Writer Susan McCartney is becoming something of a local celebrity with her feisty poetry performances. And here she is with copies of her books containing her poetry and stories – many of them written in the Creative Writing course at Kinsley and Fitzwilliam.
Can you believe that before attending the course she had never written any poetry at all!
Today is the day! Blue Monday – the third in January. We are supposed to feel at our lowest ebb and looking out of my window, it’s easy to see why. Dull, dank and murky – the weather just makes me want to curl up under the duvet again. Anyway, this funny observational piece from Lynda McCraight cheered me up. It’s about the plethora of food programmes on TV. Read and enjoy!
Blue Monday – Fast or Feast?
So, it’s that time of year again. You’ve stuffed yourself over Christmas, eaten a whole 5 bird roast to yourself, over the course of a week, seen family and friends you’ve not seen for years, been ultra polite when they’ve wanted to watch a TV channel that you didn’t, seen in the New Year with Jools Holland, and made a mental note of some New Year’s Resolutions. Already it’s mid-January and nearly time for Blue Monday, and you’ve noticed an absolute glut of adverts on telly – especially now you’ve got control of the remote back – all dealing with the delicate subject of being “slightly overweight” and “have you over-indulged over Christmas?”
Having scanned the TV paper today, it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that there are three programmes about dieting and healthy eating on. The Money-saving Good Health Show is on at 7.30, and then, only ninety minutes later “Sugar-free Farm” where a host of celebrities -including Anne Widdicombe and Joe Pasquale -attempt to live and work on a farm in return for healthy food. That sounds like it could be every bit as entertaining as watching Anne Widdicombe on Strictly Come Dancing! I mean, who thinks up these programmes? If you want wall-to-wall dieting programmes, you can skip across to channel 4 at 8pm and view: How to Lose Weight Well, where, this week, water-only fasts are being investigated. Water-only? Yuk – the thought of it is enough to turn your stomach.
Interestingly and what seems to be a bit of conundrum that could make us all even bluer on Blue Monday, alongside these programmes on dieting, in case you feel your resolve weakening and need some “foody” entertainment, is a whole host of programmes involving cooking and food and eating, so many in fact that you can have a whole day’s viewing of food, without actually eating any. You can, at 10 a.m, watch Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in the US, followed at 11.25 by “Who’s Doing the Dishes?”
If you’ve never seen this, let me enlighten you as to what you’ve been missing. A celebrity – in this case strong man Jeff Capes, a man who prefers eating to dieting – cooks a 3 course meal for 4 spray-tanned minor celebrities, all with inane senses of humour and about as much brain-power. Each course has to contain some clue to Capes’ identity so the minor celebs might guess who has cooked their meal. The main course is haggis which refers back to Capes’ days at The Highland Games, when he was involved in Tossing the Caber. Dessert is Strawberries with Power Ice-cream which I have to admit I’ve never heard of, and sadly I fell asleep during the making of the starter so have to pass on that.
The object of the programme is that if the minor celebs guess who’s cooked dinner from the clues given, they win £500 and Capes has to do the washing up. If they don’t guess, he gets the £500 and they do the washing up, which to be honest is about all they’re good for! As luck would have it, they haggle over whether it might be Robbie Coltrane because of the Scottish connection, but a last minute clue brought in by the host of the show, some Irishman I don’t recognise, in the form of a shot from the shot-put contest, firms up in their mind the name Jeff Capes and without further ado, he dons the apron and begins the mammoth wash-up, whilst they talk amongst themselves about what they’re going to spend their winnings on as, thankfully, the credits roll.
At 1.45 – or in our case in place of lunch –Chefs Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is gets aired. Suffice it to say, I know nothing about this programme, but just from the title I can tell it’s something I wouldn’t want to watch. If you’re still awake at 3.45 it might be worth watching: Hairy Bikers’ Comfort food. You can increase your girth by just being in the same room as this programme and admiring Dave Myers’ Edward the Seventh moustache, ably assisted by Si King and his ponytail. Now, these men CAN cook and they have a great culinary vocabulary too. All their sauces are UNCTUOUS and Myers has a host of culinary quips at the ready on the end of his tongue. My only complaint is: do they have to eat the food straight from the oven, risking burns and scalding, as you can see it is so hot?
If your appetite is still up for more you can switch over to channel 4 for Come Dine With Me at 5pm. This is a programme where 5 contestants used to be chosen because they could cook and host a dinner party for the other four, each contestant being scored on their hosting and cooking skills. Nowadays, sadly, no one on there seems able to cook: the women try to get points by wearing low-neck dresses and short skirts, and the men just get drunk and incoherent. But, at 5pm, maybe it’ll nudge you into culinary action, like opening a can of beans and cooking a piece of toast.
Mid-evening, Rick Stein puts in an appearance with his Long Weekends Show which, this week, was filmed in Bologna, where Rick learns how to make the local fresh egg pasta. It’s an hour long and you could learn 4 different pasta dishes in that time – but it’d beat the hell out of beans on toast for the rest of the week.
In July 2016 a group of writers from the Workers’ Educational Association visited Lotherton Hall. We were shown around by the very knowledgeable Stephanie and were completely fascinated by the people and the place.
Walking around the hall and hearing all the stories was like touching history and we were gripped by the desire to bring to life some of what we had heard and seen.
Our poems and stories are the result. They are glimpses into the past as we imagined it could have, or might have, been. So, while the people and places might be real, we used our writers’ imaginations to interpret the events.
We hope you enjoy our work.
Creative Writing Tutor for the WEA
FLORENCE AND MARY: 30th June 2016, London. By Susan McCartney
‘Is that you Mary Seacole? Pray what are you doing here?’ Florence peered through her spectacles at the elderly lady almost hidden by a large shrub. People milled around and the air was full of noise and the flashing of cameras. The crowd had gathered for the unveiling of a statue of a woman.
Mary rolled her eyes as she stepped forward with a hand raised in greeting. ‘Well I never, Miss Florence Nightingale as I live and breathe. They are to unveil my statue today Florence, as well you know!’ She tossed her head with a flounce.
Florence sniffed. ‘Indeed I did not know. Happenstance led me to St. Thomas’. I fancied a stroll before I took luncheon and my curiosity was raised by all the commotion and crowds.’ Her lips thinned as she took in the cameras and the mobile phones.
Mary put her hands on hips. ‘Was it not that you finally realised my contribution to nursing after so many decades and wanted to see what the fuss was about? Imagine little old me getting some of the glory.’ She thought to herself… You grabbed the lot at the time. I never got a sniff.
The smile from Florence’s lips did not reach her eyes. She sniffed again. ‘You were never my idea of a nurse Mary although I never doubted your bravery and dedication.’ She added, ‘But you proved yourself a woman of strong will with a good sense for business.’
Mary’s eyes locked onto Florence’s for some seconds. ‘Come off it Florence! I was never wanted as one of the team but I made my own way to the Crimea in spite of all the rejections.’ She squared her shoulders giving Florence a hard stare. ‘And I had to write my own history.’ She waved a hand at the statue. ‘The men called me ‘Mother Seacole’ and looked upon me with affection.’
Florence cocked her head and thought for a moment. ‘I’ll give you that it was a hasty decision, long regretted, given the reports of how you rode out to the front to give aid to the wounded and succour to the dying.’ She smiled. ‘Those were the actions of a brave woman, Mary.’ Then Florence could not help herself. She muttered under her breath, ‘But not necessarily of a trained nurse…more like a caterer.’
Mary chose to ignore the slur and smiled. ‘I appreciate your kind words Florence and I did read all the reports about your fight to rid the hospital at Scutari of filth and disease. You were the true pioneer and you brought respectability to the nursing profession.’
‘Thank you Mary. It was a battle that I sometimes lost given that the hospital was built over a sewer.’ She shivered. ‘Although I have to admit that I did get considerable help from talented engineers.’ Florence sighed at the recollection of so many pointless deaths.
‘You were lucky to have so many influential connections. I had to make my own way in life. The benefit of a privileged background was not mine. Nevertheless, we have much in common, my dear Florence.’
Florence’s reply was stern. ‘In what way are we alike Mary? I cannot see it myself,’ she said with a toss of her head. ‘We are different in almost every respect.’
‘We are both well-travelled, we are both well-read and we have both written books that were successful. And we were both highly regarded in our own way.’ She added with a grin, ‘And now we both are cast in bronze!’ Mary did not take the opportunity to crow that her statue was taller.
‘I will give you that Mary. But I was a trained nurse and you were not.’ Florence gave the smallest of sniffs. ‘You have to admit that you ran a hotel and not a hospital.’
With hands on hips Mary said, ‘My mother taught me how to be a hands-on nurse and the use of spices as medicines. I saw no use in the application of statistics in nursing.’ Mary suppressed the urge to narrow her eyes and thin her lips. ‘There was a time when my reputation rivalled yours but somehow I was written out of history.’ Mary’s eyes filled with tears but she brushed them aside.
Florence’s eyes softened. ‘We both came back from the Crimea with our health ruined. It was worse for you, Mary – I heard that you were bankrupted.’
‘I bounced back and they put on a benefit for me raising much needed funds. Queen Victoria gave me a pension and I had my portrait painted. Moments to be proud of,’ she said with a shy smile. ‘And we both have medals.’
Florence looked around at her surroundings. ‘It seems so unfamiliar and a little frightening.’ She waved an arm at the traffic and the public in their strange clothing. ‘I don’t remember any of this,’ she said her brow furrowing in concentration. ‘For the first time in my life I feel a little fearful.’
‘There is nothing to fear here, Florence,’ said Mary, ‘But there is something you should know about us.’
‘What is that my dear?’ Florence looked puzzled.
‘It is just that we are shades of the past. This is 2016 and we have been dead for over a hundred years…we are ghosts! Mary clapped a hand over her mouth. ‘Sorry to be so brutal Florence. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.’
Florence smiled. ‘I know it my dear but I just had to see the unveiling of your statue. Now we have both been honoured in bronze.’ She patted Mary’s arm. ‘I have wanted to acknowledge your contribution for such a long time and today seemed appropriate.’
‘All water under the bridge as they say. Do you think there is a Tea Room around here I really fancy a cup of coffee,’ said Mary taking Florence’s arm.
‘That’s a wonderful idea and we can catch up on the merits of our own type of nursing!’ Florence smiled. ‘Do you think we’ll scare the customers away?’
‘They’ll not see us anyway – we can go where we want.’ She giggled, ‘And I fancy one of those Bavarian slices.’
‘The ones stuffed with cream – how lovely,’ Florence said with a grin. ‘But you’ll need to watch your waistline.’
‘You put on weight yourself Florence,’ Mary said her eyes wide and innocent. ‘You’ll not get into those gowns in the display at Lotherton Hall.’ She added under her breath. ‘Nor attract so many proposals from eligible young men.’
Florence patted Mary’s arm. ‘Indeed my dear, neither of us will these days.’
Mary stopped in her tracks and gave Florence a hard stare. ‘You don’t have your pet owl with you do you?’
Florence gave a little grin and patted her pocket. The owl gave a squawk of protest.
Mary sighed but took Florence’s arm.
Arm and arm, they left the unveiling ceremony and went in search of a coffee and cake leaving behind the popping and flashing of cameras and the sounds of London traffic.