About Me

My Photo
Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome! I am Colin Bell, a novelist and poet, previously a TV producer-director of arts programmes, also known as the blogger Wolfie Wolfgang. I hope you find something here among my daily blogs. I write about anything that interests me - I hope it interests you too. Let me know.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Bats don't need to scare the pants of you just because it's Halloween.

It's Halloween so, even if you're partying in a frantically scary way, dressed up as something creepy, spare a thought for those bats. We're all supposed to be scared of them, imagining that they are vampires, probably Count Dracula, in animal form.

I'm sure Dracula himself had his cuddly side but nothing like the lovableness of those little bats. So instead of freaking yourself out tonight with visions of ghouls, monsters and the undead, think of this delightful little film about an abandoned baby bat. Halloween suddenly becomes happy time:

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Six years on and still alive after a major brain haemorrhage.

30th October 2014

The end of October, all those orange pumpkins are beginning to show their Halloween faces, the month is drawing to its Autumnal ending and, here in Lewes, preparations are in full swing for next week's famous Bonfire celebration. All these things remind me of something considerably less festive.  Six years ago today, I suffered a major brain haemorrhage which I was lucky enough to survive. I'm one of those lucky people known as a traumatic brain injury survivor. I'm not sure how significant six year anniversaries are, I've heard of the seven year itch and how, every seven years our bodies totally replaces itself, or so they say, and this gives me hope that in another year, most of the remnants of this condition will have disappeared. Certainly, this October, I feel that I am definitely better than this time last year and a number of the last minor remaining symptoms seem to be disappearing. I still have a bit of a stammer and some back pain but those random feelings of vacancy have gone as has my optical sensitivity to flashing lights. I looked back at what I'd written on these pages, when I first started these blogs, nearly six years ago and, if you're interested in such things, it shows how there can be hope for brain trauma survivors and that patience is needed for what can be a long recovery period.

If any of you are suffering from this condition, I hope that my story is encouraging. You can follow some of the other blog entries about my recovery by typing  'brain haemorrhage' into the search window on the right of this page.

31st December 2008

2008 has ended as quite a tough time for me - I came out of hospital on the 15th. November after 17 days in quite a serious state. The doctors, nurses and all the medical and auxiliary teams were outstandingly professional and overwhelmingly kind through what was quite a disturbing period in my life. So thanks to them yet again.

I will take a few months to recover but I have been told that I have made a pretty remarkable recovery and that I have been "bloody lucky"...one of the doctors put it down to my fitness due to obsessive martial arts training. Whatever it was, I am so happy to be out of hospital at last and, if you want the truth, I am actually also really grateful that I am still alive and not brain damaged or paralyzed.

It was a dramatic old time as apparently I had a serious brain haemorrhage followed by two brain seizures that were powerful enough to fracture my spine. Ouch and ouch a few times more. At first I either remember nothing or very little. I was on loads of drugs.... morphine in great quantities plus anti seizure tablets and, in fact, a daily total of over 20 tablets. I do not have to wear a back harness which is fantastic and I was allowed to practice my 66 move taichi on the ward; apparently the first time anyone has ever performed a complete martial arts form within the hospital.

If I am careful I should be able to use Taichi as part of my recovery treatment. I will not be able to do Kungfu for at least three months (and have to cancel my planned trip to China), will be unable to drive for at least 12 months and will not be able to drink alcohol until I stop taking anti-seizure medication which will go on until at least after the results of my next brain scan are analyzed which will be in about four weeks. I may, of course, be on these drugs permanently.

I will be able to do practically everything else though so, considering, apparently I nearly died, I am one lucky guy.

I tried to test out my brain whilst I was in hospital as at first I was seeing multiple images and having quite a lot of memory loss but I seem to have recovered from that. One of my self tests was writing poetry. This is something I wrote for the hospital staff which they were very happy to receive and which they have published in the hospital:

Every orifice offered up;
Every vein object of vampiric attention;
No internal organ free from scrutiny;
No flesh too private for examination.
All bodily fluids test-tubed and analysed.
The whole body reduced to chemistry -
Biopsied, measured, graphed, discussed.
A case history, an occupied bed, a statistic.
So patiently lie there -
The victim,
The case,
The patient.
Recipient of care, concern, dedication,
No mere anatomy, you.
The passive half of that profound symbol of man's humanity to man.
The hospital staff were great and so were so many friends who send their good wishes and visited me - I was genuinely moved by such an overwhelming number of such very kind and caring people. Very strange how you can look back on a life threatening and extremely painful time as an enhancing and really happy experience.

Yes I am taking it easy but it is so good to be back in the "real" world. Mostly, I feel better every day. So much so that I am allowed to go to my taichi classes again - so better than any physiotherapy. Well I think so any way! I actually had a group of nurses as my fans when I started practising Taichi on the ward; they said if I was staying any longer they would really like me to give them some lessons.

Aww! They were so sweet.I shall miss a lot of the flirting and joking with the staff there...they really became like friends even though it was also a pretty serious situation where none of us patients on the ward were guaranteed leaving it alive.... and in fact three died whilst I was there.

It really was a reality check...the bad was very bad and the good was great. No bullshit and no euphemisms - a lot to be said for that.

I have never felt so happy about being alive. or had so many plans for the future. If I can offer you all a word of advice, albeit a well-worn cliche, live your lives for the present too and plan to achieve your dreams in the foreseeable future 'cos you never know when you might be just wiped off the face of the Earth. Believe me, that is not as depressing a thought as it sounds, in fact it has been an inspiration to me. Let the present and the future reflect who you really are and what, deep down, you would love to achieve. Don't let those things wait.

Hopefully that could be an inspiration to all of us as we face the unknown in 2009.

26th October 2009

Patient cure thyself. I think that is the right cliche but I often get my cliches in a twist.

This sounds mad I know but today I begin the last week in October remembering that a year ago it was not only the last week in the month but nearly the last week in my life.

On the 30th. October I suffered an apparently major brain haemorrhage which came out of nowhere, left me unconscious and alone at home for six hours and which was then followed by one or probably two "grand mal" fits which led to a fractured spine and a period of semi-consciousness in hospital.

Well, a year on, against some medical expectations, I am still around and quite possibly heading towards a full recovery.

The truth will be discovered on the anniversary of that fateful day because on the 30th. this October I am having an MRI brain scan which may show that the haemorrhaged blood has at last left my brain.

I have bored you all with stories of my recovery here all year but, keep patience, it will all be over soon - I hope.

A year is a significant time span. We mark their passing at drunken parties, celebrate an increase in our experience of them with birthdays and watch nature as it obeys their rules as the seasons change. I know it is ridiculous in many ways but I am forced to mark this anniversary: the imminent arrival of a date that could have been my deathday.

It is, I am sure, a remnant of the trauma which most people suffer if they have had undergo sudden unexpected and life threatening illness. Those disjointed memories are my only grip on a period which was mostly about being in a coma and later coming to terms with that moment when the lights just simply went out.

During these often wet October days when the daylight gets shorter, it is easy to feel depressed. I have not avoided grim thoughts as I look back over this time. A doctor asked me when I came out of hospital if I needed counciling and I proudly said no - I guess I thought that counciling was for weaklings. Well, I don't regret my decision except when I think how interesting it must be to have a serious one to one session with a psychologist.

I do think though that I have been counciling myself and this week, I have given myself some advice.  Don't try to bury these irrational fears which have come flooding back at anniversary time, they are here for a reason. I have taken my own advice and embraced this often disturbing series of flashbacks.

Mixed with the gloom is a spirit of celebration because I have learnt a lot from my condition, become in many ways a new person who is now, with the passing of that anniversary, more than ready to begin a new life.

I think I have got here by looking difficult things in the face so I am not going to let these unexpectedly vivid images of a year ago come knocking me off my course. It is in this spirit that I say patient heal thyself.

 You can follow some of the other blog entries about my recovery by typing  'brain haemorrhage' into the search window on the right of this page.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Thanks to Second Life, my forgotten poem, Sortie, ends up at the movies just in time for Halloween.

Eight years ago, I took my first timorous steps into the virtual computer world known as Second Life. It was an extraordinarily confusing experience having to create a new image for oneself in a massive online animated game where you  begin with nothing and, ideally, pursue or discover dreams of what you might do if you really did get the chance of a second life. Eight years ago, my second life persona, Wolfgang Glinka, couldn't even walk across a room without falling over - a bit like an infant in so many ways. Eight years on and I am, I guess, a veteran of this world and I have had a truly interesting time. Now, for the first time, I've collaborated in making a film, Sortie, which is premiered (on Youtube) today.

I perform poetry a lot in Second Life, running a poetry event every Thursday, Wolfie's Poetry Surf, when I'm joined, live, by poets from all over the 'real' world. Now, both my lives, real and second, have combined giving me many chances of crossing backwards and forwards between them as I pursue all the writing possibilities that come my way. Now, I am Colin Bell, Wolfie Wolfgang or Wolfgang Glinka, a triple personality perhaps but no, not really. I've just embraced the wonderful possibilities, if used wisely, that the worldwide web offers us all.

The film, directed by the splendid Boris Twist is a visualisation of my poem, Sortie, written earlier this year but promptly forgotten until Boris asked me if I had anything dark enough for a Halloween film.  Once I'd found it, it became a real pleasure for Colin Bell to record it and for Wolfgang Glinka to appear as narrator.

Take a look - I'm thrilled by Boris' clever use of my poetry. Most important of all, the whole project was fun.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Dave Cameron stamps his feet again.

Well, I'm just not going to pay, so there! I didn't know about this until now so I'm going to do what I always do in these situations and sound off without thinking even if I usually get things wrong. This bill may be part of the treaty we signed but I don't understand that it would mean Britain having to pay up like this. No one told me and I'm just not going to pay.  

British diplomacy hits the European headlines once again this week. Our leader, Dave Cameron, sounds off like an angry customer in a restaurant he can't afford just when he should be guiding his country to desperately needed European reform. 

Dave didn't know about that EU bill for nearly £2billion until he'd arrived for the EU meeting even though the treasury department had known for a week. In Britain the prime minister's other title is First Lord Of The Treasury but, in Dave's case that doesn't mean staying on top of the latest economic developments. Well, what do you expect, he authorised  the biggest overhaul of the National Health Service, apparently, without understanding his Health Secretary's policy.

It's good to know Britain is in safe hands.

Monday, 27 October 2014

How Hurricane Gonzalo turned my Lewes garden into a scene from The Sleeping Beauty

Last week, my small urban garden, here in Lewes, was one of the least significant casualties of Hurricane Gonzalo when, after it had done its worst in Bermuda, it crossed the Atlantic and battered the west coast of Britain. Here in Lewes, in the south-east, it was just a strong wind but it made its way into my garden blowing down my rose trellis as it went and transforming my small rosy garden into a scene out of the Sleeping Beauty. I was lucky, I know, to escape much more devastating damage.

You know the story that I'm talking about - The Little Rose Briar by the Brothers Grimm  (1785/6 - 1863/59) after the French story The Beauty Sleeping In The Wood by Charles Perrault  (1828 - 1703) but everyone knows it these days as The Sleeping Beauty. If you don't remember the plot, just think beautiful princess (known as Little Rose Briar) cursed to sleep for a hundred years surrounded by an impenetrable jungle of thorny plants like brambles and yes, rose briars. A handsome prince, inevitably, arrives to cut his way through the thorny barrier with, we are told,  great bravery and resolve and, well he would wouldn't he, gets to the princess and awakens her with a kiss.

I'm not sure if I'd welcoming anyone cutting their way through my roses or waking me up in the middle of the night, with or without a kiss, for that matter but I hope you get the comparison.

Actually I was thinking of the paintings, The Rose Briar Series,  by the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Byrne-Jones (1833 - 1898) where he conjures up a suitably provocative set of images of the princess somnolently awaiting her prince surrounded by just the kind of roses that I grow in my garden.

Burtne-Jones also paints the arrival of the Prince succeeding where less hardy princes had failed. I suspect those other princes were a tad on the wimpy side to have been defeated so easily in this rosy bower but, let's not detract from the winning prince's victory. I can't help thinking, though, that a decent pair of secateurs would have even let me through to the Sleeping Beauty's castle.

I'm expecting a man who's coming round tomorrow to see what he can do with the jungle that is now my garden but I don't think he'll be wearing armour or carrying a sword. Maybe, he'll be able to restore the roses back to their original positions (see below) especially while they're still in bloom - I hope so.

While we're thinking about The Sleeping Beauty and her rose briar, here is the great French ballerina Aurelie Dupont, very much awake, in the famous Rose Adagio from Paris Opera Ballet's production of the ballet Sleeping Beauty (1890) by Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893) with choreography by Rudolph Nureyev. It doesn't have much to do with my garden, I know,  apart from the roses, that is, but it's all very beautiful and, anyway, no one should need an excuse to watch the wonderful Aurelie Dupont. I wonder if she'd come round and pick up my roses with the same elegance that she shows here:

Friday, 24 October 2014

Getting into performance mode for Needlewriters Lewes.

Yesterday reminded me of my singing days when I learned how to prepare for a performance because, last night, I was doing a reading, just down the road from my house, at Lewes' excellent quarterly literary event, Needlewriters Lewes. On days such as these, as I remembered from the days when I'd be doing a performance of, say, German lieder or an oratorio, the show always begins directly you get up in the morning. So, yesterday, was a classic example of preparing but not over-doing things so that you peak at just the right time.

Every road in Lewes, yesterday, seemed to lead to the Needlemakers Centre where the event was to be held.

A brisk walk round town was just right to get my lungs going and to clear my head.

I'm fortunate to live in such an attractive town and, this time, it was also good that the venue was no more than a two minute walk from my front door.

The Needlemakers centre, once a candle factory then a surgical needle factory, is now a cosy conglomeration of craft shops, an excellent bookshop, Skylark, and a restaurant where the readings take place four times a year. I was booked a year ago but I was still trying to decide what to read on the day. I was sharing the evening with the poet, an American but now Lewes resident,  Liz Bahs, who writes absorbing poetry sequences where the subject is approached from a variety of different angles. She was in great, exuberant form on the night. The other reader, also a fine poet, was Sian Thomas, a friend from the days when I used to run a Lewes poetry event called First Wednesday Writers. She read from her wonderfully sardonic but powerful pamphlet, Ovid's Echo (published by Paekakariki Press) where she takes classical themes and gives them more than just one twist. She, like Liz, also read some new poems - her's, written as part of her project as Poet in Residence for Ashdown Forest, were richly evocative. I don't think she actually has to live in the forest but she's certainly spending a lot of time there.

I was the only prose writer in the mix so I had no doubt about reading from my novel, Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love but I thought it would be fun if I read a short passage from my new novel too. Blue Notes, Still Frames, will be published next year, and as both books are set, just down the road from Lewes, in Brighton there was an added local interest in reading them in Lewes. Stephen Dearsley's Summer of Love is the story of a young fogey who discovers a whole new world in that hippie summer of 1967 and Blue Notes, Still Frames, returns to Brighton, thirty years on, with different characters.

As I have had a neurological stammer since my brain haemorrhage, six years ago, I'm always slightly anxious about reading prose in public so I decided I too would read some new poetry. I hardly ever stammer if I'm reading poetry as the speech rhythms seem to help. I wrote a new batch of Fibonacci poems in September for my on-going Fibonacci collection Brief Encounters, ten of which are about to be published in the Fib Review by Musepie Press so I thought I would give them their first public airing as a warm up for me, my voice and my stammer, before moving on to the prose works. When I'd finally decided on the ordering of the poems and the sections I would read from the two novels, I uploaded all the texts onto my Kindle so that I didn't have to do all that fiddling around between books.  All I had to do now was some of my old singing exercises and to put my brain into dormant, meditative mode trying not to imagine that this must be what if feels like for a prisoner awaiting execution. If I could disappear,  out of body and out of mind for a few hours then, I thought, I would be ready to 'turn on' my public persona for the evening.

Some more vocalises helped to clear the remnants of the fluid on my lungs which are the aftermath of my Pulmonary embolism, and I was ready. Actually this was the first time since the publication of my novel that I have felt at all well when doing public readings from it. So dressed suitably flamboyantly, I headed off down the street to met my fate.

As I walked into the venue, all that meditative monkishness disappeared and I was set to go. A bit of socialising as the audience arrived - it was heartening how many of my good friends made the effort to attend, and then it was just a matter of a single glass of wine on an empty stomach and I was, abracadabra, in performance mode.

The preparation paid off because, once I was up there, I felt terrific and, yes, I actually enjoyed myself.

The Needlewriters audience was the very best - attentive, responsive and, or so it felt,  gentle and generous.

They've got it just right at Needlewriters, people can have a drink and some food and get mellow without getting legless and the ambience is intimate without being claustrophobic.

I was glad that I decided to read some of those Fibonacci poems not just because, people said, they enjoyed them, but also because they did their trick and my speech barely stumbled all evening.

I even sold and signed some copies of the novel and, yes, enjoyed the whole evening thoroughly. I was ready though,  when it was over, to walk round the corner to our excellent Indian restaurant for a late night curry and, yes, I have to admit it, the rest of that bottle of white wine. Thank you Needlewriters Lewes for inviting me and thanks again to everyone who came along.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

It's Grown Up Time: We won't save the World by turning off the News and looking for salvation in Nigel Farage.

I'm told people have stopped listening/watching the news in Britain because it is too depressing. Well, there's no question about the gloomy nature of the World today so, I suppose, we can't blame people for wanting to look away from so many serious issues. The problem is, dare I say, that people not just here in Britain, are not watching the news because they are frightened of the truth and are looking for solutions from populist politicians who are saying everything is easy - trust me, I'm an ordinary guy just like you. The trouble is, in our democracies, these ordinary guys might just get elected with their easily digested and simplistic answers to complex questions. In Britain this might happen next May just at a time when the country and the world needs politicians who can see beyond easy answers and who refuse to pander to the emotions of an anxious electorate looking for solutions in  single issue politics.

Here in Britain, we have the phenomenon that is Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party.  His simple political solution to the world's problems is for this small island to leave the European Union and to close the borders. It is simple, no question, but it is also balefully wrong and, let's face it, it won't work.

The trouble is that he is very persuasive and is seen as an attractive alternative to Britain's 'main' political leaders. It is easy to hate our politicians and all of us can come up with easy reasons why 'the economy isn't working', 'foreign immigrants are taking all our jobs,' 'Europe is the cause of all our problems,' etc. etc. etc. We can all come up with other catch phrases over a pint of beer with the friendly Mr. Farage. He is so persuasive that he has Britain's political leaders on the back foot.

Prime Minister, David Cameron, is tearing up his old 'liberal' speeches and looking for ways of sounding electable and acceptable to an electorate looking for scape goats.  Every day we are being fed new 'back of an envelope' policies from his 'think tank' and, increasingly, he is being pushed to the right and now he is alienating Britain's European partners and worrying the United States. He knows, but daren't admit it, that Farageing the Conservative party is a road to disaster.

Poor much got-at Ed Milliband, the leader of the Labour party, is on the run too. He is only just holding on to a slender lead in the polls and is egg-splatteringly unpopular in the country. He is having to react to the Farage phenomenon too. Miracle-seeking Labour voters too are looking for happy endings in Mr Farage's saloon bar politics.  Mr Cameron and Mr Milliband are not fools even if they are unloved - their sin will be ignoring what their intelligence tells them about British and international affairs and ducking their responsibility to inform the British electorate that next May's general election is grown up time.

This is serious folks - like it or not. By ignoring the news, we ignore the developing problems in Europe and beyond - problems that Britain should be helping to resolve for all our sakes. All of us folk lucky enough to have a vote need to open our eyes and look.

President Hollande of France isn't laughing , he's made mistakes for sure and he too is deeply unpopular in his own land, but France should be our friend when we have enemies watching us with hatred in their eyes.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is the great survivor but even she is beginning to look rattled by the future  and not just by the economics. She is much more Britain's friend then Britain realises and she is depressed by Britain's growing isolationism.

President Obama too is having a bumpy time. He is facing the Mid-Term elections in a country where the people there too have stopped watching the news because it is depressing. Ebola, a potential catastrophe for some African countries, has turned into an American nightmare, a symbol of fear and a stick with which to hit their politicians, both Democrats and Republicans alike. Everywhere in the Western democracies, people are looking for simple solutions to complex problems and distrusting their politicians.

They are looking for simple solutions in some of the most troubled parts of the Middle East too. When the news is bad at home in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia or Yemen, their young men look to ISIS for their own naively imagined happy ending and flock, along with European and American 'Jihadists', to Syria and Iraq. The result doesn't need repeating - even if we don't watch the news, we all know about the horrors that the world has ignored for too long.

So, ignore the news if you want but, please, don't think the solution to these many crises will be solved over a pint with the dangerous Mr Farage. I say it again, wake up Britain, it's Grown Up Time.