For the love of an insect

If I turned into an insect would you still love me?

If people called me an insect and insisted I was an insect would you believe them and think of me as a repulsive creature too? Or would you still love the ‘me’ I used to be?

And if, after a period of time of having lots of people branding me an insect, I really did begin to display insect-like features – would you still be there for me? Care for me? Protect me? What if those features could never go away? What if I transformed fully into an odious creature overnight?

What if my being an insect was so repulsive to everyone that it made it difficult for those important to you to accept your love for me. What if they mocked you, jeered at you, struck you on the back? Would you still love me? Would you still be there for me?

What if you felt I had betrayed you in becoming an insect? What if you felt, deep in your heart, that I should have told you what was going to happen? Even if I couldn’t – even if I woke up one morning and discovered someone had been spreading rumours and said I was one and gradually I took on the appearance of a grotesque bug as a result against my own will. Would you hold on to what you thought you knew of me? What you thought I was – long ago – would it be enough to make you love me despite the complete absence of the reality now?

Or would you crush me? Hurl things at me? Throw me out of your house with a scream? Would you be terrified of me? Would you call for help until someone came and got rid of me? Would you lock me in a room where I could starve in the dark and gradually just disappear? Would you join the others mocking and jeering at me? Would you hate me? Despise me? Want to kill me?

Would I even love you in the same way? Would I turn against you? Or would I love you in a different way – an insect way perhaps? Would I retreat to my room and hide under the couch until I faded away – eaten by other insects – and could no longer embarrass you with my dirty, repulsive insectness? What if I left you so you could breathe in fresh air and be you again, free of me? Would you recognise that as my love for you or would my feelings for you be as alien as I had myself become?

If I turned into an insect would you still love me?

 The above musings were inspired by thinking about Franz Kafka’s story ‘The Metamorphosis’. I am beginning to believe there is more wisdom about life as it really is in his surrealism than we normally give him credit for. Certainly, I am currently drawing comfort from his way of thinking.

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Home Sweet Home

If you’ve followed this blog long enough you may remember this:??????????????????????

These barrels, filled with most of our worldly goods in Bangladesh, have finally been emptied – along with boxes and boxes of ‘stuff’ which have accumulated over the years and have sat for six of those years in the lofts and garages of friends and family.

The new house still looks somewhat like a warehouse with a few rooms (oh all right then – most) having piles of boxes in them. Nevertheless, after just over a week of unpacking (carefully avoiding working on the book I’m trying to finish writing, of course) some of the rooms are taking shape. I thought I’d show you my favourite ones…

First – just so you get an idea of the chaos reigning supreme – this is the room that will be (if all goes to plan) Ria’s room when she finally gets here. Visa red tape hoops have been jumped through but we’re hoping she’ll finally make it here to begin her degree by next month. Let’s hope we’ve cleared this room by then!

Ria's room (aka warehouse)

Ria’s room (aka warehouse)

The kitchen is very much wifey’s favourite for the chief reason that, for the first time in our lives, we finally have a kitchen with an AGA cooker. The excitement of actually reaching that long-awaited dream was, however, considerably quashed when the fuel company supplying our gas and electricity told us our monthly fuel bill will now be 150% more than what we were paying! As of now, we’re wearing double jumpers come Autumn and reading our books in the dark…

The kitchen of our dreams (the fuel bills of our nightmares...)

The kitchen of our dreams (the fuel bills of our nightmares…)

The shared love for all the family is the living room. For thing I it is because of the TV. For thing II it is because he can play on his Playstation here. For Wifey it is the fireplace – we have a fireplace in nearly every room of the house!

We've already enjoyed several wood-burning fires in this room

We’ve already enjoyed several wood-burning fires in this room

For me though it is because my favourite collection of books is housed there.

I've still not read ALL of these yet...

I’ve still not read ALL of these yet…

As you can see from this last picture, I’m a bit of a collector – especially where magazine collections are involved. Some are more serious – on literature or art and so on – others are just silly. You can spot them in the next room: My playroom.

Yes, I have my own playroom! Complete with a pool table, table football, multi-gym and shelves dedicated to Sci-fi and family games.  I am not ashamed to admit that I’m just a big kid at heart!

But most of my books – and all my musical instruments are housed in my study. I finally have a study which fits them all in and gives me room for a desk to actually write on. It may not be pretty (and still has things needing putting away) but it’s getting there. It even has a chess table in front of the fireplace ready to challenge guests to a friendly game over and nice glass of whisky after dinner. Yeah – this is my form of Downton Abbey.

Very finally, anyone who knows me in real life knows that no house is truly mine if it does not provide appropriate reading material for guests using our ‘rest rooms’ for their toiletry needs. Our old ‘reading boat’ – so beloved back in the days before we lived in Bangladesh – is back in use in our bathroom. Actually we have two bathrooms now and that has meant I can separate my ‘toilet reading’ books into two! I know this may appal some of you but if the home is an Englishman’s castle then it seems appropriate to me that he has something decent to read on his throne.

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Making Home

It’s late at night and I really should be sleeping. Tomorrow will be another long and tiring day but I’m aware that I’ve had so many long and tiring days recently that I’m just not getting to the blogs – either to read the wonderful scribblings of my friends in the blog-o-sphere or to write my own garbled ramblings.

So I’m fighting off sleep to get something written down for this much neglected blog of mine. Tomorrow marks an important occasion for my family and I. In a sense, tomorrow we finally make a ‘home’. But just what does that mean?

Six years ago we were busy packing up our home at the time to prepare for leaving the UK and begin living in Bangladesh. All our belongings bar what we carried in our suitcases were stored away in one locked-up room in our house which was otherwise rented out; or in boxes scattered all over the UK stored in the attics and garages of various friends and family members.

Last December we packed up again – this time our home of six years in Bangladesh – and sent our possessions there back to the UK in several plastic barrels. Until last Friday we were pretty much still living out of those barrels in rented accommodation. That all changed on that day when we finally bought a house near to where our children go to school and moved in.

Since then we’ve been busy as a family moving our stuff from Bangladesh into the new house and beginning the process of no longer living out of suitcases and barrels but, instead, to live in a permanent structure we can truly call ‘home’.

‘Home’ – up until now that word has been synonymous with ‘family’. Where the four of us were, that’s where ‘home’ was. While a major element of that will always be true, now we can fix that word to bricks and mortar again. Now we own a home too and the suitcases can finally be packed away.

I said that tomorrow is an important day and it is – for tomorrow all our remaining stuff from the old house (sold a few weeks ago) will arrive and this new home of ours will, once again, be filled with boxes and tables and more things than we can possibly know what to do with! It’ll be fun but it’ll also be hard work.

My family and I came back from Bangladesh knowing that the meaning of life for us had very much shifted over the last six years. I’m no longer materialistic – I could live if everything I owned was lost or destroyed – but I do value things all the same. Things which hold special meanings – an old book, a dusty picture frame, a game from childhood. I know these things are temporal but they also are part of what defines us, what makes us who we are. So when we finally open all those boxes we packed away oh so long ago, it’ll be interesting to see just what was me and what still is me now.

Not that one outranks the other. What I was is still part of the journey to who I am now; so those things, as we unpack them, will still be part of the story even if we’ve moved on from them. They will still be valued old friends and, along with the things which came back with us from Bangladesh, they will still help make this wonderful gift of a house we now own truly into our home.

It will – I’m certain – have been worth the wait.

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The Monster Blanket

My daughter came back from a camp for TCKs (Third Culture Kids) today. She loved the time away and made important new and special friendships with other teenagers who know just what it is to live in your ‘passport country’ which is simply an alien world to you.

She made a reference to a bit of wisdom she learned there which used the metaphor of ‘monsters’. It got me thinking and led to this post – even though it breaks one of my normal ‘rules’ for this blog.

I remember – back when I was very young – how I used to hide under blanket at night so that there was just a little peep-hole to look out of but otherwise my entire body remained safely inside the cover of the blanket because that way the monsters can’t get you.

It was a bizarre logic looking back on it now. If there really was a monster in the room there’s no way a blanket would protect a small boy! But, somehow, I ‘knew’ that blanket would protect me from all monsters. It was a magic blanket and, as long as no part of my body was peeping out, I was safe.

I’ve mentioned my strange childhood behaviour to many people and  was astonished that all over the world people have, more often than not, said to me “no way – me too!” Is there some kind of strange instinct left over from cave-dwelling times that makes most of us have some version of the ‘monster blanket’? It seems to cross all sorts of cultures and traditions. It’s a weird thought.

However not too many, I suspect, will have an experience similar to mine (though maybe I’ll be surprised yet again?):

It was a dark and stormy night

Well maybe not stormy – but it was a cold dark winter’s night I took a hot water bottle to bed with me and, after reading a good book for some time, I turned off my bedside light (which was on the floor for some reason) and settled under my blanket making the obligatory peep-hole so I could see out in the darkness in case any monsters did come. I drifted off to sleep.

At some point much later I jerked awake. I had been disturbed by something and I was suddenly alert.

Out of my peep-hole  could see someone had turned on the light in my room…

I waited.

And waited.

And now I knew that it wasn’t my mother (who would sometimes check on me during the night and very occasionally might turn the light on if she needed to ask me something that couldn’t wait until morning). She wouldn’t take that long to move or say something. There was only one possible explanation:

A monster was in the room.

This was it. This was the test of my faith in my magic blanket. Would it protect me after all or would I soon find the blanket flung off me before some vile creature feasted on me in a most terrible way to die? I clung to the blanket barely daring to breathe and not moving an inch.

I have no idea how long I waited for the end but it felt like hours. It must have been at least half an hour I guess. But eventually terror gave way to puzzlement. Nothing was happening. Death didn’t come.

Then I asked myself a key question:

Where’s my hot water bottle?

It took time to figure it all out but what must have happened was that in my sleep I had jerked violently and kicked the bed-warmer out of bed. It had landed on the switch of my bedside light (on the floor remember?) and turned the light on. My terror had all been in vain. There was no monster – just me lurching around in bed.

To be fair though, the blanket didn’t let me down.

Monsters in our lives

This came back to me when Thing I told me all about ‘monsters in our lives’ and God being bigger than any of them.

We do get monsters in our lives sometimes and they can threaten to devour us. I’m dealing with one now. It’s huge and threatens a ‘death most foul’ in more ways than one. I feel like the small boy again but now I’m groping around in the dark for my blanket to cover myself before the monster can get to me and kicking myself for leaving the door open so it could get in at all.

I don’t normally write about belief in God in this blog but for many of us that blanket is the belief in a supernatural and loving supreme being. If that supreme being is truly worth trusting then we have to believe he is like a ‘monster blanket’ covering us to protect us from the monsters we might face.

I’m trying to find my blanket right now but it feels somewhat like most of it slid off the bed during the night while I slept (for the last six months). I hope I do find it because I think its magic protective powers are about to be tested, just as they were all those years ago.

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Book Review: The Tomb of Time by Nury Vittachi & Luther Tsai

If you are living in Asia and either work with children or have children of your own you’re in for a treat with a developing book series called The Magic Mirror.

Magic mirror authors

Vittachi and Tsai – sans hair

Nury Vittachi and Luther Tsai (known as the Egghead Twins to publishing wags thanks to both somewhat lacking hair follicles on their bonces) produced their first book in the series back in 2012 and it quickly sold out. The Tomb of Time is the third of what will be twelve books in all and it is, quite honestly, excellent.

Unfortunately, the books are only available to Asian countries as yet (feel free to put pressure on the publishers, Scholasticto publish further afield too) and that’s a real shame for those of us in the West where world history really does continue to be a minor subject area. Children continue to learn reams about European and American history but little else of elsewhere and this really needs to change considering 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia and that the two largest populations (China and India) are now world leaders in every area of economy, art and science (or poised to be). If we truly want a global village, we need to introduce the next generation to their neighbours.

After working with English Medium Schools in Bangladesh, I’ve seen that the situation isn’t much better in Asia either. This is one of the reasons Vittachi and Tsai began writing the series in the first place. There are some great tales of Western explorers and discoverers which are well-known, but even more incredible true stories from Asia are unknown even among Asians themselves. These two authors want to change that.

The genius of the The Magic Mirror series is that the tales come across as pure magical fiction yet are based in solid historical fact. The premise is that two young siblings, Marko and Miranda, use their Grandpa’s Magic Mirror to travel through time and be a part of incredible historical events.

In The Tomb of Time the two young heroes travel to the time of an emperor who wants to live forever, bring clay people to life, have a huge city of the dead with ghosts who fire crossbows to prevent intruders and is advised by a wizard who needs 3000 young people to travel with him to find the potion on an island which will make the emperor’s wishes a reality. Magical fantasy?

Well, actually no.

All of the books have a section written by the authors at the end of the story explaining the facts behind the fiction. In this case all the above is true – the emperor was Qin Shi Huang and you can visit Xian, the region of China where he built his necropolis and see his famous army of clay soldiers. The wizard really did take thousands of young people away to an island but he never returned – in fact many historians think this was actually the founding of Japan.

And yes,  the Ghost brigade is true too – as is the magic mirror itself. Several exist in museums to this day.

Magic Mirror picThe books are easy to read as well as lots of fun making them great gifts for children or perfect for reading out loud at home and in the classroom. What’s more, each book comes with a great cut-out model to assemble which looks terrific – I’d buy the books simply for that alone!

I’ve known Nury Vittachi’s writing ever since I arrived in Bangladesh in 2008. His column in one of the newspapers there brought me great joy in those early days as I learned about Asian culture. He’s a funny guy and one who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and make a bit of a fool of himself for the enjoyment of his readers too. A genuinely nice guy who never fails to amuse or make you think (and often both at the same time), this book series is very much in his easy-going style and I simply can’t recommend it enough to those of you who lucky enough to obtain the books.

And if you can’t, you can find Vittachi’s writings in various other places on the web. Just google his name, take a pick and enjoy!

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