Write My Life

Alongside my new venture as a life coach, I have decided to realise another ambition – setting up a service to capture people’s life stories. At school I remember being fascinated by the stories I read about the soldiers in the world wars, and their families. As the years passed, with each world war memorial service it struck me as sad that eventually all of the soldiers who fought in the wars would be gone, and their stories with them.

Closer to home, I have often found myself wishing I knew more about my own family’s history, so that I can tell my children and grandchildren (God willing) about it. We so often spend time with our parents, aunts and uncles without ever really uncovering who they were before we came along. Of course it’s natural that the younger generations grow up and usurp the family’s attention, but wouldn’t it be nice to capture the older relatives’ experiences, first hand, for future generations to discover? My goal in setting up this service is to do just that – to immortalise the stories of loved ones.

So if you have a loved one whose story you would like committed to paper, or if you would like your own story told, do get in touch. In the early stages of setting up the service I will be offering free stories in exchange for (hopefully positive!) testimonials on my website. So let’s begin…

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Doing What We Can

Tonight was my third consecutive week volunteering with Serve the City ‘s Food 4 Friends iniative to help the homeless (refugees and other misplaced people) sleeping rough around Gare du Nord station. I took eighteen sleeping bags, bought with money generously donated* by my lovely friends. At the start it was tense. The temperature has plummeted and tonight it was barely above five degrees. People are cold and worried about the impending winter. And understandably so. As we began to distribute the sleeping bags tensions rose still higher, until at one point a fight broke out. Fortunately it petered out and we resumed the distribution, but even then there was a lot of pushing and jostling as people desperately tried to make a claim for a sleeping bag. It was heart wrenching.

I was so happy to give my Sudanese friend, Bakare, the sleeping bag I promised him. I was also, thanks to the generosity of a friend, able to buy him some new shoes. He said “when I see you, it makes me happy,” which made me feel amazing. It feels so good to be doing something at last, even if it is just being a ferrier of sleeping bags and offering good cheer. What made me less happy was meeting 13 year old Alaudin, who arrived in Brussels two months ago after making the long three month journey from Sudan with his brother. Alaudin is a tall boy, skinny and quiet, with huge doleful brown eyes. He was wearing only a thin jacket and was shivering. I was happy to see he had managed to get one of the sleeping bags I brought, but I was still worried for him. So I took him to the volunteer serving chai and got him a cup, and then went back to another volunteer who was handing out clothing donations (tonight we were very lucky as a church group who had gathered a lot of clothes and sleeping bags made the journey into Brussels to deliver them – without those donations it would have been much harder to manage giving out mine) and managed to grab him a fleece jumper, pair of gloves and scarf. The gloves weren’t warm enough though, he needs some better ones. I promised to bring some next week.

There were more people tonight than the last two weeks. The fight at the beginning aside, I saw only smiles despite the plummeting temperature. It is so clear that people appreciate the volunteers and the work they do. And being able to speak with everyone and find out their stories is so humbling and such a privilege. I feel almost ashamed when people ask me where I’m from and I say “England,” because I know that all they want to do is make it to my country. It feels so unfair that I can hop on a Eurostar or drive through the tunnel without a care in the world, when they can’t even dream of such an easy life.

But we stay strong. And we stay cheerful. And we continue to help our friends all that we can.

*Cash donations will continue to be gratefully received to help provide some comfort during the cold winter.

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Inspiration

Argh, I wrote this earlier and forgot to post it, so here it is now an hour and fifteen minutes later than officially allowed. I hope you’ll let me off, it’s been an emotional day…

It’s been a long old day but finally it’s a wrap. We’ve got some great footage of our fabulous young people which I’m certain will make a really outstanding film. Despite a lot of waiting and moving around I was so impressed by everyone’s stamina and upbeat attitudes, they really went the extra mile today and it showed, not only in the footage but also in the difference between the sleepy group that turned up at 10.30 this morning and the buzzing, lively group that walked out of the door at 5pm. We were all jaded and yet there was a synergy between us as a group that got us through the lower points and kept us all focused on the purpose of the day. As cheesy as it sounds I couldn’t be more proud of the young people who took part in this project. They’ve got a million things going on in their own lives and didn’t have to do it, but in the end I think it helped them more than they realised it would. All in all a great day.

Happy endings

I was planning on writing a woefully self-indulgent post about feeling old and past it but after returning from running club with endorphins pumping through my ancient veins I’ve had a change of heart – which means that you, dear reader, will be spared (on this occasion at least). Instead, I’d like to discuss the phenomenon of the TV drama – or, to be more specific, the TV drama with no definitive ending.

What do I mean by ‘no definitive ending’? Let me take you back in time…Remember Lost? The first series had everyone rapt. What would happen to the plane crash survivors and just what was the secret of the spooky island that they’d crash landed onto? The second series toyed with our sense of credibility and stretched the boundaries of our imaginations but, like true fans, we stuck with it. Then came the third series, and with it events so random and ridiculous it made it hard to persevere – which is why I didn’t. Soon after I discovered the scriptwriters had no idea how the story was going to end, and suddenly it fell into place why my faith had deserted me faster than the inhabitants of Lost’s fictional island.

So now we’ve got to the crux of the matter: Do even the best TV dramas suffer when the people writing them don’t know where they’re heading any more than the viewers? My instinctive reaction is yes, because I like to be able to place my faith in the writers for a dramatic and exciting conclusion. If they don’t know what that conclusion’s going to be it takes something away from that trust, even if they’re the best scriptwriters in the world.

Another example is the recent French TV drama, The Returned. I watched every episode avidly and was gutted when the series came to an end. When I went online to find out when the second series would air, however, I stumbled across an interview with the scriptwriters who confessed that they, like the writers of Lost, weren’t actually sure what the next series would hold, or how the story would ultimately end. I felt let down, and whilst I will still watch the second series in the hope it will be just as strong as the first, I can’t deny I’ll watch it with a more cynical eye.

It should perhaps then follow that I would feel equally as disappointed to learn that authors of books don’t know how they’re going to end. Only I don’t, because as a writer I know that sometimes even the best planned stories can take crazy and unforeseen turns, with the final outcome a million miles away from the initial concept. So why does it bother me in TV dramas? I just can’t answer that. I just know it does. And it makes makes me feel, well, a bit…