My January DRYATHLON for Cancer Research

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In fact, at the time of publishing, I’m about seven hours away from Glory.  A month of self-imposed prohibition, in aid of Cancer Research.  After a period of sustained indulgence over the festive period, I was feeling all a bit, well, toxic, and it had become oh so easy to open a bottle of wine with every passing day of that particular silly season.  Something had to change, and thanks to a chance comment from a friend, it struck me that I could go sober for January, for charity.

I signed up on 31 December, and had enlisted support from Pete.  I didn’t expect him to stick at it with me, but he said he’d support me.  He’s actually ended up being my partner in prohibition, right throughout, and it’s been invaluable support.  I’m sure that his iron will have got me through a couple of evenings, but on Day 31, I’ve done it.  We’ve done it.

I have had numerous conversations over the last month about alcohol.  We love sharing wine.  Pete loves beer (it would be his desert island luxury). We celebrate with alcohol, commiserate with alcohol and socialise with alcohol (especially in the yacht club!!!).  What would we do without it for a month?  How would the habits be redefined?  I never thought we were alcoholics, no dependencies, just some ‘bad’ habits.  Many of my friends seem to be able to take it or leave it; I’m not one of those people.  I wondered if I would envy them, but I don’t.  I’m pretty sure in February I shall be enjoying my glasses of wine, but I hope that I shall be more mindful about taking a glass just because I can.

Have we missed it?  Yes and no… We always seeming to be talking about it!  We’ve both had ‘killer’ occasions.  Pete’s have been in the pub, mine have been when I’ve made the effort to cook something out of the ordinary – fish that called for a glass of Viognier on day 3, a rare steak that was crying out for a glass of Rioja.  Those are the times when I’ve really missed it.  Thank goodness we didn’t sell our house in January, as I would have been looking in the face of The Demon himself to wrestle over a bottle of champagne.  Similarly, there hasn’t been anything so bad to want to numb the senses.  The habit-formed ‘it’s 7 o’clock’ moments pass.  You can distract yourself, but the momentary challenge has been there.

Did I say that I actually hate the feeling of being drunk?  Merry; lovely.  Drunk.  No thank you.  I hate the morning after feeling.  It’s not as if January has been liberated from a month of bleary mornings, as that’s never really been the point of alcohol for me (in recent years, I hasten to add).  Have we seen any upsides?  Except raising money for Cancer Research… Nope!  No change to our sleep, no noticeable improvement to skin, Pete hasn’t lost any weight – I have, but I’ve been watching my diet very carefully under the influence of my personal trainer… Have we cracked some habits?  Well, I’ll only know that when the embargo is lifted.

I’ve thought a lot about the people I know who have lost their battle with cancer.  Each have inspired me to make keep on going with my paltry sacrifice. My dad, and his dad.  My aunt.  The mums of two of my dearest friends. The dad of a new friend here in Cornwall. The work that Cancer Research does will hopefully mean less of the many personal tragedies. Everyone knows someone touched by cancer.

Particular thanks have to go to Jackie M, for putting the idea in my head. Sue R for being a virtual partner in abstinence. Annette M for her support in the biggest hurdle – a girlie night away in Bristol. Barbara T for a Strictly experience without the addition of bubbles. My mum for her admiration, and of course it was OK that you didn’t do it too.  Most of all, my husband, Pete, who has been a complete rock.  Our wedding anniversary celebrations next week are going to feel very, very special.

 

 

Book Review: The Levelling Sea, by Philip Marsden

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The Levelling Sea tells the history of Falmouth, through its rise in importance as a haven for ships in the Great Age of Sail, fading from glory as steam took its place in the evolution of international travel.  The Levelling Sea takes us through ‘Elizabethan privateers, merchant seamen, naval heroes, religious dissenters and outsiders’ to chart the development of the town through its people.  It is a glorious blend of geography and history, written with conviction, passion and skill.  The book almost reads as a series of short stories, told through different characters, unlike the historical text that you might expect from the book cover.

The Levelling Sea was handed to me shortly after we moved to Falmouth, and I am very grateful it was. It is a truly compelling read, rich in description and fact. Marsden is an anthropologist, and it is with this lens that he brings the past into the present, weaving history with his own exploration of the Carrick Roads in his small sailing boat, Liberty.  There are many ghosts of Falmouth’s past and, by the end of the book, you have an overlaid map of the town that exists now with some key moments from its past: The parade welcoming the railways; the homes of the Packet Captains in Flushing; and, the seat of the Killigrew ‘empire’ along Arwenack Street.

I always had a romantic notion that Cornwall was ungovernable, home of pirates and smugglers, but I had never realised that some were part of the ‘establishment’ of local rule.  The Falmouth of the past was a real melting pot of curious characters, also attracting colonists, Jews and Quakers as well as rogues of the sea.  Within the pages of his book, Marsden introduces some superb people – John Killigrew, Edward Pellew, John Silk Buckingham and Joseph Emidy, each worthy of their own book.  Fortunately Marsden’s chapter notes and extensive bibliography allows for the possibility of further reading.

The Levelling Sea also gives a fascinating insight into the call of the sea to the founding heroes of Falmouth. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, during the age of the great explorers, the trade routes, and naval conquests, ordinary men could become extraordinary because of their affinity for the ocean. Perhaps none better illustrated than Sir Edward Pellew, who rose to become Admiral of the Mediterranean from more humble beginnings.  I could not help but draw comparison to my own experiences on the water – wondering at the brave seamen of the past disappearing into more unchartered waters as compared to my own timid encounters of a very known world.

The Levelling Sea is a thoroughly rich and enjoyable read, bringing Falmouth’s past into my present.  I would highly recommend this book.

 

Book Review: Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

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Caleb’s Crossing tells the story of a young man, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, from Martha’s Vineyard who, in 1665, was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. It is narrated through the eyes of Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a missionary, in a small community of pioneers and puritans. It is she that meets Caleb as a twelve year-old girl, and a secret friendship is formed as they are drawn into the alien world of the other.

It is a truly absorbing book, told in the first person narrative, as Bethia lays down her memoirs, allowing you into the mind of a girl frustrated by the limitations of her gender and her role in life.  She longs for the life of her brother Makepeace, an inept scholar, which takes him with all the opportunities of his gender to Boston for study.  Bethia schools in secret from her place in the kitchen, compounding the sin of her friendship with Caleb. She is conflicted with her desire and the pious doctrines of the Calvinist faith.

Bethia transports you to a vividly drawn world some 350 years before our own.  Brooks’ language is delicious, at times almost poetic, with old English terms and words scattered throughout, adding a level of authenticity in the narrative.

The characters are beautifully drawn and observed, with connections woven back and forth in the story. It is easy to care for each of them as they are real and complex, and I was moved to tears at their times of tragedy.  The outcome is known from the start, but this does not betray the real story through Bethia’s observations, which kept the pages turning.

If I had to choose a favourite part it would be the joyful young Bethia roaming the island with her secret friend. The description of the landscape is vivid, as is the tension of her own actions, which leads to her conviction that she is punished for the sins that she has committed. A theme that echoes throughout the book, with her memoir forming her main confession.

Brooks’ main theme of prejudice is ever present in her novel, without tipping away from the sharp observations of every day living. This is the book’s joy; the conflict of racial tension is observed through the treatment of the Wampanoag, the Native American, by the settlers on the island and in Harvard itself. War, piracy and murder all play roles in the unfolding story – much of it revealed through the quiet, keenly observant Bethia.

Caleb’s Crossing is a towering book, full of pathos, sympathy and tension.  I found it to be a deeply engaging and absorbing read. The characters of Caleb and Bethia, and the issues they raised, have remained with me long after I set down the book, bringing life and context to a period of history I realised I really knew little of.

The language of rain

Moored off Tobemory

I am a self-confessed weather geek.  All matters meteorological fascinate me.  My sister teases me about my daily habit of checking the weather, even when it makes no difference to what I’m doing.  Today, for example, I shall be mostly researching, yet I know that an Atlantic frontal system is crossing over Cornwall, probably the warm front has passed (I bet it feels warm outside, but haven’t tested that), and that a BIG weather system is waiting in the wings to make a grand entrance on Sunday, deepening and occluding as the morning goes.  I know all of this, because weather fascinates me.   I was just looking out of my window and I remembered the photograph I took from Whinchat a few summers ago, at the top of this post, when weather did matter.  Getting to the point, I also remembered a fascinating conversation I had with my good friend Ochaya Robert, in Uganda… and that’s the musing of the day.  Language. Continue reading The language of rain

A geographer’s paradise

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Oh, I love a coincide. Last year I wrote a short story, a historical fiction in its truest sense, about Columbus’s voyage in search of a new route to the East, by going West.  The story was told from the perspective of a novice seaman, a prisoner released from his jail sentence on condition he crewed on this voyage (a real person).  My story imagined what he would have made of being at sea for such a long time, beyond the time Columbus had reckoned on finding land.  I based the events on extracts from the ships log that Columbus wrote.  My research hadn’t taken me much beyond the voyage, except into some shipping technicalities, because that was all that was relevant in the short story form.  My research for my novel-in-progress (or WIP in author-speak, still a bit odd for me as a term, because I associate that with complex accounting calculations… I once audited a branch of an international telecoms company in Poland, and the WIP calculations were something that only me and the Dutch Finance Director could understand… but I digress) is taking me on an amazing virtual journey of my own. Continue reading A geographer’s paradise

Book Review: Pompeii, Robert Harris

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Harris’ novel tells the story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that destroyed the city of Pompeii, through the experiences of Marcus Attilus, the aquarius (or engineer) of the Aqua Augustus.  The aqueduct has failed, and his predecessor, Exominus, has disappeared. This young, decent man has to work out what has happened and fix the fault.  The outcome is known from the start, that the volcano destroys the city, but will Attilus fix it before the eruption – and what has happened to Exominus? A story told according to the geological phases of the volcanic eruption unfolds. Continue reading Book Review: Pompeii, Robert Harris

The writing shrine

Jane Austen's writing desk

 

In the collected wisdom from my creative writing course/book habit, there is often mention of the writing space.  The place that is yours, where you go to be inspired and where words flow freely, and you feel the joy of writing.  Some suggest that you create a shrine, collected trinkets that look back and you and say, ‘now you’re here, look at how beautiful I am… now write.’  Continue reading The writing shrine