Writer’s Block in Focus Again


When I started this blog in March 2007 I haphazardly talked about writer’s block when I felt no idea would flow on one occasion that I had to write a post.  I was still a novice then. I had a daily writing schedule for my blog at that time. I took up this pertinent issue a year later at this post.

 

Today I came across an interesting post at The Write Place blog  where Shaun Fawcett says “You too can Beat Writer’s Block”. “Writer’s block is fear-based”, says Shaun. And he comes up with 7 secrets he has identified for beating writer’s block. I thought this post might be of interest to anyone in the writing world and I’d commend it.

 

 

Mumbai’s 9/11



As I write the death of one of our fellow-countrymen makes the local news headlines. He is one of the victims of the cold-blooded killings at Taj Hotel in Mumbai on Thursday last. As bank chief executive he was on official mission in India.

 

His wife who had accompanied him was luckier. She had left her room for the business centre when terrorists perpetrated attacks in the hotel. She was immediately brought to safer locations while her husband was still in his room. They exchanged a last phone conversation at around 11.30 am Indian time. No news since then until she was called to identify his corpse.

 

We also learned that the anti-terrorist chief in India was shot dead in an encounter. Several innocent people are reported dead following gun fires and bomb blasts. The target seems to be clear. Hotels like Taj and Oberoi are known to lodge high profile international travelers.

 

Attacks like this one reminds us of the September 11, 2001 episode of the twin towers in New York. The world is becoming ever more insecure. Terrorists seem to be everywhere and they can strike any time. No country can be said to be safe.

 

Is there any means we can identify and annihilate such moves? Can anybody find out why terrorism strikes? Is there a terrorism profile? How is it that the security services are not privy until the terror has occurred? We always have to indulge in fire fighting. Can the world come up with effective prevention strategies?

 

These and many other questions still haunt the minds of all people around the world. As silly as it might appear I am tempted to ask whether terrorists are human beings. Any human being worthy of his name cannot commit such cold-blooded killings without any particular motives. If there are motives, what they?

 

May be if we can go down to the source of these motives we might come up with some sort of explanation. And only then can we find possible means to bring terrorist attacks to a halt once for all. It’s not a one-person concern. Every body should be in as an anti-terrorist ambassador. Remember terrorists do not discriminate. Their hands are always on the trigger. They hit; and they hit hard. They kill. They act like robots.

 

 

Fish Bone down my Throat

I spent one night at the ENT (Ear Nose and Throat) hospital (ex-Royal Navy) at Vacoas yesterday. A fish bone got stuck in my throat at dinner time. That was a fine bone of a small fish called “vielle rouge”.

I was having dinner unusually late. My system was still on the old clock while we stepped into summer time last week. We tried old granny’s method, taking lumps of dry bread and rice, to get it out; no success. The bone was indeed stubborn. My son drove me to the hospital.

The doctor could not locate the intruder in my throat. “Sorry,” he said “you’ll have to stay.” I had no option. After the formalities an attendant brought me to the male ward. A nurse then brought me to Queen Victoria hospital at Candos for an x-ray. When I came back at the ENT ward it was already past 11.00 pm.

The ENT specialist examined me in this morning. “Lay down on the couch,” he said in a hard voice while he asked the nurse to bring the tools. “Tilt your head backwards and open your mouth.”

I couldn’t bear the presence of the forceps in my mouth. It’s nauseating and I was indeed uncomfortable. “Please understand that you must co-operate else we’ll need to resort to complete anesthesia,” said one nurse. “And this is not without risks.”

I started getting more apprehensive. But I controlled myself. I took a deep breath and relaxed. The surgeon drove the forceps down the throat after a couple of attempts. I yelled with pain. “How do you feel, Sir?” he asked.

I sat up and made a swallowing gesture. There was no more pricking sensation. “OK, you can go home now,” the surgeon uttered in a smile. He prescribed some antibiotics and painkillers. I was relieved to be discharged.

It was my first stay in a hospital. I always dread staying in hospitals. Those who’ve had such experience will tell you how uncomfortable it is to be amidst patients whining with pain and snoring at night, especially when you are struggling to sleep. And when you have to go for washing it’s yet another chore.

Any experience out there?

Mauritius Adopts Summer Time

At 2.00 am on Sunday 26 October this year the clocks in Mauritius read 3.00 am. The country stepped into the summer time concept practiced in many countries. Government aims primarily to save on energy costs as it expects a reduction in the demand of electricity supply at peak hour in the evening. This measure will last until 2.00 am on 29 March 2009 and it is said to be on a pilot basis.

The introduction of this measure however didn’t go without controversial voices from various quarters. Will the electricity charges go down in real terms? What will happen to those religious beliefs that attach special importance on birth dates and specific prayer times? Will it not impact negatively on the health of people with a disturbance in the circadian rhythm? These and many other questions are still not clear in the minds of the common people for whom it means no more that getting up earlier in the morning.

Mauritius has its own specificity with a diversity of cultural heritage. In the absence of prior study on the real impacts of this new system we will have to wait for the answers at the end of summer time. Let’s hope the government comes up with a comprehensive feedback on the practical implications of this innovation to find out whether these are in consonance with the main objective. Only then can it come up with a definite stand on the implementation of such measure in the future.

It’s worth mentioning that such measure was implemented for the first time in the history of Mauritius in 1982 when the MMM-PSM alliance won all the seats at the national elections. A spokesman who was Minister of Energy at that time said in a radio broadcast last week that it did indeed bring about a decrease in the electricity demand by 5% which was quite conclusive in his opinion.

Settled and Healthier

Nearly two months since I came back from Rodrigues. It was somewhat hectic but I have managed to settle down smoothly in the normal daily routine. You remember when I first wrote from Hill in the Sea in February I pledged to throw at least four kilos by the end of my stay there? Any guess how much I lost? I left Rodrigues on 8 August with three kilos less. But you’ll be amazed I’ve gone down another three kilos since then.

While many people thrive with various slimming and weight loss strategies often at onerous costs, I chose the natural way, healthier and with no extra penny. Just do what you are capable of and don’t rely too much on the over-the-counter formulae which will do no more than deplete your purse, slowly but surely. So what did I do? Simple. No magic formula.

I adopted a health regime with respect to my bodily constitution, which I maintained after my return from Rodrigues. Believe me, as simple as it might appear, it worked. I made it a point to do the following on a sustained basis:

- walking (briskly at least an hour on each occasion) four to six kilometers;
- swimming;
- avoiding oily and fried foods;
- cutting down on rice and all that make heavy meals;
- favouring raw salads and boiled veggies;
- reducing salt content, and avoiding it altogether where possible; and
- above all keeping regular medical follow up.

One more thing: I don’t drink or smoke. All for a healthier lifestyle.

Interested in knowing more about how you can adopt a healthier lifestyle? Go back to my post Five Rituals for a Healthier You.

Forging Ahead

New Look, New Design

As I told you in my previous post, I had in mind to change the look of my blog. Are the same theme and the same design still appealing after some time? This question has been haunting me since a while. If for some reason or other we tend to resist change, I have a whole different view of this pertinent issue. On-going change, I believe, favours fresh enthusiasm and commitment at the service of the customer. We shouldn’t keep out of mind that what we are is what our customers want us to be. We have to live up to their expectations if we want to survive.

What are our readers looking for? They need to know not only what’s new but also how it’s new. The content is vital; the wrapping is even more. Have you ever halted a while in the shopping mall? Have you noticed people carefully choosing the wrapping material for their gifts? Why are they so selective on something that’s only going to serve as a cover or blanket only for the moment it’s handed over to the recipient? Once the gift is in hand they forget about the wrapper. Isn’t it? This is what I’d call the appeal factor. The stuff that wraps gifts is as important, if not more, as the gift itself. I hope advertising agents won’t contradict me on this matter.

New Hosting Service

It all happened when my webmaster told me he was in the process of making a new design for his blog. He was at the same time looking for a more reliable web hosting service for Wakish Wonderz. We had enough of the erratic service we were having.We’ve been discussing about this during the past months. He was determined for a change. He also proposed to give my blog a new look too. I agreed to that, and so I decided that I won’t resume blogging until all this would have been cleared.

Side Bar De-cluttered a bit

It took quite some time. That’s the “other reason for my long absence” I mentioned in my previous post. And we came up with this new design for Alfa King Memories. You’ll notice the new logo and avatar; a slight de-cluttering of the side bar; and the posts appearing only partly to allow more space per page. The archive has been moved to a separate page. Some items that I consider don’t make any difference have been removed. There’s still some more de-cluttering to do and we’ll tackle this as we go along. What do you think about it?

Forward with Determination

From the bold “first step which was the hardest” some 18 months ago, Alfa King is “forging ahead” with renewed vigour thanks to your support and encouragement. There’s a substantial growth in my visitors’ list; and I hope to have a still bigger number with posts that need to reconcile both readers’ interests and areas of expertise I feel better at ease.

So there you are folks. Keep visiting Alfa King Memories. There’s lot more to dig out and learn together. Feel free, as usual, to air any suggestions or thoughts through my comment box.

Still There to Serve You

Heya! Here am I. A relatively long absence indeed. Well, I know it’s been longer than intended. All my plans to connect with you last week were in vain. How many of you have had their telephone line interrupted for at least a week? It was my case since Tuesday 16 September. It seems a lorry hit against one of the poles in the roadside where I live and the main cable was torn apart.

And you know the time it takes to get the whole thing fixed again, especially when you have a non-stop rain for nearly three days, from Tuesday evening to Friday morning. Just to give you an idea, the 24-hour rainfall on Wednesday reached a record-breaking amount of 250 mm in the central part of the country; and 270 mm at some places, which largely exceeded the long-term average for September.

The line was restored at last today, not without multiple complaints. Can you figure out having to do without internet for a whole week? Our lives have become so technology-dependant that even a slight breakdown amplifies our distress. I don’t dare look at my list of waiting tasks.

Anyway, when I came back from Rodrigues I went straight to my office the next working day. Usually after a tour of service we go on leave immediately on a priority basis, if we so desire. Instead I chose to have some vacation leave as from the second week of this month. I’ll resume my full time job in the second week of October. Plenty of time to recuperate and get settled. Right?

Ok. Now, what have I been doing? To be frank I was idle. So why didn’t I keep you posted? I have no straightforward answer. But I had to check back all my routine matters, banking, car insurance and road tax, utilities and the rest of other personal matters so that there’s nothing outstanding.

I also wanted to have a deeper look over this whole issue of blogging again. The break allowed me some time to go through my pages and readership statistics. It was a fruitful exercise and I came up with some quite interesting clues as to what they’ve been looking for. But there’s yet another reason for my absence: I was contemplating a change in the look and design of my blog. We’ll talk more about this in my next post.

Watch out.

Time to Pack up

Cocos

Uuuhh… It’s the end of my tour. Do you still recall my first post from Rodrigues a week after my arrival here? Well, it’s already time to pack up. As from this evening I’ll be on hot ashes with the arrival of my relief, packing up of my personal effects and handing over procedures. My wife came some 10 days ago. After some quick visits to some sites she is busy doing some shopping so that we can bring little gifts for the close relatives. The specialities of the island are straw hats, bags, chillies, honey, lemons and pickles.

Six months have elapsed. I should say I had a cool moment, far from the rush and stress in homeland. I enjoyed the countryside, the seaside, the fishing parties and, most of all, my visit to Ile aux Cocos. The nice time I had with my son and a very intimate and special companion will ever remain as an unforgettable moment in my life. I have been here on several occasions. This one was indeed special. For the first time I visited the whole island and interested myself in the people’s way of life. And you know what? I had so many visitors, which made my stay really enjoyable.

This morning I conveyed the bulk of my personal effects for shipment. I’ll have to leave my car under the care of my relief to ship it back next week. The boat is expected on 10 August. Back home I’ll have to do without my car until around the 13th on the return of the boat to Port Louis.

I am sorry for having been irregular during the past month. I hope to catch up as soon as I’m settled at home. Until then take care. See you.

More on Grammar and Use of Words

Better be a fool for a while than to be a fool for ever. If in doubt check it out. Again, this is not another grammar lesson. It’s just sharing of another lesson learnt. What else is writing, if not about sharing your knowledge, your thoughts, and your feelings?

It can never be overemphasized. Every word counts in writing. It is the words you put on paper that are the building blocks of what you want to present to the reader. Correct use of words and grammar are the lifeblood of your writing. Together they constitute the vehicle of communication between you and your reader. If any of them is misplaced or inappropriately structured you can guess where your well researched piece might end up.

It is not uncommon that you will come across two words with similar connotations that may be easily mixed up; and mess up everything. Will you be able at the first go to make the difference between them? That’s where I want to come up with this post. Hats off if you’re an expert. Everybody isn’t. Be careful. It’s always good to check whether the vehicle is actually conveying what you wanted to.

In my last post I hinted at some words in common use that can spoil your writing if you don’t pay heed. Those are not the only ones. There’s a lot more; we can’t spot them all at a time. As we go along, others surface up; they’re important enough to stop and ponder upon.

Catching up with my reading of some familiar blogs, especially those that focus on writing and tips about writing, I picked up another set of such words – Dissatisfied, Unsatisfied from Daily Writing Tips. Can you see the difference? Not alien words, are they? Take a peek and see for yourself. I still remember in one of the courses I followed about the theories of motivation I was at a loss whenever I encountered these words. Each time I had to stop for a while to make sure I had the right message. Funny, isn’t it?

The use of verb moods is another area that deserves we stopped by. The mood you use will indicate how you are expressing your thoughts. You’ll find useful tips and explanations about the four moods – indicative, imperative, subjunctive and infinitive – at English Grammar 101: Verb Mood. It’s a simple, practical and straightforward guide for beginners and perhaps a refresher for those who are still experiencing difficulty at some stage or other.

So the next time you write remember that no words or verb moods can be taken for granted. If you have other examples of grammar and word use, do share it here.

Beware of the Spikes

 spikes.JPG

Pretty much often people get confused with simple words and end up with grammatical shortcomings in an otherwise good writing. Words that seem to convey the same meaning but not mean the same thing can spike all our writing. Have you come across such words? One word of caution though. Don’t take it personally. Any of us can get on the spikes if we are not careful about them.

Is it not common to use one word for another invariably without spotting the difference until somebody else pulls our ears? Let’s face it. This kind of mistake does often find its way in no less classy publications. Only the witty eyes will spot it.

I’m not a grammar specialist. I’m not a mentor. I won’t pretend to teach anybody. That’s not the aim of this post. I just want to share what I read from one of Nick Daws’ posts “Bad Grammar in a Holiday Brochure”. I thought his appreciation and advice about the use of words like “among”, “amongst”, “amid”, “amidst”, “between” are legitimate.

Nick has also been publishing quite a few books about writing and his latest gem is Essential English for Authors.

To your writing.

There’s Something in the Line

If you read my last post you might be asking yourself what the hell I have been doing. Of course work was my priority and I had to find time after office to bring my visitors around. Fortunately here we break off earlier as we start one hour earlier than in homeland. Although the sun sets 24 minutes earlier we have ample time to go around.

This island has a different panorama with its wide valleys and hilly features. I won’t go into the details as I wrote about it in a previous post. If you want to enjoy the sun and the sea the best place would be Cotton Bay or St François in the east. We didn’t as much as we would have wished. We couldn’t swim; it was too cold. With a series of anticyclones in the region the sensation of cold was intense. But that didn’t prevent us from trying our hand at fishing.

The youngsters bought fishing lines, hooks and baits (we used shrimps). We set off on three successive evenings at Point L’Herbe, a shore in between Port Mathurin (the capital) and Baie aux Huitres (Oyster Bay). Any guess who was the hero on the first occasion? I’m sure you made the good one – me of course (no boasting). I got the first and only catch with a small “vielle” as soon I threw the line. Everybody was excited. We baited one after the other. “Ni ene” (not even one more) until sunset.

vielle

A small “vielle”

On the second day the luck was with my niece. “Uncle,” she yelled couple of minutes after she threw her line. “Look, there’s something… Quick, I can’t hold it anymore.” I left my line and grabbed hers. “Yeah, it’s a big one… a carangue… probably 3 lbs.” Summa couldn’t believe her eyes. She took out her mobile and had some snapshots before messaging her mom and sister at home.

carangue

Carangue 

The excitement was so great; we tried again yesterday. But we didn’t have any more luck. We came back empty-handed, although we hooked three small eels which we released afterwards. My son’s face was dull; he’s yet to prove himself. Well, that’s part of the game.

We are not giving up yet. I just called a local friend for a fishing party on boat. The weather is OK and Carlo has agreed to take us on board tomorrow morning. We checked the tides and fixed the meeting at 7.00 am at a place called Caverne Provert further away from the English Bay on the eastern side of Port Mathurin.

Carlo is reliable, although somewhat lazy at times. He’s an experienced fisherman. He owns a boat propelled with oars. In May when the sea was smooth he took me off-lagoon one Saturday morning. He was there at 6.00am sharp. The weather was fine in the morning. Later around 10.00 am dark clouds built up and covered the whole sky. We could see the rain coming from the south and in no time we were soaked. The tides were low and we couldn’t make it to the shore in time. We had a good catch though; each of us, we were three, got about 5 kg of different variety.

Busy Month

 new sunset

May was lonesome; it reminded me of the Rodriguan Solitaire. No longer now. My stay is becoming more comfortable as I move towards the end. I can sense the tension relaxed despite the heavy work schedule. No more restless moments.

June has been exceptionally busy for me with work deadlines and visitors around. A colleague and his daughter visited me in the second week; my younger son also came with them. A couple of days later a technical team was here for a week for the maintenance of equipment. My mom and my niece arrived last week; they are staying until 5 July. I just arranged for an extension of their stay; they were initially scheduled to leave on Sunday 29.

But that’s not all. Other relatives will be here from the 7th until mid-July. My son is staying with me until my departure back to Mauritius in the first week of August pending the arrival of my wife around the end of July.

So I have every reason to rejoice and enjoy the last bit of my stay here. Bear with me if I’m somewhat irregular.

An Overall View of the PRB Report

You might by now be thinking this guy’s pocket’s full, now that the PRB report 2008 has been released and its recommendations are about to be implemented as from July. Alfa King has surely quit blogging. He’s busy counting the extra rupees and cents he’ll earn as from next month. Why should he bother writing on the net when he’s got a better package? Well, if that’s what’s in your mind, think again.

The couple of thousands of rupees more will not make the average public sector employee any richer. Blogging is a passionate hobby for me. It’s not always easy to keep to a fixed schedule, especially when you have a full time job. If I’ve been absent for a while it’s because I had a lot to do with official commitments and hosting visitors. I’ll talk a little more about these in my next post.

The PRB report 2008 has only granted a graduated increase in salary to all civil servants and employees of the para-tatal bodies. Except for chief executives and very senior government officials, who are a selected few and whose salary packages have been literally doubled in a gesture to prevent drain as they say, middle and lower income groups have had an increase based mostly on loss of purchasing power since the last report in 2003. With an average increase of 25 to 30% and taking into account this year’s CPI increase of no less than 8%, the increase in real terms is in dilute amount.

There’s no denial. Some conditions have been slightly improved – the increase in the number of cumulative sick leaves and vacation leaves, and the appreciation of certain allowances. But new conditions have been attached as well. The public sector employee will have to contribute for their pension; they’ll have to work up to 65; they’ll have to put up to 38 1/3 years of service in order to qualify for a full pension. However, those already in service as at June 2008 will continue enjoying the conditions hitherto governing their employment.

The grant of annual increase is no longer automatic. The report emphasises the need to relate pay with performance. All increments should be earned. All government departments are required to implement a performance appraisal system to be fully operational in 2010. Emphasis has been laid on staff development and training as an integral part in the performance management system and the report recommends between 40 to 60 hours of training per employee per year. This will enable a better allocation and management of human resources.

This is only a highlight of the major recommendations of the report which aims at “transforming public sector organisations into modern, professional and citizen-friendly entities with competent, committed and performance oriented personnel dedicated to the service of the citizen”. If most public sector employees display a satisfactory mood, there are many who believe that the salary revision exercise was a means to introduce new conditions. It was a give-and-take exercise. Much of the extra earnings will go back to the treasury in the form of taxes. Have you forgotten the NRPT? Well, check whether you fall into it now, if you weren’t previously.

Government has a different stance – it’s a very costly endeavour. The cost of implementation of the report will be twice that of the previous one. Initially scheduled to be implemented in two phases, 75% from July 2008 and the full amount in July 2009, the report will now be implemented in toto this year as “it’s the Prime Minister’s wish” as announced in the national budget speech by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance on 6 June last. As if decisions are taken according to the mood of the Premier. But for the average people Government has the capacity to pay although it’ll have to disburse some Rs 4.5 billions.

Private sector employees are now claiming their share. If the national cake has become bigger they have contributed to it too and they should benefit from a similar increase in their salaries and wages, they say. Many people tend to forget that the Pay Research Bureau deals with review of salary and grading structures in the public sector only. Whereas the National Remuneration Board (NRB) caters for the private sector and reports periodically, as does the PRB, not necessarily within the same time frame.

As you can see the situation has become more competitive. A higher standard of commitment, responsibility and performance is expected of the public sector employee. He’s got to be more proactive and live up to the modern exigencies. Incremental credits have been recommended for top performers.

Let’s hope that the conditions are implemented in a just and equitable manner so that those who deserve to be rewarded are indeed recognised and that blue-eyed political pariahs do not find their way in.

New Conditions for Public Sector Employees in Mauritius

A quick post just to let you know, in case you are interested, that the long-awaited Report of the Pay Research Bureau on the review of pay and grading structures in the public service and parastatal bodies has been released today.

The two-volume report gives a detailed account of the existing structures and conditions and the improvement and innovation proposed to enhance public sector performance.

From a first glance I’ve noted the following innovations:
(i) increase in the number of days of sick leave that may be banked
(ii) a phased increase in the retirement age to bring it to 65
(iii) a contributory pension scheme of 6% of salary
(iv) performance-related pay and increment incentives

I have yet to go into deeper reading to find out more. You may access the report from here.

Solitary as the Solitaire

Time is running. Already three months and three weeks since I landed here in Rodrigues. Can you recall I wrote about this island of volcanic origin as a Hill in the Sea? My hitherto solitary status reminds me of the symbol of this island: The Solitaire or the Pezophaps solitaria.rodriguessolitaire.jpg

For many it might not mean anything. But for the people of Rodrigues it’s a symbol of their identity that’s present in the coat of arms of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly.

The Solitaire was described as a slightly plump flightless bird with a small head and strong wings, and weighing about 40 to 50 pounds. It was a descendant of the pigeon of Nicobar, South East Asia. It became extinct with the passage of man and wild cats in the hunt for food. It was dead for ever, as the Dodo of Mauritius.

The name Solitaire was coined by François Leguat, an orthodox protestant who stayed long in a solitary status on this isolated island between 1691 and 1693. In fact it’s through his memoirs that this bird’s existence was revealed when his book “A New Voyage to the East Indies” was published in 1708.

The real existence of the Solitaire was subject to controversy for quite some time. But the bones of this unique bird discovered in the south west of Rodrigues, namely in the limestone caves at Grande Caverne in 1866, speak for themselves. And it is from this discovery that a famous naturalist from Cambridge, Alfred Newton and his brother Edward presented a paper to the Royal Society, “On the Osteology of the Solitaire or Didine Birds of the Island of Rodrigues, Pezophaps solitarius”, giving a scientific description of the Solitaire.

rodriguessolitairebones.jpgBones of the Solitaire can be seen exposed at Grande Montagne Reserve Interpretation Centre and François Leguat Museum at the Giant Tortoise & Cave Reserve at Anse Quitor not far from the Sir Gaetan Duval Airport.

It is said that the name Solitaire could have been inspired by the solitary nesting behaviour of the bird and the long solitary stay of François Leguat on the island.

As for me the solitude won’t be too long. My son will be joining me around mid-June and my wife around the end of July. It’ll then be time to pack up as I’ll have to be back to my homeland during the first week of August. But that’s some other two and half months away.

That’s life.