Isolation Projects During Lockdown

Happy Wednesday in isolation!

I hope you aren’t fretting too much. It’s difficult not to. The BBC News will be the death of me, if anything – the constant death toll updates and news of famous musicians passing at scarily young ages makes me genuinely terrified for my parents; my dad in particular, who has asthma.

Of course, I’m supposed to be in St Bart’s hospital today having interventional radiology to attempt to fix a problem with my right kidney and some of the veins feeding into it. At the time of writing, I’m still scheduled to have the op – but I don’t much fancy going into a hospital which could be (for all I know) riddled with covid-19. I am tempted to cancel it myself, but equally, I may not get this opportunity for another year if I do. It’s a difficult call to make, especially when they seem to be happy for me to continue to have the procedure.

In the meantime, I’ve just returned from Bristol (I was there when the lockdown happened) after a lovely week working at home with my partner. I’m now at home with my family, awaiting my operation – and tomorrow is my mum’s birthday, which will include whatever I could buy at Asda, of all places! (Of course, shopping 2 metres apart). Are birthday cakes essential? I would say yes.

Projects

I’ve been keeping busy with my own creative projects. Some of these opportunities are personal, and others have passed (such as These Are the Hands and Interconnected for example), but the Dickens one may be of interest to you if you enjoy character-building, and the deadline is not until June.

These Are the Hands

I received 3 x copies of the extremely important NHS poetry anthology, These are the Hands, which feature 2 of my poems. The launches and events associated with this beautiful piece of work celebrating NHS workers (which could not be more poignant now) had to be cancelled because of the virus, but we can still do a lot of sharing online. The proceeds were all going to NHS Charities Together, but I’ve since seen that the proceeds will be going directly towards the fight against Covid-19.

That means that by purchasing a copy or pre-ordering (the stock ran out already!) from the new stocks, you will be directly donating towards the fight against Covid-19. The poetry is just an amazing bonus, once again showcasing the power and the drive of our NHS workers on the frontlines.

It’s a beautiful anthology, truly, and some of the poems (from cleaners to surgeons, from admins to speach and language therapists) brought tears to my eyes. Actually, a lot of them did.

Buy a copy here and donate to the fight against Covid-19.

Children’s novel

I’m in the early stages of writing a children’s novel! Recently I’ve reignited my passion for children’s books and I’ve been reading some amazing classics, with many more still to go. It’s been a long time since I wrote novels and I can’t say I ever saw any success with them years ago, but it feels like the time is right to explore the ideas I’ve had bubbling away.

Naturally I can’t say much about it (I’m only on chapter 6!) but it is based a little on children I’ve read about (both fiction and non-fiction) and from my own experiences. The story centres around a friendship between two little girls at Great Ormond Street Hospital. The themes include death, happiness, friendship, and the fear of moving on after illness. How do children deal with these difficult aspects of their childhood, when they should only have to care about playtime?

Throughout this crisis, I have been thinking about the kids on long-term stays in hospital. What’s the world like for them? Did they have to take extra-precautions on the wards, or are they so ill ordinarily that this is just another Tuesday to them?

Interconnected – BBC Writers Room

I sat down and drafted something that I haven’t even attempted since University about 9 or 10 years ago (and it’s frightening that it’s been that long): I wrote a short screenplay!

I saw an advert from the BBC Writers Room inviting writers to come up with a 10 minute long short film about connecting with others across digital platforms during a lockdown. This could be set in the present or in the future and could include only a couple of characters. You can see the call here, although the deadline has passed: https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunities/interconnected

My story was about a little girl bringing her dysfunctional (and shut-in) family together by watching her neighbour’s live video demonstration of pancake-making.

I’m not entirely sure I got the brief right, but I had fun regardless and I love submitting things for consideration. I never thought I’d get into the NHS anthology, but I chanced my arm and I got in – with not just one but two poems. It shows you should always give things a go, if for nothing but the experience – you never know where it might lead.

Could Self-Isolation Find the Dickens in You?

This is an exciting opportunity to submit a 300-word character description in the style of Charles Dickens! The prize is a “certificate” (of what I’m not sure) and a professional cartoonist interpretation of your character. I’ll be coming up with something to submit for this because it just sounds too exciting to pass up, and I am a fan of Charles Dickens. In fact, I only recently finished reading Oliver Twist, which was absolutely thrilling.

If you fancy writing a bit of a Dickensian character profile, then you can find out more about the competition here.

I hope the above gives you some opportunity for escapism, or inspires you to get writing. After all, you only need your laptop or a notebook and pen and you’re away. Writing is the most inexpensive hobby I can think of, actually – no wonder some of the poorest people in this world went on to become our greatest writers, and continue to do so today.

Mug design

I’ve been playing around with graphic design and more specifically cute mug designs as a hobby lately. Mostly just for myself, but hey – you never know where these things lead! My latest creation is a ‘darkwave microwave’, because I love me some cheese. I’ve also been working on a cute bat design and even a Marc Almond design, just ’cause why not? I’m very happy with how my darkwave microwave turned out – have a look for yourself!


Please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay indoors.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Covid-19, the arts & me

Well, we never saw this coming for 2020, did we? A global pandemic that put our most vulnerable people in critical danger and left us all in turmoil.

You may or may not know that I work in comms for a wonderful national charity to do with gastrointestinal health.

Just today I was in a conference call, excitedly discussing hashtag campaigns and possibilities with our PR manager and our social media managers, when it hit me that we were dancing merrily around some pretty serious stuff here. How could we start a #justoneholidaytip when travel has been halted? How could we start a #travelingwithmystoma campaign if people weren’t boarding planes to sunny locations?

Our discussions pretty quickly changed to buddying schemes, encouraging our members to look after their old and more vulnerable friends in their local groups. We came up with campaigns about staying indoors, getting exercise at home, or how patients can make the most of their garden or window-box. Conversations soon meandered once more to mental health campaigns and how to deal with anxiety in such uncertain times.

Just today, only 3 of us were working in the office. By 10.00am we were down to just 2, when one of our staff decided it was too risky to come in to work. I’ve been feeling unwell myself for a few days, though I don’t believe I’m symptomatic of coronavirus. Still, I did attempt to buy a thermometer and found that the pharmacies in my area had all run out.

I have a surgery booked at St Bart’s Hospital, London, for April 1 – this will no doubt be cancelled. I have tickets booked for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the O2, and Shortparis at The Lanes in Bristol. My parents are supposed to be going to Amsterdam next month. All will probably be cancelled or delayed.

My boyfriend and I are in the midst of selling his house and buying a new one together. We may end up having to cancel the open-house viewings and put all this on hold, depending on whether we have to go into proper lockdown. Living hundreds of miles apart, it’s already tough to get to each other.

These measures are necessary but it really, really sucks.

My thoughts are with the sick, vulnerable, and older people who are most at risk during this terrible outbreak. A flu virus that spreads on this scale and is said to be twice as deadly as ordinary flu can be fatal to people with compromised health, and I can only imagine their families are terrified. My dad has asthma and that’s enough to put a knot in my belly.

I wish everybody the best of health and I hope and pray that this terrible virus disappears soon.

Poetry

With quotes from Stephen Fry and Adam Kay, you know you’re in for an amazing read – not to mention poems by Michael Rosen, Lemn Sissay MBE, and other celebrated poets!

So how has this affected me and the arts? Well, the exciting book launch for the phenomenal NHS anthology These Are the Hands had to be cancelled or postponed until further notice. I was nervous about attending this, but now that it’s been cancelled, I realise how much I was looking forward to being part of such an enormous achievement and the celebration of the work we’d done together.

The book is still being released and can be purchased on 21 March and can be pre-ordered now online. The anthology will be available on Amazon, and in all book stores including Waterstones and even your local indie bookshop. The poems inside are absolutely beautiful and include contributions from some famous poets, including Michael Rosen, of course, who provided the foreword and was to be attending the event.

Lemn Sissay MBE is also a contributing poet, and he was also filmed reading some key poems from the anthology, which will be released after the launch. (A little birdy told me that he read one of my poems, but I will wait and see! The thought of that is far too exciting).

Here he is reading his own poem, titled ‘Making a Difference’.

Knowing that I played a part in this inspiring anthology makes me proud beyond belief. Please do buy a copy – all proceeds go towards NHS Charities Together.
With the strain on NHS services and the extra burden of the coronavirus outbreak, they could use every penny they get. Your purchase would be contributing towards the most important cause in the UK right now: our NHS.

Mookychick

In other poetry and writing-related news, I will once again be appearing at the amazing feminism-centric online magazine, Mookychick! Recently their non-fiction editor accepted my submission of an article about one of my favourite thriller novels/movies: Jaws by Peter Benchley/Steven Spielberg.

It’s a rambling piece about differences between the film and the novel, because I just had to tell the world how much I loved Jaws. Amity, as you know, means friendship.

When I know more about when that will be released, you’ll be the first to know, for I shall share it all here.

I also submitted my poem, entitled The Wild Women, for their amazing upcoming multi-arts anthology called The Medusa Project. Fingers crossed! This anthology will be released online as an ebook, free of charge, to share all the amazing work they’ve collected about, and by, women. Submissions are still open until early-mid April I believe, so please go ahead and send in your contributions!

Until next time, stay safe, well, and creative.
Best wishes,
Ashleigh

My poems ‘Only The Cleaner’ and ‘In This Room’ to appear in NHS These Are The Hands with Michael Rosen

The NHS anthology named after this 60th anniversary poem by Michael Rosen will be available in March 2020

Well! It seems I have more good news on the poetry front!

TWO of my poems will be appearing in an NHS anthology by Fair Acre Press, called ‘These Are the Hands’, with a foreword by Michael Rosen (up top!). This will be published widely in book shops around the UK and online, and all proceeds will be going to NHS Charities Together.

The book will be published in 2020, and I have been invited to the snazzy book launch at The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in London. Eek!

I thought today’s blog post could be all about how I got involved:

I happened to be scrolling Twitter – which is a platform I never used until recently – when I found a post from The Bigger Picture, talking about an exciting anthology by the same editors and press who brought us the #MeToo anthology with the Jess Philips MP foreword, called ‘These Are the Hands’.

Well, I bloody-well know that poem, I thought – that’s Michael Rosen!

And yes, there he was – one of the judges for this new anthology competition. Regardless of the outcome, I absolutely knew I wanted to enter something – anything – just to be a part of things.

As it happens, the anthology called for people who were either currently working or had worked for the NHS for contribute poems – thus making up the body of the book, with NHS employees all working together for one common goal – just as they do in real life – with the caterers and cleaners being as crucial as the nurses and the consultants.

In my final year of uni and for some time after, I did in fact work as a Domestic Assistant at Southend University hospital – it’s still one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever done, and I loved it.

Let me tell you a bit about the poems

So during my lunch break at work, I got scribbling in my special notebook (the one with the butterflies) and came up with two very different poems.

One is a slightly-rhyming poem called ‘Only the Cleaner’, which focuses on the idle chit-chat and avoidance of the obvious when interacting with patients – the idea being that they could talk to me because, unlike anyone else, I wasn’t there to administer any scary treatment. I was just there to change the bins and chat and pretend they aren’t dying, which sometimes they were.

The other is a more serious piece called ‘In this Room’, which is about the time I cleaned The Butterfly Suite at Southend University hospital, which is a room where women go when they’re very sadly losing the baby. This poem takes you full-circle, describing how I tried to imagine the woman who had been in that room and what she was going through, only to be in her shoes 9 years later.

I can tell you, I was gobsmacked to find they wanted to use both – I’m surprised, but certainly not complaining!

Since my time working at the NHS, I have been a patient more times than I can count (seriously, I lost count of my hospital stays) and I have relied on them to save my life. I’ve also, sadly, relied on them to take care of another life I lost. These are difficult truths, but they are my truths, and I have the NHS and its wonderful staff to thank for the fact that I got through those times safely.

So that’s why I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this; not just because I’m a big fan of Michael Rosen (as a poet and as a person, honestly), but because I’m an enormous fan of the NHS. It needs to be protected at all costs. While surely one anthology can’t solve all its problems, this can go towards the solution in some small way – and besides, didn’t a certain young woman once say that ‘one book and one pen can change the world’?

I can’t wait to share the finished book with you all.

P.S If this teaches you nothing, let it teach you this: have a go at writing some poetry! I always thought I was hopeless at poetry but, in spite of that, I always enjoyed writing it – and that’s all that matters. Art should be for the enjoyment of art first and foremost and, you never know, you might get the bonus of seeing it out there one day!

If you enjoyed this blog post, please subscribe – I put up a new post every Wednesday.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

2017, artery lines in the ICU – I was the only conscious patient!

How to Make a Pine Cone Christmas Tree

& other stories.
Welcome (back) to my blog! I put out new posts every Wednesday.

I thought I would lighten the mood a little with some crafts this week. I’m one of those very impatient people who loves to do crafts but doesn’t much fancy anything too taxing or time-consuming; not unless it’s something I intend to take up as a hobby.

If you’re like me and like to have a quick fix when it comes to popular new crafts, then you’ll like this one: a Christmas tree made out of a pine cone.

But first

I told you I’d showcase my Mookychick poem to you, didn’t I?

Click here to read my poem, ‘Weight’, on the Mookychick website!


Well here it is! I’m very proud to see it on the front page. I hope you enjoy my poem and, if you click my author profile, that you enjoy my photo too. I could’ve just used a photo of my face, but I thought ‘Nah – let’s use the one with the squirrel’.

But back to pine cone Christmas trees!

You must have seen these going around Facebook and the like. I’m sure people have been making these for years and years, but crafts go in fads and currently this one seems quite popular.

Not only do they look extremely cute and adorable and Christmassy, but they looked pretty easy to do – so I gave it a go.

And, like most things that look easy, this was actually a little more fiddly and time-consuming than I bargained for. If you want to make an impressive, intricate, painstakingly painted and detailed piece of art then you’ll need a good magnifying glass, tweezers, and a lot of time to dedicate to the ~ finesse ~ that you’ll ultimately want to achieve.

Or, you could be like me and just chuck something together, see what works, and have fun with it.

You can make these absolutely any way you want and with whatever decorations you want – that’s the cool part. You can make several of these and no two should look the same. You could make mini pine cone trees for all occasions!

Tools I used

Superglue
Hot glue gun
1 x fabulous pine cone (try to find a tree shape – mine was a bit narrow)
Florist wire
Oasis
Crepe paper
Red meshy fabric stuff
Li’l baubles (I snipped them off a length of Christmas tree beads)
An angel for the top (a Christmas tree decoration cut in half)
Scissors

Method

First I washed any residue off my pine cone and dried it thoroughly. You might want to do this a day or two before you start crafting, because I think this has an effect on how well the glue sticks to it.

(If you are painting your pine cone, do this first before putting it on the base for obvious reasons!)

Next I got started on my base. I cut a small thick square of oasis and wrapped this with red crepe paper. I glued it down with superglue (this will stick more to you than anything else – beware!) in a parcel-fashion. After that I wrapped around my red mesh, which looked to me like a nice rustic touch to give it a bit of warmth, and glued that down too.

Now you have a base, you need to wire your cone. I used florist’s wire, but I would recommend a thicker piece of wire (maybe jewelry wire or copper wire), because mine bent and was too soft. I wired my cone by weaving or wrapping it around the spines at the base and forming four hooks of bent wire. I used these to stab into the base and keep the cone sturdy. The flexibility of the wire came in handy here because it allows you to make adjustments.

In the future, I would likely buy some mini plant pots to make a sturdier bed for the oasis, but this method works just fine.

You may find it hard to get the wire through your crepe paper or fabric, so think about that when you choose your materials. I personally just stabbed and prayed.
I wrapped some crepe paper around the base to hide the join, and hey-presto.

Now you have a cute base with your pine cone on top! It’s time to decorate.

I first began the dull and arduous process of superglueing each tiny bead onto each spine of my pine cone. Not only did I have to hold it firmly in place for ages, but the things were sticking to my fingers more than anything else.

I switched to my hot glue gun and oh baby, all that changed! The cooling of the glue once applied happens so quickly that you can start dotting on your beads here, there, and everywhere, and they’ll be set in 10 seconds. I very much recommend using a glue gun for speed and ease of use.

I turned my cone upside down to apply these, but ideally you would probably balance them on the tip of each spine. I could not be bothered with this – I’m all about the instant fun with these projects.

At this point you will realise how stringy the glue from a glue-gun can be, and it’ll look like you have cobwebs all over your tree. Never fear, for these come off easily – and if you were making a Halloween pine cone tree, these stringy bits could actually look really awesome.

Lastly, I cut a decorative angel in half and glued them to the top.

There we have it! A very simplistic pine cone Christmas tree. I think even the simplest designs look very sweet indeed and would make a great crafting project with your kids – just be very careful with the glue gun, because these get very hot.

With lots of time, effort, and imagination, you could make some incredible looking decorations out of pine cone Christmas trees.

I hope you enjoyed that.

If you’d like to see more of my crafting attempts or book recommendations or musings on health-related topics, then please subscribe. I put out new content every Wednesday.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

My Poem, ‘Weight’, to appear at MookyChick.co.uk

I have some exciting news!

My poem, ‘Weight’, was reviewed by poetry editor Julliet van der Molen over at Mookychick, my favourite online magazine. She really liked it and has kindly decided to feature me on their website among people who are much, much more accomplished than me. I’ve been a fan for years and I’m proud to be a part of their poetry collection.

‘Weight’ will go live on 11 November 2019.

Mookychick have come along in leaps and bounds over the years, and now have a solidly arty-fem-witch identity carved for themselves and all their contributors. Certainly, their poetry and fiction segments have been must-reads for me for a while now; they upped their game and have showcased many awesome artists and writers. I’ve come to rely on them when I need to read something niche and magical.

If you haven’t heard of Mookychick before, then have a read of the following description taken from the website itself and tell me you don’t love it:

Mookychick is a passion project done for the love, not the money. And that passion has kept us strong since Mookychick’s inception in 2005. This alternative feminist site and community has been far, far more than the sum of its parts – thanks to over 600 contributors who have made it what it is today.

Our patron saints are Kate Bush, Frida Kahlo, Marie Laveau, Ada Lovelace, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gina Torres, Helena Bonham Carter, Jeanne d’Arc, Marie Curie, Leonora Carrington, Doctor Who and St. Hildegard of Bingen. Mookychick is like water – babbling, tranquil, charged, unquiet, delicate, ferocious, restorative and deep. Its spirit is both flowers and owls. We are a watering hole where all come to drink, with a focus on meaningful empowerment and sex, body and mind positivity in every aspect of alternative culture.

So yes, I’m very proud and I can’t wait to share that poem with you all.

As it happens, I’ve only just started dipping my toes into the world of poetry, so this is a big deal for me to have a poem recognised like this. It is especially cool for me because having regularly read the poems on Mookychick, I can see how varied and talented the artists are; many of them have been published far and wide and have enviable careers in the arts.

Do you read or write poetry? Let me know – I’d love some good recommendations.

As it happens, I do have some favourite poems. It won’t surprise you at all from my gothic tastes to know that I am a fan of Sylvia Plath. My brother bought me a copy of The Bell Jar for Christmas one year, and I bought a collection of her poems sometime later. I defy anyone to not think Sylvia was a young, melancholy genius, who I (frankly) think was held back by her envious man, fellow poet Ted Hughes. Actually, everybody thinks that – watch any adaptation of her life or read any article and you will ascertain as much.

I recall that we studied one of her poems, ‘Mirror‘, in school. It’s one I’ve always remembered and found quite haunting, so I’d like to share it with you now.

Mirror
by Sylvia Plath

I hope you enjoyed that and that it gave you some things to ~ ponder ~ on.

Really, I’m very much looking forward to sharing my poem with you all.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, then please subscribe to my blog – I put up new posts every Wednesday.

Until next time!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh