in mourning for all these attacks, 9/11, the London bombings, Atocha… But it’s France to whom we need to turn our attention, we must remember there are twelve families that have lost loved ones, two employers that have lost precious colleagues, and two industries that are grieving the loss of twelve exemplary profiles. Britain and Germany stand united : Mr Cameron told MPs: “This House and this country stand united with the French people in our opposition to all forms of terrorism, and we stand squarely for free speech and democracy. These people will never be able to take us off those values.”, Mrs Merkel said: “In this very desperate hour, we stand by the French people. We stand up for the freedom of the press in such a resolute way as for the other basic freedoms that we hold dear in all of our countries.” The USA tends to take a leading stance in condemning world violence, and having previously been critical of Charlie Hébdo during their last brush with Islamist militants following a  similar publication in 2012, they are today wholeheartedly supporting the freedom of expression they represent.

In a France where revolutionary values of Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité are threatened, one of the great European powers, the people are mourning and in shock of the events in Rue Meaux yesterday morning. My small opinion, is that all the legally enforced freedoms in the world cannot protect you from the select few that take offence. Those poor journalists did set out to provoke a reaction, I think there is no doubting that, but there’s a big difference in knowing your audience, those that will grumble quietly between themselves and the extremists that will act on their fury.

It reminds us that we are not immune, here in our lofty European bubble, we are not the Middle East, or North Africa, we are not Latin America or South Asia, we are affluent and politically stable by those standards, we think it will never happen to us. Corruption and abuse are rife in those countries where we thought we knew better – the heritance of empire is this politically charged society, militants and pacifists, all trying to live and express themselves and a world that won’t always listen.

Read more here : Le Monde, BBC, The Independent, Buzzfeed, Reason.blog, The Daily Beast, Medical Daily , The Guardian, Le Figaro, Charlie Hébdo

Back to School at 31

Running across the road in the dark in my red suede high heels I know I’m going to be late. I’ve started wearing high heels to work again, at least these are comfortable so I can run. I hurriedly swipe my card at the turnstile glancing at the clock above the canteen and realise I’m ok, the time in my car is wrong. I know it’s wrong but I’m one of these people that needs to be early – it’s a compulsion. Slowing to a confident walk I hop up the stairs to the corridor where my classroom is, a messy ponytail bobbing along behind me, and flicking the fringe out of my eyes as I see my classmates waiting at the end of the corridor. I’m still here before the tutor, the room is still locked.

We’ve both taken classes, after watching back-to-back episodes of the latest Modern Family box-set we realised that we watch a lot of TV. So we got out the Birmingham Adult Education Service catalogue that’s delivered to every house in the city at this time of year, and chose something to do to develop ourselves outside of work. Daniel is taking Italian in the city centre, he already speaks it a bit so it’s more of a revision to lose that rustiness that comes with lack of practice. I’ve chosen Creative Writing, it’s something I really enjoyed as a child and I thought it would be useful for my Chilanga experience.

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Student again…

 

There’s a big mix of ages and backgrounds in the class so it’s always interesting to hear people’s work, and their critiques on other people’s. For some people it comes easily, for others it’s hard to be creative on demand, they need a little longer to formulate an idea before committing it to paper. We’ve had stories about a lost guinea-pig, a woman running a circus single-handedly, and a man that severs his finger but ends up growing human limbs in the soil on an industrial scale. I seem to wave between two styles of writing, one of these is quite essay-based, the other is very much “train-of-thought”. In the creative challenge at the start of the class it’s “train of thought”, over a short space of time, a window into just a few minutes of someone’s life.

Winding back fifteen or even twenty years, at school we were put into different ability groups for the core subjects, I was in the top class for most of them. Spanish out of three, Science was five, and amazingly in Maths I was in Set 1 out of 10! The only fly in the ointment was English, I could never get up to that top set, stuck for five years in Set 2. I still enjoyed creating stories and curiously, they were mainly based in ghosts. I was really into the Point Horror series, the ghosty stories rather than the murder stories. I flirted with Point Romance, which fulfilled a teenage-discovering-myself-slash-romance-slash-physical-intimacy phase, but I always came back to the horror. Even now I can’t read a romancey chick-lit book, I need more substance than the good old will-they-won’t-they. Ghost stories always opened up a realm of impossibility where the impossible did happen. I like to think it was a precursor to my now enjoying more magical realism, or some other seemingly impossible crime or situation that seems completely normal in the novel.

Back to Thursday evenings, I’ve been told I write angrily – that it’s just ranting rather than an interesting story or succinct prose that follows a set formula. I tell myself that I’m out of practice, that years of writing factual essays and professional e-mails and reports have broken away my creativity. But Chilanga : Exported has been going for nearly two years, with a reasonable readership for what I want so there must be something left in my heart. I need to crack that anger, maybe the frustration of losing my creativity is manifesting itself in the very writing I’m creating. Crack it, Katherine…

Where do you draw your ideas for your posts? Are you naturally creative? How do you keep your mind creative?

How to Use the New York Subway

We had few days in New York earlier this year, and then a wedding in Connecticut (that in my head I can’t stop pronouncing the c, as in Connect-icut). Let me just start by saying in the nicest possible way, nothing in that country makes sense. We first realised this when it took us two wrong trains and about 10 dollars wasted trying to work out how on earth to use the Subway.

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Manhattan Web

  1. The Precedent – Forget everything you know about European city metro systems. You’re used to London, Paris and Madrid where all the trains stop at all the stations, platforms are normally colour coded per line, so all you have to worry about is getting one in the right direction.
  2. The Map – You arrive, you want to get out there seeing stuff as soon as possible! So let’s find out how to get there. This one is a mish-mash of numbers and letters and on the map we had we didn’t even have the end stations of each line to help us out. The Manhattan Island main section works on a very simple Uptown / Downtown system. Go Uptown to go North, and Downtown to go South.
  3. The Route – The numbers and letters show which trains stop at which stations, ie., the 1 stops at all of them, so is the Local train, but the 3 stops only at a few, so is the Express train. So not only have you got to find a route where you can change trains to get to another line, most times you have to go out of your way to reach your hotel.
  4. The Entrance – There are sometimes separate entrances for Uptown and Downtown, and really they are not very well marked. We found them quite difficult to find because there isn’t anything big and glaring alerting you to the fact that there’s a station here. One that we found was basically a door next to a big office building with the Subway markings on the wall rather than stuck out so that you know it’s there. The older ones that go straight down off the street tend to have two yellow lights on the entrance, but still you can walk past two or three without realising that that’s it, because nothing actually says “Subway”.
  5. The Ticket Machine – If you’re in New York for a day or two, buy singles at $2.75 each. If you’re there for a few days like us, get a MetroCard from a booth, it was about $30.00 for seven days and well worth it!
  6. The Platform – Find your platform, which is a challenge because it’s a maze of pillars, not nice spacious tunnels like in Europe and the A stops on this platform except for weekends when it stops over there, and the 2 stops on this platform unless it’s after 9pm when it doesn’t stop at all… And crap like that.
  7. The Train – The newer trains are equipped with an electronic display to show where you are and what the next station is, great! If you’re lucky you’ll find a busker, or a beggar, it’s generally quite quiet too, we didn’t see any trains that were too busy – but we weren’t travelling at rush hour and we were going to the tourist areas so probably this didn’t give us a true picture of the trains themselves.
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The Skyline – a beautiful disused Subway track converted into a park

And then you’re off the train. Going back to The Precedent – New York doesn’t seem very proud of its subway. The European metro seems to be more like a brand. You see no end of “Mind The Gap” tat in souvenir shops in London, and the art-nouveau Paris Metro design conjours up romantic images of the wide leafy streets leading up to the Louvre or the banks of the Seine.

It certainly looks like the Subway’s Golden Age has been and gone in New York. While many stations retain the old mosaic street number markers on the platform, and the pillars spaced evenly are evident of the might of the city above, it seems that the Subway system has been forgotten in recent regenerations, he needs a lick of paint, improved lighting, signage and passenger information, especially for tourists. But he’s so integral to this city, work it out and he’s your best friend.

Inside the Suitcase

Her folded clothes, neat pairs of high-waisted trousers, mini-skirts and shorts, brand new t-shirts, smart blouses her mother had sewn for her more formal dinners – or in case she meets a gentleman. Underwear of course, a nightgown, a coat and jumpers for the evening, and a new bikini. She also had a one-piece that her mother insisted she take, in case she meets a gentleman. Hanging up on the front of the wardrobe and with strict instructions from her mother to unpack and hang back up as soon as possible is her beaded dress that sparkles at the trim. Light blue, not a bright skyblue that’s the colour of the daytime, or a midnight blue that comes with the last bus home, but that magical blue that appears on the opposite side of the sky to the sunset.

She adds a small washbag with soap and toothbrush, it’s green leather with a monogrammed CA in the top corner and seems to have much better craftsmanship than everything except the dress. There will be a shop to replace what she uses, she’s not sure how she’ll wash her clothes but her mother tells her to look after everything. Two books follow, a romance and a collection of essays – to give her an interesting conversation at these dinners. She includes a small notebook with a photograph of her family glued onto the front, telling her mother she would get homesick easily. It’s empty except for five addresses – her parents, two of her closest sisters who now live in the countryside to the south of the city and two close friends from work. She checks them again and slots her boarding card in the middle of the book as she lays it neatly on top of the pile.

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She picks up her perfume from the top of the small table beside the window, there’s a photo of her sisters and a small pink candle that’s nearly burnt out. She dabs a little on her neck and drops it into another bag with her notebook, the brown leather with warm metal clasp sits next to the suitcase. She walks over to the case open on the bed and closes it shut – closing her life here and now.

Taking a moment to reflect, she hasn’t told her parents she’s not coming back. They wouldn’t let her get on that ship if they knew, she kept her secret for three years while she worked for the ticket, and in her brown leather bag she also carries an envelope with £100.00 is hidden away in the lining, she’ll exchange it for dollars or pesos or anything else she needs to get by. Her plan is to leave at the furthest port from England, she’ll watch the ship fade into the distance at sunset and she knows she’ll cry. Her parents will beg her to come home and she’ll cry and she’ll regret it, but those feelings won’t last forever. Overwhelmed for a moment a she feels the tears coming already and as she resolves herself she takes her suitcase and walks confidently out of the life that was hers for twenty English years, knowing that the world is nearly hers.

A post for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Interior, based on a suitcase that belonged to my father’s aunt. All I know is that she used it for a cruise on the SS Canberra. I’ve guessed at her age, the initial on the address label we have is a C Asbury, I don’t even know where she went but the fact that we have the suitcase shows that she did come back. We’re using this for cards at our wedding, to fit into our vaguely international theme, a fitting reuse I think!

Calm Caribbean Seas

The good thing about blogging is the possibility to schedule posts. You can have an argument with yourself, or moan about the government and the state of the world, or just simply let off steam about the petty things in life. Then you schedule the post for a month’s time and rewrite when you’re feeling a bit calmer – lovely! But what about the times when you let off steam and press publish, then feel the wrath of your readers? There must be other ways to calm yourself down and heal your broken little soul. Here are five of mine :

  1. A nice long walk – Living in the city centre there’s no limit to the amount of people watching I can do. Alternatively I can take a walk on the Calthorpe Estate and pretend I’m in the countryside. Walking without music leaves you open to conversations, birdsong, traffic noise which can really take the mind far away from any bad feelings. A few weeks ago I did an enormous walk, about 5 miles around the city centre, zigzagging around the streets taking in all the sites, forgetting all my troubles and enjoying the fresh air.
  2. Singing at the top of your voice – Music is the food of the Soul, so having a dance round the living room to Shakira might just do it. I don’t pretend to be an opera singer, or Beyoncé, just having a sing-song to a real eclectic mix in all languages, making up the words and having a dance around to everything from britpop to Lorde to metal to nineties pop classics and Mano Negra – any songs that remind me of the good times with good people.
  3. A glass of ice cold water – Really refreshing, cleansing. Maybe that’s all the crappy hype about the #icebucketchallenge, it refreshes your awareness and does something to your brain to refine your thinking. I always find myself more energised, and alert, and ready to tackle whatever is going on in the big picture.
  4. Malteasers – Only 187 calories so among the nicest of the chocolates to lose yourself and make you feel better about the horrible world out there. It’s widely known that chocolate contains something that triggers the happy hormone in your brain, and just this little bit is perfect to recharge before facing it all again.
  5. Have a sleep – This is best done once actually calm, obviously. Although things always seem about a hundred times worse in those few minutes between turning the light off and falling asleep ,they really will feel a hundred times better in the morning. Tomorrow is a new day and it’s sunny so enjoy it!
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Feeling calm in the Caribbean…