Forget Peru – meet the hazards of the West Country

Ok, so I have abandoned the writing news in favour of more travel escapades. The intrepid two brave the mini ‘beast from the east’ and head to Bristol, complete with caravan. Despite snow earlier, the road is now clear and the journey is uneventful. We near our destination. Cue a lengthy game of ‘hunt the camp site’, amidst dire warnings of ‘do not follow the sat-nav’. We’ve been told that, at some point, we will need to ignore a road closed sign. I am usually serially law-abiding but we do as we have been bid – just a bit of a shame it was the wrong road closed sign. Permanent bollards are strung across the road. We are now up a dead end, in a very narrow, car-lined street. The exquisite caravan-reversing skills of my travelling companion are duly exercised and we continue our site hunting. Eventually, site located, we set up for the night, with not a flake of snow in sight, although it is pretty darned chilly.

Day dawns. Ah. There is steadily falling snow and about three inches on the ground. Nonetheless, the decision is made (not by me) that we should proceed. The car starts first time. We’ve left the caravan attached overnight, so no problem there. We attempt to leave the field. We attempt this again. We attempt it several more times. Back and forth we slide. I am not normally encouraged to drive this vehicle, let alone in falling snow, with a caravan in tow. It may be a measure of our desperation that the steering wheel is entrusted to me, whilst my companion gives a hearty shove, to no avail. We are now stuck irretrievably between the gate to the field and the pitch where, potentially, we could sit it out until spring. If we stay where we are, our electric cable is too short to reach the hook up.

The site owners, suitably clad in many layers, appear, probably concerned for the state of their grass, which we have effectively ploughed beyond repair. But no. Bless them, they’ve come to our aid with land rover and tow rope. They offer to tow us to their drive, where we can reconnect to the electricity supply. ‘No,’ says our brave driver, ‘the show must go on.’ They now think we are certifiable; they may not be wrong in this assessment. They agree to tow us ‘up the hill’ to something resembling civilisation. Half way up what is indeed a steep hill, our way is blocked by another stranded idiot. It is now 7.30am and they have been stuck for two hours. They appear to be two fit and healthy thirty-something men but have been unable to push their car to the side of the road. One seventy-something and the site owner who is certainly more than thirty-something, if not yet seventy-something, come to the rescue. They are pulled clear and then our tow to the main road resumes. It has taken us 1½ hours to travel a mile; only 160 to go!

DSCF4389The upside of the conditions is that there is very little traffic on the road. The downside is that those who are stupid enough to venture out are reckless types who zoom along in excess of 70mph. After this the prospect of ‘feeling like I am having a heart attack’ as I tackle Peruvian altitude seems positively calming.


In the Footsteps of Paddington Bear?

Image used under Creative Commons, via Wikimedia Commons – in the public domain

As promised, here is the sorry tale of my attempts to survive my forthcoming trip in search of Paddington Bear. Firstly, I should point out that a trip to Peru has long been on my bucket list. I blame those distant days of standing on a table in the school drama studio declaiming Atahuallpa’s lines from Shaffer’s Royal Hunt of the Sun. There was also an inflatable green rabbit involved in this performance somewhere but that’s another story. Regardless, Peru was a destination of choice. Not so for my hapless travelling companion but he somehow got bludgeoned into the plans. Then our intrepid Australian friends got in on the act and we agreed to meet them there to share the trip.

This trip involved heights, considerable heights. I had already run the gamut of the travel insurance, a feat in itself and paid heavily to ensure that I would be recovered regardless of how many metres above sea level I was. The received wisdom was that we needed medication to ward off the likelihood of altitude sickness. Several weeks ago we set off in pursuit of the recommended drugs. It didn’t seem to warrant taking up an appointment with our hard-pressed GPs so we began by telephoning the surgery. ‘Put your request in writing.’ That was the easy bit. A few days later, the receptionist calls. ‘You will need a telephone appointment with your GP.’ She offers a date ten days hence. ‘Oh and make an appointment with the travel nurse.’ At this point I should say that my travelling companion received his medication after the telephone call. We are of an age to qualify for free medication but this counts as a private prescription so he needed to part with money but no suggestions of travel nurses for him. To be fair, I am glad my GP is cautious but each appointment was a few more days down the line and what started as being ‘in plenty of time’, was now less so.

I arrive for my appointment armed with a not very detailed map of where we are scheduled to go. I had already read the NHS advice, which mentions Hepatitis A (tick – had that to go to Russia), rabies, yellow fever and the altitude thing. So first rabies.
‘I promise not to go close to any animals that are foaming at the mouth.’
‘Ah,’ replies the nurse ‘but they may go close to you.’ It seems that, as long as I am within 24 hours of a hospital I will be fine(ish), so rabies is not needed.

Yellow fever is up for debate. There is conflicting advice as to whether where we are going is risky. The doctor is of the opinion that I should have the vaccination anyway. Forewarned is forearmed or some such.
Nurse: ‘You are on the borderline of the yellow fever area on this trip.’
Me: ‘Ok but there’s a vaccination.’
Nurse: ‘We caution people over sixty against having the injection.’
Me: *smiles winningly* ‘I am barely over sixty.’
Nurse: ‘It is a live vaccine, there are side effects.’
Me: (thinking, ok so I get a bit of a temperature) ‘What are they?’
Nurse: nonchalantly ‘Paralysis, inflammation of the brain and death.’
We resolve to forget the Yellow Fever vaccine.

Cue doctor to discuss the advisability of altitude with my slight heart issues
‘It is like everyone else is going at 50 in the slow lane of the motorway but for you it is 90 in the fast lane.’
Arggghhhh. I don’t even drive on motorways, not in any lane, not at any speed, well once by accident but no. I have to confess that I have spent the past few weeks seriously weighing up whether to abandon the whole thing. I have so many exciting things lined up for later in the year, should I be content with those? Oh and erm, well, staying alive a bit longer would be good. Next minute, I’d be chiding myself for being such a woose. Thousands of people do this trip and survive. Ok, most of them are twenty-somethings on gap years but hey. What happened to my ‘grasp every opportunity’ philosophy? I rather think it has been subsumed by my risk adverse gene.

An appointment with a private travel clinic is advised. A 90 mile round trip and the best part of a day is involved but as yet, I have no medication, as my GP feels he lacks the necessary information to prescribe. It turns out that the nurse I am scheduled to meet is local, he knows people I know and more to the point, numerous people of my travelling companion’s acquaintance. While all the ‘Do you know x, y and z?’ chit chat is going on, I am looking at the eclectic range of books on the mantlepiece. An ancient tome A History of the British Nation, probably left behind by the previous occupants of the office, think I. I am somewhat disconcerted by the presence of The Fatal Shore, a excellent book, I have a copy but I hope it is not prophetic. Eventually we get to the purpose of my visit. To be fair, I am now as reassured as I am ever likely to be (not very). No need for Yellow Fever, hurrah, one risk down. I am prepared to ‘feel like I am having a heart attack.’ Immediately, my mind is thinking, ‘But what if I AM having a heart attack?’ As for, ‘You will probably stop breathing at night’, slightly more scary. I have my prescription, which cost five times that of my travelling companion (not allowing for the petrol and parking to visit the clinic). Now to try to look forward positively to what everyone assures me will be a trip of a lifetime. I just need it not to be THE trip of a lifetime.


I will be blogging the adventure, should I survive, so stand by!

And in the next installment, exciting writing news.

Never Work with Children or Animals, oh, or Technology – Especially Technology

Last night I was booked to give a talk to a small, discerning audience in my home village. Regardless of whether I am speaking to a handful of people locally or an international cast of hundreds, I like to think that I do an equally professional job and devote just as much time to the preparation. This was a talk I hadn’t done for a while, so there was a bit of revamping to be done and several run throughs. For reasons best known to myself, I recently upgraded to a more recent version of the software that allows me to create digital presentations (see how careful I am being not to advertise). I’ve been caught on previous occasions by different versions doing weird things to my formatting but no, all looked well as I looked at the slides on my laptop. I was chuffed that this upgrade allows me to see what’s coming on the next slide and also to view some notes. I don’t normally use notes unless I am reading quotations but as this was a presentation with which I was less familiar, I did take time to jot a few key words in the appropriate boxes. Another run through – great.

I head to the hall and set up my projector. It is a little low, so I balance a table on a table and move the projector on to the top table. My first mistake. I know from bitter experience that even breathing on the projector sends it into a hissy fit and clearly I did not move it cautiously enough. It duly switches itself off and stubbornly refuses to turn itself back on until it is good and ready (about ten minutes). I am still in good time and I plug the sulky but now working, projector into the laptop. It connects but my audience can see exactly what I can see current slide, next slide and notes. I bash away at the F this that and the other keys to no avail. Finally and just in time, I press I know not what and it seems to work from the audience’s point of view, whilst I can see the current slide and ribbon of future slides underneath. Hurrah! I start the talk. I then find that neither remote control nor keyboard will move on to the next slide.

Ch 12 Presentation

© Roberta Boreham

A slight hiatus ensues whilst my audience decide to have their tea break. I abandon the idea of being able to see the next slide and my carefully crafted notes and open the presentation in the old version of the programme. All is looking good, I can see the presentation, I can move the slides on BUT all my audience can see is my smiling family on my desktop. Arggghhh. Give me a child and an animal to work with any day.

Fortunately I always have a plan B. There is a reason, of course, that this is plan B; if it were better than plan A, it wouldn’t be plan B. So I reverted to ‘the old days’ and delivered a talk unvisually aided that really did need the explanatory family trees on the invisible slides. My audience were very understanding and reputedly enjoyed the session anyway but I felt decidedly unprofessional. I guess it happens to the best of us.

In the next installment – the saga of my holiday preparations continues – it will mostly be about my attempts to get medication – after last night I feel I need it.

More about Madness and other Happenings

First, a warning that this post has been written with the aid of medication. I have contracted the dreaded winter lurgy, so have been overdosing on proprietary medication. Today I feel slightly better than yesterday, which is saying not a great deal but at least I seem to be able keep my eyes open. It has been a few days of madness and mayhem. Friday, before I became germ-ridden, I premiered my talk about the history of mental health at one of my favourite venues. It has been fascinating to work on; I hope it was thought provoking. It was very difficult to decide which of the many interesting case studies I have come across to include. Somehow I can’t seem to stop collecting more. Then my article on the same topic appeared on the front cover of British Connections magazine. Today, it was time to finish the penultimate chapter of Barefoot on the Cobbles; even that involved madness. I’ve vicariously given birth, nursed a sick child and then I left Aunt Matilda dangling by her nightdress from the railings of Exminster asylum, in the depths of December. No wonder I am exhausted.

Plenty of preparation too for various upcoming overseas presentations. Aside from the two (or possibly three) events this year, there are two more potential live appearances outside the UK in 2019 that I am considering and then a webinar for Australia, on researching the domestic context for our ancestors’ lives coming up shortly. The downside of overseas webinars is the time difference. I have been caught out by this before. I was greatly relieved when the scheduling of the forthcoming one was altered from 11pm to 6am. Fortunately it is sound only, so I don’t even have to look respectable. In addition, my latest cohort of Pharos Writing and Telling your Family History students have just begun the course. It is always great fun to watch their stories unfold.

Church Graeme's editWhat about the snow? I hear you cry – not a flake. Although I did venture out to break the inch thick ice on what I laughingly call the pond and there was settled snow just five miles away. Not that I am really in the market for snowperson building or hurtling down slopes on a sledge but with everyone avidly sharing seasonal snaps on social media, I feel quite deprived. I shall have to settle for one from a previous year.

Hardback or not Hardback that is the Question? With Additional Travel Updates

With the end of Barefoot on the Cobbles almost within touching distance, I’ve been thrashing out details of print runs, prices and other such mundanities. I need to make a decision about a hardback edition. Now, personally, I am not a great fan of hardbacks. They are, after all, just that, hard. I read in bed, lying down. It is how I get to sleep. This means that, when I do doze off, whatever I am reading inevitably falls on my nose. This makes hardbacks somewhat of a health hazard. I am aware that there are those who read in a more conventional manner, sitting in chairs for example – how radical. Perhaps these folk would appreciate a hard back version? Can I canvas the opinion of one or two of you who are eagerly anticipating the publication of my magnum opus? Would you pay perhaps an additional £5 for a hardback version? There will be a ebook option for those who prefer reading on an electronic device. Publication and launch day is set for 17 November and the opportunity for pre-publication orders will be available shortly. I am not prepared to commit to how shortly but I am aiming for the end of March. Anyway, please let me know if you are a hardback lover, so I can judge if a hardback run is viable.

Some of you will know that this year is set to be a whirlwind of overseas travel. Planning these trips has been beset with irritations and anxieties and at one point I was heard to exclaim that I was going no further than Cornwall in 2019. So much for that idea. It looks possible that I will be working overseas twice next year as well. With all this trans-continental travel, you would think I could get myself to and from a rural village about fifteen miles away without incident wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t? – Ah, you know me so well. I set off in thick fog yesterday morning, fog that became ever thicker, to the extent of being impenetrable. By some quirk of fate the powers that be have got it wrong. They have inexplicably decided to shut the main holiday route at a time when tourists are not in evidence. This is a radical policy change but I digress. I was thus obliged to go ‘the back way’. ‘The back way’ gave me an opportunity to post a parcel. When our village post office was arbitrarily closed we were reassured that we could use the next nearest post office (in a village 6 miles away, which you wouldn’t want to go to for any other purpose – perfectly pleasant village and all that, just not much reason to go there). Inevitably that post office is now also shut. Never fear, we have a post van that visits our village daily, except when it doesn’t, due to there being a mechanical failure/operator illness/lack of internet access/two flakes of snow/an ‘R’ in the month. So the non-appearance of said van on Friday meant I had a parcel to post yesterday. I visit a fog bedecked post office, what can go wrong? I kid you not, the post office was closed for a computer upgrade. Onwards through the fog to my destination, parcel unposted. I arrive unscathed.

LucetteI spin away for a few hours. Well, actually I was plying and lucetting but I don’t want to get too technical. I set off home, deciding on a slightly different ‘back way’, in order to avoid having to execute a three point turn in a road barely wider than a car, at a time when several other cars are also manoeuvring. The fog had lifted, this should have been fine. Except that the other ‘back way’ was also closed for repair. The council are obviously using up their meagre road mending budget before the end of the financial year. I use a combination of common sense and sign posts before realising that I have no clue where I am, I haven’t seen another vehicle since I set off, the last building was two miles back and that was a barn. Do I have my ‘emergency’ phone? Well, no – how did I know there might be an emergency? I do however have a sat-nav. I unplug my cosy seat heater in favour of the sat-nav and follow the directions. Now I am more than comfortable with narrow, winding muddy road but I do like them to actually be roads. I bounce along muddy tracks that could not with any stretch of the imagination be described as roads, even by rural Devon, pothole laden, grass-in-the-middle-of-the-road terms. I idly wonder what would happen should I get a puncture. Even the emergency phone would be useless as I would be incapable of describing where to find me. Fortunately, I eventually arrive home. Forget going to Cornwall, I don’t even want to leave the house.

In a Spin with Adverbs, Idioms and Procrastinations

This week I have discovered that it is not only possible to waste time counting how many words you have, or perhaps that should be have not, written; there is a refinement to this. There are some nifty websites that will tell you how many unique words you have used. In other words (there’s a pun in there somewhere) how many of your words are different from any other. It also counts the number of times you have used a particular word. So, I have already used ‘words’ four times in this post, not that I needed a website to tell me that. So now I know that my 75,394 words contain 9273 different ones and that 7% of my book is ‘the’ – only 1563 ‘and’s though but I do have a weird writing style that tends to dispense with ‘and’.

I have also been doing some market research aka wasting time on writers’ forums (fora ?). This is encouraging and depressing in equal measure. Having spent my infant years in a decidedly antiquated educational establishment, the words ‘lots’, ‘nice’ and ‘got’ were frowned upon. Now it seems that ‘just’ and ‘seems’ are equally taboo. Cue a swift search through my manuscript to identify these gremlins and decide if they need an equally swift eradication. Then there are adverbs, the gratuitous use of which is high up there on the list of cardinal sins. Now, I am a great fan of the adverb; blame the antiquated educational establishment. Don’t get me wrong, I get the ‘lazy verb’ school of thought. Yes, it is preferably to write ‘he hurried’, rather than ‘he walked quickly’ but there are cases when the more descriptive verb is not enough. What is wrong with ‘he hurried anxiously’? (Not the best example perhaps but give me a break, it’s 6am). Again, I can see that the anxiety can and in many cases should, be conveyed by the context but I do believe adverbs have their role. If you don’t like adverbs please don’t read my work in progress, it won’t be for you.

As part of my one woman mission to eradicate anachronisms (now their use really is a cardinal sin) I have been checking on my use of idiom. Are the phrases I’ve used, often through the mouths of my characters, appropriate to the period I am writing about? It turns out they are and for example, I can tell you that the expression ‘good riddance’ was used in the late eighteenth century and to ‘lord it over’ someone is fine for the late sixteenth century onwards.

Spinning WheelJust as I thought my confidence in my own ability could not get any lower, I go spinning. This is not the extreme gym activity, that really would be depressing but the crafting variety. I manage a business called Swords and Spindles for heaven’s sake (sorry can’t find a date for that one). I live in the seventeenth century. I need to be able to spin. So, having been given a spinning wheel for Christmas, off I go to an unbelievably friendly and helpful local group to learn how to use it. I should at this point explain that the kind of co-ordination that spinning requires, is not really my thing. I can’t even control an electric sewing machine. Then there is the perennial problem with my feet, which are square. This means my shoes are at least two sizes larger than my foot. Add to this my double-jointed toes and the point at which I have any control over what I am pressing on, is relegated to half way down my shoe. This makes controlling the pedal difficult. If you’ve tried patting your head and rubbing your stomach, spinning is more complicated. You have two hands and one leg all doing different things at the same time. Well, I don’t but that’s the principle. My very patient instructor made minor adjustments to my wheel and coped admirably with my incompetence. Despite going too fast, serious over-spinning and trouble with my backward drawing, I did manage to complete a whole bobbin of what is kindly described as ‘designer’ single ply. For ‘designer’ read full of lumps. I even started a second bobbin and did seem to actually be sort of getting the hang of it (mid nineteenth century) a bit by that point. I was already suffering from wool carders’ arms in preparation for the spinning. It is incredibly hard work, now I have added ‘spinners’ back’. Appropriate then that I am off to deliver a talk on ‘occupational hazards’ tonight.

More Writing – by me and by Others

My students on the Pharos Writing and Telling your Family History online course have begun submitting their assignments this week. The option to request feedback on a portion of their story is a new initiative and about half the students on the course took this up. It is a real pleasure to read these and to feel that I have had a very small part in their creation. Some of them are even signing up to do the course again, to motivate them for chapter two! It you want to join the party, there are one or two spaces left on the presentation of this course that starts in three weeks. Definite warm fuzzy feeling time and some great comments on the course to add to my testimonials page. Not that anyone ever reads my testimonials page and understandably so. After all, I could have made them all up. I haven’t, I hasten to add but I do wonder sometimes why I have that particular page lurking unread on my website. I suppose it does serve a purpose, in that I could look at it in moments of self-doubt and be reassured that people do enjoy and benefit from what I do. I don’t actually do this but the option is there!

EbeneezerOn the subject of self-doubt, as Barefoot on the Cobbles nears completion (it does, really), I am consumed with fears that everyone will hate it. I never had this crisis of confidence with my non-fiction books. Maybe it is because fiction is somehow much more personal and although none of the characters are based on me, I have invested myself in their emotions and shared their anguish for the last couple of years. It isn’t all anguish of course, although I have to say that their tragedies do outweigh their joys.

Today I have one fewer chapter left to complete than yesterday. This is not because I had some turbo burst of creativity and wrote 5000-6000 perfect words yesterday. Instead, I looked again at my planned structure and decided to axe the proposed chapter one, which weirdly I hadn’t yet written. If you’d asked me before I started this fiction journey, I would never have believed that I wouldn’t begin at the beginning and finish at the end. Anyway, the realisation that I had very little to say in the proposed first chapter, means the old chapter two is now chapter one – I hope you are following this. There is a prologue, which at one point was itself chapter one but ignore that added complication. The new arrangement means that I need to ensure that the old chapter two is robust enough to be the first full chapter. I think it is, I hope it is. I just need to run the principle by a few people. Poor Martha, who is reading it all, in the wrong order, has been sent three totally different chapter 11s during the course of her proof reading marathon. She is an ace proof reader, not just spotting errant semi-colons (oh yes, along with the plethora of adjectives and adverbs it does have that endangered piece of punctuation) but telling me that I have used a particular phrase before, often in a chapter she read six months previously; she is rarely wrong. She claims she is looking forward to starting at the prologue and reading through to the epilogue but I wouldn’t blame her if she never wanted to read any of it ever again.

So, now I have a choice of chapters 3, 4 and 12 left to work on, although by the time I’ve finished with them they could have different numbers altogether!