Mjozi

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I had that dream again last night. The one with the blood-stained tree. A magnificent Mjozi that looked like the hand of God had picked it up clean out of the ground and dipped it into red paint – or the Red Blood Sea – and substituted it upon the sandy shores.

The Mjozi is Swahili. It’s a walnut tree. I’ve never set foot on African soil, never encountered anything vaguely authentic of African culture, I don’t think. Those tear-jerking TV appeals they do each year to raise millions for African countries can’t count. But yet for some strange reason, I’ve started to pick up Swahili in my dreams. Just words but they tinge my brain and when I awake, I find myself spelling them out in a morning daze, writing them down in a notebook that now sits on my bedside table. I kept waking up with these words swilling around my head, spelling them as the cereal dropped into my breakfast bowl, repeating them over and over while I brushed my teeth. It was no good, within an hour, they had disappeared and I couldn’t be sure of their structure. So I started writing them down.

M-J-O-Z-I.

I have fourteen words now. The spelling is always accurate and I presume the pronunciation is. The words I keep to myself. I mentioned it to my brother after it happened a few times.

‘Gareth, do you know any other languages?’ I asked. He was rummaging the fridge for sandwich contents – wafer thin ham, cucumber, coronation chicken, pickles.

‘Not unless you count my French GCSE. I scraped a D.’

He replied with his head half in-out of the fridge as desired ingredients were being thrown onto the kitchen counter opposite.

‘I’ve started to pick up some words in Swahili. Is that strange?’

‘Why do you want to learn Swahili?’ He was making as much noise as possible now.

‘I’m not learning them. They’re in my dreams.’

‘So how do you know its Swahili, and it’s not just your subconscious making up words for fun?’

‘I… I write them down and I’ve Googled them. They’re always Swahili words.’

‘Maybe you’re haunted by some voodoo witch in Kenya.’ He was pushing down on his sandwich now, leaving finger marks in the white bread and returning to his computer.

I didn’t know what to say to that. I was fifteen, too old to be scared of fairy tales and ghost stories but also old enough to know that strange things like that did exist outside of my current worldview. I’d always enjoyed tall and magical stories, I was a keen reader, but now it seemed that the more I learned about the real world in textbooks and TV documentaries, the scarier it became.

I’d dreamed about the blood-stained tree three times before last night. I didn’t know it was a Mjozi tree, that was new and additional information. As much as I could try and articulate this dream for you, it’s tiresome and futile. It is short and tenuous. What I can try and express is how the dream makes me feel, about the tree and the way it seems to be chosen, picked out from the rest and placed in the golden sand by the cool river. I sense relief and peace when it is there. But why the tree is blood-stained? Why it must be removed from the woods? I have no idea. They are silly ideas that when I wake up in a cold sweat seem like the most important riddle to solve, but before long school sweeps in and distracts me. The two ideas, the two worlds – School and Swahili – cannot co-exist.

I look through my notebook. Mkate. Wimbo. Maji Safi. Matunda. Kisu. Wingu. Uchafu. Ndege. Tamu.

They are always like this. Mostly one word and simple in meaning. Bread. Song. Clean waters. Berries. Knife. Cloud. Dirt. Bird. Sweet. I can’t make any sense of it. Perhaps there is a story, I know I could make one up if I must but there is no clear narrative. It seems worse to even try to solve it away. The beauty is in the unknown. The dreams and the words do not frighten me, they only interrupt my waking. In that way, I don’t want to share them with others who might try and explain them, rationalise them. It is my corner of exotic. A secret junction where the mysterious meets my comfortable existence.

The dreams themselves, besides the blood-stained tree one, they are what I would call normal dreams. Shopping, at school, sunbathing in the park with friends. They are nothing out of the ordinary. Except when I speak in Swahili. That’s a new experience and I sometimes worry that these words are, deep down, a mother tongue of my subconscious and they are going to burst out in a science classroom or in a coffee shop. Then I really will be frightened, with no explanation. The fifteen year-old white girl from York who speaks Swahili words and no one knows why. No stroke. No holiday. No explanation. Msaliti. Traitor.

I can only hope my dreams stay private, that my Swahili words are locked in the dream world. I am the Mjozi tree, tinged, longing to be planted on a secret horizon, far away from the watching eyes of the forest.

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The Reading List 2017

Another year, another reading list. Every year I publish what I’ve been reading for the last 12 months. And in the last few years, I have been inadvertently trying to read more each year. In 2016 I read 54 books and this year 60. A small margin, but margin nonetheless. As usual, I’ve also picked out my top 5 with an asterisk*.

I am, however, going to try something different for 2018 (am I convinced I can’t read more than 60 in a year? Possibly, and I fancy a change). I’m going to read as many award winners as I can this year. Think Man Booker, Pulitzer, Carnegie etc.

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien

The Tempest – William Shakespeare

The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder John Ironmonger

Talking Heads – Alan Bennett

The Picador Book of Contemporary American Stories – edited by Tobias Wolff

Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner

The Understudy – David Nicholls

Wolverine: Origins – Marvel Comics

The Book of Happenstance – Ingrid Winterbach

The Artisian Soul – Erwin Raphael McManus

Imagine (How Creativty Works) – Jonah Lehrer

Wolf Wilder – Katherine Rundell

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

*The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Alice Hoffman

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

The Bone Sparrow – Zana Fraillon

The Buried Book – D.M Pulley

Curious Reality – D. K Cassidy

*Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

*The Versions of Us – Laura Bennett

*The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Orlando – Virginia Woolf

Driven by Eternity – John Bevere

Worldkeepers – Jo Tilley

Love Does – Bob Goff

*How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

The North Water – Ian McGuire

Capitalism – A Graphic Guide

Leaves of Grass (Poetry Collection) – Walt Whitman

The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

After Tomorrow – Gillian Cross

How to Look for a Lost Dog – Ann M Martin

We Are Called to Rise – Laura McBride

The Circle Maker – Mark Batterson

Spilt Milk – D.K Cassidy

Catcher in the Rye – J.D Salinger

Mind the Gap – Phil Earle

A Little, Aloud, for Children – Angela Macmillan

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

Centuries of Stories – Wendy Cooling

Simply Jesus – Tom Wright

Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Macbeth – William Shakespeare

Lily and the Octopus – Steve Rowley

Things Fall Apart— Chinua Achebe

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Stumbling Blocks – Gavin Calver

Long Shot – Dick Francis

Face (The Play) – Benjamin Zephaniah

The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

Sausage and Mash (100 Word Play)

Elderly couple, shopping.

George: You keep onions in the fridge?

Isobel:  Yes

George: We keep-kept them in a rack

Isobel: What about potatoes?

George: In the rack too-

Isobel: No, what potatoes would you like? These are good for roasting.

George: I don’t like roast potatoes, but get them ones if that’s what—

Isobel: Well… it’s what Peter liked but… we don’t have to roast…

George: Maggie loved potatoes in stew.

(They look at each other and smile)

Isobel: And how would you like yours?

George: Well actually, I’ve never actually…really… tried roast potatoes-

Isobel: Never tried roa-! (Moment)

George: Why don’t we do something different?

Isobel: Sausage and mash?

(They smile.)

The Reading List 2016

This year I’ve beaten the 33 on 2015 list and have managed to read 54 books. I was close to making 55 but I chose to read a 700 page novel so that one will crept into the 2017 reading List!

My top 5 books are marked with an *

The 2016 Reading List:

A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig

Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

Impossible – Unknown

Garden City – John Mark Cromer

The Blind Willow (Short Stories) – Haruki Murakami

The Sleeping Baobab Tree – Paula Leyden

The Man Who Was Thursday – G. K Chesterton.

Red Moon Rising – Pete Grieg

Stoner – John Edward Williams

Sabra Zoo – Mischa Hiller

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Heaney

*All The Lights We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

Trail of Broken Wings – Sejal Hadani

The Eagle Tree – Ned Hayes

The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

Vegetarian – Han Kang

A Year of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

Bear – Claire Cameron

The Irresistble Revolution – Shane Claiborne

The Light of the Fireflies – Paul Pen

A House for Happy Mothers – Amulya Malladi

In a Land of Paper Gods – Rebecca Mackenzie

*Midair – Kodi Scheer

Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi

The Shelf Life of Happiness – David Machado

Pierced by the Sun – Laura Esquivel

*The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

The Red House – Mark Haddon

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The Winning Keys – Gareth Morgan

Strange Pilgrims – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

*Us – David Nichols

The Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang

STORGY Short Story Prize Anthology 2014

Nexus – Ramez Naam

The Ice People – Maggie Gee

Short Stories from The New Yorker

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – Sun-Mi Hwang

*Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain – Barney Norris

The Autograph Man – Zadie Smith

Echoes: An Anthology – First Story National Writing Competition 

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist – Sunil Yapa

*The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

A Snow Garden & Other Stories- Rachel Joyce

The Girl Who Saved Christmas – Matt Haig

Cairns

cairn is a human-made pile (or stack) of stones. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaeliccàrn (plural cairn). Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present.
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I’m walking the mountains in low cloud,

the mist descends. I can’t see beyond doubt.

All the senses that I started with,

have too long ad libbed.

 

I can barely see further than my next step,

finding it hard to remember,

what steps I felt before I left.

I can just make out a dark shape,

this big figure with a shadow of a cape.

 

It begins to emerge from the gloom,

the first thing I’ve seen,

my messenger of good news.

I get closer and closer and it rises and rises.

 

This stern figure, that keeps on climbing

and it’s such a relief not to be alone,

except for this big pile of stones.

Happy to have reached it.

I have reached it at last.

 

It is my watcher, my guardian,

custodian of unmarked paths.

When the mist rolled through,

and the snow fell my way,

it tells me I am not lost.

Nor alone.

And that many others have passed this way.

 

Alone in Columbia

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“Keep talking to me guys,”

I say it on the radio,

as you drift away,

This is it now.

 

All eyes watch you make history,

and I’m sitting here inside,

sweating like a nervous bride.

Right about now.

 

The world will be marvelling at you,

but they do not know,

history has not yet been made,

God, it’s still playing out now.

 

It’s 50-50, you say,

I’m waiting here in Columbia,

waiting to hear from Eagle.

Absolutely nothing I can do now.

 

One day without you, hidden behind the moon,

Out of sight and out of mind, hidden by 250,000 miles,

and if you could say it you would have,

You would have said it now.

 

The speech is written, it’s ready to be given.

This is my secret terror,

that I’ll be alone now.

and you’ll have been lost forever.

 

“Fate has ordained

that the men who went to the moon 

to explore in peace 

will stay on the moon 

to rest in peace.”

 

Me a marked man returning home,

this is just one day to kill,

but in my head, time drags on and only fear will fill,

these moments of dread now.

 

Since you left me,

you have made me the single most distant,

Solo Traveller,

patiently stranded in orbit now.

 

I’m waiting here, alone in Columbia,

I am truly alone now.

Three days we spent gazing out,

on the earth getting smaller and smaller

Something to write home about.

 

But we’re still not convinced,

this dream is meant to come true.

If they fail to rise from the surface

or crash back into it?

 

Whatever should happen,

I am a changed man.

I know it, this is aloneness,

unknown to man before now.

 

No radio transmission from mission control,

the bulk of the moon has blocked them all.

While the world watches on at what you do,

You’re the only thing on my mind now.

 

I’m thinking of both of you

Your mothership waits behind

You can take your steps

I will watch on now.

 

Our giant leaps may soon demise,

the mothership’s only son,

the eagle, attempts to fly

Did apollo 11 forget me?

 

Did destiny only write half my story

all born in 1930,

each one of us born at the right time,

the very first lunar landing now.

 

And we returned home,

from way out there.

To return home with you

was the greatest of honours now.

 

Whether they even remember me or not,

Alone in Columbia.

Out there I’m never forgot,

And put lucky on my tombstone — we made it back.

 

 

Overt Literary References

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I am alive and breathing,

You are the first, on the left-hand page.

I am living in a terrace house,

You are a shout in the ancient streets and alleyways.

I am stood at the bus stop,

You are the site where the future saint was just wounded.

I am mooching, just walking through town,

You are layers of the city’s topographical palimpsest.

I am clamped, still working it out,

You are recording, and informing on worlds events.

I am clumsy with words sometimes,

You are ironic, ambiguous and sometimes you’re heard.

I am trying to learn,

You are the overt literary references.

I am nice and friendly,

You are only a symbol of reconciliation.

I could count my friends on my fingers,

You are lingering, fuelling old fears.

I am hanging to a humble outlook,

You are patriotic, historic, above all aesthetically artistic.

I am taking each day as it comes,

You are fifty drafts long and then done.

I am one in seven billion,

You are published and indefinitely reproducible.

I may not be very interesting,

But you, you may not be real.

The Mad Hatter

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You might wonder what happened, what actually was the matter?

That evening when I, a professional lawyer, opened my front door to the Mad Hatter,

He was wearing his big hat but also a miserable frown and I was concerned by the latter,

Now although I read it back when I was only six, I thought he seemed a lot fatter,

But then I thought maybe it was Johnny Depp who had made him look a lot fitter,

Perhaps he wants a law case -wants to sue – too many cakes, now diabetic and bitter,

Yes! That’s a good one to tell the kids about, and so I let out a little titter,

And then I realised. This fat, sad-looking fashionista was actually the babysitter.

The Reading List 2015

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To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

City – Poetry Collection – Black&Blue

N W – Zadie Smith

Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Theseus and the Minotoar (Adaptation)

One Day – David Nicholls

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

*What the World Will Look Like When The Water Leaves Us – Laura Van Der Berg

Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman

The Vagina Monologues – Eve Ensler

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller

Holes – Louis Sachar

*The Other Hand – Chris Cleave

*The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

The Coincidence Authority – John Ironmonger

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo

The Tempest – William Shakespeare

Blood Brothers – Willy Russell

Skin (Short Stories)- Tobias Hill

How To Be Good – Nick Hornby

Beatrice and Virgil – Yann Martel

The Urban Circus – Catriona Rainsford

How to Read the Air – Dinaw Mengstu

Trash – Andy Mulligan

Selected Poetry – e.e cummings

Rickshaw – David McGrath

*We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Prayer – Timothy Keller

*Oh the Places You’ll Go – Dr Suess 

* these books were probably my favourites!

Restoring a Hermes Typewriter

Originally published on August 27, 2014 on KP’n Up Appearances

I was supposed to do this project almost a year ago and shamefully I never got round to doing it. But, I have now! It was my grandma’s well-used typewriter when she was a clerk assistant. When she died many years ago, I was given her typewriter as a budding writer. It’s been well-loved and cherished since then. My parent’s agreed that cleaning and restoring it from its older days would be a great way to give the typewriter a new lease of life in the twenty first century. Even more so, it’ll soon be connected to my iPad so it can be the coolest iPad stand and keyboard around (thanks to Ben’s technical skills!).

The Guide

  • I dissembled the green Hermes Baby and cleaned it using a damp cloth and soapy water.

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  • I seperated out all the parts that needed spray painting
  • Remember to cover silverware and other parts you don’t want painted with masking tape!

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  • Choose your colour and spray evenly

Tip: hold the can about a 6 inches away from object.

  • I used White Matt spray paint from a DIY store and used 2x 400ml cans, (although that’s probably more than enough, it was my first attempt and I probably got a little too excited.)

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  • Whilst the first coat is drying for 1-2 hours, I cleaned the keys up with a damp cloth.

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  • Apply another coat of paint and leave for another 1-2 hours.

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  • After leaving the second coat to dry, it’s time to put it all back together again!

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  • It really helps to know how to put it back together again.

Tip: Don’t lose any screws or loose ends whilst you’re spray painting elsewhere.

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  • Hoorah! I now have a reconditioned Hemes Baby Typewriter in white and green. It looks so much more fresh, almost like new.

IMG_3179Just for a picture reference, this is what it’ll look like when the USB converter magic has been finished and my iPad will sit where the paper feed is and *hopefully* it’ll type onto the iPad from the typewriter keys. I’ll keep you posted.