Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Goodbye Polychrome, spider of many colours

Sadly, we must say goodbye to our tiniest of the Spiderbabes--Polychrome. Polychrome was our second arboreal spider (a tree climber as opposed to a ground dweller) who was preceded in death by her arboreal cousin Pirouette. 

We brought her home when she was no bigger than a popcorn fart (as my grandmother Sweetie used to say). It is true. She was teeny tiny. No bigger than my thumbnail.

She was an avicularia versicolor which meant she would change colour as she aged. She would start off pale blue with a metallic sheen and gradually  grow up to have a metallic green carapace and iridescent red hairs on her legs. She would also stay pretty small--arboreal spiders generally are smaller than their terrestrial cousins. 

She was named after Polychrome the Rainbow's daughter from the Oz books as she was colourful as that beloved character.

This is how Polychrome was portrayed in the Marvel Comic Oz illustrated by Skottie Young.

That's pretty much how she seemed to us. Like a little rainbow fairy. She was tiny--about the size of a 50p coin and you saw her very rarely. Being arboreal she spent most of her life in a tube shaped web in the corner of the tank. You might see a little leg poking out waving hello, but at night--if you were lucky--she would come out to hunt or get water. 

Today we noticed she was down on the substrate during the day.

Highly unusual.

She wasn't moving and was in the death curl.

 Spiderman kindly said that just because you name your spider after an immortal being doesn't mean they will be one.  Poor Polychrome. 

But then, after we removed her little body (made even smaller by the death curl) we saw what we had been hoping was not true, but were suspecting was.

She was a he.

And in spider terms, that means a significantly shorter life span. Males tend to die within a year after reaching sexual maturity. She was four--almost five years old. The time fits. 

Her abdomen was always really small and narrow--a sure sign of being male but she was arboreal so we hoped that was just part and parcel of being a tiny tree climber. It wasn't. 

We put her under the microscope to check for any signs of disease (thankfully there were none) and we saw the two clinchers. 

No epigyne which is the female genital opening. When Blanche was having that bad moult recently (which thankfully she survived) where she was rolled on her side we had a very clear view of her epigyne--it was HUGE. Polychrome had none.
male with enlarged palps

Her palps had a definite largeness about them--wide and flat. Ready to fill up like balloons full of sperm when the time was right. We looked for tibial hooks that male spiders use to hold back a female's fangs while mating, but couldn't find any. We looked up avicularia versicolour in one of our reference books and they are one of the species which don't have them--no wonder we couldn't find them. 

So she was definitely a he.

I suppose Polychrome was now Paul E. Chrome. 

Poor little thing. We have loved you, tiny one. We have loved every  little glimpse we had of you. We loved your rainbow colours. You will be sorely missed.

Goodbye little P. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

I am giving up "arson" for Lent

I am giving up arson for Lent.

No the burning stuff kind of arson.

Arsin' about. Wasting time. Procrastinating. Avoiding tasks.

Because i do not have a regular schedule to my day--sometimes I am working and sometimes I am not--I find more and more that I am arsing about.
Aw, who didn't love Sea Monkeys?

It is easy to do. Thanks to YouTube there are toy adverts from the 70s to wax nostalgic over, music videos from the 80s to dance to, clips of sketches from Saturday Night Live from throughout the ages--the funny and the unfunny to watch.

There is the bottomless pit known as Yahoo News (and I use the term news in the loosest possible sense) where I can read about celebrities I don't know doing things I don't care about.  I can learn hacks for my chopsticks--great! Now I need to learn to use chopsticks before i learn a hack for doing other things with them.  Now I can watch people I don't know getting their face smashed into a cake or falling while taking a selfie. I can watch it and feel my life's energy and will to live slip away.

Yet still i watch it.

For hours.

I never mean to. I always say I will only watch one thing and then it spirals out of control.

But secretly, deep down...I know why I do it.

I am afraid of failing. We have lived in Wales for a year and a half and i have yet to get regular employment. I am actually mostly ok with this--because the irregular employment is very good. I work odd days here and there in my friend's shop.  I am also a private tutor to two delightful home educated children once a week. I am born to be a teacher and so this brings me unimaginable joy as well as a bit of cash. The only problem is I wish i had more students.

 And how does one get more students? By advertising--by putting myself out there. To make posters and bookmarks and work at it to get someone to notice me and be willing to let me teach their children.

To face rejection if no one else is interested in my services.

I watch YouTube so i don't have to have people reject me.

Not having a regular work day *should* enable me to spend more time (because I have more time) doing the things I love--playing the ukulele, reading, designing and making jewellery.

But somehow it doesn't. Something is making me read that Kanye West is saying he is broke on Yahoo news and laughing because he has no idea what financial hardship feels like. So what am i avoiding?

Again--rejection. In December i wanted to open an Etsy shop. For those of you who don't know ETSY is a place where you can sell your crafts online. I spend a month making things, photographing things (which was hard without natural light--we had 40+ days of rain and the house was dark) and getting things ready.

Then came the bit where you have to write it all up online and upload photos and set prices and make banners for the shop and think really hard about things and make them perfect.

Perfect shop--so that people will want to buy from me.
Perfect items--so that people will want to buy from me.
Perfect prices--so that people will want to buy from me.

And the nagging feeling that nothing is perfect especially me sent me into a month of watching YouTube in my pyjamas. Did you know you can watch Lifetime Movies on YouTube? Well you can. Dreadful, based on a true story garbage that makes your worries about perfectionism disappear.

No one can ignore me, reject me or even see me if I stay home and arse about.

So what am i doing for Lent? First and foremost, reminding myself that No one fails who does their best for God. 

Secondly, i am banning both YouTube and Yahoo News from my life. I am prayerfully asking God to help me face my fears and get the lead out.

Because I have to TRY. I might not succeed, but if i don't even make an attempt to do these things then I will  definitely NEVER succeed.

I need to change my thinking. To stop worrying about the past and recalling in painful detail the six (count 'em six) interviews i had last year where it went *so* well where they thought I was "amazing" and "fascinating" but didn't give me the job.  And obsessing negatively about the future--whatever i have to offer nobody will want.

I am resolving to stay in the present moment. To notice anxiety and kindly tell it to sod off and then to breathe deeply. I am taking a free online course though Future Learn about Mindfulness. I am already in week two and feeling the benefits. it is a free online course and i would highly recommend it. Go here for details:

Did you know that anxiety and worry keeps you in that fight or flight mode and your body can not only become mentally ill with all that negativity and tension but physically ill as well? I want to get out of that kind of thinking.

I want to stop obsessing over what I lack. Because, when you really look at it--i am living in abundance. 

I have a roof over my head.
I have delicious, healthy food on my table.
I have my health.
I have a soul mate who loves me.
I have friends.
I am full of creativity.
I live the life others can only dream of--safely immigrating to another country  without being hated or shunned or labeled or feared.  We are so lucky and blessed to live in the green valley of Wales.

What do i lack? More regular employment. Is that it? Seriously, is that it? What else do i have?
Time to write for the blog.
Time to play music.
Time to read.
Time to pray.
Time to create.
 Would I like more regular employment? Yes of course. Would I like more money? Sure. Our budget is tight as a drum, but we are always (and I mean ALWAYS) taken care of by God. There is plenty for everything we need. For example, I have seven days of shop work coming up which will pay our rent for the month. Just like that.

Since we have redefined what we want in life--what is important to us--then pretty much that is taken care of too.

Would I like to have more money to throw at our debts? Hell yea. Would i want more money to put towards our retirement? Uh-huh.

But if I am in the moment and really trying to live Luke 12:22-34 then i am better off.

Do Not Worry
 22Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

So for Lent, I want to change myself, to change my attitudes and fear of failure and face my fears. To feel the fear and do it anyway.

We are only a few days in and already I am seeing a profound change in my attitude and my use of time.

What are you doing for Lent?

Friday, 12 February 2016

Волшебник Изумрудного Города--The Wizard of the Emerald City

Well, after the poetry evening for Spiderman, oh best beloved, we allowed ourselves one more day in jolly olde London town to have a bit of fun.


We decided to go to the British Library. When we lived in England the BL was one of regular haunts. They had groovy exhibitions and interesting book talks/author visits all for free or cheap. While Spiderman had used the actually library bit for research, I had not. So we decided to spend our day getting British Library library cards and then browsing some rare and interesting books.


To get a library card at the BL you need to bring a boatload of ID. This is stated VERY clearly on their website. Despite this, there were several people in front of us and behind us in the queue who had NOT read the website. The lady was firm but fair—no dice. You also have to request your books that you wish to see in advance because you aren't allowed to just browse the shelves willy-nilly—a designated person gets the books for you. Many of these people were hoping to get a card today and look at books immediately. Again—no way José.   Because we are prepared sort of people, we had requested books in advance and had brought our boatload of ID.


We were let through to the next stage –the interview.


Yup, you have to have an interview where you explain why you want the books you do and what you plan to do with them before you get your card. I was a wee bit nervous about this, but our interviewer was a sweetheart. His dad and worked in North Carolina for a year and so he was a fan of the American South and asked us more questions about Louisiana than our books.


Then we got our cards, went to lock everything up in a locker and filled the clear plastic bag with the few items we were allowed to bring in—a notebook, pencil and rubber (eraser to my American peeps. Get your mind out of the gutter) because NO PENS are allowed. We were searched again to be sure our plastic bag had no contraband and then it was off to pick up our books.


We decided to ask for OZ books as they had many that we had never seen. The highlight for me was seeing the Russian version of OZ. In actual Russian. Yes—it was written in Cyrillic so we couldn't read much (I can decode all the sounds in the Cyrillic alphabet but I can't translate too well. My Russian vocabulary is quite small. A few animals and foods.) Mainly we wanted to see the pictures.


What a treat that was! My oldest Oz book that is about the history of Oz—about the author L. Frank Baum and the making of Oz books and the 1939 film is entitled The Oz Scrapbook by David L. Greene and Dick Martin. We found this book on a sale table in a bookshop in the mall in the 1970s and snapped it up. But this book had a section of Oz illustrations from around the world. My all-time favourites were ones by Leonid Vladimirsky.  They fascinated me as a child. I loved the Tin Woodman—his pelvis appeared to be a goldfish bowl and he had a long tin tie that tucked into it.


We got to see the book in Cyrillic with the Vladimirsky illustrations and it was mind blowing.


The book itself is fascinating as it not so much a translation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but a retelling by the author Alexander Volkov. In 1939 he re-wrote Baum's book and titled it The Wizard of the Emerald City (Russian: Волшебник Изумрудного Города).   The names of most characters are changed, some elements of Baum's novel are removed, and some new elements are added. Volkov wrote several sequels that were not based on Baum's plot elements, although we do encounter some of Baum's ideas such as the powder of life, a character called Charlie Black who is not unlike Cap'n Bill Weedles, intelligent foxes, and the use of a Sandboat similar to Johnny Dooit's, albeit with wheels.

Volkov also called the books the Magic Land series rather than Oz.

According to Wikipedia:


Baum equivalent
Ellie Smith
Элли Смит
Dorothy Gale
Little Toto
Zhelezny Drovosyek
Железный Дровосек
Iron Lumberjack
The Tin Woodman
Truslivy Lev
Трусливый Лев
Cowardly Lion
Cowardly Lion
James Goodwin
Джеймс Гудвин
The Wizard
Good Witch of the North
Glinda the Good Witch
Wicked Witch of the East
Wicked Witch of the West
Din GeeOr
Дин Гиор
Soldier with the Green Whiskers
Guardian of the Gates
Queen of the Field Mice


Notable differences between "The Wizard of the Emerald City" and the original book "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”

                     In the original book, Winkies' favorite color is yellow. In Volkov's version, it's purple.          

                     In the original book, the characters at one point have to run away from beasts called Kalidahs. In Volkov's version, Kalidahs are replaced with saber-toothed tigers.

                                     The Fighting Trees and the China Country are omitted in Volkov's version. Instead, the main characters secondly have to cross river in other place by making another raft, and things go awry when a storm begins.

                                     In Volkov's version, just before meeting the Cowardly Lion, Ellie gets kidnapped by an ogre, and Scarecrow and the Woodman save her.

                                     In Volkov's version, Munchkins, Winkies and Quadlings (renamed as Chatters) have different tics involving their people's names: Munchkins constantly move their jaws as if they were munching, Winkies blink a lot and Chatters can't stop talking.

                                     The armless Hammer-Heads with stretching necks were replaced in Volkov's version with an anatomically correct and physically strong nation of Leapers.

                                     In Volkov's version, as soon as Ellie and Toto arrive in Magic Land, Toto gains the ability to speak, which he retains until they leave. In Baum's version, this is not the case, and Toto behaves exactly like a normal dog.

                                     In Baum's version, Dorothy is an orphan and lives with her uncle Henry and her aunt Em. In Volkov's version, Ellie lives with both of her parents, John and Ann.

                                     In the original version, the Good Witch of the North kisses Dorothy on her forehead, blessing her, and the Wicked Witch of the West doesn't dare hit her because of the blessing. In Volkov's version, Villina doesn't kiss Ellie, and Bastinda is afraid of hitting Ellie because she wears the silver shoes.

                                     In the original version, Dorothy was unaware of the Wicked Witch of the West's aquaphobia until the latter melted. In Volkov's version, Ellie knew Bastinda was afraid of water, and often left the kitchen floor wet to annoy the witch.

                                     An additional subplot in Volkov's version during Ellie's imprisonment in Bastinda's castle involves Ellie and the cook Fregoza motivating other Winkies to prepare a coup against Bastinda.

                                     The prologue in Baum's book tells the story solely from Dorothy's point of view. The prologue in Volkov's book tells the story first from Ellie's prospective, then switches to Gingema then back to Ellie who is running away from the cyclone.


For those of you who only know the 1939 film then some of the above differences  (and illustrations) may be a puzzler to you. But for my Mum—she who read all the Oz books with me and started my love for all things Over the Rainbow—she'll get it.


If you have not read the original book of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum written in 1900 then I would urge you to. It is in the public domain and you can read it for free online here: Someone told me that if you subscribe to Amazon you can download it for free onto your e-reader. Check it out.


But the best of this story is yet to be told. Spiderman using his librarian spidey-sense tracked down some cheap second-hand copies of both the 1959 version of the Cyrillic text with the Vladamirsky illustrations as well as a translation of Volkov's  The Wizard of the Emerald City complete with lots of exciting notations and articles in the back about Volkov and his Magic Land series as well as notes about the translation.


So, happy reading!  

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Talented Mister Spider

I am one of the lucky ones.

I am married to my soul mate. We have this fabulous life full of adventure living our dream  in the UK. We've lived in three different countries. We get to do cool and interesting things.

The Amazing Spiderman is just that--amazing. He is clever and funny, kind and compassionate,  talented and poetical.


Yup. Because you see, he was recently  a finalist in a national poetry competition! I know! It was all very exciting! The competition was sponsored by Bloomsbury Publishing and the National Literacy Trust. The goal was to write a poem about reading and he was one of ten finalists. There were around 400 entries and he was one of the top ten. 

Pretty exciting stuff, eh?

So last week we took the train to London for the prize-giving. We weren't sure what to expect, all we knew was we had to be at the Bloomsbury Publishing offices for 6:30.  He was allowed two guests so we invited our children's literature expert and close personal friend Karen who was lecturing and researching in nearby Reading to come along as well.

We arrived in the afternoon and had a delicious bite to eat at Leon and then toddled along to the Bloomsbury offices. it was a mix of swanky and casual--there was free wine and nibbles and the room was decorated with fairy lights. (this was the swanky bit)

All the poems in the shortlist were beautifully framed and were propped up against the window. It was our first time to see everyone else's poems and so we nibbled and drank and wandered up and down reading.

There were:
Many poems that rhymed
Two poems that didn't
A poem in the form of a limerick
 Poems that were meant to be read aloud in a dramatic way
A poem written in a long column
A tongue-twister-y poem
Two poems that mentioned a spider
One poem that mentioned the yellow brick road
One poem with a refrain that you could join in with and say together
A poem that played with language
Poems with lots of allusions to great books

There was a whole variety of poems. After a while, each poet was called up to stand in front of the drinks table (this was the casual bit) and read or recite their poem. Then we had more wine and  nibbles and they announced the winner.

Alas! it was not the Amazing Spiderman.  The poem they chose will go on posters that will be sent to all the schools in the country. It was a good winner--it rhymes and has a nice bouncy rhythm when you read it so it will be perfect for kids to read and recite.

If you want to read the winning poem you can go here:
Here is a photo with all the finalists. Can you pick out the Amazing Spiderman?
second from the right

But what was his poem you ask? A masterpiece, I reply. I am not being biased just because we are married--I genuinely think it was an excellent poem. it references so many great works of literature, but it also makes references that could be any book of that genre (even if he had a specific book in mind when he wrote it).

So without further ado, I give you The Great Poem.

Why are you sitting there doing nothing they ask
I look up from my book

I am running away with rabbits looking for new warrens
I am escaping from prisons with mice
I am weaving words in a web and studying spells in school
I am chasing shadows around the room
I am devising deals with dragons and catching children's dreams
I am asking wishes from strange creatures
I am lying and waiting to hear the hall clock strike thirteen

Why are you standing there doing nothing I ask
I return to my book
and read

I was so proud of him I could burst. Even though he didn't win we got a big swag bag with free books. Who doesn't like free books? The bag also featured the cover of the new heavily illustrated Harry Potter book.

We  bid adieu to the lovely Karen and wandered back to our hotel with some crisps and hummus (and some vegan chocolate pudding) and had more nibbles and watched crap telly. Actually, it wasn't crap telly at all--it was a show about the life of Beatrix Potter hosted by Patricia Routledge (you might know her as Hyacinth Bucket). The crap telly came afterwards.

Then the next day we had an adventure in the British Library! Stay tuned for our journey over the rainbow!