Archive | February, 2012

The Lonely Goat

24 Feb

Sunning myself on the balcony, eyes closed, I am reminded of home, in particular the M6 motorway.

However, beyond the constant roar of heavy traffic, and  occasional pigeon, there is a definite lack of Cumbrian influence in the view from my balcony.

No cow speckled fields, distant mountains or quirky cottages, but tightly packed flat roofed  villas and apartment blocks , topped with hundreds of satellite dishes.  I have a bird’s eye view of the roofs immediately below me.  Being flat, they can be put to use. Some have washing machines,  lines of laundry hanging out to dry and people doing the ironing.   Others have garden sheds.  One has an abandoned child’s army jeep and another, a goat.

While the dusty abandoned jeep has been a source of some reflection,   the latter  has provided most entertainment for my balcony moments.  The goat’s owner frequently appears with a ton of bread for it to munch,  but once the birds get a whiff it doesn’t last long and anyway don’t goats need grass?

I’d be happier if there were two of them.  He seems a bit lonely down there on the roof.

As a random afterthaught. I used to work at a school in Islington, that had a playground on the roof.

A little Arabic?

20 Feb

As I wander through the day being English, the Arabic world  buzzes busily around me.  Mostly I tune out and mentally write blogs, but occasionally I listen and try to learn.

I have mastered a few words, namely shokran  – thank you –  -momtaaz – excellent –  ensha allah – God ( Allah ) willing,  shway shway  – slowly – and  -yalla yalla – be quick.

Occasionally I slip a little Arabic into a lesson,  (not something I thought I would ever say),  whereupon the children exchange glances and knowing smiles, much as a mother would, on hearing her baby’s first words. ‘ How sweeet to hear little Mass Kathaleen trying to get her tongue around our Arabic’, they seem to say.

Sadly, the  Arabic phrase book I  bought at Manchester Airport on the way  here hasn’t seen much of the Bahraini light of day, mostly due to the fact that nearly everyone speaks English, but I won’t give up and hope to absorb a little more before returning to England for the summer.

By the way, if you think you don’t know any Arabic, here are just a few words that found their way into the English language either directly or indirectly:

algebra , alcohol,  alchemy,  alkali,  zenith,  alcove,  alfalfa,  apricot,  artichoke,  aubergine, moussaka , azure,  candy,  camphor,  carob,  cotton,  crimson,  demask,  ghoul,  giraff,  guitar, hummus,  jasmine,  lemon,  lime,  mattress,  magazine,  mohair,  monsoon,  popinjay,  ream, scarlet,  sequin,  sofa,  sugar,  syrup,  tangarine,  tuna and zero.

There are lots more if you’re interested …. and why wouldn’t you be?

My source was Wikipaedia …

Maa as salaamah  –  goodbye.

A Tough Liverpool Childhood

18 Feb

The next meeting of the Bahrain Writers’ Circle is approaching and I have completed my piece about childhood memories which was this month’s assignment.  In order to test the waters and guage puplic opinion before I embarass myself at the gathering,  I have decided to post it for all, or should I say both of my regular readers, Pat and Fionuala, to scan and hopefully ‘like’. I may add more …

You had to be tough to grow up in 1950’s Liverpool; it wasn’t a place for the sensitive soul. For a start the pavements were very uneven and falling over was an almost daily occurrence, resulting in permanently scabby knees. Then there was the smog, a silent killer which moved in every winter to reside in the bronchioles of the populace, mine in particular.  I had a love hate relationship with the smog, which took me to death’s door, but also guaranteed time off school. During the long recovery periods my mum would trail back and forth to the local library with lists, penned by my fevered hand, of books I wanted to read, most memorably ‘The Borrowers’ series and ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden.’

Toughened by the pavements and smog, I was able to enjoy many of the delights on offer for the Liverpudlian child, namely, playing out.  ‘Out’ was our entertainment and once tea was over that’s what we did.  Playing out involved all the usual childhood pastimes such as skipping, climbing trees, hide and seek or whatever happened to be in mode at the time.

On Saturday mornings we went to the ‘flicks’ or the ‘pictures’, aka the movies.  A  mob of eight to twelve year olds would converge on ‘The Regent’ with everlasting toffee bars and gobstoppers to watch Roy Rodgers, Flash Gordon and have yoyo competitions, from which I would invariably be eliminated in the first round, due to an inability to master any technique beyond up and down.

There were many other seasonal delights such as tadpolling at Calderstones Park and swimming at Dovecote Baths, a highly dangerous pursuit which belongs in the pavement and smog category of  ‘if you can survive that you can survive anything.’  There was standing room only in the pool on Saturday afternoons, but that didn’t stop the wild boys dive bombing amongst us.

Carl Gustav Jung labelled Liverpool the centre of the universe and by the end of the fifties and early sixties, it certainly felt that way. Not only did we have an amazing football team, but we also had The Beatles.  Beatle Mania became a dominant force, and no respectable eight year old girl would be seen at school without her Beatle socks, bag and hat.

The emergence of The Beatles marked the end of an era with regard to childhood memories.  The frilly frocks and quirkiness of the fifties made a swift exit and the landscape of childhood turned into one inescapably dominated by the Fab Four


What’s In A Name?

17 Feb

Six thirty am. on an overcast Bahrain Friday.  There’s a strong smell of the aftermath of last night’s unrest hanging in the atmosphere and as it’s the weekend I’m staying close to home.

However, already I’ve been on a long and emotional journey via the internet.

Last year I read ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘ A Thousand Splendid Suns’.  I remember grappling with some of the names which were unfamiliar, such as Noor, Mariam and Muneera.  This year those lovely names have faces and personalities attached.  Having researched their etymology, it occured to me that registration each day is akin to a poetry recital.  Here’s a sample.

Aisha    alive

Daniyah    near

Fatimah    to abstain

Huda     right guidance

Jawahir   Jewels

Mariam   Biblical name

Basma  smile

Munira  shining / bright

Noor  light

Samia  supreme/sublime

Sarah   lady/princess

Not easy to live up to, but they try.

On a similar although completely different trail which lead to my emotional breakdown, I googled Kathleen, which I already know means pure, also not easy to live up to, but I try.  This, understandably, lead me to Kathleen mavourneen, a name often directed at me as a youngster in Liverpool.  I often wondered who she was.

However, it transpires that mavouneen is not actually a name, but a term of endearment, ‘beloved’, and that  ‘ Kathleen Mavourneen’  is an Irish ballad penned in the nineteenth century, when the Irish were tragically forced to leave their homeland in vast numbers due to the the famine. It became hugely popular, especially in America, amongst the Irish migrants.  If you are  interested,  here it is.  You may need a tissue …

Kathleen mavourneen! the gray dawn is breaking,
The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill,
The lark from her light wing the bright dew is shaking,
Kathleen mavourneen, what slumbering still?

Oh! hast thou forgotten how soon we must sever?
Oh! hast thou forgotten this day we must part,
It may be for years, and it may be forever,
Oh! why art thou silent thou voice of my heart?
It may be for years, and it may be forever,
Then why art thou silent Kathleen mavourneen?

Kathleen mavourneen, awake from thy slumbers,
The blue mountains glow in the sun’s golden light,
Ah! where is the spell that once hung on thy numbers,
Arise in thy beauty, Thou star of my night,
Arise in thy beauty, Thou star of my night.

Mavourneen, mavourneen, my sad tears are falling,
To think that from Erin and thee I must part,
It may be for years, and it may be forever,
Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?
It may be for years, and it may be forever,
Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?


It must be time to reach for a Yorkshire tea bag, having spanned the oceans from Afghanistan to Bahrain and Ireland to America.  Internet travel can be thirsty work.


10 Feb

Five in the morning and the call to prayer drifts across Umm Al Hassam,  telling me I’m not the only one awake around here.  Usually I will have had my first cup of Yorkshire tea before the prayer.  Workdays it nearly always greets me as I exit the building to clamber,  bleary eyed  into the car.

Broadcast through loudspeakers from every mosque,  a call to prayer transforms the mundanity of life’s daily grind into timeless moments of reflection.  This appeals to my poetic and philosophical soul, but I’m not sure it would go down so well,  at the crack of dawn,  with one or two of the villagers at Cotehill.

However, to stand at the door of my Cotehill house at dawn and hear sounds of the countryside:  sheep, cows, cockrels, against the backdrop of a beautiful Cumbrian landscape,  is also to encounter a timeless moment of reflection.

Sand Days

3 Feb

When it rains the children at school rush excitedly to the window,  ‘Mass Kathaleen, look at the rain !’  My response is less exuberant understandably, having lived half my life in the rain.  However, as it’s only rained three times since I arrived last August I allow them their moment of wonder,  recalling how UK children react when it snows.

Far more exciting for me are sand days.  We had two this week.  On sand days there is a brisk,  constant wind and the horizon disappears beneath the encroaching desert.  As with snow days back home, there are hazards such as sand in the eyes, lungs, ears and  car engines, but disappointingly these do not justify an early finish at school or a day off.  The only concession being that by order of the school doctor, the children must stay indoors.

The horizon is back today, although the the forecast says it will be cloudy  with rising sand in some places and  a maximum temperature of 20C,  minimum 14C.