Inspiration

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The beauty hurts my eyes.

‘Inspiration’ is the word of the day.  Where do we get it? Why do we get it? What is it exactly?  How do I get more of it!? I got back to blogging this weekend, mainly because I saw these -above…

Beach huts in Bournemouth – recently decorated in Cath Kidston’s beautiful prints.  I’m in love. Yes, it is an advertising stunt, yes, it is to shamelessly promote the brand, but, it just cannot be denied- they are so, so bleedin’ pretty, look at those perky rows of eye-catching colours and prints!!

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The cloud print is AMAZING for a hut.

Seriously, I held my breath when I saw them. Why though? I ask myself.  I am a rational person (sort of) stirred by real-world events and important issues, nevertheless, a tiny wee nearly came out when I saw these huts- and a squeal formed at the back of my throat somewhere low and primal-as primal as anyone can be about polka-dots and florals anyway.

Excitement (of the wee inducing, squealing kind) is born of love and passion for things.  I love beach huts (as is clear) but they are inspirational in a way I can’t fully explain-unhelpful- from she who writes said blog.  Others things inspire in this (not fully explainable) way: old-fashioned/timeless photographs; new wool; a brand new book; a very old book; all things VWCampervan; vintage style (in the best sense of the word- not keen on the slightly depressing items that just smell a bit).

I am in good company.  We all get the nudge, heart-flutter, lift, sigh, intake of breath, urge to run out and create/do something in some form or another.  It’s a great place to be, on the verge of producing something, having just been inspired.  It’s a legal-high and I believe it’s totally a spiritual thing .  I used to ignore the things that made me feel this way, now I stop and give them more credit than simply being preferences.

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Oh you blue, beauty you. Sigh.

… I don’t know about you but I also get really inspired by ‘before and afters’.  Don’t you love it when you see an image on those DIY adverts of a dingy room -and then after – a light, fresh, airy oasis?! I love the improvement, the freshness of it all. Ever since I can remember I have been obsessed with transformations like this. To witness someone become the best they can be, watch an underdog achieve and have their turn to shine, these are powerful.

The downside is, I am, therefore, very frustrated by slow progress, I like transformations to be quick, complete and dramatic! My hut looks like this inside right now…

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A shed by the sea.

I am having to strongly resist getting discouraged. It is inevitable that things take time.  I want to get to so many things and so many days just don’t contain the hours, or at least the non-comatosed ones.  I also haven’t been myself lately either and I find my mood dictates how creative I can be.  I didn’t know this until I started this blog.  I just couldn’t find the ideas, inspiration or motivation.  The verve needed to write, even a humble blog post, is something that has to just be there.  I needed to find my inspiration and daily life was getting in the way, by that, I mean the grind of life, the dull things, like paying bills.

Nothing kills inspiration like the words, ‘direct-debit’.

Then there’s the more corrosive stuff like thinking negatively, becoming stuck in a way of thinking. ‘Inspiration’ comes along to invite you out of whatever mud you are stuck in.  It is the creative’s best-friend and it cannot be engineered.

Inspiration works on your soul in the form of a random attack. Suddenly, something makes your heart leap, or fascinates you, or just grabs you by the collar and jerks you towards it.

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‘Almond Blossom’ – Van Gogh

Years ago, I visited the Van Gogh gallery in Amsterdam and understood for the first time what all the fuss was about, his life, his story and his paintings grabbed me.  I was so, so moved, how he had been plagued with mental illness, when this was so misunderstood (still is) and produced paintings that spoke so loudly of beauty.

On the same trip, we toured Italy, and to be honest I almost became de-sensitised to the works of art that surrounded me.  In Italy, you can be standing on an ancient, work of art and be waiting for a bus.  We walked through endless corridors at the Vatican museum and began to switch off.  Then we came to the Sistine Chapel.  We were told that Michelangelo was almost blind while painting the ceiling – caused by spending so much time elevated inches from the dust above him. He was also being forced to work on it. He had run away many times, but having been commissioned to complete the work, he was made to continue. I couldn’t imagine where he found the ability to create something so exquisitely beautiful in those conditions. Perhaps he just poured his torment into the work like Van Gogh and so many others.sistine-chapel_1

It isn’t just visual art, books do this. Most of us can remember a book that grabbed us and left its mark.  For me, it was ‘To kill a Mockingbird’, I was very young and I was left humbled by the courage of Atticus Finch and outraged at the injustices in the world, new to my innocent self. I wasn’t the same after reading it.  There have been many examples since. Harper Lee, however, found it very difficult to write and suffered great personal trials whilst writing and afterwards. Maybe we need some angst –  it is the typical portrayal of the artist isn’t it?

So, it may be that I need to write even when I feel like burying my head.  Crack on, to push through the mood barrier.

It may be necessary then to seek inspiration like a medicine for those times when I don’t feel up to pursuing anything much at all.  A great song, a great book, or in my case today I simply came across these beach huts and it inspired me to get back to the hut and to my writing and to finish what I have started.

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Should they have done away with Dick and Fannie?

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So, I am reading ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ by Enid Blyton to my little boy- well, the first one in the series- ‘The Enchanted Wood’ and he loves it. It’s great, old-fashioned fun and he’s as hooked as I was when I read it as a child. It has allowed me to happily revisit this childhood favourite, but it’s funny how it changes when I read it through, my now adult, eyes…there is new danger… reading of children who wander around the woods all day long, alone for hours, unaccompanied and taking huge risks, that I cared nothing for as a girl, in fact, the lack of adult supervision was thrilling then and i’m sure it’s part of what my son delights in now.  He’s wiser than I was, he’s dubious about the authenticity of magic: brownies, pixies and fairy-folk are less plausible for him.  I was far more hopeful (gullible).  Then there’s the names…I have to admit i’m torn here.  Do I read him the old ones or the new versions?

In case you’re not aware, Enid Blyton’s texts had characters named Jo, Bessie and Fannie; their cousin Dick comes to stay later. The publishers, in their wisdom, have brought out newer versions.  Joe, Beth, Frannie and Rick.  Yes, I kid you not. Rick.  I felt this was a poor alternative and a bit laughable really, if they were going to change them, they should have just departed fully from the originals- as the rhyming alternative only seems more farcical.

I admit, I was vaguely aware of the double meaning of some of the names as a girl and thought it odd that the author used them, but it certainly didn’t bother me for long, and I became engrossed in the adventures of these children and desperate to know what would happen to them next.  Indeed, the names became meaningless to me.  As Shakespeare so famously questioned, through his heroine, Juliet, ‘what’s in a name?’

I grant you, names, nouns, words, lexis, whatever you want to term all these things we utter-they are ‘signifiers’ of other things- and so are very important. The editors of Enid Blyton’s stories clearly believe that it matters enough to edit them out -but I take issue with some changes. The change from ‘Bessie’ to ‘Beth’ is said to be because they felt ‘Bessie’ too old-fashioned and ‘Dame Slap’ has become ‘Dame Snap’, as corporal punishment has been edited out of the books entirely, in addition, some of the sexism in the original books has been omitted.  Surely this is going a bit far?  I mean they showed little foresight in changing ‘Bessie’ to ‘Beth’ for a start, as ‘Bessie’ and many other ‘old-fashioned’ names have made a fierce comeback recently.  Registers are being loaded up with Arthurs, Alfreds, Betsys and Florences.  I mean, yes, I see that it is harder when said names become aligned with genitalia- and this isn’t desirable for a child’s book on the whole is it? But, i’m fully prepared for the fact that language will change in my lifetime and that even my humble moniker could become synonymous with someones’ nether regions eventually -as regrettable as that may be. I’m fully accepting that people may blush at the thought of an ‘Anita’ and I asked my husband how he’d feel if his name morphed into a rude word, and he wasn’t particularly bothered, saying he knew a Dick at uni and he got on fine.  I didn’t ask anymore.

It is unfortunate when times change and words take on new, unfavourable meanings- but surely we shouldn’t change the names and words of a much-loved author just because they are outdated?  These pieces of work reflect the history and cultural norms of the time in which they were written. They are a snapshot.  Our kids are going to read many texts throughout their school careers written in ‘outdated’ English and- particularly under the present government- many by old, white, british, men before the 20th century and so will undoubtedly be met with various examples of gender discrimination and many words and names that reflect the time in which they were written.  I know as an English teacher this is all part of the learning – to give them this insight into the way the authors wrote and lived ‘then’.  What next?  Are we going to edit Shakespeare’s insults out of all his plays because they offend or distract?  Is Macbeth too Scottish?  Are we going to take the sexism out of the social commentaries of Bronte or Austen?  It would be an editing and censorship nightmare. There are loads of Fannies in Austen.

Language can offend people it’s true- but I struggle with this a bit.  I acknowledge that words can be hurtful, damaging or cruel and I don’t comply with the notion that we’ve become too politically correct, I don’t think we can ever be too politically correct, in the true sense of the term. It is absolutely right that we should be respectful of peoples’ race, religion and gender and mind carefully how we refer to them.  At times though, words are also just that.  They can be made into crosswords, puns and anagrams. They are playful, silly and interesting and don’t need to be taken too seriously.

It’s a difficult thing when we put our adult perceptions on books meant for children, it warps it.  I mean, give kids credit, they may laugh, snigger and guffaw at first, especially on lines like, ‘Dick gets up to mischief’,  but honestly, I remember wading through those wonderful stories oblivious to anything but the wonder of Moonface’s slippery-slip and Silky’s pop biscuits. No double meanings there I might add.  I was truly enchanted by the fairy-folk; lands at the top of the tree; gripped by the danger and desperate for the next chapter.

There’s a film coming out.  Maybe they knew this would not translate as well to the screen and they may well be right, we don’t want to distract from the stories, but I think editing of any author is a contentious issue.  Where do we draw the line?

I’m reading the old editions to my son, mainly because we had those copies in the house and, being five, he is beautifully innocent and has no idea as to the connotations of those names.  I don’t feel an edit is required for us, although this might come back to bite me one day when he exclaims, ‘Dick!’ to the poor teacher seeking a character’s name suggestion from the class and gets a royal telling off or he might be scarred for life by my reading him a story of a very greedy Fannie… but I can’t see it.  Honestly, they are just names, and whilst we wriggle and squirm and become uncomfortable at the sheer mention of them, it was Enid Blyton’s wonderful imagination that was the heart of those stories and it is timeless. I am sure she wouldn’t mind them changing her characters’ names if it meant more children would enjoy her stories but I should also imagine she’d think it was quite silly.

The sexism…well that’s trickier.  I mean, it is grating when Jo is told to do boys’ work in the garden and the girls do some ‘easier’ jobs for their mother, but, once again we are merely reminded of a less enlightened time and surely this is a springboard for discussion with our children?  I’ll balance it out for my kids at some point with some cool, graphic novel about female ninjas i’m sure.  I don’t want to damage young minds or offend, but I think facing these language idiosyncrasies head-on is more favourable to a cover-up job.  I seem to recall that the Nazis heavily edited books that didn’t comply with their philosophies.

So, resolved not to be a language Nazi, and allowing common sense to prevail, I shall wistfully continue reading the beautiful stories of picnics and pixies with my son and enjoy the magic and charm of a bygone era.  Indeed, I must go, Dick just ran into Fannie in the woods. 😉

xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx