First Guests

As I sit here waiting for friends to arrive from the UK I am grateful for the new friends I’ve found here.

I’ve tended to start working most mornings at about 6am which gives me time to get my UK calls done and work started whilst still in my pyjamas. By 7.30am I know I have to get ready, showered and dressed because C comes to clean. Only today, she’s ill. I was beside myself with fear and loathing. Fear that I would be judged for having an untidy house and loathing that I hadn’t made time to clean it yesterday after I’d had my major curry cook in. D to rescue, she organised and helped me to prioritise. She finds it strange that I have so much stuff with me as she has worked hard to be minimalist. All the more reason to thank her for her support today.

Sitting waiting for John to bring A and D home I wonder what will the next 10 days hold for us? I’m hoping they’ll meet some amazing people. The point of a land based trip is to get to know some of the culture and customs of the islands so we’ll have Smoko and my Chay’s will come round for dinner.

They will see lots and lots of wildlife, hear stories about the Falklands conflict with Argentina. Drink some Falklands Beerworks beer – I’m told the Rockhopper is particularly good. They’ll hopefully have some local Squid cooked in a variety of ways and they will go back knowing the Falkland Islands and the Islanders.

I think I hear the car doors and the struggle to carry bags up the stairs so I’m off to say hello.

Is writing ever easy?

P1070751Its been a while since I updated my blog. I’ve been writing, but nothing I could post. Recently I started working with a wonderful writing coach and so did a series of writing exercises. These aim to help me learn different aspects of creative writing. Currently it feels like a mountain higher than any I’ve ever tried to climb to get some of them started.

‘ Write as if you are an inanimate object’ my wonderful coach suggested. OOKaaay, thats easy – not, was my child like internal response.  It was the hardest of the exercises and I didn’t do it well but I did complete it.

Whilst procrastinating, I met with a friend for a coffee and told her about my challenge. ‘Ooh, what a lovely idea’ she looked upward for a moment ‘I’d like to be a gate post’, I smiled and nodded and waited for her to continue. ‘I hope that bloody sheepdog doesn’t pee against me again today’ ‘why won’t the farmer come and tidy me up. I need a good clean and paint; the lichen is making me itch.’ ‘Perhaps a sheep will come along and rub itself against me – here sheep – here sheep – can’t those sheep hear me calling?’ ‘Kids are kicking a ball at me again, I hate it when they do that’ ‘OOh, I wonder who’s visiting in a brand new Land Rover, farmer won’t be happy, he hates it when someone has a better car than his’ and so on. As she talked I could see the carmudgeonly gatepost that liked to gossip. My bistro table was, however, not getting any action. I finally forced myself to write something and send it off.

Its interesting to learn how many different skills there are in writing. I thought I could just sit down at a computer and start my story but I have a long way to go before that’s a possibility. For now, I am back to my exercises and today its about music which hopefully will be a little easier. Writing an exercise with a suggested 10 minute time slot and permission to have fun, write everything that comes into your mind however silly, and don’t edit should be easy. It is fun most of the time and it does generate some creative ideas. It also takes you back to situations you’ve experienced. A word can trigger a thought, an exercise about shoes, and I was taken back to a time when I coveted a pair of Cinderella perspex sandals. As you can imagine, that was never going to end well for me!

A bigger barrier to writing is that its just so very easy to get distracted here. The islands are really beautiful, many of the people are amazing and there’s lots for me to do. I find it hard to believe that, for this year, I only have 7 weeks more FI adventure. It strikes me that a good outcome for those 7 weeks would be to complete the exercises and to start the novel properly with my character having her own voice. I’ve set out my goal to help me focus, feel free to check in with me to see how I am doing and to keep me honest.

I will also be doing other things and will blog about those another day.

 

Falkland Islands 3200: O2 London 20000

When I was last in the UK I was trying to explain how small is the Falkland Islands population (3200) to my God-daughter. ‘So its like a small town’ she said and I nodded ‘ yes, but a very small town and probably smaller than any you’ve visited’ I explained. Her eyes glazed over as she nodded sagely. I knew she wasn’t getting it, she couldn’t understand the scale, so I suggested ‘check out the O2 in London, what’s the capacity?’ She looked it up on her iPhone ‘20,000 people’. The 02 can accommodate nearly 8 times the population of the Falkland Islands. Wembley stadium with a capacity of 90,000 would envelope our population about 28 times. I think she got it!

What of these 3200 people?  So far, luckily, I’ve only met wonderful people.

W was my first friend on the island. A brilliant mind, a warm heart and a wonderful sense of community she gives help and support wherever she can. With a huge network she introduces people and can always find a connection with others. She’s a teacher by profession and even though she retired she’s still facilitating and enabling people to learn. She is the type of person with whom you can have a deep and challenging conversation and then be a bit silly. She is direct and honest and she reminds me of the head girl at my school who seemed to be good at everything but humble in her achievements. I wrote about W some time ago and now she will soon return to the islands and I am so looking forward to seeing her.

S is highly creative, determined, generous, warm, kind and again has a sharp mind. A strong woman who is devilishly proud of her family. She shares knowledge and facilitates learning. She is someone who intuitively knows when I might feel a bit low and she will call or text to suggest a meet or to have a brief chat. To know there is someone looking out for you, particularly when you spend long days alone, is a gift. I am loving learning so much that is new to me. Ive also been able to share my thoughts about my future ventures and had some wise counsel.

N has an amazingly sharp mind. I suspect she could do anything she turned her hand to. She cares deeply and is widely respected. Some people shine in a small place,  but might struggle elsewhere, not N she’d shine wherever she landed. I’ve learnt many things and we have the most hilarious conversations. A recent evening with friends ended in side splitting laughter. I’ve no doubt the produced endorphins definitely strengthened my immunity to the bug which is going around Stanley. Before I leave, I’m looking forward to finishing some projects with her.

Until I started to write this I didn’t notice the themes. They’re appearing though: sharp intelligence, kindness and friendship, creativity, teaching or facilitating learning and a ‘can do’ attitude. These are all women who get things done and done well. I feel so very lucky to have found such wonderful friends.

There are many other people I’ve met who are equally amazing.  It seems the lure of the islands attracts an array of talented people who like to connect and engage in the community. Its a privilege to know them and to spend time with them. As many of them are quite private I won’t write more.

As I finish this piece, I’m left wondering if the prospect of living in an isolated but immensely beautiful part of the world attracts a higher proportion of people with great interpersonal skills and an array of talents? I also wonder if living in a small community forces people to engage more and to be kinder than they might be otherwise?

Whats it like to live in the Falklands?

Its a difficult question to answer.

You know most people but not all. You raise your hand to acknowledge other drivers in most but not all cases.

Wine and meat are cheap but fruit and veg are very expensive.

Shopping 

In Stanley, there are two large grocery shops and they both sell an array of merchandise in addition to the usual weekly shop, things like ski poles in one or pretty jumpers in another. There are 3 convenience stores one gas station and about 5 pubs. There are a couple of clothing shops but the ranges are small. A few gift shops survive by doing great trade with cruise line customers. These shops sell a mix of merchandise but my favourite items are those locally designed and made. People spin and dye wool which can be bought in Skeins. Other people use the wool to make hats, scarves and wraps. Some people do felting and sell felt pictures. Now I’ve met people locally I better understand just how much work goes into producing each item. Jam made from a tiny berry which grows on the Diddle Dee plant can be found in some shops. There is little time or need to go shopping but there is a hive of activity going on in homes where people are making stuff for ‘The Season’.

Another of my favourite shops is one that sells fresh fruit and vegetables. They have an array of poly tunnels which they use to grown produce to used by locals and sold in the shop. Lamb or beef are inexpensive here and no doubt are the main food.

People 

Whats it like? Its mesmerising, so like the UK and yet so very different. You feel comfortable and at home quickly because things are familiar and then you hear a word like Smoko and you have no idea what people are talking about. There is a mix of Islanders ( which normally means they can date their island heritage back many generations and mostly came from UK).

Other groups include Contractors (here for a specific contract as a Teacher, Accountant, Treasurer or the Chief Executive normally on a 2 year contract).The common phrase you hear is that people came here for a 2 year contact but ended up staying 15, 20, 25, 30 years.

The next group are Chilean immigrants who come here to take up work, have children and eventually become Islanders. Zimbabweans come here to do de-mining, they bring their families and may eventually end up staying. People from the Philippines came to take up work in shops and hotels and many have stayed to take up residency. Most people can tell you who the first Philippina was and why she came. I haven’t asked but the same is probably true of Chileans.

Then you have an array of other nationalities who came to do something and then just couldn’t leave. All of these new people bring new blood and create a thriving social and economic community. They also bring amazing skills and knowledge to the islands, its not unusual to have a conversation and to find that the person you are talking to has had an amazing career somewhere before coming here. I think we have almost every skill you could imagine needing on the islands.

The population is growing very quickly. The primary school is full and all of the people who settle here can one day become UK citizens if they first become Falkland Islanders. They will have free access to the UK health care system and the right to abode in the UK.

Everyday stuff

Whats it like?  We suffer from Falklands Trouser leg and Falklands Hair.

As everyone drives big cars and some roads are unmade there is always dust or mud on the car so when I get out I inevitably catch my trouser on the step and this results in an ungainly muddy stain on the leg of my trousers. See examples.

Falklands hair, well the winds are so strong that you must always have a hat to hand. I still blow-dry my hair most days thought not sure why as I then put a hat on every time I leave the house. My hair is flattened, or worse if I forget the hat, I look wrecked.

Every time you leave the house to visit the penguins you need to take a camera, binoculars, a bottle of water, sunglasses, a hat, scarf, padded jacket and walking boots. You need to dress for 4 seasons!

and finally

I can’t think of anywhere more beautiful and inspiring for creativity than the Falkland Islands. I only wish it were a tad warmer!

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway, died on 2nd July 1961, was 62 years old and seems always to have been in pain pursuing his profession. His quotes paint a picture of a soul in torment.

‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.’

I’ll never write anything like The Old Man and The Sea or For Whom the Bells Toll. I don’t even think I want to write like that. To me, his writing is pretty near perfect and I can only imagine that the process was torturous. When googling the reviews for the Old Man and the Sea, some praise it, others seem to detest it. So as a writer, you will never please all of the people, criticism is always given.

Now lets just be clear about something, I am not comparing myself to Hemingway, but I like his quotes because thats how I feel every time I try to write fiction. I bleed, I hurt, I ache, I would rather pick up the horse shit by the road for my friend’s garden than write fiction.

At the same time I am compelled to write, I need to write, I want to write and I feel better when I write. The only problem is that, well, I just don’t write! Oh, I promise myself that today is the day I will sit down and write my novel. So, I sharpen a pencil, make sure my pen has ink, get the notebook out and ruler a small margin on each page so it’s ready for the pearls that will flow. I stare at the book, I fiddle with my pen, I look out the window and then I notice something in the room that needs tidying, so I busy myself with that.

I’ve tried to sit for an hour with a blank sheet where I’m not allowed to move for the hour even if I don’t write. What happens? I fall asleep or start to daydream about what I will do later.

The desire to write is like a curse. I could just say ‘thats it, I don’t give a fxxx, I am never going to write a novel and all thoughts, ideas and plans for such a thing will now be thrown out’. What do I do? I write a blog about how I can’t write. I talk to people about how I can’t write. I dream about how I can’t write and I moan about how I can’t write.

I am delighted then to announce that I have written twice this week! Both exercises suggested by a wonderful woman – but I’ve done them. They have nothing to do with my novels and they weren’t that much fun to do but they’re done. Perhaps this will be the week I get started….

My character is a slightly overweight female assassin. Although I suspect she’s more of a Guardian Angel who just happens to have skills which mean she can get herself and others out of difficult situations. She is an excellent markswoman, fun, complex but efficient. She has a close friend who is very beautiful, talented and a risk taker. Her friend works in TV but is anxious as she is about to lose her job. My character makes a suggestion that will change her friend’s fortunes for the better.

Lets see if I can get any further in the next few weeks….

Reader, I married him..

As my husband rarely reads things I write, I can talk quite freely about him here. I met John just under 20 years ago and we married in 2001. For a few months I teased that I would have a 2001 themed wedding but he didn’t take the bait. In December, it will be 16 years since our wedding and I can’t begin to explain just how quickly those years have passed. Some people say they would follow their husbands to the end of the earth but I wonder, when push comes to shove, would they really do it? Well, I did and I am living pretty close to the bottom of the world.

Before I met John I’d been single for a while and decided that it was important to make sure the next relationship would be a good one. I did what all self respecting 30 somethings do, I wrote a list of desirable qualities. There were some conditional ones, other were desires rather than essentials and could be traded such as Dancing.

Recently  we had dinner with some new friends and after a couple of games of Scrabble – we started another game which they sometimes play to get to know people.  Hopefully, they’ll still talk to us after some of the answers, but the game goes like this… a number of cardboard spoons are placed on the centre of the table and each one has a question that the group must answer. The spoon is then discarded and another is picked. The spoons sported questions such as ‘ whats the most decadent thing you’ve done?’ ‘ if you had the PM for tea what would be your first question?” ‘ Where would you most like to have a cocktail?’ and so on. Its quite revealing and you do get to learn lots about people. The question that got me thinking was ‘ Whats the most romantic thing your partner has ever done?’ Well, I could answer that and realised that I had lots of examples of John being romantic. Things like sending me a Van Morrison CD with a certain track highlighted for me to play – if you can’t guess- you’re probable not a Van Fan. Or I could have talked about the time he gave me a clutch of envelopes to take on a 10 day trip – a letter or item for each day – including some whacky things like a photo of him being silly or a photo of him and his friend Andrew covered in mud! Opening the letters on the trip was like having a short conversation and yes it was before messaging, whats app etc.

He is so pragmatic and a quiet introvert so its perhaps not surprising to be able to report his romanticism. The upshot of the game was that I couldn’t think of one romantic thing I had done for John. There are lots of practical examples but nothing stands out as ‘Romantic’. As we will soon embark on our 20th year together,  I will start with the notion that I must try harder!

So, has it all been a whirlwind of love and perfection? The polite answer is NO! At our wedding John gave the most amazing speech and I recall snippets of it from time to time. He talked about the concept of a Management Consultant and an Engineer organising a wedding and the challenges that presented. Of course he was able to report success on that occasion but we’ve sometimes encountered the challenges he jokingly referred to. Things like the Management Consultant having grandiose ideas about what can be achieved and the Engineer wanting to create a practical plan which could be implemented and delivered on budget and to time!

Final thought John’s dad did the eulogy at our wedding service and in it he reminded us to be kind to each other. He went on to say that it was something that would become harder than we could possibly imagine but that we should strive to always be kind to each other. He was right but I was lucky enough to marry the kindest person I think I’ve ever met.  ♥

A unique family

Living in the Falkland Islands you can’t escape the fact that there are almost as many military personnel (including the civilian staff) as there are Islanders. I’ve never worked with the military in any form other than occasionally with a colleague or two on leadership development programmes or coaching people to help them to achieve professional qualifications which will lead to a second career when they leave the Service.

This is a family of amazing people. The family goes much wider than the services alone. Spouses and families travel with serving personnel and try to create as normal a family life as possible. There are groups and clubs created around interests. No doubt there are arguments and problems but those aren’t visible to me. What I see are people living in this sometimes hostile environment – weather and facilities – having fun and getting the most out of their time here.

Any event such as a run or the mid-winter swim for charity, the services will always turn up. The great winter swim fell on a day when the weather was sunny but very cold. The waves at Surf Beach were higher than anything I’ve seen down there and yet a coach load of amazing people made their way into Stanley to take a dip – for charity and camaraderie.

Every time I fly the airbridge I will meet some people from one of the services. Without exception, people are amazing. A young man recently told me about his time in Afghanistan and how on one occasion he had lost hearing in one ear. He was with a group of chaps and initially got a ribbing because the spare seat next to him was filled with me. Not the nicest thought for a young man who was facing a seventeen and a half hour flight. He was kind, warm and chatty and told me about his family and his life in the UK living in military accommodation. I was really inspired. I get tired of the media and in particular the depictions of the services. Isn’t it about time we supported this family who train to support us?

BFBS provides the local radio stations and Jade is my favourite DJ. She’s fun and engaging and its like listening to one of my best friends chatting. On the Queens birthday she was rather surprised then pleased when the band played the Rocky theme and entertained us with a little wiggle. She interviews serving personnel about their time here and their various roles.

However, I have to say that the Forces TV channel is hilarious the listings include programmes I haven’t seen since the1970’s. I’ve often wondered if its a strategy; keep the TV banal and funny to keep tempers down. Or is it to do with funding? I guess I know the real answer, but I can’t help enjoying the image of someone in the MoD spending time psychologically assessing programmes. How they would come up with some of these choices as the best combination for relaxing and calming serving personnel is beyond me but I’m interested in your thoughts on the listings for tonight!

Maybe its entertainment all of the family can enjoy – like Disney 😉

Strangely, and rather pleasingly, BFBS Extra has season 7 Game of Thrones running. Unfortunately I missed the start of this season so won’t be able to watch now until the DVD is issued. No spoilers please.

Feeling blessed to be meeting so many wonderful people who know how to have fun, be creative and support each other.