Category Archives: Weekly Writing Challenge

The Wordpress Daily Post offers this challenge every Tuesday. The topics don’t always attract me, but every now and then I will dip in.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names

baby-names

Some years ago I worked in the admissions/student support section of an English language school.  Unsurprisingly, we had students from all corners of the world and it was necessary for us (and them) to understand how naming could be different from culture to culture.

Like many Irish people who have a traditional Irish name, I am often amused, and sometimes offended, by the difficulties non-Irish have with pronouncing them.  One of my colleagues was called Gráinne (pronounced Graw-nya) but the majority of the students referred to her as “Grainy”.

I was not surprised when the American TV series “Ringer” was cancelled after one season – the star was unable to pronounce the name of the character she played (Siobhán, properly pronounced as shiv -awn). If one more person calls me “Dearrdreeeee” (à la  Coronation Street),  or Deedrah or spells my name “Deidre”, I will not be responsible for my actions.  Get it right, please… it’s deer-dreh.

Then there are the the international permutations of the Muslim Prophet’s name:  which is transliterated as Mohammad (primarily in Iran and Afghanistan), Muhammad (in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Malaysia), Muhammed (Arab World, primarily in North Africa),Mohamed, Mohammed, Mohamad and Muhammad (Arab World), Muhammed, Muhamed (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Muhammed, Muhamed, Muhammet, or Muhamet (Turkey and Albania). (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_(name))

My niece, @urbanfoxe worked in Qatar as a junior school teacher and was often non-plussed when, after school, the mums/nannies would turn up in full abaya and mask, to collect their little Mohamed, or Mohammed.

Getting back to my language school days.  One of my first surprises  while working there was, having followed the Spanish Ministerio de Educación ruling that their scholarship students must never share a host family with another Spanish speaker, on the grounds that it would interfere with their English language immersion programme, we received a complaint that, (for the sake of this is not his real name) “Juan Alberto  Garcia Rodriguez”, was not placed in a host family with (again, a made up name) “Rafaela Adriana Rodriguez Garcia” – turns out they were sister and brother, and their parents wanted them to be together.   Quite often in Spain, I learned, the father’s surname is placed first and the mother’s second, for a boy, and for a girl, it’s the other way around.

I also had all the fun of attending at the airport to meet and greet a student from China who had missed one of his flight connections.  This led to me hanging about the arrivals hall in Dublin Airport for several long hours one Friday night, holding a sign that said “Wong Wei”.

East Asian students liked to adopt a European-sounding name for their sojourn in Ireland.  They often chose a name that represented something or somebody that was important to them.  Some of the names were lovely, for example a young lady called herself Peace and a male student called himself Happiness.  Happiness supported his studies by working at the school as a handyman, while Peace joined the office staff for work experience.  This led to many bemused looks from visitors to Reception when we were heard to ask questions like “Did anybody see Peace today?” or “Where is Happiness?”

To go off on another tangent – the naming of pets.  I’ve got five furries here,  all adopted as adults, so I didn’t name any of them.  They all arrived “pre-named”.   The only thing I changed was the spelling of Izzy’s original name – she was originally called Issey Miyake (after the perfume).  She is so dedicated to more, shall we say, natural  aromas (e.g. badger poo) that it had to be the worst misnomer in canine history. Little Jet-Black is actually Little Very Dark Brown Stripes With Flecks Of White Here And There, but that’s more name than he will listen to. The last pet I got to name was Floyd. I only called him that because my mum could not face the idea of the neighbours hearing her calling “Geronimo” in for his dinner every day.

When I was small, we used to have a collie called Flash.  At the time there was a radio commercial for a cleaning product also called Flash.  It involved a loud jingle which went “all around the house, all around the house, spring clean with FLASH!” The jingle ended on a crescendo and and he would invariably come running to find out who had called him.  To make matters worse, the only word our budgie ever spoke was Flash  and he repeated it endlessly– the poor dog sometimes didn’t know if he was coming or going.

More years ago than I care to mention here, I used to date a chap called Tim.  We had a mutual friend called Shelley.  Time went on and everybody drifted apart, but occasionally, one or both of them would drop by to say Hi!

In the space between one of these visits, I adopted my much-loved beautiful collie, The Elder Statesman – who was given his real name by my nephew. Being a fan of the Enid Blyton “Famous Five” books at the time, he was called Tim.   Around the same time, my brother and his family moved in, bringing their lovely lady collie, called Shelley.  I had nothing to do with it.   Both dogs being rather boisterous, whenever anybody called to the house, there would be much shouting of “SIT, Tim” and “DOWN, Shelley”.  So just imagine what the two chaps thought on their next visit.

You might enjoy the article where I found the picture I used for this post:  When names get ridiculous

Weekly Writing Challege: Power of Names

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Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words

fort-point-archesFor this week’s challenge, use one of the images in this gallery as a starting point for a short story, poem, free-write, or musing on whatever you’d like.

One of Ezra Pound’s statements on the image is: “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”.  In this context, I can’t really see why this picture was captioned “Emptiness” – to me it is packed full with all sorts of possibilities.  There is light, shade and space.  Curves and angles.  Bricks and mortar. You don’t have to be a student of architecture to appreciate this expression of the art of stonemasonry, with its beautifully curved arches and the sharp, clean lines of the supporting columns.The series of arches lead to a dark, mysterious space which hints at more arches beyond and it doesn’t take much to imagine them repeating onwards into infinity.

Even though the colours are fading and the whitewash is peeling, there is a sense of strength and readiness, or a feeling of a stage set, waiting for the props to  be set up and the actors to take their place.

The patchy whitewash and colour variations in the brickwork  tell me the building is ageing, and the lighter paving with the regular curved pattern appear to be markers for something, perhaps machinery, that needed to be lined up in a particular way.  Combined with the way the whitewash seems to stop half-way up the walls, I get a sense that this is a utilitarian place, a place with a purpose.  It’s not clear whether it still serves whatever purpose this might be or have been.

As I examined this picture I started imagining what I would do if it was my space.  I would fill it with tall green plants and hanging baskets and  sculptures and tables and seats.  Maybe wind chimes too. The brick walls could carry paintings or hangings, and feeders to encourage birds to fly in and out. People could sit there on a sunny afternoon and listen to their chatter. Assuming, of course that the space I am looking at isn’t located in some well-lit basement, and not open to the elements.

Kids could play there too – I know of two little boys who would get endless amusement from following those curves on their bikes, or using them as tracks for a remote-control car.  With some strategic netting, we could construct a make-shift racquet-ball court, or be very daring and architecturally vandalous by hanging a swing from one of those staunch arches.

Another alternative would be to set  up market stalls. I can visualise them lined up, packed with random, colourful merchandise and a crowd of shoppers strolling through.

There would be buskers too, of course. I wonder how the structure might impact on the acoustics – sound bounces – would there be echoes or sound delays from one end of the building to another?

There was no information about the building in the photograph, except the file name. To get some context , I Googled this name and found that it was taken at Fort Point in San Francisco, part of the Presidio. it’s likely that American participants in this challenge would have recognised this. Please forgive me for my ignorance, I’m just a virtual tourist.

Cannons placed in Fort Point

This is a picture from Wikipedia showing cannon displayed under what might be the same arches. My guess about the light coloured slabs and the curved pattern was on the mark – guide mark to be precise.  The lighter slaps were surely there to indicate proper placement and, I’m not sure about this, but the curved patterns could be either striations from bringing the guns to bear on a target, or a type of track to help manoeuvre them either from side to side or into place – it’s hard to see in either photograph.

My little bout of research tells me that this building dates from the Civil War, but that its guns were never fired in battle.  I imagine that they were at least used in practice, and in those spaces, the noise when the cannon were fired must have been incredible. Small wonder the building looks so solid, it was clearly built to resist the reverberation when these behemoths were active.

Here’s the fort from another angle.  This image, taken in 1870, is taken from the US National Park Service website. You can see that there were at least three tiers of cannon placements, facing in two directions.  It seems it was a cutting edge installation at the time, the only one of its kind on the Pacific Coast, and a source of some pride to the military.

The 1870 picture reminded me of another, more ancient structure:

Costrom6

This picture is from Rome Art Lover.it  which has a whole page devoted to the Roman architecture.  The arches above are part of the Coliseum and the ones below are the Porta Asinaria

Costro11

It would be interesting to come back in a 1,000 years or so to see whether the arches at Fort Point have fared as well as some of their ancient predecessors.

Back to “Emptiness”:  This picture of space enclosed by architecture is full of ideas.  It provided me with a starting point to learn a little about American history and Roman architecture.  On the way to completing this piece, I also looked at ancient Egyptian and Greek monuments that featured arches.  I got to fantasise about what I would do with the space – a favourite pastime of mine.

Outside my own thoughts and impressions, there is the story behind how and why the image was taken in the first place.  What were the circumstances?  Was it a professional assignment, or a personal visit? Why that particular spot and not another?  Did the photographer have to wait for a moment when there was nobody there, had someone just left the frame, or was somebody about to step in?

Returning to my original point, could I suggest to the photographer that when it comes to images, the word “emptiness” never applies, and maybe he or she could reconsider the title? For example:

  • Possibility
  • Ideas
  • Space
  • Imagine

Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words