Archive for the ‘Charity Work’ Category

The Sun Hat

Monday, February 27th, 2017

‘How you’re going to pull this one off then, Peirene?’10169902455_b7e950022d_z

I’m not sure I like Peirene’s latest plan. In fact I didn’t realise that it had already become a confirmed project. In my head I was still assuming we were brainstorming possibilities.

‘It’s one thing sending writers to Calais,’ I continue. ‘It’s something totally different visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. You can’t just walk in like a tourist. It could be dangerous. One of the camp factions may take against Ancient Greek nymphs.’

‘I’ve already arranged it.’ She beams with satisfaction. ‘We are going to collaborate with an NGO, Basmeh & Zeitooneh which operates from the Shatila camp in south Beirut. We are going to hold two 3-day creative writing workshops in Arabic and select the writers from the participants. They will write the book in Arabic, we will then translate it and edit it in English. Et voila, we will have an amazing collection of original stories – Peirene Now No3! – to be published in Summer 2018.‘

I suddenly relax as I realise that Peirene can’t be serious. Workshops in mid-summer in the Middle East? Book manuscripts in Arabic? The Nymph doesn’t speak a single word of Arabic. She obviously hasn’t thought this through. No need for me to stress. It’s an interesting idea but impossible to implement.

‘And by the way,’ Peirene now says with an even bigger smile. ‘It’s not me who will travel to Lebanon and give the workshops and deal with the writers and manuscripts. You will do that. I’ve already given them your name. I, on other the hand, will be our project co-ordinator based in Peirene Headquarters.’

‘You are joking, aren’t you?’ My mouth has turned dry. I studied Arabic nearly 30 years ago. It’s now quite rusty.

‘Don’t you worry,’ Peirene replies with a wave of her hand. ‘I’ve sorted that too. I’ve found an Arabic tutor for you for two hours a week and you will draw up a creative writing workshop together. You have plenty of time. Your first trip isn’t until July.’

I get up and walk out of the room. The Nymph is taking liberties with my time, my plans, my future. How does she dare? I make myself a cup of tea – and feel my mood change. What an exciting opportunity. I’d be foolish to let this challenge pass me by.

I walk back into the office. ‘OK, I’ll do it,’ I announce. ‘But you are coming with me.’ It’s now the Nymph who turns to look shocked. ‘But I don’t know what to wear. And July will be very hot.’

‘You’ve sorted everything for me,’ I humor her. ‘Now let me help you. I think I will start by finding you a stunning sun-hat.’

Image by Jean L., creative commons.

Roller Coaster Fun

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

‘We are far too early!’ Peirene exclaims. She shivers and her teeth begin to chatter. We are standing on a cold, deserted platform in Paddington station. It’s 6.20am on Thursday morning and Peirene is wearing a little skimpy dress and a
6977647257_f0bdc60d9c_zcardigan as if we are still in the middle of summer.

She is right. We have arrived too soon for the 7am train to Totnes, but at least there is no doubt that we will arrive on time at Dartington Hall – the venue where Counterpoints Arts is organising a retreat about art and social change, with special focus on migration.

I buy us a coffee and a chocolate croissant, but Peirene is not that easily appeased when she hasn’t had enough sleep.

‘I don’t understand why we are going,’ she complains.

‘Because it’s an important subject and Counterpoints Arts has invited us,’ I reply tersely. Then I go and stand a few meters away from her. I don’t like the Nymph when she is in such a whiny mood. And truth to tell, I don’t know either what to expect from this retreat. At the moment I worry about all the work on my desk that won’t get done in the next two days.

At Dartington Hall we step onto an exhilarating roller coaster of ideas, discussions and workshops. We meet performance artists and activists and funders and directors of Irish and Danish arts organisations. We exchange experiences and insights. We talk about how art can facilitate social change, how to avoid the trap of talking to ourselves and how to reach out to different audiences.

‘Wow! That was just what I needed.’ The Nymph slips off her shoes and stretches out her feet on the seat opposite her. We are on the train back to London. ‘Publishing conferences often feel so stale and stuck. But this retreat has given me a thought for a publishing project that if we manage to pull it off could change the book world and maybe even bring about a small amount of social change.’

I, too, feel utterly content and satisfied, as if I had just devoured a beautiful meal. ‘I know what you are thinking,’ I wink at Peirene. ‘But let’s go steady. We first need to arrange a few meetings to test the viability of our idea.’

The Nymph nods: ‘I agree. Still, this could be the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our life together.’

We smile at each other in blissful harmony. And the cold start from Paddington train station less than 48 hours ago is but a faint memory.

Image by Jeremy Thompson, creative commons.

Operatic Aspirations

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

‘Done!’ I type in the last figure and lean back from my desk in content. ‘The royalty statements are all ready to go. They need to be sent out before the Easter break. Peirene, can you please do that?’ I turn towards the Nymph and realise that she Maria_Callas_(La_Traviata)_2probably didn’t hear a single word of what I’ve just said. She has her earphones on and is singing silently at the screen. She has half-closed her eyes and lifts her arms as if receiving applause.

Slightly irritated – after all it’s work hours – I walk over to her and tap her on the shoulder. She takes out one earplug.  ‘Please don’t disturb me. Singing requires concentration.’

On her screen a youtube video is playing, showing Maria Callas performing the Violetta aria from La Traviata. Maria is gazing into the distance longing for true love.

As if the Nymph has read my mind, she continues: ‘Yes, this is work. I have to practice my voice. It needs to become stronger. I have to develop my voice.…’ she becomes serious ’…to its full potential’

‘Why do you need to develop your voice?’ This is all news to me. I must also admit to some doubts about the Nymph as a singer. Actually, to our regret neither of us are very good at holding a note.

Counterpoints Arts! You heard the directors, Almir and Áine at the board meeting last Wednesday. They think our voice and branding is really effective. And therefore they want us to teach them how it’s done. So, I thought, we would split the task. I will teach them about voice and you teach them about branding.’ She looks at her watch. ‘Oh dear, I have to go. I’ve booked myself in for some private singing lessons.’ She pulls out the other earplug.

‘Peirene, Peirene,’ I’m shaking my head. ‘They don’t want singing lessons from us. It’s more to do with how we communicate to the outside what we are about. They are keen to learn about our communication and marketing strategy.’

Unperturbed, Peirene takes her bag and heads towards the door. ‘It can’t harm can it? And after all communication can only improve if one of us has a strong, clear, beautiful,’ her voice begins to go up and down octaves and she adds a trill for good measure, ‘resonant, expressive, singing voice’. She stops at the door. ‘Do you want to come? It’ll be fun. And you might bring your singing up to my level. I need an alto for my duets. ‘

For a moment I hesitate. But only for a moment.  And who knows, with professional help, I might become a rather good alto. And the royalty statements can wait until we are back.

Image: public domain.

Mediterranean Temperament

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

‘These people are impressive and their enthusiasm for the cause is palpable but aren’t they preaching to the converted?,’ I whisper into Peirene’s ear.Belen_maya

The Nymph and I are attending the Refugee Week Conference. We have been invited by Counterpoints Arts as their in-house bloggers. We are sitting in the front row in the main auditorium of the Amnesty International Human Rights Action centre. The room is packed. Delegates from across the UK are outlining what they have done to help the integration of refugees in the last year and what awareness raising events they are planning to stage during the nationwide Refugee week in June. Refugee Week has been going for 17 years but this year’s promises to be the largest yet.

‘And I fear that the grassroots movement is not as widespread as all that,’ I continue hissing into the Nymph’s ear. ‘Because the government couldn’t get away with its anti-refugee policies if it didn’t have the backing of the general public.’

Peirene ignores me until the break.

‘Meike, sometimes it’s important to be analytical, but sometimes you have to respond with passion. This comes naturally to Greek nymphs – it’s our Mediterranean temperament.  If you’re not in the right mood, you can go home,’ she snaps as we are queuing for coffee and water.

I’m a bit shocked about her reaction. ‘I want to be here. This is all very interesting. And truth to tell I am impressed by the number of initiatives in this country aiming to help refugees. Simple Acts and Talking Syria and the National Refugee Welcome Board and many more.’

‘Then why were you a nuisance just now?’ Peirene empties her water in one go. I can tell what she’s intending to do. She wants to head back as quickly as possible into the auditorium to find a seat far away from me.

‘I was just thinking aloud,’ I justify myself in a hurt voice. ‘You and I know how hard it is to persuade readers to pick up a book of foreign literature. So to convince people that an open policy towards refugees will not mean a loss of identity must be a near impossible task. That’s all I wanted to point out.’

I feel the Nymph softening towards me. But before she can say anything, I continue: ‘And just for the record: I believe that personal initiatives are often so much more effective than anything a big organization can do. Take for example the man who organized a fair with food cooked by refugees on his village green. He’s probably planted the seeds for a change of attitude in a number of his fellow villagers that day. And that’s what counts.’

I turn on my heel and walk back into the hall. After all, I’m a grown up woman and don’t need a Nymph to hold my hand. As soon as I sit down she appears next to me.

‘I thought you didn’t want to be associated with me today.’ I throw her a defiant glance.

‘Well,’ Peirene smiles apologetically. ‘Your heart is in the right place. You deserve the company of an ancient Greek Nymph.’

For a moment I try to hide my delight. Then I, too, smile.

Image by Gilles Larrain.

Boredom Remedy

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

Peirene is standing on her head in the middle of the office.6575342231_dd6990e45c_z

‘Impressive,’ I remark – slightly unimpressed – as I head to my desk to begin my working day. Yesterday, as I left the office, she was performing somersaults.

‘I’m so bored,’ I hear the Nymph behind me mumble. From her voice I can tell that she is still head-down. ‘I need some excitement in my life.’

‘How about finishing off reading through Jamie’s translation of The Empress and The Cake,’ I suggest matter-of-factly.


‘Ok, how about chasing the contracts for our 2017 series?’


‘Then start thinking about possible 2018 titles.’

‘Can’t be bothered.’

The Nymph is now pushing the armchair away from its place. She positions herself in front of the wall, eyes the distance, swings her arms, lifts one leg and uses the momentum to hold herself in a handstand, resting her feet against the wall.

‘The problem is that my work is always the same,’ she moans. ‘And after years of the same, day in day out, I know it all, I can do it all. Frankly I’m quite overcome and totally overwhelmed by a lack of motivation.’

‘And you think standing on your head might help?’

‘The blood rushing into my brain might help me find inspiration.’

I’ve finished checking my emails, slip into my coat and take my handbag.

‘Where you’re going?’ Peirene inquires.

‘To the Refugee Week conference. They invited us to share our blogging expertise with their national delegates.’ I’ve reached the door.  ‘Bye then. I see you tonight.’

‘Wait, wait.’ Peirene lowers her legs in a panic. ‘That sounds really exciting. I want to come.’

I stop in the doorway and turn around.

‘Really?’ I have to smile. ‘I assumed you didn’t. After all we’ve been blogging for seven years every single week. More than 300 entries. Over 135 000 words. So that must be rather boring for you.’

‘No, not at all. That’s precisely what I need. New directions.’ She tries to get up but only manages to come half-way and then sits back down again on the floor. ‘Oh dear, I’m a bit dizzy.’ She closes her eyes. ‘Please wait. I’ll be fine in a moment.’

I sit down on the sofa and wait until she has gathered her wits.

‘You see, that’s how it works in life. Exciting things tend to happen when one is willing to put in the slog,’ I can’t help but comment as we are leaving the office together. Then I put my arm in the Nymph’s. ‘Anyway, I’m pleased you are coming, and I’m sure the Refugee Week delegates will be too. They all want to meet you.’

Image by Rude Steenbruggen, creative commons.

A Nymph’s Idea

Monday, September 21st, 2015

‘I’m such a clever, gifted Nymph. I want to do more than just donate money to good causes,’ Peirene muses. She is lying on the sofa in the office, twirling her hair. I’m sitting at the desk in front of my computer studying the company’s accounts. 15166203826_a89dc50c09_zWe recently learned that we won’t receive an EU grant in 2016 – indeed, no UK publisher will. Which means that keeping our cash flow under control will be an even more precarious balancing act than usual.

‘We’ve now been supporting the Maya Centre for over three years,’ Peirene continues in the background. ‘I wonder if it is time to move on.’ I’m trying to ignore the Nymph’s chatter. Looking through forecast figures for 2016 with a realistic eye requires concentration. Peirene, however, is unperturbed by my silence. ‘I would like to find a new charity. A charity that does important work with refugees just like the Maya Centre – but one that also needs my expertise.’

I find it hard to concentrate while Peirene talks. Impatiently I turn around. ‘Your expertise in what precisely? As a chatter box?’

Peirene stops twirling her hair, sits up straight and glares at me. ‘You just stay glued to your numbers. I will go out and make myself useful.’

I heave a sigh of relief as the Nymph closes the door behind her. Finally the office is quite.

A few days later Peirene invites me to join her at a meeting with Almir Koldzic and Tim Finch from Counterpoints Arts,  a charity that supports and promotes the arts by and about refugees. They run projects with individual artists but also with big art organisations such as the British Museum. Their aim is to use the creative arts to inspire social change and enhance the cultural integration of refugees.

Both the Nymph and I leave the meeting inspired. Almir and Tim are excited to collaborate with a publisher. They would like us to attend their conference planning next year’s Refugee Week, take part in a weekend on art & activism and help shape a literature event around the theme of migration in collaboration with Royal Holloway University.

‘Thank you for dragging me away from the spreadsheet,’ I admit as we are heading back to Peirene HQ.

‘That’s quite all right.’ Peirene is obviously delighted with herself, and excited that Counterpoints Arts can make use of her skills. Her cheeks glow with a lovely red shimmer. ‘And truth to tell, I’m so pleased that you are diligent with our accounts. After all, we can only support others if we keep our own budget in order.’

Image by Maria Elena.