To offer some non-fiction inspiration for anyone wishing to enter our present competition, here is Kerry Hodge’s excellent, The Curse of Helios. Kerry attained 1st place in last year’s competition with another piece, The Curse of Helios being placed 3rd in a previous year.
All the information on the Richard Booth Prize for Non-Fiction can be found on our
COMPETITION PAGE – Closing date for entries – Thursday 30th June 2022.
The Curse Of Helios
By Kerry Hodges
I’m standing in a field. To my left a river meanders. To my right a battalion of conifers stand proud. The sky is azure blue and blemish free. A perfect picture I paint. But I need to move go hide in those trees, seek refuge from the dangerous light of day, the sun. Hide? Yes, hide. My allergy is a burden, a blaspheme, a bugger.
For nearly thirty-five years I’ve been at the mercy of the sun, trying to outwit him, hoping to overcome his power. But to no avail. He gets me every time.
We do daily battle. He comes out, I stay in. He stays in, I come out. And if I’m out when he comes out I hurry to shelter from his persistence, his dogged persistence.
When I need to be in his presence I wear an armour of sunscreen. Factor 150. If I don’t protect my skin, the sun attacks and very soon I feel the result – sore, swollen skin.
It all began in Yorkshire in 1988. I was just married and my husband and I were camping at Easter near Hawes. At the end of our first day of walking, enjoying the warm spring sunshine, I noticed my hands were red, mottled and prickly, like I had nettle rash. I thought nothing of it until it became a regular feature in my life. Where the sun hit my skin I had a problem.
I have to choose my clothing carefully – always dark glasses and gloves when driving, wrist length sleeves, dark colours, trousers that cover my ankles.
To feed the chickens, hang out the washing, walk the dogs, garden – all these daily tasks are tempered by what the weather’s doing. Is the sun on the prowl?
This affliction tempers my life, changing, interfering, preventing. Heightening anxiety as I wake to a bright day. A miserable me.
When our children were very young we visited a beach, the best beach, an empty one. The girls squealed their delight as the waves crept closer. Nearly naked, and slavered in sunscreen, they raced around like puppies with too many legs. I was dressed as a Victorian woman might have dressed. Covered from head to toe. Every bare inch of skin, none was allowed to escape. Though my toes did escape and they suffered before I realised. Self-pitying tears spotted thick linen. I didn’t want my daughters to see – their day spoilt by a selfish Mummy – so hid in my pop-up tent. I unpacked our picnic, watching the seagulls hop along the beach as they warily regarded my family.
Nowadays I don’t go to the beach, except in moonlight or heavy rain.
To bring you up to date, we are at the old school renovating it to sell. It’s a Victorian beauty complete with sparrows nesting in the soffits. We’re in the garden, sorting scaffolding to take home as we’re decorating, that ‘painting the Forth Bridge’ occupation. My exposed parts – face and hands are generously smothered in sunscreen so I’m confident I can be in the sun for about 20 minutes with no ill effect. Wrong, I’ve forgotten something. I’m wearing my old grey ‘jeggings’ (that cross between jeans and leggings, clever. Not as confounding as a ‘skort’!) and I remember the day Kipper the black and tan terrier, long dead, bit through the leg. His teeth left a small hole in the denim and there you have it, a tiny ring of red, sore skin where the sun’s crept in.
One day I visited a specialist in skin, a dermatologist. He was kind, listened to my tale of woe with sympathy and a tissue as my tears annoyingly fell. He explained it is probably poly morphic light eruption, (I can never say this without imagining disco lights and carefree dancing), thought to be caused by UV light altering something in the skin. The immune system then reacts to this which results in the skin becoming inflamed. He suggested all the precautions I had been taking for years which made me frustrated and desperate – I’d assumed he’d have an answer. I suppose he did to a degree. He added another layer of sunscreen, the now legendary factor 150 coverage. He could offer me drugs too but a life of taking drugs which would suppress my immune system, didn’t appeal.
As I left he scratched at a red raw patch on his hand and I wondered if he had been to see a dermatologist yet.
I have adapted. Taken to night time walking, gardening under the stars, filled each window with a blackout blind, own a pretty black parasol and I want no pity. Goodness no, I only have to think of arthritis sufferers and the pain they have to endure to realise how lucky I am. At least I can hide from the sun.
And that’s what I’ll do the next time the smiling mouth on the radio tells me we’re in for a settled period of high pressure, I shall retreat to my shaded study, allowing my adversary to win this battle of our war.
ONLY ONE WEEK TO HAY FESTIVAL 2022
Next Thursday, gates open on the 35th spring Hay Festival.
Discover the full programme and book tickets now.
Don’t forget our Hay Festival event, number 212, takes place at 2.30pm on Wednesday 1st June in the Summerhouse. It’s a FREE but ticketed event, so please click on the following link to secure your ticket. TICKET FOR EVENT 212
You can also catch us after the event in the Hay Festival Book Shop
Book Signing details below
Hope to see you there!
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