Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Building blocks of poetry

I believe if you study something for long enough, it will ultimately help you to improve.

Having the ability to read a poem and to understand what the poet is saying between the lines, as well as the techniques used, is a good starting point for writing great poetry of your own.

So what are the building blocks of studying a poem?

1) Meaning - what is the poet communicating? Why does the poet use certain words and why those words and not others?

2) Look for allusions - why does the poet refer to certain things? What is the true meaning behind it?

3) Dictation and tone - what language is being used? Formal, classical, biblical, slang, popular... What is the tone of voice? Sarcastic, obnoxious, hypocritical, aggressive, grave, comical, enthusiastic, gentle, mocking, angry, optimistic... Try to "hear" the poem by reading it out loud.

4) Who is speaking and what is the situation? How many people are in the poem?

5) Grammar and syntax - if repetition is used, why is it there?

6) Figurative language gives a poem life - similes, metaphors, symbols, images, personifications - but also ask yourself why is it there and what meaning does it add to the poem.

7) Rhythm and rhyme can change the mood and feel of a poem creating abruptness and discord, or calmness through regularity.

Look out for my WordUp Wednesdays.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

eBooks in the Year 1999

I did work experience at a couple of publishing houses in 1999 and, sorting through some old boxes, have just come across a handful of the notes I made:

One of the books in one of the house's online catalogs was about the death of privacy in the 21st Century - and how true this has turned out to be with wire tapping, mobile phone tracking and misuse of our data and records constantly in the news today.

Back then, internet e-commerce was just beginning. One of the houses was already selling eBooks and wanted to sell through their own website rather than using multiple partners. They were developing a place for their customers to "hang out" online and pondering whether free e-content over the Web would hurt their book business. Initial sales showed this wasn't the case...

I've been on their website this morning to see how things have moved on and it appears they've branched out into IT courses and certificates, as well as conferences, and definitely found their niche market with their technical books and manuals. Also linking with another online company offering technology and business training.

So they swam, while others sank!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Nella Last's Peace

It was wonderful to pick up from where I left off at the end of Nella Last's War - VJ Day August 14th, 1945 - when I opened the pages of Nella Last's Peace. There was something very comforting about the continuation, so I didn't feel as if I'd missed any of Nella's little world and life in Barrow and the goings on with her family and friends.

You can expect more of the same wonderful prose (expertly edited) and humourous, gossipy, emotive and reflective insights, observations, thoughts, feelings and interactions as Nella shares her life with us. The war might well be over, but the fight to establish a positioning in the new world and the battle for housewives to provide for their families despite rationing, rages on. Life is still hard and Nella often reflects on the camaraderie of the war years and how it kept them all going.

What I love about Nella's writing is that she is brutally honest in her diary entries and she seems ultra sensitive to the happenings of everyday life.

Two beautiful quotes to illustrate this:

"We are all in the melting pot of history, and that's always hurting. The best part of history is to read it out of books when things get more in focus..."

"It's so ghastly to think that people who fight, endure and suffer are not the ones to begin wars, and are so helpless to stop them. Only if people's minds and hearts could unite and change, only if we all could unite in a single purpose of personal responsibility to each other, to life in general, towards people we know exist but never see, to teach little children the beauty of peace and concord, how to agree with each other, share things - and laugh - can simple forthright peace come."

When I got to the end, I felt like I'd lost an old friend, a very dear, wise old friend. So imagine my delight when I discovered there's a third and final installment of Nella's diary entries written through the 1950s.

Guess what I've just ordered on Amazon...

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Level word play

Here is some word play I remember doing in A Level English Lit. Love this. I find playing around with words revives the creativity when I'm feeling a little flat.

Some of my own were on the back of this sheet. Check these out:



        E   W


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Safe Travels

So I've covered a series of vulnerable travel scenarios, what I did in those situations and how you might tackle similar. It isn't always easy to know what to do, let alone know what the right thing is to do, but you have to put emotion to the side and let your brain and logic take over. It also helps if you're travelling with friends or in an organised group so you can get their perspective and knowledge - and a shoulder to lean (cry!) on when it all goes pear shaped. Your immediate reaction will most probably be one of shock and disbelief, but it's the critical minutes after that and your actions and reactions that will determine how it plays out.

Look out for my new, free e-guide "Safe Travels" where I'll be discussing more of my travel tales and sharing practical advice for travel preparation before, during and after your travels to ensure you have the best (and safest) time possible.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Stolen Identity

Who would've thought a series of power cuts in Lalibela, Ethiopia could be the catalyst to a stolen identity?!

Picture it: The little internet cafe in the middle of a hilly, remote village in northern Ethiopia. Pre Smartphone. Pre Wireless. Why I decided to check my emails here, I'll never know. Wires everywhere - who knew what was connected to what and where that information was being fed. And because I wasn't logging out of my email each time (thanks to the power cuts) and stupidly kept going back into it, someone was able to hack into my account once I eventually gave up and left for the hotel.

I didn't know anything was wrong until I returned home a couple of weeks later and found my email account
had been changed into Chinese. Looking back now, I think this was a decoy to not only distract me (and think someone Chinese was behind all of this), but to make it time consuming to get back into my account and change passwords and reset other accounts they'd hacked.

Stupidly I had the same password for my email and eBay, so that was their next stop. From eBay they got my Paypal account and from Paypal they got my bank details. Then they started shopping - internet dating and shoes!

Over the course of the next six weeks, I did a number of things
. I immediately went to see my bank manager to close my current account. We also discussed the transactions - some had gone through and others were pending. I couldn't close my debit account until the bank had refunded that money (I really had to prove I was being defrauded - the perils of your debit account being hacked) and cancelled the pending transactions. That took the best part of two to three weeks. All the while I kept getting invoices in my name sent to my address with all these shoes I was supposedly buying. I was grateful they were only buying shoes. I think my account must have been suspended, only allowing for my monthly pay to clear, somehow. I'm not quite sure how that was done, but I don't remember having any problems with that side of it.

After going to my local police station and begging for a case number to show any baliffs that might appear if the fraud got out of hand - yes, always think worse case scenario - they gave me one but advised banks were now setting up their own fraud departments to handle the cases in-house. My bank was ahead of the game so I was collecting all of my evidence and handing it over to them, so they could pursue the offenders. I never found out the outcome, but I did eventually stumble across a name and address up in London and passed it to them. I wanted to go up there myself, but who knows if that was even a real lead?

Once the invoices died down, I had received all of my money back, was able to shut my account and reopen a new one, it was then I checked my credit rating with Experian.
Luckily, that hadn't been affected, but probably because I had a very limited rating due to never owing anybody anything. I decided it was time for a credit card - not only to build up my score, but also to protect me whilst travelling. At the time, I had to prove to my bank with hard, cold evidence that I was being defrauded and they were only just setting up their fraud department, but credit card companies had been doing this for a while and it's much easier to cancel a credit card than cancel a debit account!

Through Experian, I used another company called Equifax and paid a very reasonable sum to protect myself, my identity and my credit rating for a year
. I always did check my bank account regularly, but now I check that and my credit card daily to keep an eye on pending transactions which I don't recognise.

Amongst all of the angst, one funny thing did happen. I had a letter from the shoe company saying they had received the returned product and were refunding me. I phoned them up and it seemed I was speaking to a sixteen year old receptionist who didn't have a clue. I explained about the fraud and these were not true purchases and that they shouldn't be refunding me. Guess what? I received the refund anyway!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Robbed from under my nose!

Taken just before the horrid event
Some friends and I were sitting in a little coffee shop on O'Connell's street in Dublin when my worse nightmare happened - my purse got stolen. Even worse still, it was literally taken right from under my nose.

We were crammed around a small table with a giant map covering not only the table but our laps as well. We were so engrossed in planning out our next couple of days, I did something I never do. I put my bag on the floor to make more room.
And usually if I have to do that, I loop the handle around my ankle or wedge the bag between my feet, but for some reason, I did neither.

I always wear my money belt on
trips, but this time I thought I'd be a little more civilised and actually carry a handbag. We were on a city break after all, hardly the wilds of Africa. It would be perfectly safe. Inside my bag I had my passport, purse, camera, insurance docs and phone. Luckily I'd split my cash and left some of it inside my locked suitcase in the room, but the rest of my Euros were in my purse. All I remember is two Eastern European girls sitting at the table next to us, having a quick drink and then leaving. When I looked down ten to fifteen minutes later, my bag was on its side and wide open. Panicking, I first accused the new occupants at the table next to us, then I apologised and asked them if they had seen anything or could give me a description of the girls, which they couldn't but it was worth a shot. Be grateful for small mercies - they'd only taken my purse. My passport, camera, insurance paperwork and phone were still inside my bag. Lucky to still have my phone, I immediately started making calls - running up a huge bill but I didn't care at this point. Again, if I had just had my money belt, I wouldn't have had so many cards to worry about because I pack the bare minimum in that. I spent the next hour mentally going through the layout of my purse and systematically cancelling the cards. I also phoned my partner for reassurance, the insurance company for advice and my works to let them know two of their cards had been stolen and I would need replacements. My friends were great lending me money and helping me do everything, but it did take the sparkle out of the trip and left me feeling extremely vulnerable. I remember having to watch how I spent for the rest of the day and evening just so I could go crazy for our final night on the town. It all worked out brilliantly in the end, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

We were on one of the main streets in Dublin, so, after asking around for the nearest police station, I went and reported the theft and got my all important police statement for the insurance claim. This time I didn't miss the deadline and claimed back everything well within the time frame on my return. About a month later I received a parcel in the post and it was my purse still intact except for the cash. A bin man named Willy had found it dumped on O'Conell's street on his rounds, took my address off my driving license, used my stamps (which he apologised for and said he hoped I didn't mind) and posted it back to me. The girls had literally taken the Euros and dumped it straight after.

You know, these things happen and I'm glad I went through the experience (even though it was horrid
) because it definitely toughened me up for future trips - how to cope in a crisis etc. And it could have been so much worse to lose all of the contents in my hand bag.

The only thing I'm superstitious about is the fact that everything happens in threes. With two down and one to go, I was wondering what else was going to happen to me. I had to wait almost two years for the third, which turned out to be the biggest shock of my life and completely shook all of my foundations to the ground.

See you in the next post!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Bags broken into

So what do you do when you discover you've been robbed whilst on your travels?

It's a horrid feeling. For me, it's one of the ultimate violations of my privacy and my heckles are up just thinking about it. I landed in Livingstone from London via Jo'burg and immediately we went out to see the spectacle that is Vic Falls. It was only later back at the lodge that I discovered my bag had been broken into - my guess, this happened when transiting through Jo'burg airport. We'd flown South African Airlines and unfortunately their airport staff and baggage handlers have a terrible reputation for theft. I've heard countless stories where they unashamedly whip your things right from under your nose even whilst you're checking in!

This time it was just £100 worth of clothes pinched from my main hold luggage. I'd purposely used an old holdall roughed up from my time in Tanzania, the Sahara and Marrakech and the padlock was nothing special. Maybe I should have done without the padlock! I guess they thought we can break this easily so it's worth a shot...

Before leaving Zambia and heading across to Botswana, I went to the local police station in Livingstone and eventually got an interview with one of the staff and they made out a police report for me to use in my insurance claim when I returned home. Be patient, everything in Africa takes ages. I was there a good couple of hours just for some words on a piece of paper and a signature.

Unfortunately, weeks later, I woke up the morning after the deadline date for making my claim, remembered I still hadn't done it and lost my chance!

The situation could have been a whole lot worse, but I never carry important documents in my hold luggage. In fact, important docs are carried on my person and camera equipment in my back pack. I'm that careful.

Check out my next post where my carefulness lapsed and cost me, but once again I got away relatively lightly, this time in Dublin.

Monday, 2 June 2014

AWOL guide upon arrival

Before I even begin this story, let's start with some advice: Wherever possible try to travel within a network of people and a framework of places you've set up prior to leaving on your adventures. If you have this in place, when things go wrong (as they invariably do), usually they will work themselves out thanks to your plans and forethought. I'm not saying plan to the nth degree because where's the fun in that (the best moments in travel are the ones that come from spontaneity), but at least have your "back ups" stashed in the back of your brain.

I was taking a trip around northern Ethiopia and I'd just flown from Lalibela to Gondar. On arrival there was no sign of my guide or driver. They didn't fly with me, they drove instead and I'm wondering if something happened. I'm also acutely aware we have a packed schedule ahead of us (one night in each town before moving on to the next). It's not a big airport so it's not like there's anywhere I can search for them. Within ten to fifteen minutes everybody on my flight leaves and I'm the last one in the hall. I take a seat to work out a plan. I figure people know I'm here and they'll be looking for me soon enough, otherwise I'll take a taxi to the hotel myself and decide what to do once I'm there. One of the airport porters comes over and we get chatting. He asks me what I'm waiting for and I tell him the situation. He asks around on my behalf and one of the other porters makes a phone call for me. The next I'm hearing, my driver and guide are just doing a spot of shopping for me in Gondar town and they'll be along shortly. Apologies for the delay.

Did I mention there's an element of luck involved as well, but don't rely on this...

If you want to be super organised and efficient, carry a mobile phone with that country's sim card and take your driver and guide's mobile numbers. I knew once I got to the hotel I could make phone calls because my trip framework was already laid down and had been distributed accordingly!