Taking on NaNoWriMo... Again

After promising years ago never to do NaNoWriMo again, I’m now planning on taking part again, starting in a week’s time. (I can see you rolling your eyes in the back of the room millionreasons.)

I have a novel I’ve been writing off and on for 10 years – a novel I started with NaNoWriMo then abandoned, only to pick it up again in 2015 when I returned to London after my year off in Brazil (when my mom first got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.)

I ended up living in a narrowboat in 2018 as part of my research for this novel, but work on it continued to be very scattered, when I felt like it. Finally, thanks to the pandemic, I buckled down and was able to focus every morning (between 7am and 9am) on it. I now have plenty of material and a good roadmap. I’m going to use NaNoWriMo to generate a skeletal structure I can work from and finally put together a first draft.

Quite a few friends – some who are successful published authors – have offered to look at the novel and “future revise” it, i.e. look with an eye keener on what the novel promises then on where it fails. This has been hugely encouraging; it makes me feel as if I have a supportive choir willing to guide me to the story’s best possible version. It also helps that I have all the patience and time in the world, and that I’m still interested in my story.

In this photo, I’m sitting in my bed with Paçoca on my lap, reading the final chapters of Barging Round Britain, which I read as part of research.


Book review: Barging Round Britain by John Sergeant and David Bartley

Barging Round Britain: Exploring the History of our Nation's Canals and WaterwaysBarging Round Britain: Exploring the History of our Nation's Canals and Waterways by John Sergeant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Barging Round Britain" sounds good as the title of a book on the history of Britain's canals and its narrow boats - it has a ring to it - but it's an intriguing choice nevertheless when you consider that boats people found the term "barge" and "barging" offensive! Maybe the authors are signalling that despite their knowledge of the topic they are not boaters?

The book is perfect for anyone wishing to move into a narrow boat, already living in one, or keen on British history (especially engineering history). It's structured chronologically, starting from the first canals until the last one built. After each chapter detailing the history of a particular canal, the book then offers a guide for the journey on that particular canal, for any readers who chooses to have the book with them as they cruise the canals. It's worthwhile reading these sections, though the desire is high to skip them, as they contain interesting tidbits of English and Welsh history. For example, near Liverpool there is a National Nature Reserve with the largest area of peat bog in the country where the military set fire to moss during WWII to make the Luftwaffe think it was Liverpool and drop their bombs there.

The most interesting section, in my view, is towards the end, where it goes into the canal's social history. The miscreants that manned the boats in its early days (considered the worst of the worst for their boozing and depravity), to the families that then grew from them - entire communities that were born and raised in tiny cabins, shunned by "good society", living in awful conditions (no lavatories, washing their clothes in canals dirtied by the industrial revolution) - there were so many interesting facets mentioned (boat schools created, for example, as well as floating chapels!)

There's a lot of interesting info for history buffs:

- Charles Darwin's grandfather was directly involved with the implementation of canals in England, which led to the Industrial Revolution. He'd have been proud to know his grandchild would one day be the father of the theory of Evolution.
- Boats were drawn by horses on canal paths. Once they reached tunnels, there would be men and women waiting to offer their help in pulling the boats along them. They (known as leggers) would lie on their backs on top of the boat and push with their legs. Wasn't unusual for some to fall in the water and drown. Horses, in the meantime, were worked to their death and were considered the worst treated animals in the country. It wasn't unknown for horses to drop dead into canals and be left there.
- Birmingham was the epicentre of a lot of discoveries that propelled the Industrial Revolution and changed the world, such as the first steam engines. The expansion of canals there also involved a lot of corruption.
- There was a "Canal Mania" at the end of the 18th Century, when canals shares steadily grew, encouraging frenzied speculation and investment - often on canals that never got their permits through Parliament or took decades to finally be completed. Fortunes were made and lost. All interest, sadly, was in making money and not maintaining the canals or creating decent working conditions - so only the worst possible characters took on a boating life. Crime was rife.
- After the "Canal Mania" came the "Rail Mania", killing off canal trade. It made me think of MySpace, killed off by Livejournal, which then got killed off by Facebook... which then got killed off by TikTok?

Luckily, the canals didn't die - thanks to a revival of interest in the Second World War, enthusiasts worked on restoring many stretches, and soon the leisure boating industry moved in. Nowadays, canals are seeing a really strong revival, with many people moving into narrow boats thanks to the high cost of living "on land" (the book doesn't go into this, though.)

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The Friday Five: Favourite Film Sets

from thefridayfive:

1) What’s your favorite film set in space?
The 1980's version of Flash Gordon. Seeing it in the cinema is one of my earliest memories - I was completely entranced. Sam J. Jones, who played Flash Gordon, came to Johannesburg to promote the film and I saw him in a shopping mall - but I was too terrified to go up to him and say hello (like my aunt suggested.)

2) What’s your favorite film set at sea?
Not necessarily a favourite, but I've read Jaws recently and re-watched the film (which I must have seen a hundred times during the 80s, as a teenager.) I remember even creating my own "Jaws" boardgame.

3) What’s your favorite film set in a non-U.S. city?
One of my favourite films, A Room with a View.

4) What’s your favorite film set before the 20th Century?
Far From the Madding Crowd with Carey Mulligan is pretty good - and I love its soundtrack.

5) What’s your favorite film set on a university campus?

The Friday Five: Oldest Things

from thefridayfive (and thank you spacefem)

1) What is the oldest thing you own?
Chinese coins which I got in Hong Kong and which I used for the oracle I Ching, the Book of Changes. They are currently stored away with all my university stuff at wink_martindale's farm in Ottawa, Canada.

2) What is the oldest home you've lived in?
Probably the house I lived in during my first years of life in Johannesburg, South Africa, back in the 70s. All the flats I lived in since then (and the narrowboat in London) were either from the late 70s or 80s. The house I currently live in was built by my parents in 1980, to be our countryside home, and which later turned into our family's guesthouse.

3) What is the oldest book you've read?
I was going to say The Iliad, but no - it must be the I Ching (mentioned above).

4) What is the oldest electronic device that you still use?
My mom's PC (currently running on Windows 7) which I need to turn on for her to check her emails.

5) What is the oldest work of art/architecture that you've seen?
The Egyptian collection of the British Museum in London.

Book review: You Took the Last Bus Home by Brian Bilston

You Took the Last Bus HomeYou Took the Last Bus Home by Brian Bilston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brian Bilston is…

Very English.
Probably my age as he mentions Morrissey a few times.
Probably inclined to write about Woolsworth if it was still around (he has a Poundland poem instead.)
Not into the Daily Mail.
Not into Jeremy Clarkson, Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins.
Into spreadsheets, post-it notes, anagrams, forms and lists.
Into the sound of lorries and ice cream vans.
Probably an ex-stand up comedian.
Twitter’s poet laureate.
Scribbling away on public transport as you read this.
Like that mate of yours that enjoys anecdotes over a pint.
A nightmare to translate into other languages as his poems are so very English.
Well attuned to the plight of refugees.
A good gift for that mate of yours that’s scared of poetry.
Good at poking fun at modern day life in Britain.
Perhaps a pseudonym or even a collective.
Enamoured of punch lines.
Well-versed on daytime telly.
Better than me at making listed items rhyme.

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The Life of a Dementia Carer

A few months before leaving London I joined a Monday evening meditation group for gay men near Trafalgar Square. It was a lovely, welcoming space. One evening I got chatting during tea break to an older man. I told him I was moving back to Brazil soon to take care of my mom. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘I once did the same for mine.’

‘How long did you live with her?’

‘Ten years. I was very good at taking care of her,’ he said prophetically.

It’s been now over a year since I’ve returned to Brazil to be my mom’s carer and help my brother run our family’s guesthouse. Mom has been easy to take care of; she does most things by herself. Her main struggle is remembering short-term things but her old memories are fairly intact. The main skill for caring for someone with dementia is patience. Patience with getting them through daily tasks; patience with the same questions every day, every hour; patience with them getting up throughout the night and telling you “don’t worry, it’s just me”. Every day you are reminded that this person needs your help and support in ways that you would otherwise take for granted.

I have vivid memories of my “previous life” in London. Recently, I was lying in the hammock after lunch (where I rest for an hour) when suddenly I saw myself on the Overground train. I saw the commuters around me, I saw myself taking the stairs down Camden Road and joining the throng heading for work. It dawned on me that when my mom repeats one of her memories (usually from her childhood) that’s what she’s also experiencing: she talks as if she’s back there, and it always ends with a sigh and a lament for happier times.

My mom doesn’t miss the memories she has lost; people like me are here to remind her what she has forgotten. She takes in that knowledge with some surprise then promptly forgets it. She lives in a world where she can’t remember anymore her sons’ birthdays, her favourite books or films. I once asked her what it was like and she said it was as if her life was a movie, where a piece of the reel had been snipped off and the remaining bits glued back together. She experiences the jump cut in her movie, the confusion of suddenly going from one scene to the next, but never knows what has been removed.

In 2014, when we first suspected she had Alzheimer’s, when I returned to Brazil for a year to help her get diagnosed and to save the guesthouse, I wasn’t happy. But today… I can say I am happy. Right in the middle of a pandemic, isolated in the Brazilian countryside, away from friends, with our family business temporarily shut down again. But, most importantly of all, I believe my mom is happier too – despite daily complaints (which I take to be normal ones for an elderly person).

lj anniversary friendzy?

Hello livejournal!

I joined this lovely site on September 24th, many many years ago. I love it here! I've learned that to KEEP loving it here, it's nice to be finding new friends. You know... if I joined a cool new hip social media site, I'd be running around seeing what's new, right? Why not put that same effort into livejournal, a place I've known and loved since forever?

So this is not a new idea, I've seen it done lots over the years, just never tried it myself! I figured in honor of my anniversary I'd give it a go. I'm excited, because it's a friendzy I won't be hella late for!

It's called a Friendzy. Friends, countrypersons, lurkers, visitors from a page... if you like building the friends list every once in a while, copy this info into a comment here! Wave to each other, virtual hug, whatever you'd like!

Then share it in your journal, and everyone else can gather up :) Here's my rainbow goat but I don't care how you share it, linking back casually is obviously okay!