GOING BACK TO FRIDAY 6TH AUGUST 2009

12 02 2012

Hello again

SETTING THE SCENE

From a distance the mountains on the other side of the loch look like  well-worn foreheads: straight, horizontal furrows between fleshy hillocks. It’s as if the landscape’s been smiling, creasing itself into a living form, then settling and giving itself up to time.

From this distance it’s like a feature in a landscaped garden, hewn and tweaked by caring hands.

And from this distance it represents, to me, uncomplicated thought, concentration, a simple moment in time without intrusions of sound or emotions. It represents clarity of thought in one of the only places, I have found, where you are subjected to inner peace. A place where thoughts are free. Where ideas flow like silk. Where you can see the big picture.

We are on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, a string of islands off the north-west coast of Scotland. 

This copyright image MAY NOT be uploaded on to other websites

Sunday 9th August 2009

Quite a few years ago, sometime around 1999, before I was given my first auto-focus SLR camera, I photographed a group of children one Sunday afternoon in Meavag on the Golden Road, not far from Tarbert which is the capital of the Isle of Harris. There were three children, a girl of about 8 years old, a boy of about 12, and an older girl. It was a damp afternoon thick with Scottish midges. We had been walking down the road in the direction of Meavag when we had come across the children walking in the opposite direction. I took some photos. At that time the old, ruined, grey, stone house down by the water’s edge was still standing. It’s gone now. Two new houses have replaced it leaving no trace of the former mysterious old property.

I remember the 12 year-old boy was scratching his ears as he leaned against a fence post – midges galore -telling us how he wanted to be a crofter when he grew up.

A croft is a small area of agricultural land in a remote community – most are in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the UK –  and a crofter has use of that land and usually lives in a modest dwelling there. Crofting has represented a traditional way of life since the late 19th century. I have included a link here to give you a better idea:

http://www.ruralgateway.org.uk/en/node/1403

Come back to 2009. The boy’s mother told me he had been involved in a car crash which had resulted in severe facial injuries. His jaw has been rebuilt, he still requires more operations, cheekbones re-built and there were injuries to his eyes. He has lost all confidence and, for a job, is stacking shelves in a supermarket.

The boy had been walking up a road when a drunk driver ran into him, tossing him into a wrought iron fence, where he sustained the injuries. The driver had no road tax or insurance. He lost his driving licence for a year.

As the boy’s mother was telling me this I thought about Changing Faces, the British charity that supports people with facial disfigurement.

I think of the boy now, loved and cared for by his family. He is the same age as my nephew Robert, whose face this same week graced the cover of People magazine in the US.

…..more to follow

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THURSDAY 20TH AUGUST 2009

12 02 2012

Hello

The date was 20th August 2009. We were sitting in the car outside Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, situated on the precarious and remote switchback road to Huisnish on the Isle of Harris,  (in my opinion Huisnish has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world). Wild salmon leap in the waters close to the grey castle walls and gannets nose-dive into the sea.  It was in 1849, that Lady Catherine, wife of Alexander, 6th Earl of Dunmore, then owner of the castle, set up an embroidery school and also encouraged the then fledgling, now world-famous, Harris Tweed industry.

Torrential rain hammered on to the bonnet of the car. The loud sound of water rushing to the sea, surrounded us – rushing rushing, but no sign of salmon leaping that day. The ‘wee’ postie (postman) drove past in his ‘wee’ van, having delivered letters to the castle, and we watched through the windscreen as he battled his way against the torrential rain up into the mountains.

Then, typical of the Outer Hebrides, like magic the rain stopped,  the sun burst through, the light changing the hills from dull grey to purple.

LATER THAT DAY – recorded in my journal

In 1999 when I photographed with difficulty (because of the pain in my face and weak eye resulting from Bells Palsy) the group of children that I described previously, I never for one minute thought I would become a published author. Opportunities have arisen that would have seemed unthinkable on that damp, midgy Sunday afternoon.

But something happened on 20th August 2009, that would destroy my faith in the media.

When we got back to Tarbert, the ‘capital’ of the Island of Harris, an American friend of long-standing, greeted me from across the other side of the road, and waving her just-delivered American newspaper in the air. “Hi Monica, great to see you, there’s an article about you on the centre pages here, about your book about Ruth Ellis the woman who was hanged in the UK, and about your nephew…..I had no idea you are related to Rob Pattinson, the Twilight star.

The newspaper to which my friend referred had linked me to my nephew Robert and the fantasy world of Twilight.

It was actually a few weeks before that the article had been published. I had glanced at it and thrown it in the bin, where it belonged. It was not until that day in August whilst on holiday on the remote Isle of Harris, 600 miles from home, that the story resurfaced.

We had strolled into the village that sunny afternoon. But I crawled with embarassment as my friend handed over the newspaper for me to read the two-page article consisting of make-believe trash. In essence, the newspaper debased our book, RUTH ELLIS MY SISTER’S SECRET LIFE, the real-life story of 28 year-old Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK, by linking it to the fantasy world of vampires and the fictional character Rob played in the Twilight film.

I felt disgusted as I read the low-life article. For public decency, the quotes I had allegedly given, are too vile to include here. I wasn’t used to seeing these revolting lies thought up to sell newspapers. What sort of person conjured it up?What sort of publisher allows such stories to be read by the general public? And what sort of readership needs these lies? I dreaded to think how many people had read the article and taken it at face value. And at what cost to me and my family?

…another Post to follow





AN INSPIRATIONAL JOURNEY, PLEASE JOIN ME

12 02 2012

Hello and welcome to my special journey

I previously mentioned three things: Firstly, the article that was published in 2009 in an American newspaper ridiculed and debased the book of which I was the ghost writer (RUTH ELLIS MY SISTER’S SECRET LIFE) to the level of a vampire novel. This upset me. Ruth Ellis was the last woman in the UK to be hanged for murder in 1955. Whilst writing the book I sat with Ruth Ellis’s sister Muriel Jakubait for three years, listening to her recollections and harrowing story. I was humbled to learn that every day for the last 57 years she has had the vision of her sister hanging from the end of a rope. No one can possibly understand what that has been like for Muriel who is now 92 years old.

Secondly I previously mentioned that opportunities have arisen in my life since 1999, the year I took photographs of the three children on a damp, midgy Sunday afternoon on the Isle of Harris, that would have seemed unthinkable nearly thirteen years later.

Thirdly, I mentioned on THE PATTINSON CONNECTION blog, that I have a condition called Bell’s Palsy.

So perhaps now is the time to tell you how by chance I became a writer. And how by chance I subsequently became involved in ghost writing the book about Ruth Ellis. Then you may understand why I was disgusted with the 2009 article; how I am not a’ victim’; how I do not say ‘poor me’; and how in a society obsessed by beauty,  it is crucial for people with facial disfigurement to gain confidence and fight their fears.

TO BEGIN

On Christmas Eve in 1995 I woke up to a cup of tea brought by my partner who then opened the curtains. I would have welcomed the sun normally, but that morning it was unbearable. I couldn’t look at the light and then I realised I was dribbling from the side of my mouth.

I was working then as a gift buyer for a national charity and had been suffering from a heavy cold, very unusual for me, and work had been stressful. When I got up that morning I walked past the mirror and was shocked. I saw a face that didn’t belong to me. My right eye was staring, my mouth was drooping down at the side and my right nostril was running. I thought I may have had a stroke. It may sound incredible but I was so caught up in the work situation (I was brought up just to get on with things) and went along to one of our charity’s local shops to check everything was OK. The ladies pursuaded me to go home because I looked so awful.

It wasn’t until 10 pm that evening that I went to hospital where I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy which is a form of facial paralysis resulting from a dysfunction of the cranial nerve.

Although most Bell’s Palsy patients recover completely within weeks or months I was not so lucky. I was unable to use one side of my mouth, I couldn’t blow my nose and I had to wear an eye patch. Because the left side of my face compensated I developed a mandibular joint disorder and the palsy made it difficult to speak clearly.

I tried to carry on working but became increasingly alienated and stressed at work – the final straw came after an unpleasant incident there in 1999. (It was just three months after  I photographed the three children on that grey day in the Outer Hebrides). At lunchtime I walked out of the door and never went back. I had to fight for my rights and there was an employment tribunal. The humiliation then was probably the rock bottom point for me. I was not going there again, not ever.

I received strong support from my family doctor whose advice ‘not to sit in a corner and do nothing’ inspired me. I got on with things. An inner strength must have kicked in.

I am a keen photographer and thought perhaps I could learn to write and become a photojournalist. I began a writing course, some of my articles were published in newspapers but it was a magazine piece about our local fishmonger, about whom I knew nothing other than he sold fish, that turned out to be life-changing. The fishmonger was so grateful for the free write-up in a glossy magazine, he told me the story about one of his customers whom he used to serve in another fish shop some years before. Her name was Muriel Jakubait.

He told me how Muriel was the sister of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK.

It was this chance connection with the fishmonger that eventually led to my writing the successful book RUTH ELLIS MY SISTER’S SECRET LIFE.

Doors seemed to be opening for me as I resolved to take control of my fears about my facial disfigurement. Confidence was everything. I also joined Toastmasters International (worldwide public speaking organisation) where over a period of time and within a safe, non-judgmental environment, I found my voice. I was able to stand in front of an audience and give presentations with confidence, the best of gifts. Instead of being obsessed with perfection in physical appearance, one of the greatest qualities anyone, including those with facial disfigurements, can possess is confidence. In my opinion we should be obsessed with gaining confidence in our lives.

LA VIE EN ROSE   

Before I begin the next part of my story about Ruth Ellis herself, you may like to listen to a song called “LA VIE EN ROSE” sung by the late Edith Piaf. It  was Ruth Ellis’s favourite song:      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g4NiHef4Ks

THE NAME RUTH ELLIS, to many people worldwide, conjures up the image of the peroxide blonde, divorced woman,  mother of two young children, a London nightclub hostess and a part time prostitute who shot dead her playboy, womanising, racing car driver lover David Blakely (aged 25) in a fit of jealousy, in 1955. Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

The shooting outside the Magdala public house in Hampstead in North London, has been described ever since as an open-and-shut case of cold-blooded murder in which no-one else was involved. Yet at the time of writing our book there were still some  secret files on the case locked away from public scrutiny until 2031.

Ruth Ellis, who at the time of the murder was 28, admitted pulling the trigger of the heavy .38 Smith and Wesson revolver.

The two-day trial at the Old Bailey in London was notable for its lack of forensic and ballistic evidence. Christmas Humphreys, a Buddhist, and counsel for the prosecution set out to prove that Ruth Ellis killed David Blakely. Ruth’s defence team led by Melford Stevenson did virtually nothing to help her. Ruth Ellis had pleaded not guilty, but with the death penalty looming she was entitled to a proper defence.

With access to records previously unavailable at The National Archives, and new witness statements, in our book I presented a range of evidence that the Old Bailey in 1955 never got to hear; evidence pointing to the fact that Ruth Ellis was innocent of the crime for which she was hanged. She died for another person’s crime, having lied to protect him.

Fairly simple fact finding and research for Muriel’s autobiography turned out to be more complicated than I thought at first. It became an extraordinary detailed piece of detective work for first hand evidence in my search for the truth. I followed my instincts. I stopped looking for answers and took one step at a time in looking for facts. Muriel, Ruth Ellis’s sister, told me about landmarks in her life and recollections of events. I followed up with my own solid research and investigation, comparing new findings with previously published conflicting information.

From small beginnings a picture developed of Ruth’s life, stripped of fifty years of fictitious opinion. An unseen side of the last woman to be hanged emerged, as I dug deeper in my investigations; something not uncovered at the time of Ruth’s trial, or since. I tracked suspicious addresses, so-called businesses that did not actually exist, incorrect names on official documents that enabled characters in the Ruth Ellis story to change their identities and mislead anyone who dared to look for them. It took considerable effort to strip fact from fiction. But caught up in a tangle of new connections were clues. I kept an open mind and did not accept things at face value.

The real story about Ruth Ellis began slotting into place.

I hope you enjoyed reading this Post which is intended as a glimpse of our book RUTH ELLIS MY SISTER’S SECRET LIFE ……

….FOR more insights please see  MORE ABOUT RUTH ELLIS’ Page, above

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ruth-Ellis-Sisters-Secret-Life/dp/1845291190

Monica Weller





NEVER NEVER GIVE UP

12 02 2012

Hello again

……I’m going back to Sunday 6th July 2008 in my journal.

I was getting notes together for my Number 10 motivational speech for Toastmasters (public speaking club) and for which I would receive a ‘Competent Communicator’ certificate.

“I’m standing here remembering what I felt like 3 years ago when I first came to Toastmasters. I joined because there was a chance I would be interviewed by the media about the book I was co-authoring about the last woman to be hanged in the UK in 1955. The thought of interviews and speaking in public, thinking on my feet, scared me to death. I had to learn how to be prepared.

Our book, RUTH ELLIS MY SISTER’S SECRET LIFE,  was published on 7th July 2005, the day the London bombs went off. Our chance to reach a wide audience via the media was scuppered. Our sensational findings about: the bodged Old Bailey trial in 1955 in which Ruth Ellis’s defence counsel confused his duties with the prosecution’s; and Ruth Ellis’s liaison with spymaster Dr Stephen Ward, later of the Profumo scandal, were buried. Every bit of national publicity for our book was pulled.

But, knowing that when one door closes, another ALWAYS opens, I took to journal writing in earnest – jotting down every thought, every idea.

It was the start of my campaign to clear Ruth Ellis’s name. I knew that to win in the Court of Appeal (if we were to get another chance) with my new findings, I first had to win in the Court of Public Opinion.

I could give talks, so I auditioned to be included on the Women’s Institute list of approved speakers.

Every day I thought which route would bring extra publicity for the campaign to clear Ruth Ellis’s name.

I contacted local newspapers in English counties from Surrey, Kent, and London and to as far away as Northumberland and Cornwall – anywhere that had connections to the story. I wrote to Detective magazines asking them to publicise my findings. They did.

I wrote a blog on the internet – a triumph for someone who’s non-techy!

Every little step became a stride.

I stuffed flyers into books that I sold at talks that I gave to reach an audience as wide as possible. And I speak to any group that will have me, from women’s groups to retired gentlemens’ clubs, from audiences of 10 to audiences of 500.

Step-by-step I discovered ways of raising the profile of my findings. I was determined to push forward as far as possible.

In July 2008, as the 53rd anniversary of Ruth Ellis’s execution approached, my e-petition was accepted on to the Downing Street website. I asked the Prime Minister to look again at the Ruth Ellis case in the light of our new findings which the jury at Ruth Ellis’s trial in 1955, never got to hear – evidence showing that Ruth Ellis was innocent of the crime for which she was hanged. The national newspapers showed an interest. It came to nothing.

I stayed positive.

All these steps, I knew, had been for a reason. it disciplined me to deliver a simple, clear message – to refine my own thinking for a time when the media WILL be interested – giving me time to explore new connections, new evidence. Eventually there will be a breakthrough.

Out of the blue I received a letter from a public relations company. they wanted to help me with my campaign. By raising my profile, they said, it would raise Ruth Ellis’s. Another journalist came to interview me. At 7 o’clock the following Sunday morning, having got up early because I couldn’t sleep, I did some ironing then dashed out to buy the newspaper. The story had been ditched…again.

I will continue my fight to clear Ruth Ellis’s name”.

My message to everyone that night in July 2008 when I gave my 10th speech at Toastmasters: NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP.





SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS, MISHAPS AND MILESTONES

11 02 2012

Hello again

This is a short article I wrote some time ago about three Hebridean ladies to whom I am closely acquainted. It was published in Scottish Home and Country, the magazine of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes.

A SNAPSHOT OF HEBRIDEAN WOMEN

In 1950 the Labour party won the General Election and Princess Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter. Life is a series of significant moments.

“We got the electric in 1950. I was 14” says Ina Morrison. “We couldn’t believe it. It was one of the best things that happened”.

Women in this Gaelic-speaking corner of Scotland, on the Isle of Harris, spoke to me about significant moments, mishaps and milestones that have shaped their lives. The traditional image of women spinning wool and the accompanying click-clack of Harris Tweed being woven on Hattersley looms is fast disappearing. The quiet revolution from crofting to tourism gathers momentum.

Ina, 65 (when I conducted this interview) described her childhood as significant:” I was only 6 when my mother died. My youngest brother was one-and-a-half and he went to live with my aunties over the hill. Father gave up his job to look after the three children.

He bought a loom and started weaving Harris Tweed at home. After school we all had our different chores to do. Saturdays were busy, blacking the stove and collecting water from the well. Every pot and pan had to be cleaned, which we did in the river with Brillo until they sparkled. Nobody went to the well on the Sabbath.  To me singing the psalms in Gaelic is part of our culture. It’s uplifting. It does your heart good”.

Despite the changing lifestyle, Gaelic culture remains strong. “I’m part of a community” says Marie a 35 year-old crofter. “It’s not as tight as it used to be, but tight enough….I used to do the lambing but I pay someone to do that for me now”. Marie keeps 100 breeding ewes on her 16-acre croft at Seilibost. “The biggest change for me is being myself and having to go out to work. My husband died five years ago, leaving me with four children. The youngest was 7 and the oldest 12. I cook at the cafe in Tarbert [capital of the Isle of Harris], I’m a waitress, I’m a barmaid and two nights a week I work at the Harris Alcohol and Drugs Group. I’m busy all the time but I wouldn’t say I have a hard life….One significant moment in my life was being told my daughter has cerebral palsy. I came to terms with it. She’s 12 now and getting on fine. Inner strength? I don’t see myself as any different to anyone else. You just look at other people who are worse off than yourself. Yes, I would say I’m a survivor”.

To many, the Outer Hebrides is a place on the Shipping Forecast! Hebrides…wind southerly, gale force 8 veering westerly. And it’s these harsh conditions that form the backcloth to a rare way of life.

“The weather? In my job I have to persuade the guests it isn’t like this all the time” says Sarah Morrison. “If we’ve got people staying for a week and it’s rained for four days, you’ve got to try and not let them get down-hearted. I have to be optimistic. Sarah, 29, studied for her degree in Rural Resources at agricultural college in Edinburgh. Today she manages the world-famous Harris Hotel in Tarbert.

http://www.harrishotel.com/

“I’ve brought youthfulness and an eye for detail to the business. If dining room chairs aren’t lined up I’ll staighten them….The biggest change for me is the position of responsibilty. That came four years ago. Being in control of 50 employees is quite a challenge.I didn’t see myself carrying on the family business but I’ve grown to enjoy it. If there’s a complaint the buck stops with me. I get over it. Life’s too short to worry….I like to be involved with anything that’s happening on the island. I sing in the Gaelic choir. It is important to retain our culture. In a standardised, centralised world, we must preserve our identity. We’ve clung on to our culture for so long, if we were to lose it now we’d lose so much. But there’s a wind of change and we must move forward. There’s been doom and gloom about high unemployment and the island’s brain-drain. But there’s things in the pipeline. There’s a petrol station opening, a new school being built and a Harris Tweed Centre being developed”.

Meanwhile at Ina Morrison’s home in West Loch Tarbert, hail is falling like a thousand pebbles on a corrugated roof. Ina reassures me, “It’ll be getting better soon”.