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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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My Dying Sunflowers

For me, one of the saddest sights heralding the end of summer is when my sunflowers droop their heads and prepare for death.  The helianthus, to give it its Latin name, embraces life in five rapid stages; - germination, growth, flowering, seed development and death. So do most plants but it's the speed at which this happens that fascinates me. 

One minute you’re planting the tiny seed, then you turn round and your sunflower is six feet tall, its flattened brown face trimmed with glorious yellow petals, turning towards the sun to gobble up as much light and heat as possible. Its short blooming period is followed by the ripening of the seed over about a month, followed by the end of its life cycle.

To me it seems the whole process is over in about two months, long before the petunias, geraniums and pansies lose their lustre. I am sure the gardeners out there will debate my superficial explanation and time lines but you get the idea.

Sunflowers, as we know, were made famous by the nineteenth century Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh who painted versions of them in vases, from full bloom to withering. Sunflowers were not solely the inspiration for artists.  Chinese symbolism links the sunflower to good luck and vitality. Religious meaning ties them to a spiritual knowing and a search for the light. In astrology, sunflowers are connected to the sign of Leo which is ruled by the sun.  My favourite bit of symbolism is that of Clytie, a water nymph in Greek mythology. When she lost the love of her life, Apollo, she turned into a sunflower.

Why should I be so bothered about the life cycle of the sunflower?  To me it’s like a film on fast forward of our own life cycle. Rapid growth, reaching a climax point which can be different for all of us although many say it’s around the midlife point of forty then we begin the slow decline towards physical death.  

The sunflower can represent those people who charge towards success as if there’s no tomorrow. Growing tall, above the rest, reaching out for the good things only to find they burn themselves out too early. It’s exhausting having to be bigger, brasher, and bolder than the others all the time. It’s like the bragging on social media. Isn’t it best to pace yourself and not reach too high too quickly?

The sunflower is greedy for the light because that’s what she needs go through her lifecycle but there’s a lot of merit in keeping below the radar sometimes and hibernating in a dark place (think duvet days) to let the process of maturity occur naturally. Nature works best when she does things in her own time.

I’m more like a snowdrop. First up. Can't wait to get going. Small but hardy. I get my head down to get through bad times and battle through all weather and I keep popping back up! What sort of flower would you be?

I’ll leave you with a verse of a lovely poem by William Blake.

Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;

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Don't Abuse Apostrophe's!

A short rant and a deliberate mistake in the title!

As an author of novels and business books, I am constantly checking my ancient grammar books which I found in a box when I cleared out my Dad’s house, (he died in 2013). These are dated 1967, the year I went to what used to be the Ernest Bailey Grammar School in Matlock.

My two pet grammar hates are using less (cars) instead of fewer (cars) and could of instead of could have. Ok, Ok, I AM the grammar police but how can children learn another language if they don’t know the rules of their own? |My many years of Latin, French and Spanish depended on a good grounding in English. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I do think my generation were taught English Grammar to exceptionally high standards so glaring mistakes, such as with the apostrophe, stab me in the eye.

The following are a handful of examples I’ve picked up over the past two weeks.  

  • Room’s for rent
  • Book your city break’s here.
  • Doctors parking only
  • Cats toys (more than one cat)
  • Its a great day
  • Look at it’s tail.
  • MOT’s while you wait.

I was amused and pleased to discover there is an organisation for the protection of the apostrophe http://www.apostrophe.org.uk/  

As they say, the rules governing the use of the apostrophe are very simple so why are there so many mistakes, especially by businesses hoping to impress customers? Please, please check your signs before you make them public.

Now the comma is a mystery since rules seemed to have changed. It’s certainly misused and overused. My old English teacher use to say, ‘you can put that bag of commas away.’  I still make mistakes as you might discover.

 The most obvious time to use the comma is when making a list; - pens, pencils, paper.  You need a comma to break up long clauses. My favourite use of it, is as follows; Having read the book before, I decided not to join the discussion. See a comma as a breath.  

I was taught never ever to use a comma before and or but.  However, as usual there are exceptions. I’m not even going to go into the tale of the Oxford comma.  This excellent link explains all you need to know.

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/exercises/grammar/grammar_tutorial/page_06.htm

So, is my grammar perfect? Of course not. I rely on experienced editors and proof readers to pick up my mistakes when my books get close to publication.

Oh and by the way, don’t get me started on the rules of me and I.   Is it bigger than me? Or is it bigger than I (am)? 

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Common Courtesy is not that Common

Back in the 60’s, I remember a Mr. Howard who lived on my street in Matlock (Derbyshire) who always raised his hat whenever he noticed my mother, or indeed any other woman in his field of vision. This act of courtesy was fairly common back in the day as was a man walking on the road side of the pavement, presumably to take the hit from a random car that might just climb the pavement. Opening doors for women was a matter of course.

Along came the feminist movement, second wave, in the seventies which condemned such niceties as patronising and sexist. Sigh. I did some ceremonial bra burning at school, not really knowing what it was all about but the idea of equality, not having to do boring jobs until I got married and had a family, and being able to say a big fat no to men was rather appealing at the time.  

The irony is that I have spent the past 30 years educating people to be nice to each other, especially to their customers and colleagues. The customer service movement in the UK seemed to take hold in the 80s, borrowing from its American cousins, the realisation that good service kept customers happy and spending more. It’s a simple concept which shouldn’t need to be taught in classrooms but here I am at aged 60, still demonstrating the same things:  be polite, smile, listen, understand your customers’ needs, help with their concerns and be professional in handling complaints. You can get qualifications in customer service, win awards and decorate yourself with ribbons if you deliver from the head, aka the script, what we used to deliver from the heart, naturally.

Courtesy is the showing of politeness to others in one’s behaviour. Why is it so difficult for people to be pleasant and helpful without making such a big deal of it?

I get rudeness from the gatekeepers at my doctor’s surgery even before I’ve asked a question ( politely of course),  a dead look from some bored assistant serving me in a supermarket and even a menacing tone of voice if I express my dissatisfaction about the length of time it takes to service drinks in a restaurant. I’m sure you could make a list of similar encounters in the course of a day that would rival mine. When I try to get people to understand that their colleagues are also customers, internal customers, I get blank looks or snide comments about somebody in Accounts or Legal. What do people get from this behaviour? If they think they are being clever I suggest they look up the meaning of the word. It’s not humorous, witty, clever or smart but childish or as the Americans would say, dumb.

Britain, being noted for its politeness by nations who don’t know us at all, used to boast The Polite Society, an organisation dedicated to improving levels of courtesy and respect amongst people. Unless I am really hopeless at googling, I can’t find evidence of its existence anymore.

It’s lovely when a young child says thank you to me for something or offers to help in some way. I’ve come across groups of teenage boys who appear to  glower and make frightening noises then catching sight of someone in need, rush over to help. On the other hand, the number of much older people queue jumping or spitting their venom at the bus stop against some more unfortunate minding their own business makes my jaw drop.  

Come on folks, for old time’s sake. Let’s have one day when we can be nice to each other. Just twenty four little hours.

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Preppers now in the UK?

PREPPERS IN THE UK?

(I don't really store tins upside down :) I'm just rubbish at technology.

I’ve been aware of the preppers movement in the States for some time – sorry, I should be clear – preppers are those people who do some extraordinary planning for survival in the event of war or catastrophe- but I came across a website indicating that the idea has travelled over to the UK. http://www.ukpreppersguide.co.uk/

The world is in a chaotic state right now and looks set to continue. It’s the uncertainty that’s the most troublesome and I agree that we need to be thinking a bit ahead as to what we would do in the event of some disaster. Many people I talk to say there’s a sense of impending doom in the air and I have to admit when I did my grocery shopping this weekend I noticed that some of the shelves stocking the super- size quantities of oil, pasta, rice and similar were almost empty. I have to be careful not to get sucked into the conspiracy theories that are running amok on the internet.

Financial Collapse coming 2016,  War coming 2016, Major earthquakes and floods 2016. Don’t watch the YouTube End Times stuff late at night if you want a peaceful sleep.

My neighbours were talking about making preparations to ‘run for the hills’ if anything major happens. I reminded them that we already live in the hills. An article dated August 21st popped into my inbox yesterday saying that the German government urges citizens to stockpile food and water in case of attack or catastrophe. Hmm, what do they know that we don’t?

Some companies are making a mint out of selling survivalist equipment with Bug Out Bags ( fully equipped for a 72 hour survival) coming out at ridiculous prices. It’s worrying when long prepper lists include guns and ammunition so you can fight off anyone who tries to raid your food and water stores. I’d be more inclined to want to share what I’d got but then call me naïve.

Thinking about how prepared I am if disaster struck today, I popped my head into my well stocked pantry and thought, OK, we could survive for the ten days the German government is giving as a timeline. That’s not because I’ve been prepping but because I run my household the way my mother and grandmothers did. Always prepared, usually for family descending without notice.  We’ve got plenty of wood, calor gas bottles (that’s because my other half throws nothing away- jerry cans and probably a load of stuff left over from the war thanks to his parents. We grow food (well, tomatoes at least) and I always keep sterilising tablets in and a good first aid kit because I travel overseas a lot. We don’t have gas masks nor do we intend getting them. Come on, there has to be some limit.

Unlike some, I don’t think preppers are paranoid nutters. I think, like most of us, they are afraid of the unknown. We can see what’s happening around the world and unlike the times before globalisation, know that we are connected to what’s going on in some way.

I’ve always been independent and haven’t bought into marketing hype and spin. It was the way I was brought up and call me old-fashioned but it seems I’m ahead of this prepping malarkey by default.

For what it’s worth, here are a five tips you might want to take on board in case Armageddon really in round the corner this time. (or will they move the date again?)’

  1. Pay down debt. Build up reserves. The banks are in a mess with no head room this time.
  2. Keep some food reserves with a long shelf life.
  3. Think about alternative sources of cooking.
  4. Maintain a supply of tools for repairs. Keep a well-stocked first aid kit.
  5. Invest in your health.

I do this anyway, impending disaster or not. It’s common sense. Anyway, for those people who are preparing for nuclear war, I say don’t bother. Spend your excess time being kind and loving to your family, friends and neighbours right now. Surviving nuclear war without the sunshine or your loved ones? Well, only you can decide if it’s worth it. I won’t be even trying.

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