Thursday, July 24, 2014

A wild woman

I am currently reading a fascinating book called WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES – Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.  It is research for the thriller Michael and I are working on that has an extraordinary woman as the protagonist.

The word wild here does not mean what we currently associate with the word, such as crazy, uncontrolled, or outside normal behaviour.  Simply put, it means natural, as in close to nature.  And close to nature doesn’t mean living in a jungle or on a beach.  A wild woman is a woman who is as close as she can be to her natural self – not constrained by male, female, or societal expectations, not afraid to show her true self, and with an awareness of what that is.

Needless to say, the wilder a woman gets, in the sense above, the more frequently she is frowned upon or ostracized.  She makes people uncomfortable, usually men.  My guess is that woman too, at least publicly, shun her because that is what they are meant to do, but perhaps deep down there is a twinge of envy.

My aunt Dorothy was the wildest woman I’ve ever known.  And she certainly suffered the approbation of many of her contemporaries.  What was so wonderful about her was that she was remarkably talented in many ways and wasn’t afraid to let her talents blossom.

There are of course favorite family stories of her exploits.  Among other things, she was one of the first women pilots in South Africa and won a prestigious air race against an all male field.  She must have loved that.  She was also South African junior tennis champion and a fine field hockey player.  I think she represented the Transvaal province in that sport.

Then there is the time, the story goes, that she was at a party, probably in the late 1930s, dressed in her full-length evening dress, when she accepted a dare to walk out of the party and go to Cape Town – nearly 1500 kms (9000 miles) away - just as she was.  So she walked out then and there.  For nearly two weeks, nobody heard from her, neither those who dared her to go, nor her family, which was beside itself with worry.  But she made it to Cape Town and then back again.

During World War II, she joined one of the women’s auxiliary services and served in Kenya where, after the war, she decided to settle.  It was here that she became well known for the polo ponies she reared.  But it's another event that put her in the headlines around the world.

In the early1950s, the independence struggle had started in Kenya, and the most active against the oppressive British rule were the Mau Mau headed by Jomo Kenyatta, who was later to become President of an independent Kenya.  The Mau Mau freedom fighters often used violent means to discourage the mainly British settlers and to make the country inhospitable to colonists.  For example, some farmers were murdered (mutilated is a better word) by the Mau Mau, as were some indigenous Blacks who either supported the whites for whom they worked or who opposed the freedom movement.  

Jomo Kenyatta as president

The situation became sufficiently grim that all farmers took careful precautions.  My aunt and a friend, Kitty Hesselberger, lived on a farm in the highlands.  On one occasion, the Mau Mau attacked their stables, hamstringing the polo ponies.  As a result, every evening when the two women were sitting in the lounge reading, they had handguns on their laps or next to them.

Armed grocery shoppers

On January 5th, 1953, they were listening to the evening news, Dorothy in her chair and Kitty standing at a table cracking nuts, leaving her gun on the mantelpiece.  One of their servants came in carrying hot water, but he looked frightened, which alertted the two women.  A few seconds later, several large men came in wielding pangas (cane knives or machettes) or simis (two-edged knifes sharp enough to shave with).

One of the men grabbed Kitty and pushed her over the back of a chair and was about to stab her with his simi when their pet boxer dog, Damsel, flew at the man and caught his knife arm in his teeth.  Meanwhile Dorothy shot one attacker, then turned her gun on the one who had grabbed Kitty.  She shot him, but unfortunately also killed Damsel.  The man, wounded, ran from the house, only to collapse and die outside.  Seeing another fleeting figure, Kitty dropped that man with a single shot.  

Then they heard noises from the toilet – the door was locked.  So they blasted through the door, but the man, also wounded, had climbed out of the window and escaped.

Source unknown, but pretty accurate!

Outside every farmhouse in the area was a light at night that neighbours could see.  If it went out, the neighbours came to the rescue.  Kitty shot the light out, and an hour later help arrived, only to find three dead bodies, one dead boxer, and two women, who probably each had a scotch in their hand and a cigarette in their mouth.

Aunt Dorothy and Kitty Hesselberger shortly after their ordeal

Aunt Dorothy later in life with a painting of Damsel in the background.  Damsel's collar is drape over the picture.

Dorothy and Kitty were the first civilians to repel a Mau Mau attack, which deed was reported around the world and eventually made itself into their friend, Robert Ruark’s book Something of Value.  He wrote an interesting article about the Mau Mau in Time magazine, which you can read here.

Cover of Time containing Robert Ruark's article on the Mau Mau. (That's not him on the cover!!)

The women received the Order of the British Empire, and Damsel was given the doggie equivalent.  I have a painting of him, his citation, and his collar in my home in Cape Town.

I didn’t see much of Dorothy when I was young because she lived in Kenya and I didn’t.  But her visits were always eagerly anticipated, not only for her unconventional approach to the world, but also for her stories.  I remember once I was obviously talking too much at dinner and holding up progress, so she grabbed the back of my head and pushed it into the soup bowl admonishing me to suck it up so we could get to the main course.

I think that it was after that visit the she and another aunt, Margaret, drove from Johannesburg to Nairobi in a Morris Minor.  What a trip that must have been.

After I left school, I saw her more often, usually in England where she spent many years after leaving Kenya, or in South Africa where she spent the rest of her life.

When she turned ninety, I gave her as a present a flip in a Tiger Moth – an open cockpit biplane, similar to the one she had learned in in the 1930s.  Even though her eyesight had deteriorated considerably by then, I don’t think I have ever seen a happier person as her after she landed.  She was ecstatic.

Aunt Dorothy after her flip in a Tiger Moth

Dorothy, or Dot as we called her when she wasn’t around, was a truly wild woman.  She has always been an inspiration to me – her life and attitude inspired me to listen for my own drum and then to march to it.  Sometimes it's not easy to hear it, and sometimes it's not easy to march to it.  But I certainly enjoy it when I do.

Stan - Thursday

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

King of the Monsters!

I am presently in Orlando Florida, writing away. Between chapters I do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, mostly shopping related activities. One of the shops I have gone to is one named Party Central, selling supplies for various fetes. The reason I went into this establishment does not relate to the party I intend to hold for Iceland Noir in November. Those of you intending to visit can relax, the refreshments will be of a more grown up kind.

My grandson is however turning 8 in September and it was for this occasion that we took him to this esteemed Party Central boutique. He was to pick out plates, napkins and party favours for the friends and relatives he wants to invite. There were various themes to pick from, so many that he was hard pressed to choose. He ended up deciding on a Godzilla/Despicable Me blend. I must say that the indigo and greyish setting of the Godzilla stuff clashes horribly with the bright yellow of Despicable Me but this did not seem to bother my grandson so who am I to butt in. I must admit I did try to talk him out of it. More than once.

My grandson has never seen a Godzilla movie, despite being very enamoured with his image on the napkins. Honestly, what is there not to like? Fangs and claws and spiky stuff sticking out of his back. Hundreds of tons of angry dinosaur-thing. But I thought it right to get him acquainted with his theme of choice, i.e. half of it anyway and have him watch the original Godzilla movie. I have seen the new one recently out and it did not feel age appropriate for a still 7-year old. Nor was it very good.

Despite having seen all of the old Japanese Godzilla instalments as a child it turns out my memory did not do them justice. They are a bit goofy but fun. Not only the guys in monster suits beating up on each other that I recall. The best one of those we have now watched was the 1956 instalment: Godzilla King of the Monsters! (the exclamation mark is not my addition - it is part of the title)

What makes this movie interesting is the postproduction which seems to have incorporated an American character into the original Japanese movie. This must have been done for the foreign market and is today hilarious. The American actor is supposed to be a journalist and for most of the movie he is the narrator, explaining what is going on in a very dramatic voice. He is also seen in added scenes where he stands with two or three Japanese looking people – brow furrowed and always, always: pipe in hand. When he speaks to the other, original major characters these people always have their heads turned away from the screen so that we only see the backs of their heads. Obviously because these are not the actors but just some black haired people in LA used as stand-ins.

The American journalist character wears the same suit for all of the incorporated scenes: black with a white shirt and a skinny tie. Even when he is shown running up and down a mountain he is wearing the suit. And smoking the pipe. The only time the pipe is missing is when he lies on a stretcher after having been inside a house Godzilla attacked. My grandson noticed this and promptly noted that the pipe had probably been broken when the building collapsed. He somehow manages to find an open tobacco store in smashed up Tokyo as he continues smoking once he has left the hospital.

Anyway. I recommend this movie. It has everything going for it, a monster, an American that has been pasted into the storyline, a scientist with an eye patch and an oxygen bomb that is so terrible the movie’s maiden nearly faints when shown how it works in a fish tank. The final scene with the eye-patch scientist in a scuba suit that seems to date from the time of Jules Verne is not to be missed. Amazing stuff.

Finally. We have come a long way since 1956. We do not need to add English speaking characters into foreign movies in order for people to watch them world over. Not that I have anything against English, I sure understand it better than Korean for example. Bringing me to my true recommendation: if you have not familiarised yourself with South Korean movies you are missing out. They are great, being both plot and character driven and containing some extremely good acting.

In case you are interested, to start off try these: I Saw the Devil, Chaser Old Boy and Cresent Moon. You will not regret it although some of the scenes and rather tough to watch. Make that very tough to watch.

You see, Godzilla has nothing on humans when it comes to violence.

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Paris prison + Gare de l'Est Nazi style

Last week I posted about the old women's prison torn down in the 1930's. Here's breaking news about the last prison in Paris, La Santé. Update today from the Guardian: 
France is about to turn the page on a shameful chapter of its penal history by renovating its most notorious prison, La Santé.
La Santé, named after a neighbouring hospital in southern Paris, has held some of Frances's most famous prisoners in its colourful 147-year history. They have included poets Paul Verlaine and Guillaume Apollinaire, and the playwright Jean Genet, as well as Carlos the Jackal, war criminal Maurice Papon and the Algerian revolutionary leader who became independent Algeria's first president, Ahmed Ben Bella. Although the prison had a VIP wing, Ben Bella told an interviewer: "The French put me with the prisoners who were being guillotined. I could see the guillotine from my cell."
In 2000, the prison's chief medical officer was so shocked by the brutal conditions in the overcrowded jail that she published a diary about her seven-year experience that sparked a parliamentary inquiry.

"Three inmates fought with knives. I was standing in blood until about midnight. The next day, it starts all over again … multiple injuries. It's the humidity, the sun, the suffocating heat in the cells that makes them go crazy," Véronique Vasseur wrote in the diary. Her description of a jail infested by rats, cockroaches and lice was a vision of hell. Some prisoners in the cramped shared cells drank drain cleaner or rat poison to put an end to their misery and others suffered from skin rashes caused by the lack of hygiene with only two showers allowed each week, she said.
La Santé was built to hold 1,400 prisoners, but at the time of the exposé by Vasseur – who received death threats after publication – it was housing more than 2,300. Since that time the most insalubrious blocks have been closed, and on Sunday, the last 60 prisoners were moved out under reforms ordered by justice minister Christiane Taubira, who has ordered a four-year facelift.
When the prison reopens in 2019, it will contain 800 cells.

I'd meant to post about visiting under Gare de l'Est, the train station where many French soldiers, 'le poilu', left for the front in 1914.  This time to highlight what we saw in the bunkers circa the Second World War, the war the Great War was fought to prevent.  I'll let the photos do most of the talking.

an aerial view of the station and lines leading East
Below Gare de l'Est the hangout room for the train hobby club - all former and present SNCF who love trains big and small
Here's a set up and the club work on this all the time
Going deeper below the station
Ring the bell to enter the shelter/bunker

This is what it looks like on the platform and you can get out through the grill if needed. I used that in a book and was so thrilled to have this photo as proof.
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bullying in Religion’s name

Today I am very pleased to introduce you to the delightful Susan Froetschel, who will take MIE readers to a brand new location--Afghanistan.  I met Susan because we shared a panel together at Malice Domestic.  She is the author of five mystery books. Her Fear of Beauty – about a fictional Afghan village bullied by a band of extremists and the woman who resists – was a nominee for the 2014 Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award, Mystery Writers of America. Her next book, Allure of Deceit, will be published by Seventh Street Books in February. Based in Michigan, she writes for YaleGlobal Online, based at Yale University’s MacMillan Center. A review in Calliope noted: “For readers numbed by a decade of news reports from war-torn Afghanistan, Froetschel provides a fascinating glimpse into life in a humble village… The magic of reading this book is that we become Sofi, and we leave better for the experience.”  Here is her take on a plight of women in a place that has been wartorn for decades.

In countries like Afghanistan or Nigeria, it takes only a few to terrorize entire communities with brutal attacks on schools, police, or courts. The victims, so often women or children, cannot follow the old advice to ignore bullies and walk away.   

Research on religious bullying tends to focus on varying beliefs among religions or sects. One definition describes religious bullying as “repeated acts of aggression in which the power of institutional religion is used to mock, humiliate, or threaten others who do not share the same religious beliefs or practices.”

Nations dominated by one religion are not immune from such bullying. Competition for power turns into a self-righteous effort to be “holier than the rest” and insistence that no alternative points of view exist. Adult bullies may take on the role of teacher, “disguising demeaning and cruel behavior as appropriate disciplinary responses,” suggests David R. Dupper in School Bullying: New Perspectives on a Growing Problem.

Women in Afghanistan must worry about the Taliban and other extremists having any role in government. “The Taliban has turned into Frankenstein’s monster; a few crumbs will not satiate it,” writes Kamila Hyat for the News International in Pakistan.  “Perhaps this is why those who are ‘pro-talks’ have not said what their formula for a compromise would be or how they plan to tame a monster which is growing stronger as we hum and haw over what to do with it.” She warns that communities that don’t speak out against bullying can expect to see their communities weakened.

Without zero tolerance, bullying spreads.    

In their quest for power, bullies target both the weak and successful. Bullying is repeated, intentional and can escalate, warns a National Centre Against Bullying in Australia brochure, printed in several languages. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry describes some warning signs: Bullies thrive on controlling others with physical or verbal responses. The bullies are insecure and often have a history of being bullied themselves. Many claim they are under attack even as they bully others, trying to achieve power.  

Unfortunately, experts such as those at admit that little can be done about adult bullies even in the West: The bullies “are not interested in working things out and they are not interested in compromise. Rather, adult bullies are more interested in power and domination. They want to feel as though they are important and preferred, and they accomplish this by bringing others down. There is very little you can do to change an adult bully, beyond working within the confines of laws…”

Rule of law is shaky in Afghanistan. About 80 percent of criminal and civil disputes in Afghanistan are resolved by small and informal community forums rather than official courts, the U.S. Institute of Peace has reported, and the track record of protecting the vulnerable can be hit or miss. In hostile communities, the vulnerable cannot count on enforcement or justice.

Research suggests that influencing the onlookers to speak up and resist may be more effective than containing the bullies. There is increasing agreement among researchers and policymakers that interventions against bullying should be targeted at the peer group level rather than at individual bullies and victims,” notes Christina Salmivalli for The professor of psychology at the University of Turku, Finland, writes about children but the principles apply to the marginalized adults, often insecure, who also try to control through bullying. When onlookers don’t speak up, the bullies view that as acceptance of their behavior. “Converting their already existing attitudes into behaviour is a challenging task, but it might nevertheless be a more realistic goal,” Salmivalli explains.

Those who oppose the bullying culture must resist, finding supportive bystanders and speaking out together. Parents must raise their children to detest the swaggering tendencies, in others and themselves. Fortunately, members of the Taliban may number no more than 75,000, relatively few in a country of more than 30 million people. Many join the Taliban movement for economic rather than ideological reasons or are coerced.  

Unless communities identify the controlling behavior and resist it together, spreading courage and support, bullying can become entrenched among some adults. A recent Duke University linked bullying with risk of psychological disorders in adulthood. A 2006 Canadian study of adolescents suggests that identification of the bullies and awareness can ease the reinforcing dynamics.

Social media has taken a lead in identifying and labeling religious bullying for what it is – cruel power grabs. A swell of global support for any one community helps all under attack by bullies.     

Young women train as midwifes in Nigeria, with support from Great Britain

Students share books in Helmand.

Annamaria - Monday

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Talking Down

Zoë Sharp

I’ve always hated the phrase ‘the battle of the sexes’. Not quite one of my pet hates, but close to it. By some quirk of fate I grew up with a total lack of acceptance for the normal stereotypes. I don’t recall my parents ever telling me there were things I couldn’t do based solely on my gender rather than my aptitude. Besides, I never had much of an interest in the more girly dolls, preferring the family Meccano set in its lovely wooden box. If only I still had it now. <sigh>

This week has brought home the gender divide in a number of ways, however. Some good and some bad.

First off, I was the guest speaker at a local Rotary Club in York — there are three to choose from, and the York Vikings is a male-only preserve. I have to confess that I wasn’t aware of this until after I’d agreed to do my talk, and I don’t think it would have made any difference even if I had known. The very fact they had invited me to speak to them said more, to me, than being invited to join their number. And if one or two of them attempted to unsettle me with pre-dinner banter, I’ve spent too many years being heckled as a motoring photographer not to take that kind of thing in my stride. In the end they were a charming audience who laughed in all the right places and asked intelligent questions afterwards. What more could I ask?

Contrast this with my experiences looking to buy a new motorcycle. I thought I’d found the right machine at a main dealership, but when I went to collect my purchase — cadging a lift there on the back of my brother-in-law’s Kawasaki — the salesman insisted on including him in the discussion as if I might not understand the longer words if left to handle the paperwork on my own. As it was, I discovered that the price was 20% higher than I’d been promised, and they had made a serious ‘error’ when it came to the bike’s history. With much regret, I told them to forget it. The bike is already back advertised for sale and no doubt they will tell any new prospective purchasers this is because I was a time waster.

But just being back in that kind of world made me feel like an outsider again. It reminded me very strongly of how my main protagonist, Charlie Fox, would feel every day she turns up for work as a bodyguard, where people tend to look past your shoulder for the person they were expecting. And it also reminded me why I started writing about Charlie in the first place — in part to express the inequality of those stale attitudes. Getting back onto a bike will be very good for both of us, methinks.

At the same time, it’s a shame that I have to describe both Charlie and the main protag of THE BLOOD WHISPERER, Kelly Jacks, as ‘strong females’. If they were male, the ‘strong’ part would be pleonastic. Of course readers would expect them to be strong. And yet if I’m writing about a heroine rather than a hero I still have to make that point. To me they’re just interesting characters put into high-stress situations, which they cope with according to their skills and experiences. If that means they have a certain underlying strength then that’s because I don’t want to see them fold and fail, just as I have no desire to do so myself.

They say you should write what you know.

I do it all the time.

Meanwhile, these words from Felony & Mayhem Press and I thank them heartily for their recommendation.

And finally, this week's Word of the Week is amphibology meaning a sentence or phrase that is grammatically ambiguous, such as "I'm sorry it took me so long to answer the door. I was just playing Tomb Raider in my underpants." (One I heard recently  honest!)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Beauty of the Greek Sea.

I’m telling you right now you’re all just going to hate this post. I mean HATE it. 

It reflects my day today (Friday) when I should have been writing this post, but accepted a last minute invitation from a most gracious friend that I join her and seven other lovely ladies for a sail to the nearby virginal island of Rhenia, a swim, and lunch aboard her seventy-three foot, breathtaking yawl. 

Let’s weigh the decision: In one corner we have eight ladies and I aboard a 73 foot sailboat cruising the sapphire and emerald Aegean, and in the other me in my room facing a computer screen for eight hours all alone but for 73 cups of coffee.

Sorry folks.  To paraphrase the famous t-shirt, “Jeffrey went to nirvana and all I got were these lousy photos.”

Yep, but if it’s any consolation I think I may be sunburned.

By the way, I had another blog due to go up tomorrow (Saturday) on my publisher’s blogsite (Poisoned Pen Press), but I’d written it before abandoning my computer this morning. It’s all about a poem I’m reading at the Tinos International Literary Festival next week on the neighboring Cycladic island of Tinos.  So, if you want to see my words (and poem) they’re there.  But I’ll be here, staring at the photos.

Heading away from Mykonos

 Neighboring and passing ships

Yes, that's a helicopter at the stern.

Approaching Rhenia

Our swimming hole

Lunch time
Heading home
Bye-Bye Beauty

Jeff—Sunburned Saturday