One of Our Favourite #Pastimes: Walking in Sutton Park

Sutton Park in Birmingham

Sutton Park in Birmingham

On Sunday, I joined Birmingham Internationals for a walk in Sutton park, picnic and pub. The Event notification came through my mailbox – Until then, I did not know of this group, nor looking for a MeetUp to join, but two things attracted my attention: Walk, and Sutton Park.

I signed up straight away, despite that I already did a walk with John on the day, which was Saturday and danced the night away at a family party in Derbyshire in the evening.

Here is the thing. I LOVE Sutton Park - it is the reason why we have made Sutton Coldfield our home in the last twelve years, the longest we have stayed in one place.

Birmingham International Walk & Picnic

Birmingham International Walk & Picnic

During the years I’ve spent in my adopted country, I have lived in various cities, either as a student or working. Except London, I have sampled a few English and Scottish cities, including Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Glasgow. I liked most of them, for different reasons, but it is Birmingham where I feel most at home.

In the summer of 2002, John got a job in one of the universities in Brum, as Birmingham is sometimes referred to. He spent a couple of weeks, camping and staying in B&Bs in the West Midlands, searching for a possible area for us to relocate to (from Manchester). He saw Sutton Park, and that was it.

We moved house a couple of times since, but the main criteria has been the same: somewhere close to the park.

Swan & Cagnets in one of the Lakes

Swan & Cagnets on one of the Lakes

500 years ago, Sutton Park was one of the favourite hunting grounds for Henry VIII when he made his frequent visits to Warwickshire. He was known for his love of boar hunting and this area was full of wild boar.

Sutton Coldfield was founded by Bishop Vesey and granted Royal Town status. As part of the deal the area which is now Sutton Park was given in perpetuity to the town for the leisure and wellbeing of its population. Over the years, the park has lost some of its trees, gained seven lakes, built and lost its swimming pool; and continues to evolve. The lakes are all artificial and were created with dams to enable fish farming, or the powering of water mills. These lakes are now used for sailing, fishing, and home to flocks of wild birds.

Sutton Town and House of Bishop Vesey

Sutton Town and House of Bishop Vesey

It’s never the same. Whenever we visit, there is something different to see, hear or smell. Besides the roaming herd of cattle and the wild ponies there is an abundance of birds and wildfowl. Squirrels and rabbits scatter as you walk through the woods and meadows.

In winter, the park is quieter, although it’s a favourite to walk off Christmas dinner on Boxing day and for the dog owners to exercise their hounds. Joggers and cyclists make the most of the traffic free environment and fresh air.

Cows roaming in the park

Cows roaming in the park

In Spring, when snow and frost have melted, everything wakes up from its winter sleep. The ducks started to chase each other, buds break out on the trees and strange red mushrooms appear in the undergrowth. Oaks, birch, beech and pines are scattered across the park, many with their own identifying tag.

In Summer, the park is sometimes packed, but it’s so big that it seems to absorb the numbers without difficulty. Sometimes the park is full of runners raising money for charity and there are plenty of family fun events designed to get people away from their computers into the open air. Meanwhile, water lilies quietly burst into flower.

Lili flowers, sailing and John waiting for his brunch :-)

Lili flowers, sailing and John waiting for his brunch :-)

In Autumn, we like to kick our way through the rustling fallen leaves en route to a steaming hot English breakfast at the Blackroot Bistro next to the second biggest pool; there is that wonderful sweet sadness of the approaching winter.

There goes another year, and another cycle, where we trace our footsteps through the ever changeable seasons and appreciate the awesome beauty of Nature!

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

Listening for the sound of snow in winter :-)

Listening for the sound of snow in winter :-)

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#Depression Is No Joke – It’s Killing People Everywhere!

R.I.P. Robin Williams

R.I.P. Robin Williams

Last week, the tragic news of Robin Williams’ passing shocked the world. Social media went into a frenzy of articles, pictures, videos and comments as tributes poured in from the four corners of the globe. While the vast majority of his fans worldwide mourned his loss, some inevitably asked: Why does someone of Williams’ statue, who seemed to have everything decide to take his own life and depart from this world?

I was deeply saddened, although I did not analyse why, just terribly sad and troubled that depression has taken another wonderful soul from us. It brought back painful memories of my own depression more than ten years ago, which drove me to despair, plunging me into a terribly low, emotionally taxing hell. Yes, DEPRESSION, was cited as one of the factors that killed him, and others before him.

If you ever suffered depression yourself or you know someone who has, you know that it is no joke and it can affect people from every nationality, every colour and race, whatever your age, gender or disposition. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, powerful or destitute, depression can overtake you and there is nothing you can do about it.

1623771_736809902997332_1536594980_nI am no comedian like Robin Williams, and I don’t make millions of people laugh and cry with my acting talents. Yet people who have met me for real and via social media can testify that I generally have a sunny outlook and sparkle with optimism towards life. I am certainly not someone who seems likely to fall into the dark pits of emotional hell and find myself unable to climb back up.

Those of you who followed Pearl Zhang’s Journey to the West often identify the protagonist as my alter ego, and in many ways she is. In Trials of Life, she fights bulling and sexual and racial harassment, and for a period of time, depression besieged her and she had to resort to anti-depressants. I am sharing a short excerpt below, showing just a little how commonplace depression can be, and how difficult it is for those who suffer from it and for their loved ones.

SSBFTOLEXCERPT

Trials of Life: From a Counsellor’s Point of View

Shortly before the Christmas break, Pearl came to my office, angry and upset.

“I could not believe what I was told by Personnel. It was like a knife going through my chest. All my faith in the university was dashed.” More tears were threatening to fall, imminently.

“How do you feel now?” I asked.

“How do I feel now?” She repeated, her voice broke. “I feel betrayed and I shudder at the thought that I have put my trust in the university’s policy.”

Policy did not mean implementation; after all, it was just a piece of paper, and Appleton and Sir Mark were powerful flesh and blood. I waited for her to continue.

Tears were now coursing down her cheeks.

“I am feeling extremely vulnerable and distressed. This has put a huge strain on my family life. You know, my daughter has recently joined me from China, after many years’ separation.”

“Congratulations!” I said, not with the usual bounce and cheer attached to such a response. I knew that Dick had used her child to blackmail her, and how long she had waited for the reunion.

“Thank you,” she attempted a smile but did not quite succeed. “I should be there to help her to learn English and get accustomed to the British culture. Instead, I go home, crying my heart out because of what I’m going through at work. I don’t know how I can explain the situation to her; neither do I expect her to understand. She’s only 14.”

What an introduction to a new arrival in a strange land and even stranger home atmosphere! I pushed the tissue box closer to her side; her tearful recounting of the tale was momentarily stopped, as she blew her nose and murmured an apology.

“Some days I don’t feel like getting up and going to work. Can you imagine? This is the job I fought so hard to get and absolutely loved it when I first started. Now I just dread it. I have no energy or motivation for anything. I have no appetite. It takes me forever to fall asleep and when I eventfully do, I have nightmares every night. Then I wake up more tired than before.”

SSBFTRIALSOFLIFEBOOKSTACKAgain her sobbing got the better of her, and she stopped to catch her breath. Her eyes were blood-shot and swollen, and her face was pale and showing clear signs of sleep deprivation. No trace of make-up. I also noted that she had lost weight.

“What did your GP have to say? Are you given any medication to help you?” I asked gently.

She nodded. “I was given anti-depressants. My doctor also issued a sick leave note and ordered complete rest for a month.”

“In that case, I’ll see you in a few weeks’ time. I am sure you’ll feel better then.”

* * * * * *
So, please remember that depression is a serious illness which can kill someone just as surely as a fatal cancer. Indeed you could argue that it is a cancer of the soul. If someone you know is diagnosed with depression please take it seriously and work out how to help them. It isn’t just “feeling down” or “sad” and cannot be cured in five minutes. Don’t tell them ‘just to snap out of it,” because it is not that simple. Seek professional help before it’s too late.

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#Nature’s Treat: #Birmingham Botanic Gardens in Beautiful Bloom

Love the fragrance of flowers

Love the fragrance of flowers

I am a big fan of Nature, and by extension most living things that Mother Nature nurtures and nourishes.

During my school years in China, we had no computers, iPods and whatever gadgets children these days are bombarded with. I don’t even remember having any Barbie dolls or fancy toys. So I spent a lot of my spare time running in the corn and rape fields behind my school, chasing butterflies and catching dragon flies. I did not even suffer from hay fever back then :-).

Years ago in Scotland, I lived in a student accommodation which took me through the lovely Glasgow Botanic Gardens, as I made my daily trips between the fabulous University of Glasgow campus and my temporary lodging. I fell in love with the smell of freshly cut grass, its soothing softness while walking and relaxing on it. The glass houses contained some amazing plants and flowers from far and wide, not to mention the cute and cool Scottish squirrels, who, just like the Scottish people, were friendly and easy to approach.

Friendly Scottish Squirrel at Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Friendly Scottish Squirrel at Glasgow Botanic Gardens

In my various travels since then, as much as I love castles, cathedrals, art galleries and museums, I am probably happiest when I am surrounded by the greens, pinks, reds, oranges, purples and all colours in between that Natured has bestowed upon us. Consequently I have visited some of the best botanic gardens in the world, from Chicago to Madeira, Guangzhou to Singapore.

A Top noch Botanic Garden at Highland Park, Chicago

A Top noch Botanic Garden at Highland Park, Chicago

Today, I am sharing a number of photos from a beautiful Botanic Gardens in my locality, Birmingham, selected from our two recent visits in 2014.

When John and I visited it in late May, the sun was smiling down at us and different shades of rhododendrons were in full bloom, painting the landscape with vibrancy and vitality. Despite having long passed the excitable teenage phase, I jumped with joy, my heart filled with bliss, as if my veins had been injected with a sudden burst of adrenaline, energising my body and soul.

Mother Nature is the best energy booster!

Mother Nature is the best energy booster!

As we sauntered along the petal-paved lanes between plants and countless flowers, we stopped from time to time, to admire the koi fish in the pond, or butterflies being attracted by the beauty of flowers, and bees busy pollinating. Hours went by without us noticing, until our bellies started singing, longing for a fill.

Fauna and flora from far and wide

Fauna and flora from far and wide

Two weeks ago, when our visitors from afar expressed their wish to visit the Botanic Gardens, I was delighted to oblige. The day after their arrival in Birmingham, we headed there without delay.

Butterflies :)

Butterflies :)

Two months on, while the collection of tropical fauna and flora in glass houses remained blooming, as beautiful as ever, the gardens outside were decorated with many new colours. Instead of koi fish, we found the pond covered in fabulous water lilies of white, yellow and pink, on a large bed of green. This time we managed not to miss the little Japanese garden and its small collection of bonsais.

We snapped away at cactus, chrysanthemums, dahlias, daisies, freesias, gladiolus, geraniums, hydrangea and many more, not to mention one of my favourites, perhaps the queen of flowers, roses.

Simply stunning!

Simply stunning!

At the fabulous cafe restaurant on a vintage point of overlooking the rose garden, a Chinese style pagoda and a large green area where families were enjoying a picnic and children playing, my guests tried fish and chips, the national British cuisine before we carried on to explore the City of Birmingham.

Pictures speak a thousands words. I hope you have enjoyed the photo collages and are enchanted by the inviting beauties of Birmingham Botanic Gardens. Better still, pay a visit if you can!

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My Tribute to James Thompson: A Fine Noir Writer I Admire, A Mentor and Friend I Shall Miss

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James Thompson 1964-2014

I have never met Jim in person. Yet I know him, and he knew me.

Jim and I first ‘met’ on GoodReads in a group called Scandinavian and Nordic Crime Fiction, around this time in 2011. Since then, we have had a lot of on-line exchanges, both through social media as well as personal emails.

In October 2011, I published an interview on my blog: Author Dialogue 3: Meeting Mysterious, Melancholy, Multi-Published James Thompson, where he talked about being an American living in Finland, his views on language and culture, where he got his ideas for his books which by then were optioned for films.

It became very clear very quickly that we had a lot in common, a kindred spirit, so to speak, not only because we both came from one culture and ended up living in another. Coincidentally, we both tried learning six languages (I am pretty sure that his attempts were more successful than mine), and became quite good at two of them, one of which is English, of course.

As time went on, I eagerly devoured the first three of his Inspector Vaara series. I saw him as a writer with a deep social conscience and a man who is not afraid to speak his mind and his beliefs!

But hypocrisy, and particularly the hypocrisy of hate, repulses me. It exists everywhere, but as I write novels set in Finland, I discuss it in Finnish terms. And yes, I think that in some ways I must be a hypocrite, too. We lie to ourselves about ourselves as a way of getting through life. The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves, and I don’t think I’ve met anyone who isn’t guilty of it. We’re all fucking guilty.

I’ve let myself believe that if I can make it here, other foreigners can too. Of course, I have the distinct advantage of being white. I’ve always been aware that it makes a big difference, but it never hit home to me until this week how this culture can destroy people, flatten them, steamroll them. Especially people of color.

James on Finnish Racism: Victims Speak, Murder is Everywhere

Jim at work - downloaded from his Facebook page

Jim at work – downloaded from his Facebook page

In his books and elsewhere, James has been an unwavering advocate for social justice and challenged many an unfair treatment of immigrants. He confronted the bleak and dark nature of human beings and painted a bold picture of many social problems that we face today.

Jim and his first three books

Jim and his first three books

His debut Snow Angels fascinated me, and I was hooked on Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson – A Page Turner Which Left Me Wanting More. When Helsinki White came along, I shared my blog space with another GoodReads reader Nidia when we did a joint review on Helsinki White – Nordic Noir Taking a Dark Turn.

When my 3rd book Land of Hope was released, Jim supported me by lending his website for my blog tour. He also kindly gave me advice on getting agents and emailed me links.

It was through Jim that I met another favourite crime author Leighton Gage, who sadly passed away last year.

No, Jim and I never met in person, although I had firmly believed that we would meet one day. During our various chats here and there, we had talked about me joining him for a pint in Helsinki when I eventually make it there. He also expressed the wish to visit China one day, and I as his potential guide. I’m deeply shocked and immensely saddened that none of these will come true now. Jim has left this world all too suddenly, without us saying goodbye.

1017478_10151747901507059_1396109049_nAuthors reach out and touch lives. Jim has touched my life, making it better. He has done so to many many others!

R.I.P, James Thompson, a great mentor, a wonderful man, a trusted friend and a much admired writer of mine and millions of other readers. You’ll be sorely missed!

My most sincere condolences go to his family and loved ones, especially his wife Annukka and his son.

Posted in Author Support, Reading & Writing, True Life Story, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments