Monthly Archives: October 2010

NaNoWriMo, The Bristol Story

NaNo is short for National November Writing Month and once a year, for thirty days, a gang, a group, a motley crew if you will, of Bristolian and Bath writers gather and chat, both physically and virtually, about writing,. This year we have two Municipal Liaisons who take responsibility for organising our meetings and writing to everyone.

There was a NaNo kick-off party today where we sat around and took up a lot of space in the Watershed. Anyone is welcome to come and join us at one of the write-ins, of which there are three a week:

Tuesday: The Griffin Inn, Bath, 6pm onwards
Thursday: The Watershed, Bristol, 6pm onwards
Sunday: The Watershed, Bristol, 2pm onwards

Few of us know each other and there is no need for formalities such as remembering names. If you are in Bristol or Bath, all information about events for our region can be found on the website by clicking the Europe :: England :: Bristol & Bath link on your profile page.

There are 687 people signed up to the Bristol and Bath region although the event takes place worldwide and not only with physical gatherings. In 2009 there were 167,150 participants and 32,178 winners. I have participated since 2005 and have only won once, last year. There is no pressure to win, to show up, or to even write if you don’t want to. However if you do want to try your hand at writing 50,000 words, this is as good an opportunity as any.

NaNo in a Nutshell

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.

Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by the NaNo web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Where: You write wherever you’d like. On your computer, on your iPad, on a typewriter—anywhere is fine, just as long as you’re writing!

NaNo write-up at the Watershed in 2008

Sign up at


Perfect Blue Buildings in Bedminster

Perfect Blue Buildings in Bedminster

Baby B: Forgetting The Baby – Pregnancy Brain

My midwife is on the first floor of the building and I usually get in the lift, press the button which indicates Midwife and head on up. This time however, I walked into the building and saw that the lift was broken so I walked up the stairs but couldn’t remember which floor to go to. I went up to the third and then worked my way down to the second. Then made it successfully to my appointment on the first. When I left 15 minutes later I noticed that there was nothing wrong with the lift. Nothing about it suggested broken at all.

A few days later I was determined to get the 8 o’clock train and I set three alarms to make sure I woke up on time. I’ve had a tendency to sleep through just the one recently. The alarms went off and I was up in plenty of time to leave at 7.30. The day seemed a little brighter than I would have expected but I dismissed it. I bought two croissants from Tesco and a vanilla soy decaf latte from Costa.

I checked my phone and there was still plenty of time. While crossing over Pero’s Bridge I realised that my phone had said the time was 8.05. How could that be right? It doesn’t take me more than four-five minutes to get to Costa. I decided that I had read it wrong and yet when I made it to Temple Meads the big hand was pointing at four and the little one at eight. I was late and I had completely missed the train.

I am also convinced that no coffee was added to my latte. I saw her make it but I saw no coffee going in. In this case I had the evidence of the awfully sweet soy milk to accompany my perceptions so that one I believe. The rest however are still lost in a fuzzy state of reality.

Pregnancy brain, apparently, is a condition that affects expectant mothers, usually during the first and third trimesters. Sometimes known as placenta brain or baby brain drain, the condition is usually characterized by short-term memory loss or forgetfulness. I won’t quote the part which states that some ‘medical experts’ call it an urban myth.

I had a dream last night where I had placed the blue woollen capped baby into the car seat and then went off to talk to a friend of mine who also had a baby. At some point I heard a noise and I woke up in a panic because I’d forgotten the baby. My heart took its time slowing down after that and I hope that it all gets a little more back to normal by the time Baby comes along.

Colours Along The Floating Harbour, Bristol

Colours Along The Floating Harbour

Baby Boomers, All About Age?

Ed Howker and Shiv Malik were at the Arnolfini as part the Festival of Ideas. Howker and Malik have written the book Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth.

“Born after September 1979? Struggling to find a decent job, even though you’re a graduate? Can’t afford to buy or even rent a house? No prospects? Welcome to the jilted generation. Things go wrong in society all the time, but rarely do they go wrong for an entire generation” says the summary at the back of the book.

Apparently these two authors did their own research and discovered that today’s young people (31 and under) did actually face a harder time than young people of 30 to 40 years ago. Pardon me for my lack of enthusiasm when Malik told us that he’d had to learn to use Excel and to draw up graphs and everything. Compare that to the 1.38 million hits that social mobility as a search term brings up in Google Scholar.

Some of the issues that young people are facing according to the authors:

  • Being stuck in the rental sector, over 50% of young people rent because they can’t afford to buy;
  • Student fees mean that young people start off their professional lives in debt.
  • General financial situation: increased national debt because of the costs of pensions and the NHS etc.

Why do these things matter?

  • Because young people will stop having children, apparently there is a statistical link to housing and money;
  • Society will lose its communities;
  • People will stop having relationships;
  • People will start leaving the country.

The political part of the discussion focussed on neoliberalism and the rise of Thatcherism. There was some discussion about demographics and market research and how we were now segmented into voters. Politics focuses on short term discussions rather than the real issues apparently.

Also, young people just weren’t involved in politics any more, they weren’t striking, they weren’t protesting and they were generally apathetic. The irony of the pair’s own friends who were policy advisers and that at 29 they told us they were themselves too old to advise politicians seemed to pass them by.

The relationship between the media and politics was questioned and we were told that editors are usually much older and this was the problem.

Ed Howker rejected the idea of class as a determinant of how society works. Then when I questioned why they, two 29 year old journalists, who in general are professionals who will have grown up in families that are better off than three in four of all families in the UK, and both married saw themselves as facing the same issues as young kids from Brixton (an example from another audience member) – Shiv got defensive and wondered why his choice to get married should have any affect.

Most of the talk was based on generalisations, 50% of young people are now in higher education we were told. In actual fact the real rate was 45% in 2008/09. But those 45 out of 100 are not randomly plucked out of the population. Female and male young people face a difference at 51% and 40%, respectively. Also, “currently fewer than one in five young people from the most disadvantaged areas enter higher education compared to more than one in two for the most advantaged areas.” (2010, Hefce 10/03).

It was a fascinating talk and most of it was shallow enough to raise many arguments. Some audience members agreed with the ‘analysis’ and told about how their children spent too much money. Another woman nearly had tears in her eyes talking about how she had to go on the dole in January after being very well educated. I was reminded of the David Icke documentary I saw one time where the existence of lizard people was combined with discussions of 9/11 and terrorism. Just because some elements are true does not mean that we need to believe the rest.

Playing On The Side, North St

Playing On The Side, North St, originally uploaded by still awake.

Transported: When Not Waiting

In December 2009, I was running for the morning train through the dark and rainy streets of Bristol. The time was just before seven and the train doors were beginning to close as I sprinted towards the barriers. The guard used his pass to let me through the gate and then pointed towards the end of the train while the manager held the remaining open door for me.

The train left a few seconds late that morning because of the efforts at Bristol Temple Meads. I was so enthused by the wonderful treatment that my compliments were effusive on Twitter. The response from some was that at least the staff were nice this once. I realised, however, that there had been very few bad days overall. That was one magical event in a series of pretty ok travelling over four years.

The inside of the train is usually warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I tend to get a seat and occasionally have the privilege of having a table to myself. The waiting part is the worst because not only is it indeterminate but the standing around is done outside. Buses are more variable in their service probably due to traffic and other urban centre issues. Trains seem to be better at getting there.

This isn’t just anecdotal information; the annual public performance measures by the Office of Rail Regulation backs up my memories with data. A train is defined as being “on time” if it arrives within five minutes or ten minutes of the planned destination arrival time.

The service I use is now run by CrossCountry but was run by Virgin. In Quarter 2, the on time measures were 89.9% for 2008/09 and 91.8% for 2009/10. Compare that to Virgin whose on time statistics were 81.9% for 2008/09, a huge difference, especially for anyone waiting out in the cold. However even they have improved to around 90%.

When everything runs on time, and that includes my waking up, I can be home in Bristol by 6.30pm. Other times, of course, it’s not that easy.

I remember a winter three years ago when I was still reading my Terry Pratchett book at 8pm in the snow while waiting for the Virgin train which didn’t want to arrive. I went home through Newport once because the track to Bristol had to be closed off. There was snow and ice on the tracks that closed off the Severn Tunnel and made a morning’s journey much longer but provided some beautiful Welsh scenery and the slow journey behind a regional train that extended the 42 minutes into over 160. These tales of woe, however, are sparse and in between. In February 2009, the snow in England which shut down most work was mostly ignored by the trains although I was warned to avoid travelling by a colleague who arrived in Cheltenham and couldn’t get to work because the buses had been stopped. He paused for a coffee and then went back home.

The commute may not be as lovely a journey as those on the Orient Express but it’s usually a nice break from reality and punctuated by a cup of coffee and a good book.

on time