Friday, 26 August 2016

The Coral Kosjenka

Sea stripes
Turquoise slices
 Pebbly froth
Flinty golds
Rhythmic diamonds
Across the bay


Unusually the stifling atmosphere of the scholarly London university library was dragging heavily on my torso making it hard to breathe. A gap in the persistent rain outside had sent shafts of weak sunlight through the windows, lighting up the dust drifting like protozoa through the heavy air. The reef of textbooks on antique corals with their many pearls of wisdom were for once failing to inspire me, and instead, were hemming in my imagination. It was like diving through murky harbour water; every sense was unnaturally and dangerously stifled. I was suffocating.

To "B" or not to to "B"

I have spent years "perfecting" who I am. I have spent countless days wondering what "me" is suitable for this life.

School years were virtually non-existent, a troublesome childhood led to me not giving a damn about myself or my future. But 11 years later, a stable relationship and a wonderful child, meant I was able to re-look at myself and stop pretending.  Stop looking for other peoples praises and start looking at my own.

So I went back to college! I didn't know what I was going back for...all I knew was that I wanted to prove myself right. "I got an "A" in English, dad." I heard myself say!

It was lies...

My body was desperate for him to be proud, desperate to look at me with admiration, but instead I felt hollow. I felt a certain disgust wash over me, oh! I heard the praise from my father. But knew inside it was for someone else. I was liar.

I actually was given a "D". D dirty liar.

I carried that for years. Until I decided I was going to prove to myself I could do it. My potential was greater than I gave myself credit for. So at 28, I went back to college. I studied GCSE English...

Determined to undo a lie I had kept for years.

I worked hard; all my controlled assessments achieved an "A". My speaking and listening netted 10/10, even for punctuation! After endless hours scrutinizing practice papers and tiring myself thin... They also netted "A's". So that was it exam day and I tried hard I tried so hard to answer each question, check all mistakes, but one can only do so much.

My results were all down to one person and their pen; their check list, their grade requirements. Well that was it.

....

Today I got my results! Predicted an "A".

As I  opened the envelope I stared. I didn't see the grade...

"B" you got a "B" my husband said, "that's not bad."

"Bad" that's all I heard.

It wasn't my "A."

....

I can't say I wasn't disappointed, but I was. I had set myself up to being a "A" student but as my lovely sister in-law reminded me..."A B? Who cares, the examiners have checklists, you have imagination and flair; so write..."

So I did! Here's to being: Beautiful, Brilliant, Ballsy and Bountiful in life! I achieved a "B" and that's Brilliant!




Sunday, 21 August 2016

A reminder of London

I should start calling these musings Ship Sagas. Or Ferry Refreshers. Or even better, Postira Postings. I'm here again, on the move, to meet my Split friend who has contrarily decided to pay me a flying visit. My other guests had a wonderful time and were dismayed that they had to leave after such a short of time. They've promised to come back! 

If there is one thing I enjoy, it's making excellent food for appreciative people, and watching them having a good time. No matter how busy or tired I was in London, entertaining was always the best. Their arrival was mildly stressful for my refrigerated goodies, because the early morning Split bus they caught had gone off on a sightseeing frolick. So we arrived in Sudurad hot, fretful, hungry and, in my butter's case, a bit greasy round the edges. 

Jenny was longing to throw herself into the sea, but we firstly and necessarily  enjoyed various salads, cured meats and fresh cheeses, and local red wine that had magically appeared during the course of the morning. Life in the shape of calories returned, and peace finally started to descend on this busy duo. We caught up on what had been going on in the art, legal, and business life of London whilst the water twinkled invitingly. 

It was curious to have a London experience on the Island with 'people from London'. I know the other contrary one was here recently but for me she has different London associations; crazy nights out, tea and toast in the morning, but ultimately a calming influence. Everything a best mate should be. However these two had been running around Split and Omiš for two weeks catching up with extended family, and planning their Croatian wedding, whilst he sporadically dealt with work issues. So they hadn't actually had time to catch a breath. Few opportunities to absorb the softer Dalmatian air into their lungs to replace the Ritalin infused London stuff.

I felt their anxiety, hurry, speed, everything. They were moving out of step with people on the island, like a badly placed overhead projector slide, or watching a 3D film without glasses. Let me stress that this isn't a bad thing, quite the reverse! It is inspirational. It was like they were emanating ripples of energy and I could see the sparks. One of the main reasons I enjoy my job as a researcher/law librarian is the information tussles with insanely bright people who are utterly obsessed with detail. And I had a faint pang of longing for that intellectual challenge. 

It's times like this which makes me realise how far I've come, and the massive step I took giving up my amazing job to live in this foreign environment. This must have been why people said I was being brave! I'm continuously asked whether I'm bored here, or how I could have left my home city, and so many doubts have been cast on my ability to cope in an island winter.  Naturally that just makes me determined to try. But just the challenge of settling here must be taking up reserves of energy. I must not take for granted the change in environment and how enormous the cultural gap is. 

No I'm not bored. Unsettled, a little insecure, thoughtful, more quiet than before maybe. But as I explained to someone, an engine stuck in the highest gear is going to burn out eventually. A change of road intensity, a couple of corners, a few diversions is much better for the engine. And that is how I feel my brain is at the moment. Temporarily off-roading! 

Of work and study

Where was I? Ah yes, wondering about what it was like to be a 5-year-old and waving cheerio to friends and family. I've recently had the pleasure of greeting another friend and we enjoyed a few quiet and lovely days together in the sunshine. Maria, as you might recall, is the intrepid soul who helped make the Vis hiking/camping weekend possible. All those months ago... And now I'm sat on the ferry looking forward to more friends and festivities. 

It's been a surprisingly interesting month job and study-wise. I met up with Emma, a friend from the University of Split about 8 weeks - or two full moons - ago and she mentioned a site called Upwork. The point being you load up your credentials, you find and get jobs, and you get paid. Without even catching a sniff of the London Underground. This sounds like a perfect medium term solution because I'm really not ready to come home yet and would prefer to eke out my savings a little more. As a result I've got something interesting starting next week and there may be another thing coming along. 

In terms of study I've been having fun with a modern phenomenon known as MOOCs. This experience requires an article by itself but the education establishment offering the two courses I'm doing is well organised and impressive. I'm doing Writing for the Web to brush up my technical vocabulary to impress would-be employers, and Teaching Adult Learners because I'm thinking about the TEFL course. Learning and assessment takes place online and there are discussion groups for both. All this is free which makes it all the more impressive. In any case, it's a way of filling in the gaps, revising and revisiting useful knowledge. If you have a spare few hours a week and a learning addiction, go have a look at the list of MOOC courses. 

It's strangely familiar to be thinking about jobs and courses. Especially when I cast my mind back to June and the exam blues! Having seen all the excited tweets about university courses all I want to do is get back into a classroom and start reading again. And it's not even the end of August yet. It's not even as if the learning came to an end with summer: I had a crash course in olive husbandry yesterday. My landlord mentioned this week that he wanted to check up on the olive groves but had been unable to due to fishing nets requiring attention. Oh and some new winching machine for the small boat...yes I'm paying attention! So after a medicinal white wine spritzer - he had a headache - off we zoomed to the olive groves. 

If you thought the weather had been bad in London, apparently the relentless dry sunshine here has been hell on many of the olives. The fruit is shrivelled, and falling black and dead off the branches. Where the soil is thicker in the newly reclaimed ancient Field (Poljie) terraces, they are better but clearly struggling. I'm told that the olive tree never dies but obviously it's harder to flourish when they are neglected. The undergrowth becomes overgrowth and needs hacking away. That is the job in winter and there is a lot here to be reclaimed. The three different types of olive tree are reacting to the harsh environment in different ways but whichever way you look at it, the harvest isn't going to be a good one. Let the rains come soon! 

My agricultural education continued with the revelation of carob beans. Their caramel-date flavour and scent, with a chewy sticky texture is incredible. Having always thought of them as the vegan's chocolate, I've normally been a bit dismissive. However inspired by these trees, this week's Clare special was a decidedly non-vegan carob honey banana pistachio cake. With butter and eggs. Other marvellous fruity wins include knowing the location of the best trees for juicy green figs and walnuts. 

Despite my best endeavours, some things will always be beyond me. As I was making a thorough mess of the sheet folding, and feeding them into the ironing machine, I could sense the fisherman's blood becoming as heated as one of his olive terraces. He consigned the infernal machine to lose itself in unspeakable places. This was woman's work apparently, so we had a lively exchange on why women will never haul nets, and why 'business women' like me will never iron sheets. It's a wonder I didn't fling the cake at him. 

Bit harsh: if you're smart you'll always buy fitted sheets and non iron duvet covers. Simples - no MOOC needed to know that. 

Friday, 12 August 2016

Me, Myself and Mind.


At the window am I, forever I am.
I stand in the ray of the sun, it strokes my face, brightening my glow.
The sun is deceitful, deceitful you know, for I am forever in the cast of a shadow.
Step in the light to be reawakened, but the mind holds back, forever in purgatory.
Always in the light, forever in the shadows.

My face it smiles, my heart it breaks, my body disassembles as my mind aches.
Peace as it were, forever I desire.
Torture it stays, as the world transpires.
Begone you darkness away from my eyes.

For I want the night to forever shine, in an endless gold light.

Friday, 5 August 2016

A Tyrant Spell Has Bound Me

Whilst away in Croatia, there was a piece of writing I shared with Vicky and Clare. It was a piece I had to do as a controlled assessment for college. I thought it was captivating enough to share; it did also nab me an A. Here's to the Friday Blog Challenge! 

We had to pick a line from a poem and write our own prose based upon it. I chose "Spellbound" by Emily Bronte.


My Dearest Evangeline

I sit here pondering, your beautiful face resonates in my mind, as I feel the ice cold trail of an apparent cure feeding my blood. Oh, how I will miss the mornings of our Marigold friend; billowing into the room, as if he owns it. The joyous laughs spilling from yourself, jumping on my bed, eager for me to wake and get the day started.

I sit here, cold. Our glorious morning sun has faded. He has decided once more, to don his hat and say farewell to the skies, for now.

I find it hard writing, I find it tiring, I find it unimaginably difficult.

How am I supposed to say goodbye, when my body yearns to say, hello.

I remember the day they told me. Do you?

How ironically hilarious, that I should find out about my friend, Steve; who seems to have taken up residence in a "very smart mind" your words echo.

We were swimming and I suddenly collapsed! You were so worried, you clutched my favourite bear that night and snuggled beside me to sleep in those very cold, cast iron hospital beds. You watched over me like my guardian angel. My angel Evangeline.

After those pesky tests and surgery, we managed to say goodbye to Steve. However, they found his brother Dave and his other siblings. "Malignant tumour colonies" they called them. My brain all of a sudden felt very occupied. The most activity it's seen in a while. I just wished they had asked my permission first.

After that disastrous bout of radiotherapy, 6 weeks it took up. 6 weeks of yuck! I loved your happiness though. So determined to see me happy, so determined to keep me smiling. Even if it was prancing around in a tutu, wearing a tiara, shouting "I'm a lady", as we both tried on my first wig.

They phoned to let us know, the bearers of good news; HA. Some of Dave and his friends had spread and I had now more new metastases. Wow, loved that bit of news.

I've always wondered. Why do they wear those coats of pure white? Do you think it could be, that they wear them to feel clean and pure when delivering such "good news" to people?

I digress. The reason for this letter is to say goodbye. To inform you as to why I have chosen the action that I am currently taking.

I remember you pleading with me to continue with the therapies. I know you can't bear the thought of losing me, but I cannot bear the thought of losing you also, but I am spellbound. I am in and out of cold hospitals, in and out of cold, cold, cold places. I just want to feel warm again. I am so tired of moving from pillar to post for the hope that my "friends"; might take up residency elsewhere.

But, the cold hard fact is, they won't.

I am not doing this to be difficult, but I am doing this to take back control, to take back my body; what is left of it.

I have lived a good life, and I have you to thank for that. Let me join our friend Marigold, the sun.

Let me join the rest of our family, let me join Dad.

I know you say I am too young, but I say I have lived life.

Don't cry at the morning sun for me and weep sorrow.

Look at the sun, and every time it shines, remember that's me saying, Hi.

And when it isn't out, remember that's me being a stubborn child, as you like to say.

I love you with all my heart, I won't say goodbye Mummy.

Just Goodnight.

Forever yours, always.

Me.
























Thursday, 4 August 2016

Of Bakes and Cakes

For the past two weeks I've had visitors and it's been marvellous fun. For the most part their holiday involved exploring my island home by foot, bike and canoe, with the odd emergency use of the tiny bus, as well as relaxing on the beach and messing around in the sea. My brother had built himself a fishing rod, Roo had a million questions, and the Contrary Ladies Trio had plenty of conversation about life, love and poetry. Inevitably there was a lot of wine, rum and beer at various stages of the visit...not to mention a bit of dancing. They also seemed to appreciate the sunny weather after the summer back in the UK. I hear it's quite bad.

Domino's? No
As regular readers will know, the contrary team and various associates can sleep, dream, and conjecture about food for hours. Kim and I trod-water for about an hour just talking cake - my perfect idea of aqua-aerobics. And we had an officially qualified chef to bamboozle with recipe jiggling and fridge specials. My brother is a massive foodie and enjoyed working with the many wonderful ingredients available but there were times when he just wanted to nap, so left me in charge. He did teach me some cheffy things like what a  beurre rouge was, and the posh term for cubes of tomato.

No I can't remember what it was. And in return he made me promise to write the recipe for the Dalmatian inspired meat and polenta bake which he had four helpings of. So here goes:


Clare's Dalmatian Bake (serves 4 - 6)

First check the fridge for random items of interest and make adjustments. Sniff the open bottle of chilled red wine and taste a glassful just to make sure it's ok. Take half a large onion and chop finely. Fry off in local olive oil with plenty of garlic and some cubes of smoked cooking prsut. Add 500g of pork/beef mixed mince and brown off thoroughly. Add a glug of the wine, plenty of pepper, a bay leaf or 3 (if you have any left over from the experimental burning bay leaves to see what happens trick) plenty of Dalmatian mixed herbs, and a tin of chopped tomatoes,a rinse of the tin with water, a squeeze of tomato puree and a beef stock cube. Mix thoroughly and let it bubble until it is thick, tasty and making everyone's mouth water.

In the meantime, take the 8 pale green peppers that you were actually going to stuff with the mince mixture. Realise one of them is dodgy, 2 are too small, and the other one went in a salad so decide to chargrill them instead. Heat the grill. Deseed, rinse and dry, and cut into quarters. Place on a tray skin-side up and drizzle with olive oil and place under the heat. Shut the oven door and proceed to forget about them until smoke is pouring out. Turn them over. Once they are fairly black but deliciously soft, leave to cool slightly and gently peel off the crispy skin.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Polenta is still a bit of an alchemical process - I blame the wine, bay leaves and golden colour. I googled it wanting the ultimate recipe and found a hysterically precious blog on the perfect polenta. Apparently forget everything you ever believed about it being a quick dish and start making it the night before.

Oh.

I poured about 250g of sunny loveliness into a pan, added an amount of cold water and milk, with a sprig of rosemary, salt, and more bay leaves. Stir and abandon til it starts to get warm and demanding. Stir more. Boil the kettle and add more hot water as and when it looks a bit firm. Eventually - about 35 mins -  it is a smooth, thick paste. Taste, add more seasoning, a load of grated cheese and some crème fraiche and Dijon mustard. Stir and it should be the consistency of a good soft mash. Remove rosemary and bay if you remember.

Then panic that your glass dish is too large and ask the opinion of the chef. His sceptical face says it all. Panic some more and have a glass of wine.

Pour the meat into the tray and spread out - it was about 2 inches deep in the end. Spread out the peppers across the meat. Top with the polenta mix and spread out evenly. Top with more cheese, breadcrumbs, paprika and pop in in the oven until the polenta is soufflé-like and ragu underneath bubbly. If you can wrest some basil from the naughty cricket, tear some leaves over it as you bring to the table; serve with a salad you forgot to make, what's left of the red wine.

It's pretty good.

The other recipe I tried today was very successful. My cake making is definitely improving but only because I'm not limiting myself to the usual butter, sugar, flour and eggs with which my gran used to miraculously conjure into fluffy sponges. Mine are always disastrously greasy and crunchy .

Mediterranean Upside Down Fruit Cake

Whisk - and I mean really whisk - together 3 eggs and 100g of sugar until they are foamy and creamy. Use a machine if you have to, or just enjoy the hard work. Once you are sure, keep beating and start adding 70ml olive oil as if you were making mayo, one dribble at a time so it turns glossy, whilst remaining aerated. The recipe I adapted suggests using a light olive oil but I prefer the rich fruity flavour of the extra virgin single press local stuff. I want my sponge impolite and gutsy. Add 90g of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, and a good pinch of ground sea salt. Fold in until smooth. In future, I would also add a dash of almond essence to this.

Slice a ripe peach and arrange on the base of your oiled baking dish. Sprinkle over a sachet of vanilla sugar. Again, I would add flaked toasted almonds for extra crunch. Pour over the batter and place in the pre heated to 160 degree oven. Bake for about 50mins - a skewer will come out clean. Turn out so the peaches decorate the top. The texture is incredibly light, moist yet robust.

Who's coming here next?!