Wednesday, 23 February 2011

TWO THINGS

FIRST THING
I went to Sainsbury's today and was reunited with the trolley. The trolley, my friends, is an object which can draw many emotions from a person depending on said person. If said person is a small child then the trolley is a fearful prison which should be avoided at all costs. If this involves screaming and running away then SO BE IT. Once you are in the trolley then is no escaping. Unlike the pushchair (who the eff calls it a pram?) where you can drag your feet in protest, you are high up in the trolley therefore your only means of escape is to thrash around until the trolley falls (unlikely) or to knock everything off the shelves until your mum gets fed up (possible) or to hope that as you're travelling backwards you might feel sick and vom all over your mum (also unlikely, unless your mum is Usain Bolt)
However, as you get older (past the 'urrrgghhh muuuuum this is so boorrriiinnggg' stage between age 6-12) you realise that the trolley is an object full of possibilities, of potential, a ticket to your childhood, if you will. At first you can control the trolley completely. You can go fast down aisles within seconds, stop by merely placing your toe on the ground, play the game of "how much of my weight can I bear on this trolley before it flips and I break my face", turn corners like a ninja and basically prat about annoying the olds. Turning the trolley away when your mum's trying to put something in it is a particular favourite of mine.
But the challenges come when the trolley gets heavier with food. Now you have to put more oomph into gathering speed and fear of death appears as a haze as you really have to drag your feet to stop before you crash into the shelves or old people. By this time a dent has formed in your stomach. NO PAIN NO GAIN. Not quite sure what the gain is...


SECOND THING
I love emails from real people. Especially when they're from people asking if you want to work at HarperCollins.


....


HARPERCOLLINS.


....


Excuse me while I scream. *scream* HarperCollins is a huge publishing company. Books. BBBOOOOOOKKKSSSS. And they want me to work with everything Young Adult. YYOOUUUNNGG AADDDUUULLTTTT. Reading manuscripts, looking at covers, blurbs...BBBOOOOOOKKKKSSSSS. They're sending me a pile of them as we speak (read, type?) I'm hoping it'll happen in May, but depends on exams. Boo. (ks. lols)
The weird part about this is that I've been thinking about book publishing stuff this week. Jess Ruston can vouch for that. And BAM I got this email. 


Now I'm rethinking my whole life. Uh oh...



Sunday, 13 February 2011

This was Auschwitz...

My head lay perfectly in the crook between the seat and the window, angled so I could look out to Poland but close my drifting eyes if they wished. "It'll be freezing," we were told, "wear lots of layers." so we did. The hoodie under my coat peeked out the top, soft against my neck. My hat covered my ears, echoing the sound of voices on the coach and acting a pillow. But the skies were clear blue and the sun set high, boasting warmth on my face. My eyes caved and I slept.


It was too hot, if you believe it, for a hoodie, scarf, hat and gloves. Left on the coach as we walked towards our first stop, a Jewish cemetery just outside Oświęcim, Auschwitz to you and I. It was beautiful, the weather, and the cold breeze now touched my skin and played with my hair, but shadows fell as we passed the gate into the cemetery. The gate is usually locked during the day, but was opened especially for us, as it was constantly vandalised by antisemitists. It didn't look like a cemetery. Parts of gravestones were scattered on the ground, you couldn't tell what was plain rock and what was gravestone. Lining the walls were more broken parts, no home and no identity. We were told that after the war ended the Jews returned to Oświęcim and found the cemetery destroyed. Graves dug up and gravestones used for pavements outside. That was the first act carried out by Nazis when they invaded the town, they paved the streets with the Jews and marched over them, bystanders none the wiser that this was soon to become literal. But when the surviving Jews returned to this site, they attempted with all their heart to fix the sight before them. They dug up the gravestones from the streets and stood them back in the cemetery, but not in the right places. The graves didn't match the stones but at least there was order, somewhere for people to visit and remember.


Train track. Rusted and surrounded by grass. That was the first time I felt goosebumps and shivers up my spine, as we pulled in to Auschwitz I. It carried on up the road towards Birkenau, Auschwitz II, our later stop. "Here we go.." I heard my friend Kiera say as we left the coach and collected headsets from our tour guide. We were alone now, in our minds, just us and the tour guide. Other sounds buffeted away by the headset. Silence for 2 hours. Walking out from the reception into the 'museum' and I recognised the sight. The colour of the buildings, the shapes and the high electric fence that surrounded every part of the camp. It was doubled with a concrete wall behind it, providing no chance of escape or contact.
The sign. "Work Brings Freedom." It's not the original, that's preserved, but a copy was real enough. It was hard to imagine when we walked under it what prisoners must have felt doing exactly the same nearly 70 years ago, not knowing the future, but we knew the past.


This first camp seemed small. Not much space inbetween buildings, it looked like some sort of village. The blocks, as these buildings were called, were filled with belongings. Real belongings...

Photos too, some photos taking during the war in the camps themselves, the film found after liberation, but some taken after when the Jews (and other minorities) were saved and were being treated. I couldn't take photos of those photos. They were skeletons, every bone visible and skin enveloping them, hugging them. No muscle. Blank faces. The worst photos, if you can put them in order, were those of twins who were photographed and then experimented on. Children, not adults. These children were too just mere structures, standing there with their siblings, their last moments of life captured before they were murdered and experimented on.

Not all prisoners were killed in gas chambers. Illness and exhaustion claimed lives too, but some  were shot against this wall. The windows were blocked out with wood so no-one saw what was happening but you could hear the shots of course. Some were hung by the arms here..
Limbs dislocated before they died. Some workers had to roll the ground with this..     
Overlooked by a soldier who was even branded sadistic by other soldiers. He would roll over the prisoners with this roller and crush them. 


We went into a gas chamber before we left Auschwitz I. Genuine. A stone low ceiling block with square holes in the top for the cyanide. The soldiers who had dustings of compassion left within them told the victims to stand as close to these holes as possible, so they'd die first with minimal pain and no last images of people dying around them. 20 minutes it took, for 2000 people to die. Loud working noises drowned out the screams in that 20 minutes before silence. Then the bodies were cremated in the ovens in the chambers. 



If you tried to escape then 10 of your friends would die. That was the rule. But there was one story told that amazed me.. A group of men had been working all day and one collapsed, but no-one noticed. When they were counted on their return to the camp the soldiers found one missing so killed the rest of the men. The lone man came around that night, out of the camp with no-one to catch him. He could run and escape, tell everyone the truth about the camps. But he didn't. He ran all the way back to the camp to save his friends..


We followed the train track to Birkenau, Auchwitz II. The sun was setting and the sky was no longer the clear blue, though the mood was. We had to go up the main watchtower first. Then it hit. You couldn't take the view in. The train track ran right down the middle, far down where you couldn't see the end. To the left was land, to the right was land. Just land. Empty space. Electric fences. Chimneys. Some sheds/huts I don't even know what they're called. How could they stand here and watch these normal people work to their death? Families split up? Children taken to their death along the railway to the gas chambers. Millions of them. How could they watch that?

Survivors say the smell of burning meat wafted through you as soon as you entered the camp. They wondered how they got so much meat because of rationing. And why were they cooking so late at night? Humans.


The sheds held 700 people, and rats and lice. Diseases and stenches. Dead bodies. The bunks were angled so more could fit in. 5 in one bed. The strongest on the top to be away from the ill. They often collapsed killing others underneath. By law (ha) they had to have heating, so heaters were built but fuel wasn't given, that was up to the prisoners to find it. We saw the 'toilets' too. It was better to work in there because you had unlimited use and were in the middle of the black market. Bread was the currency and you'd trade it for new clothes or soft shoes, taken from the dead. Each prisoner had a bowl and if you lost your bowl you lost your life. You used it for food and a toilet. You couldn't clean it out. Doesn't need to be said does it?


I wonder what they thought when they looked up at the sky. Who was there? These planes flew over, but they didn't stop, nor did they bomb. Did they world know what was happening? Were they oblivious? The world was being dehumanised.


"Hand in hand we followed the crowd. An SS non-commissioned officer came to meet us, a truncheon in his hand. He gave the order: 'Men to the left! Women to the right!' Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother. I had not had time to think, but already I felt the pressure of my father's hand: we were alone. For a part second I glimpsed at my mother and my sisters moving away to the right...I saw them disappear into the distance; my mother was stroking my sister's fair hair, as though to protect her, while I walked on with my father and other men. And I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever. I went on walking. My father held onto my hand..." 


We heard that as we stood in exactly the same place where it took place. Where the train stopped. Where families were parted. Where death began. Where this happened...


"I saw old people, ill people, people so weak that they were almost dead, come tumbling out of wagons when the doors were opened. Then I saw a baby being born as its mother was pushed out onto the ground. An SS guard grabbed the baby, cut the cord and threw it unceremoniously on to one side, like so much rubbish."


Camps were split into their minority groups, including gypsies. The gypsies were experimented on, watched closely with fascination as if they were an alien species. There was one little gypsy boy who danced, and Mengele who carried out the experiments took a liking to him. He kept him and had him dance on command. But soon the Nazis had the gypsy camp liquidated, all were going to be mass murdered the gas chambers. The children given toys to calm them so to not look suspicious to the rest of the camp. What would happen to this little boy? Would he save him? Mengele took the little boy in hand and pushed him in the gas chamber himself.


All the gas chambers in Birkenau have collapsed. They're larger than at Auschwitz I, they had changing rooms where people were given pegs for their shoes to hang them up and keep together for when they returned after their shower. Some got changed in the forest behind the chambers, they didn't know they were about to be murdered. Children ran around the forest playing, women sunbathed. There was an uprising at one point, soldiers were burned alive in the ovens and chambers set alight. One moment of success.


Our last part of the tour was into the registry buildings, where people were taken on arrival to be chosen, registered, shaved, unclothed and decontaminated. All dignity stripped. All humanity lost. All identities forgotten and replaced with numbers tattooed on their arms. For babies, tattooed on their legs. We weren't allowed to tread on the concrete floor, glass was placed around the sides for us to walk on, but we could only look at floor. It's where thousands slept while their fate was being decided. 


We were let go in the last room. Let go to do our own thinking. It was a large room full of Jewish photos, genuine Jewish photos found amongst belongings, found outside gas chambers and found in suitcases. No identity. No one knows who they are. But we found their identity within the photos, we saw these photos and looked into their eyes and knew them. This was the hardest room. The hardest part of the day. But the time when you realised how individual these people were, with their own individual stories. Stories that cannot be told. 



It was pitch black when we stepped outside, and so so cold. We made our way to a memorial at the end of the train track, where we were part of a ceremony conducted by the Rabbi. I cannot describe the feeling during that 20 minutes. The moon was directly above us, we were all huddled together for warmth, all 200 of us, clutching at each other and paper with prayers on. One line stuck with me. "It's not what you see, it's what you can't see." The land was empty and silent. But it was full. We just couldn't see it.


We lit candles when the ceremony was over and could place them anywhere we wanted on the way back. I placed mine at the end of the train track, and walked back along the track itself. People lined their candles along it, lighting it up in the darkness. It was still silent. Still bitterly cold and our feet ached, our stomachs rumbled. Feelings they felt nearly 70 years ago, but worse. Deadly worse. The track went on, the gate came into view. An open gate. We were leaving this place, back to warmth, food, care, love. Our families were waiting for us. We'd be home soon. They wouldn't.


(This trip was organised by Lessons From Auschwitz, Holocaust Educational Trust http://www.het.org.uk/)    

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Let's have a catch up...

Hello! How are you? Well? Lovely. Come sit down, have a cuppa and a flapjack. I made them myself and they're a bit burnt and crunchy so watch your teeth. I thought we'd have a catch up, you know, a chilled blog for once. How am I? Oh how nice of you to ask! WELL...

After a year of putting it off, I finally went for my blood test last Thursday. Can't remember whether I told you about my funky heart? Did I? Well I'm goddamn telling you anyway. I get palpitations every day. I'm almost used to them now so don't realise they're happening most of the time, apart from the bigguns where I'm like WOAH ALRIGHT LOVE I KNOW YOU'RE THERE, STAND DOWN SOLDIER, and I get a bit 'huhuhuhhuh' (that's me taking some big breaths) But yeah, it's a bit odd so mum dragged me to the doctors* (* I expressed my concern for my life and she booked an appointment thinking I was exaggerating. Tsk.) a year ago and he said I needed some tests, firstly, blood tests. "NOOOOOOOOO" I cried whilst sinking to the floor in a cowering mess, snotting over mum's foot (or summat) I hate blood tests. I don't mind the needle part, I can deal with that, it's the sucking blood out I don't like. UFMXEJHFUKGT. He took my blood pressure there and then, which was bad enough. I hate the squeezing! EWEWEWEW. It was really high, as per.
But basically with a combination of "Palpitations? What palpitations?" "No I haven't seen the pink sheet the doctor gave you (shredded it)" and "I'll hate you forever if you make me go. Srsly. I won't even get married in a church for you." I managed to delay the tests for a whole year. Alas, the time came last week when mum put me in the car, drove me to the doctors at 8am (tbh it probably helped that I was still waking up) and tried to find a parking space while I went in with the nurse BY MYSELF. Yeah that's right. Bravery medal over here please. Mum took so long in finding a parking space after she dropped me by the door that by the time she walked in I was walking back out with a grin on my face and plaster on my arm. It wasn't even that bad really, it didn't hurt and I didn't feel it as much as I thought I would. It just felt hot. And squeezy. *shuudder* But the nurse was WELSH (amazing) which made everything okay. I get the results on Thursday.

I'M GOING ON HOLIDAY WITH MY FRIENDS IN THE SUMMER! Can I get a HELLYEAH!? *tumbleweed* The 'rents didn't actually take a lot of persuading. The classic "BUT YOU DID WHEN YOU WERE 17!" came in very handy. They're gonna pay half of it, meaning I have to come up with about £300 plus spending money. Without a job that could become quite a challenge.
We haven't even booked it yet. God knows where we'll go.
Dad "So where you thinking of going?"
Louise "Somewhere close to home cos it's our first holiday, I dunno, like, Spain"
*cue parental laughter lasting a good 45 minutes*
We're thinking a Greek island, Spain was mum's idea. Pah.

I was ready for Prozac yesterday. For our Media coursework we have to create a 2 minute horror film trailer. We've done all the research, all the boring background shizz, storyboard, and half of the filming. Bang tidy. Ahead of the game. And I'm not being big headed (I am) but our story is ace and the filming we've done is class. So what's next? Uploading the footage onto the Macs of course, onto iMovie for editing. La la la. NO. Mr Mac didn't like our file format, wouldn't let us edit. Rude. So we tried editing on normal laptops but the audio kept going funny and freezing. HAHAHAHAHA. Oh dear. If we couldn't sort it out we'd have to re film. Giving up was on my next card. BUT NO. It's fixed and we edited some today and it's shcweeeeet.
While we're on the subject of coursework, our English is split into 2 parts. A journalism article and a dramatic monologue. Lovely jubbly. So I interviewed my nan last week, heart her, and decided today to do my dramatic monologue as someone with post natal depression. I love the feeling of knowing what you're doing, and knowing you're getting somewhere.

But the biggest thing happening in my life is happening this Thursday. I'm going to Auschwitz. Every year The Lessons From Auschwitz Project  takes 2 sixth formers from each school in a certain area (for me, Essex) to Poland to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. The company rang my school and asked if I could go because of my Channel 4 win, which has to be one of the best things to come out of winning that competition. To be given the opportunity to visit one of the most significant places in the world, part of history? Please. I don't do History A Level, nor did I do it at GCSE, but you can't not know about Auschwitz. My grandparents are the ones most 'excited' about me going because they were part of World War II, so I guess you could say I'm going for them. It's only for the day, 5am start at Stansted, 9:30pm flight back from Krakow. That's one hell of a long day. One of my bezzies Kiera (she a teen writer for Skins dontchaknow) is going too so I'm glad we're doing it together. Apparently it changes you. A life changing experience. I'm ready.


BULLETIN ENDS. X (Tell me about your life! How are YOU? I want to know please.)

Saturday, 5 February 2011

"It was a room of a hundred thousand windows, each one looking out onto a different world."

I could quite easily rob a library. It's one of the only places I would happily rob. Whenever I go the urge to sweep every book in the YA section into the hood of my hoodie or under my hoodie preggo style is unbearable. I CONFESS. I am a book lover, a bookworm if you will. I can read a whole book in a day and forget to breathe. Skip meals and construct a soundproof bubble around me so when my mum tells me to tidy my room for the hundredth time, her voice simply bounces off me. Useful. 


"You can start reading pink books now." BAM. I made it. Straight to the top. The top row of books in the school library were mine all mine. You see the pink books were the clever books, the books with the dramatic plots, small words, no pictures, LOTS of pages. Clearly these books were only readable by those who were strong mentally and could take the tragedies and heart racing dramas. I was prepared. I was excited. JACQUELINE WILSON WAS MINE. Corgi Yearling? KMT. Drop that Yearling and place a Corgi single in my hands. Eat your heart out Biff Chip and Kipper. The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Eat cake. Louise is ready for the big ones.


The school library was good, for school. But it didn't beat our Shenfield Library, and was a speck of dust on the shoulder of Brentwood Library, and we knew it. When the librarian from Shenfield came to our school to tell us about the new books we knew our library was NOTHING compared to this. The Summer Reading Challenge was EVERYTHING. The ultimate competition (excluding the easter egg challenge obv) at school. Who would read the 6 books and get the medal? 1 book a week? Bring it. Commence the staring down at classmates you see at the library, getting their record stamped. 


Mum took us to the library about once a month when we were little. We'd be allowed 6 books out every time but when she caught me amongst the beanbags with a pile of 9 and already half way through one while flicking through the bottom shelf between pages, she gave in and helped me carry them to the desk. Occasionally I'd drop hints and borrow 7 books about cats. Never worked. Book Week at school was the best because we got a book voucher. I could BUY a book. The only other times I could actually own a book was my birthday and Christmas, or when we went on holiday. Mum would pack my bag and hide books and magazines for the plane. Amazing. The trouble with buying books was that I could never choose just one, and I couldn't buy more than one because it was too expensive and my book voucher couldn't take it. Back to the library.


Around 400 libraries are due to be closed by the government. That's MILLIONS of books gone. What are they going to do with them? Burn them? Turn them back into trees? When reading through tweets about the #savelibraries campaign this morning I stumbled across author Joanne Harris who was doing storytime and has let me use her tweets in this post. She told the story perfectly... 


Once upon a time, in a village like yours, there lived an old librarian. (A librarian is a person who studies hard to do a professional job and is paid relatively little. Bit like an independent bookshop owner.) Lots of people loved the library. (A library is a place full of books that anyone can borrow, for FREE. You just read them, and then bring them back. And every time you borrow a book, the author gets paid a tiny bit of money. This helps authors keep writing). 


Anyway, kids loved the library because the old librarian (who liked stories) used to have storytime every day. Students loved the library because they could do their homework there - and meet girls, or boys, who liked to read (totally the best kind). Old people loved the library, because they could meet their friends there, borrow books that had gone out of print, and have a cup of tea. Some old people lked to borrow books that their children deemed UNSUITABLE for them, like LOLITA. It was allowed. No-one stopped them. Readers' groups loved the library, because authors used to do readings there and answer questions about their books. And the librarian loved the library, because it was his life's work. It looked like a room full of old books, but actually it was a room of a hundred thousand windows, each one looking out onto a different world. 


But there was one person who didn't like the library. This was the Mayor of the village. It wasn't that the Mayor didn't like books. I fact, he owned several. He also had a library of his own - well, not quite a library. These were all the Mayor's own books, bought in bulk by his interior designer. None of them were ever lent out, and of course, there was no librarian. And the Mayor said: "The library is old. The roof leaks. It's outdated. There are books in there that haven't been taken out for years." And he said: "We have to make CUTS. We have no choice. It's either the library or the school, or the old peoples' home. Or the poor." And because the Mayor was Mayor (as well as being very rich), the villagers believed him, and really thought they had no choice. Some people suggested that the cuts might not be necessary as the Mayor seemed to think. Some even suggested taking the BANKS instead of the poor, but they were quickly dismissed as radicals. Some well-meaning people said that cutting POVERTY was surely the priority...but poverty has more than one face, thought the old librarian. Some things can't be bought with money. And so he protested - timidly. He was a very polite old librarian. But what can one old librarian do? "We can't fight PROGRESS," said the Mayor. "We have to TIGHTEN OUR BELTS." (In fact the Mayor's belt was already tight, but this was simply because he was very, very fat.) Things looked hopeless for the old librarian, and for all those in the village who couldn't afford a private library like the Mayor's. And that's enough storytime for now. Will the old librarian win? Or will it be the fat Mayor? Cont'd after lunch. Bring cake. x


Today is Save Libraries day. Libraries up and down the country are holding protests, having author talks and mass readings. The acts themselves may not save the libraries but the unison of people showing how much libraries are loved will definitely prove that they are SO needed. Now hush up, Scarlett is lost in America and I need to put myself in her shoes for the next few hours, amongst the beanbags... #savelibraries