By Farzana Hakim
Hi, all. I’ve returned to host another edition of Thursday Connectors after a much-needed and well-deserved break.
To be honest, who doesn’t need a break from the hustle and bustle of London life? I certainly did and in today’s Connectors, I’ll be telling you what I did and where I went. I’ll also share our September Connectors who, keeping our theme of ‘Worlds Apart’ in mind, sent in some wonderful pieces of creativity. Julie Dexter shares an account of her trip to Greece, Lynda Shepherd a fantastic short story set closer to home in Southend, and Sophia Pelc connects with artwork inspired by her visit to the Cornish Sea.
Much to look forward to!
I went to Bolzano, in northern Italy. It was absolutely stunning! The mountains, the lakes, the clear skies; wherever I looked it was unlike anything I’d seen. The beauty made me marvel at the miracles of God’s nature and when people say, ‘It’s a piece of heaven on earth,’ I can definitely relate. Bolzano, and the entire route to Innsbruck in Austria, is definitely someplace I’d recommend as a breathtaking sightseeing destination.
We also went to Venice. Although it was gorgeous, the city threw us off budget. Because there were seven of us, I had to book two Gondola rides and they were extortionately priced! I’m glad we did splurge out, though; entering the narrower streets of Venice made the experience worthwhile.
Next, we visited Verona and, being a historian, I thoroughly enjoyed the city; the old cobbled roads and the Arena. I felt I’d returned to Rome. And the vibes at Juliet’s House were a writer’s dream come true.
However, there were times when I felt homesick and wanted to return to the greyer skies of my home city, London. My feet swelled up so badly! Whether it was the heat, too much walking, or water retention and my crappy health issues, who knows? On our return journey, after a delay of 11 hours at Verona airport, our flight was cancelled. Easyjet… When we finally landed at Gatwick the next day, I clapped like a child. I was that glad to be home. Now, I feel as though I’ve been worlds apart!
All our Connectors today, it seems, have shared this feeling, reflecting it in their creative pieces. So, let’s read our first Connector now: Julie’s account of her trip to Greece.
Hi, Julie. Let’s connect:
Holidays From Cyclades To Piraeus: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
We arrived at the port of Piraeus after the four-hour ferry crossing from the island of Milos in the Cyclades, Greece. An unspoiled island famous for the beautiful Venus de Milo statue, volcanic rocks, flanked with tamarisk, oranges, and the scent of juniper against a backdrop of the myriad colours of the Aegean Sea. These are the good things, things of beauty that are there to savour. And savour we must.
But my eyes lock with the deep ice-blue eyes of a diminished man hauling his backpack by its strings across the road. He stops a moment to fathom what, or who, I’m looking at. It seems unfair that we have the leisure to linger here before hopping on to another ferry bound for the Argosaronic islands, sipping coffees, comparing surroundings whilst the ugliness of poverty lingers all around us.
It’s no better than anywhere else. Not least in England, where the cost-of-living crisis rages. On a trip to the supermarket the day before I departed, I met three struggling people, saddled with bags of clothes, and hoarders with trolleys filled with the things they couldn’t leave behind. A man stumbling then falling to the floor, his face bruised, his mouth dribbling. And it isn’t only the working poor. Now it’s the middle classes, too, who are affected.
Arriving a week earlier, we boarded the subway train for the journey to Piraeus. An elderly gent shuffled up, then down the train, his arm outstretched, proffering an empty plastic cup in hope that someone would place a few euros into it. You don’t have to speak the language to hear the desperation in his voice. I guessed he had probably spent some time rooting around in rubbish bins to find food, which many people now do.
I watched the doors sliding open and close and many more people boarding. The elderly gent replaced by at least two more at every stop. Continuing the journey, at Petralona, a young woman asking for support for the hospitals, and finally a youth and his girl asking for money for his accordion playing.
Every country has always had, and increasingly has, its share of poor people. But the middle class, it seems, is also struggling. Middle-income earners have suffered astronomical reductions in wages due to the hefty hike in tax and national insurance premiums. There is no government support for children, and criminally low, unemployment benefit support is time-limited, after which there is nothing.
Employees have had to face cuts in salaries, else be fired.
Since the taxes, the ICA and TEVE have risen to astronomical proportions and people are barely surviving. The Greeks are indeed fighters and a proud nation, but many have been brought to their knees. Further pressures have meant further hardships. VAT, for example, stands at 24%. In the coming months, it’s likely that new taxes will surface, such as the one introduced for owning and maintaining a swimming pool. Well, fair enough.
Families who have saved for many years in the private pension fund with Commercial Union have seen their funds disappear. After years of paying into the Union, the funds have simply gone, embezzled by a Greek tycoon who is now imprisoned. Of course, there’s no way of recovering the money. They will have to go without. It’s like rubbing salt into the wounds after all the suffering that has already been endured. There now won’t even be a pension to look forward to. To top it all off, I hear many people have not been paid salaries they have worked hard for, for months. Can the situation be any worse?
As I stare from the ferry window at the Piraeus Cultural Centre, which looks as if it, too, has seen better days, I sincerely hope not.
(c) Julie Dexter, 2022
Connect with Julie on Twitter: @JulieADexter
Our next Connector is a fictional short story inspired by our theme, which was sent in by Lynda Shepherd.
Hi, Lynda. Let’s connect:
How’s it going?
I sigh, looking at Katy’s message and then back at the notepaper cannonballs littering my table at Gino’s.
Badly, I type, then press delete. I should try to sound more positive. Slowly, I type instead, then press send.
Katy is a great believer in giving out to the universe what you hope to receive. This and her cheerful freckled face were what my grandparents and I liked about her from the first time we met at Southend. I smile ruefully; we always say we’ve been friends an unspeakable number of years. My phone beeps again.
Do you want me to come with you to the solicitors?
I have copy to write for the county magazine by tomorrow morning, so I can email it over first thing.
I can if you tell me when. Beep, beep. We can have so much fun.
Thank you lovely, catch up later x.
I feel a small prickle of guilt, as I slide my mobile into my bag and eye the makeshift keyring with its trio of brass keys lying in front of my notepad and pens. I haven’t told her that I already have them. I’m not sure what to do. I’m not sure why Grandpa left it to me. One thing is for sure, I’m not making much progress here.
“Latte to go, please, Gino.”
“Coming right up, my angel. One Latte and a Cinnamon Whirl.”
I roll my eyes. The ever-charming cafe owner is as incorrigible as he is efficient.
“I can’t have you fading away.”
I think that’s unlikely. “Thank you, Gino.”
Motion always helps. I make my way down the promenade. The sound of arcade machines is less, now the season has changed. Autumnal watery sunshine and showers. Seagulls wheel overhead as I draw near to the paths towards the sand that surrounds one of the country’s longest piers. The salty tang of the seaside air soothes my senses. The beach huts come into view. The first one candyfloss pink, the next one, grandpa’s neighbour, sea blue. I stop, feeling for the keys in the pocket of my jeans and unlock the jaunty red and white, if slightly peeling, door of the beach hut christened The Lighthouse.
I’m almost floored as I step inside. Immediately catching my eye on the wall is a picture I’d clumsily painted many years ago: a sandcastle mansion Grandpa and I had proudly built together. It was the best sandcastle ever, of course! A tear slides down my cheek as I stare at it. The paper is slightly crumpled inside the charity shop frame. My gran bought carrier bags full of them. “You can’t have too many.”
Grandpa had loved the arts, too. Are any of his sketchbooks still here? I wonder. I shuffle round, looking through the belongings left here by my grandparents. The hut, albeit small, is full of memories. There is life, a marriage, a history. The pink bucket I used to build my sandcastles with and collect pretty seashells in sits in the corner, only a fragment of its white plastic handle remaining. A canvas leans against the back wall. I take deep breaths. I hadn’t imagined today would be like this. I turn the canvas round. In the pale beauty of watercolour, it depicts the row of beach huts, a stretch of gold in front of it, my gran and Peggy the collie. Oh, boy…
There isn’t just a single tear any more. Now, twin rivulets run down my cheeks. I remember a story Grandpa told me; the memory of it brought back to life by this picture.
More deep breaths. I rest the canvas back where I found it. I should be researching and writing. Two possible subjects for my latest piece had leapt to the top of my list this morning. But as I’d made a start, simultaneously researching and drafting out my latest How It Used To Be page, they fell flat. Two-dimensional. It did nothing to my heartstrings. Back to the drawing board.
I look at one of the driftwood shelves made from wood Peggy the collie, a stray Grandpa and Gran had fostered early on in their courting days, had a love of collecting. On it sits a photo of Peggy and Mae, my Gran. Below it, on another shelf, lies a sketchbook, with a piece of charcoal and an HB pencil; almost as though Grandpa had just left them there minutes before. In reality, it’s been six months. How can that be?
Standing in the doorway, I stare out at the crashing waves. What would his advice be to me now? I clutch Grandpa’s sketchbook to my chest. He always said I needed to believe in myself.
“What if they don’t like my writing, Grandpa?”
“All you can do is your best, my love. Write what’s in your heart.”
I smile because, of course, that’s where the answer lies to what eluded me at Gino’s. The places I was looking at for my piece bore no personal connection. Here, I feel something so powerful. If I could only get it down on paper!
My grandpa’s sketchbook beside me, I sit down on the steps. I get out my own pad and pen, hesitating for a moment. Is it too much?
I text Katy: Meet me at the Cheeky Chippy at six. I’ve got a surprise for you. Bring bubbles x.
Beep. Ooh, tell me now.
Wait and see x.
Katy will understand. I feel as though Grandpa is still here to guide me. We’ll drink a toast to him and Gran later. Then, instead of my pen, I pick up Grandpa’s HB pencil. Resting its leaded point on the top line, I begin to write – the first of what I hope will be many more lighthouse moments.
(c) Lynda Shepherd, 2022
Finally, our last Connector, Sophia Pelc, offers a reflection based her GCSE artwork: the idea of being separated from the natural world by a piece of glass. I felt this fitted our theme perfectly.
Hi, Sophia. Let’s connect:
“This is a picture of me from last summer. It looks like an aquarium, but it’s not, as I’m actually looking at fish swimming in the wild. I’m standing in front of a glass window looking out into the Cornish Sea, which is full of rich marine life. The pane of glass separates me from their world. I’m sharing the original picture my mum took, so you can see how I used my art to make the point of the ‘Worlds Apart’ theme even more clearly.”
(c) Sophia Pelc, 2022
Thank you to all our Connectors. Next month, with our new theme being ‘Home’, I want to connect with your experiences of our late monarch, the Queen, whether from home or away. If you have any real-life stories, please do send in your images or writing and I will definitely showcase this on the Thursday Connectors tribute to Her Late Majesty. Thanks to Afsana Elanko for her wonderful pencil portrait to kick us off!
**Look out for Issue 14 of Write On! out on 28th September**
You can hear extracts from Showcase in our podcast. Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.
If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for information, advice and support:
There were times when I felt homesick and wanted to return to the greyer skies of my home city London.