Z is for Zoos.

Serpent and Apple

What is your take on zoos? In one way  the very  idea of them is abhorrent to me.  Once working with children, we went on a day trip to a zoo,  I still remember the sight of monkeys, totally bored, totally depressed, while people on the other side of the bars laughed at them.

In some parts of the world most zoos  these days have moved on from the zoos of old when cement cages and steel-bar enclosures were commonplace.  The zoo closest to where I live Parc de Vincennes, having closed for a quite a long time opened with enclosures that seem to take into account the animals natural habitats.  Planners opted for limited, better-constructed habitats, allowing more animals, however smaller ones.  The zoo’s veterinarian Alexis Lécu, points out the team considered ecological needs and required habitat sizes for the nearly 1000 animals in the new spaces.  “We had to make some choices since we are limited.  We can’t have everything,” he said. Some animals  which were part of the zoo before the renovation were excluded,  for example there are no elephants,  or brown bears.

There seems a lot of positives about  this zoo, particularly some of the space afforded to the animals, however  I wonder think about the open space a Giraffe or zebra might normally cover in a natural habitat compared to the space it has in this zoo. A Giraffes long legs allow giraffes to run as fast as 35 miles (56 kilometers) an hour over short distances and cruise comfortably at 10 miles (16 kilometers) an hour over longer distances and like zebras are designed, and are built, to run across miles of terrain, something they cannot do in captivity. The chances are, that despite a conscious effort to improve the animals environment,  the likelihood is that it won’t  equate what the animal would have if free and the animal will most likely get depressed.

Unfortunately not all zoos are like Parc de Vincennes, . Take Giza Zoo in Egypt for example. Hundreds of their animals have died due to poor living standards and the fact that the zoo cannot afford medical care for their animals.

Essentially zoos are like jails, the animals have their freedom taken away from them and they are being  humans to gawp at them.  On the other hand, if you have a young child it is a wonderful opportunity to show them animals, such as Lions, and other wild cats, that they would have little chance of seeing (given that such animals don’t  exist in Europe).

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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Y is for “you might not want to read this if you are a writer, musician or artist”

Y for Twitter

It is very hard being a writer, a musician, or artist…what are the rewards?  Unless you make some dramatic breakthrough, you are stuck in some kind of limbo…among many others just like you.

A writer’s objective is to be published…you send your precious manuscript, you have slaved over, perfecting each chapter, each sentence, each word, far and wide.  Rejection letters arrive on your doorstep, unwanted like a bout of flue, each one like a stab in the heart, each one drains away your self belief in your work.

At last a window opens, a small publisher says they would like to publish your precious manuscript…but this is only the start of it…If you are published but nobody is paying any attention to your book what then? There’s depressing reading seeing your Amazon ranking…Favorable book reviews give you a lift, but to get genuine readers to give a review is hard going.

Being a musician to be heard you don’t necessarily have to have a record contract, you can post  your songs on soundcloud or similar sites.  You can do gigs, but then only a handful of enthusiastic friends show up…but will they come to your next gig, friend’s loyalty can go far, but even this has limits. All those hit songs, you thought you had written, you are confined to anonymity.

As a painter, you love painting, it is almost a necessity for you, but when your paintings are finished, what to do with them?  You need to find a gallery owner who is interested in your type of work.  You can post images of your work on facebook, start a website with your work., but your work gets put in the back of a cupboard,  soon to be unseen and forgotten, a film of dust gathering, as they fester.

Whatever form of creativity you are into, unless you are blessed with good fortune,  are miraculously discovered, your lack of recognition will remain a constant thorn in your side

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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X is for xenophobia

Serpent and Apple

Each week’s news  is marked with a new set of horrible stories about people killing complete strangers merely because of their ethnicity, religion, nationality, or skin color.  In recent times ISIS, or whatever these lunatic perpetrators of evil  have killed anyone that does not follow their religion.  Take for example their persecution of Yazidi women and massacres of at least 5,000 Yazidi civilians.

History is filled with xenophobia the  Jewish holocaust led to approximately 6 million European Jews being mass murdered in concentration camps and forced labour during the Second World War.

Can you imagine that at one time there were “human zoos” a popular attraction in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. These ‘public exhibits’ of human beings (caged, sometimes with exotic animals) introduced the West to the ‘barbarians’ of the East. Particularly popular exhibits were those of Africans, tribal pygmies, and the Philippines. Men, women and children would be kidnapped, caged, then exhibited in front of European audiences. Visitors to these “zoos” would make fun of the exhibits and poke them with sticks, throw food at them, treating them like animals and for an extra fee were allowed to subject the captives to some degrading acts. Human zoos existed in places like Paris, London, Barcelona, and Antwerp. Sarah Baartman died after years spent in European “freak shows”. She had very pronounced buttocks, due to a build-up of fat, which made a cause for European fascination.  Wealthy customers could pay for private demonstrations in their homes, with their guests allowed to touch her.

She is seen by many as the epitome of colonial exploitation and racism, of the ridicule and commodification of black people.

MUSEUM

Xenophobia seems ingrained not only in humans, but also in the animal kingdom.

According to a  biological anthropologist from Harvard, male chimpanzees brutally beat and kill chimps from other groups, indeed male groups vigorously patrol the boundaries of their territories searching for isolated males from neighboring groups.  Ants equally are liable to such behavior , conducting warfare with one another.

Apparently Males are much more likely to be perpetrators of racial discrimination, but equally likely to be the victims of such discrimination. Xenophobia is something that is spread universally.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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W is for what makes a great story?

W for Twitter

Confronted with a blank screen, poised to  tap away,  how to go about creating that great story. Perhaps one primary consideration is the theme.  Maybe the theme should  be a ghostly shadow within the confines of the story, not screaming at the reader, but there none the less.  It may make the reader think about their own lives, there might be a moral to be learned, but a writer should not take on the role of a preacher.

Then there has to be a plot, all the conflict or struggle that the main character or characters go through. The conflict should develop in intensity and excitement, reaching some kind of climax.  If you are writing a novel there may be a number of conflicts interspersed, but a short story will have only one principal conflict.

Moving onto story structure,  the story has to entice the reader, right from the first sentence.  Equally then ending has to round things off perfectly.  You may have your theme and an outline of the story, but how are you going to tell it… a writer needs to decide about writing the story either in “first person” or in “third person.”  Will you be using “he,” “she,” and “it”—so writing in third person means telling a story as if it’s all about other people., or will you be writing using “I”—so writing in first person means telling a story as if it happened to you.  If in your head you have a rough idea of the theme,  you will also know which tense you are going to use,  either “present tense” or “past tense.” Writing in past tense means writing as if the story already happened, which is typical  manner in which most stories are written. Writing in present tense means writing as if the story is happening right now.  Normally you can’t mix the  two.

An important consideration is the characters.  I like to “live” with characters in my head, before committing to write about them.  For me the name of the character, says a lot about the character, for example in my short stories, I have a character called “Bugeyes” and the story revolves around the fact that he is person who suffers intensely, due to his oversized eyes.  Lead characters should be someone readers can feel something in common with, or feel empathy. In my stories I love to create evil characters.  My characters are far from perfect have flaws, and idiosyncrasies.  Characters are interesting if they are not too one dimensional,  even evil characters have to have some kind of redeeming feature, or perhaps they have been victims themselves in one way or another.

Settings are also paramount. In my book there is quite a range of different settings,  some are set in America, for example my story “Opium” is set in America, post-civil war.

Then there is the question of language,  it has to really correspond with your story.

A writer will tend to use actions and speech to let readers know what’s happening. Shoing , rather than telling, using  direct more “real life” quotes like “Go away!” instead of indirect quotes like “She told him to go away.”

You don’t have to write over elaborately to write well. Don’t shy away from using simple words and simple sentences, so you words and sentences cut through easily.

I often spend a long time mulling over what is the best word to use, glued to a thesaurus. Each sentence and paragraph should resonate, I often spend a lot of time, writing and rewriting so as to get the optimum sentence. Some sentences or paragraph can be redundant. You can get carried away, lose sight of the story, or go off on tangents.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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V is for Vita Sacville West

Serpent and Apple
Serpent and Apple — Image by © 68/GK Hart/Vikki Hart/Ocean/Corbis

If I could make use of a time machine, one person I wouldn’t mind acquainting myself with would be Vita Sackville West.  It is obvious that there was much more to her than being an acclaimed poet and noted gardener.  She appears to be a woman whose character resonates and sparkles, the Latin translation of her name is “life”. She was a woman who really “lived” her life. She loved to travel,  she seems to be a born adventurer and her adventures included affairs outside of her marriage, well documented in a controversial book called “Portrait of a Marriage” .

Her life seems to be scandalized in tabloids even in the present day,  check out this Daily Mail headline

Stately home seductress who makes Downton’s wildest plots look tame: Vita Sackville-West was known to have affairs with men AND women but she is reveals she was more voracious than anyone thought

The beginning of the article states Tall, dark and magnetically attractive, Vita Sackville-West had the dubious knack of inflaming passions wherever she went.

Marriages crumbled in her wake. Grown men and women threatened suicide. One lover even produced a pistol and threatened to blow her own brains out.

Yet, on the face of it, Vita led a life of serene Edwardian upper-class respectability. Feted as a poet and novelist — her most successful book was The Edwardians — she was a baron’s daughter who had married a diplomat and borne two sons.

All this despite the fact that she died in 1962,  a year after I was born.  People love to delve into the more “lurid” aspects of her life. I have vague memories of her husband Harold, a brief encounter in the garden at Sissinghurst. She was married to my Great Uncle. My Mother spent a lot of time during the war and has many fond memories of Vita and to this day loves to relates stories about her and was dubbed Vita’s favorite niece.

Here is a woman who had elements of her life being fashioned into a story called “Orlando” written by one of her paramours Virginia Wolf.  The great love of Vita’s life, despite spending a troubled childhood there was Knole, a house with six hundred years of history, but a house she was not allowed to inherit, on account of being a woman.

Here is a woman whose relationship with Violet Trefusis, was dramatized by the BBC, Vita being played by the imposing figure of Janet  McTeer.

Vita seems to represent a woman who was ahead of her times, married to a man who was homosexual  and yet despite each partner involving themselves with other people, they still managed to sustain their marriage as well as bring up two sons, Ben and Nigel.  It is hard to imagine they planned such an open marriage from the onset, but this is how it panned out.  They must have had inklings about  their sexual orientation before they were married,  things were different in their era.

One thing is for certain Vita seems to have all the hallmarks of an eccentric, wearing her trademark jodhpurs,  trying to pass herself off as a man,  while on a amorous sojourn with Violet.  She might have left a trail of pain in her wake, with her risky affairs,  but she seems a spirited woman.

I have met people while living  in France who are avid admirers of both Vita and the Bloomsbury set.  Her legacy seems strong and enduring as ever…

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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U is for unwanted visitors!

U for Twitter

Have you ever imagined what it is like to live in a haunted house?

‘The Cage’ in St Osyth, Essex (England), is said to be home to poltergeists responsible for assaulting, scratching and even BITING past residents. One owner said  “I’m not a religious man and yet I go to bed every night clutching a crucifix for my own safety”

Imagine this…The Cage itself first gained renown in 2012 when owner Vanessa Mitchell, 40, told how she was forced to flee the house when she spotted black shadowy figure standing over the cot of her infant son, Jesse.  Wouldn’t this be enough to make you pack your bags and make a quick exit.

It is no surprise there are strange goings on. The Cage itself has a sinister past, having once served as a prison that was in use until the early 20th century.Added to this, in  the 16th century 13 women accused of being ‘witches’ were chained there prior to their execution by hanging. The vengeful spirit of one these ladies, Ursula Kemp, is thought to be roaming the property still. Ursula’s undoing was a protracted dispute with a neighbour, Grace Thurlowe, a dispute that involved money. When Grace’s daughter, nearly three months old, “fell out of its cot” broke its neck and died, suspicion fell on Ursula.

Ursula Kemp was accused of witchcraft and was part of the Essex Witch hunt, and was arrested and interrogated on 20th February 1582 by the local landowner and magistrate Brian D’Arcy.. Ursula was promised favourable treatment by D’Arcy if she confessed. This she did and her 8 year old son, Thomas was also forced to give evidence against her. Her last appearance before D’Arcy was on 9th March when she was made to make a statement against a co-accused. In between these dates, Ursula and others were locked up in the Cage, where food would have been scarce,  only available when family or friends brought it. The allegations spiraled with several women accusing each other until a total of 14 were named. Recent evidence has come to light which shows that those found guilty were not hanged straight after the trial as was originally thought but brought back to Colchester gaol. When Ursula and Elizabeth Bennet  were hanged, it would have been normal for their bodies to be immediately buried without ceremony in unconsecrated ground. Since there is evidence to show that they were brought back to Colchester after the trial, they may have been hanged in Colchester or St.Osyth. It was not unheard of for convicted witches to be returned to their own areas for sentence to serve as a warning to others. So there you have it, a haunted witch prison.

You would probably laugh, if you heard there was such a place called Chillingham Castle, but yes it exists in Northumberland (Britain). The wonderfully named  Lady Leonora Tankerville, who lived there in the 1920s, reported many a paranormal sighting and wrote down some of her experiences.In one incident she said she was visited by the ghost of a young officer she knew at the moment of his death. ‘Before listening or even looking, my first impulse was to seize my dressing-gown and throw it over me.

‘Then, turning back, ready to hear what he had to say, he was suddenly gone. The room was empty and I stood alone.

‘I told my husband that our young friend must be dead, and we heard next day that he had died at that very hour.’

Since then there have been several other paranormal sightings. A frail figure in white is said to often appear in the pantry.

The pantry was where the silver used to be stored and a footman was employed to sleep in the room and guard it.

One night, when the footman had gone to sleep, he encountered a pale lady in white who begged him for water.

This same pale figure is said to be seen haunting the castle to this today, and it is thought the longing for water suggests she was the victim of poisoning.

I am at the point of buying a new property in Brittany, France, I hope to God, there are no uninvited visitors.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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T is for Trump and the Pope

 

Serpent and Apple

A brute of a man arrives for an interview for a top executive job.  Despite having a good CV, he has no direct experience for the job.  While waiting to be interviewed  he starts viciously attacking other better qualified candidates.  He says to one that he will be “weak”.  This man seems to shoot from the mouth, he is antagonistic,  unashamedly forthright, as carries out these mocking tirades.  He does not care who he offends,  be it because of their religion or ideology.  Some of his comments are not only toxic but highly dangerous and divisive. Once his interview begins  he is boastful,  he will make the company great again. Some people seem to be carried along by his bravado.

Does this  man sound familiar…?

Donald Trump has even managed a showdown with Pope.  When the Pope pointed out that building a wall along the Mexican border (paid for by the Mexicans)  as being “not Christian” Trump characteristically went on the attack, saying the Pope is “disgraceful” for questioning his faith.  On the other hand the Pope himself  ignored the fact that the Vatican is equally surrounded by a sizable wall.

However…check this out…

Deep in the dark chasms of the Vatican, a bare knuckle fight is about to take place…

It’s the fight of the century, behind closed doors.

As Donald Trump takes on the Pope for world supremacy.

Trump’s arrived with his band of thugs,

The Pope’s surrounded by cardinals and Latin chants,

Trump’s hyped up, ready for a bout,

“I’ll take on anyone, Muslims, Latino’s,  even God himself,

All to make America great again.

A Latino pope, what a great mistake,

An American pope would pose a greater threat,

To put the fear of God into the soft bellies of the people.

This pope who dares question my faith,

I’ll put you pope firmly in your place!

For nobody dares question Donald Trump,

For if they do,  I’m gonna pound them to dust!

Fuck you pope, know your place,

Watch me now as I rearrange your face!

 

Now listen Donald,

I mean no harm,

It’s just building a wall isn’t Christian.

If you want a fight, I’m not so meek and mild,

And don’t forget I have God on my side.

I’ll knock your hair all over the place,

Don’t forget

I have a  well over a billion followers,

The Vatican is full of gold,

We’ve been in business  for many centuries,

Mr Trump, don’t you know.

 

You are right Pope,

You might teach me a thing or two,

But step out of line one more time,

And I’ll be coming after you

 

The two men stepped out of the ring,

without a punch being thrown.

The Pope said his words were lost in translation,

said he’d even offer Trump, the keys to salvation.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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