Tuesday, 15 April 2014

She Who Dares Writes: A return to the river

She Who Dares Writes: A return to the river: Back to form, writing an article for Canoe monthly about She Who Dares: She who Dares are an inimitable group of like minded women who mee...

A return to the river

Back to form, writing an article for Canoe monthly about She Who Dares:

She who Dares are an inimitable group of like minded women who meet weekly to have a go at a variety of outdoor pursuits. Some attend regularly, others, hampered by the joint distractions of work and family, occasionally. In over twenty years of the group’s existence we have undertaken everything from Kayaking to abseiling, climbing to coasteering, pole dancing to pole walking, gliding to waterskiing and more in-between. We’ll have a go at most things regardless of our level of fitness or experience. Canoeing is a favourite. Some of the group have gone on to be experienced paddlers, instructors on duty for major events like the Olympics or Sport Relief swims.

On the day we meet Helen and Peter of Woosh Explore in Grantchester, our rag taggle bunch is devoid of experts, most have some experience, others, very little. We gather near Orchard Tearooms with its small museum dedicated to the poet Rupert Brooke, a canoeist himself who would regularly take the trip up from Kings College. We’re in illustrious company, Virginia Woolf and other members of the neo pagans gathered to skinny dip in nearby Byron’s pool.

In Grantchester, In Grantchester
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly lordship swims his pool
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont or Styx
Dan Cahucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill

(Grantchester, Rupert Brooke, 1912)

I had considered bringing the wetsuit, there is a long tradition of swimming the river near this spot, The Granta Swimming club began an annual event in 1934 from Grantchester Mill to Cambridge and we do pass a swimmer later, gliding parallel to the bank. However, later events prove that it was wise to stay out of the water on this occasion.

The day is bright but chilled with an early spring sniff in the air. After a winter of drenches, floods and cold, the river looks peaceful, restful after the storms. We gather by the roadside corseted in tight buoyancy aids and engage a team effort to bring the boats down to the water and clamber in, one paddler at the bow, one at the stern. Or if you’re lucky, like me, and get the middle seat for a while you can coast and watch the scenery.

Sliding away from the bank we paddle over the deep, cool, unseen world beneath the surface with the odd bubble and burp of life from below. Three women in a boat, canoeing along as part of the secret river world, gliding over the green water in a flotilla of seven canoes. Ducks scatter into the reeds, buoyant dogs flounce along the river bank and the meadows rest as butterflies dance. A lone tractor ploughs a field. Time slows, as do we, contemplating a pillow in purple case perched in a nearby tree. Could be a place to take a nap? Further on, frayed ropes hang from sturdy trees opposite a well-worn bank. In the heat of summer this must be a crowded place. Lush trees stretch over the river, some splintered by the winter storms. The water is not as high as we thought given the recent rainfall, and there is some warmth to the sun. Losing focus momentarily our boat drifts to the bank and we’re caught under low hanging branches. I’m pinned to the seat in a limbo stretch backwards.

We get closer to the city, spotting spires that reach above the overhanging willows. The river Cam is the beating heart of Cambridge and we sneak in past a wier and moor up alongside a row of punts, floating like planks. A swan finds herself trapped between our boats and watches placidly as we share out the chocolate and biscuits, necessary fuel for the paddle back against the current.

It’s hard work, harder when the sky blackens and breaks with hail. The water peaks into tiny waves, ruffled feathers on its surface and the swan disappears. We bear on against the weather, paddling with hoods up as we’re battered by hail and wind. Finally, soaked and frozen we reach our mooring, and sit squelching in the boats while Peter collects his camera. The smiles may look forced, but despite the weather it was a lovely trip, encouraged as we were by the efforts of Helen and Peter and made all the more satisfying by the hot soup in the Orchard Tea Rooms after.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

She Who Dares Writes: Last pieces of the Jigsaw

She Who Dares Writes: Last pieces of the Jigsaw: The end is nigh! I've written the last words of a novel I've been working on for the past two years. A target I've approached wi...

Last pieces of the Jigsaw

The end is nigh! I've written the last words of a novel I've been working on for the past two years. A target I've approached with a mixture of sadness and pride. I'll be sad to leave the characters behind but proud to have finished a body of work and excited to launch it into the wider world and to move on to new things.
There's been a lot of moving on to new things recently - new jobs at the same time as old jobs, new skills combined with old skills. It's like very disparate pieces of a jigsaw that when put together shows a surrealist landscape fantasy. The last three consecutive weekends have seen me flitting from bar to bar in London on a literary tour in the footsteps of Dylan Thomas, George Orwell and Virginia Woolf, stomping round a forest holding newts and toads and learning how flutter ostrich fans in a burlesque workshop, in between weeks of teaching and starting a new job. At least these experiences give me fodder for my writing, which has been pushed onto the back burner recently.
Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. It's hard to write every day, but a little Mslexia diary helps.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

New Chapters

The novel I'm currently writing is set over one week, so each chapter takes place on a new day. The good thing about this is that I'm nearing the end of Friday, so Saturday will be my last chapter. The bad thing is, It's taken me almost two years to write a week in the life of my main character. Two years is a long time, but there are bills to be paid and work to be done in-between, and nothing saps the creative impetus like work, especially work that consumes and commits more than the hours you're paid (other teachers will know what I mean). However, new year, new start and all that, lots to celebrate with the results for my MA in Children's Literature in Creative Writing, a merit and distinction for the dissertation. Huzzah! I miss the study and the hallowed halls of Birkbeck, now I must motivate myself without the support of my lovely tutors and fellow students. I feel the itch to do a PhD coming on - maybe one day, after the novel is finished and published! Keep calm and carry on.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


I've been thinking about friendship a little lately, mostly because I have to plan a series of activities for my class in Anti-Bullying week next week, but also because I've been lucky enough to spend time with good friends over the last week. A get together for a friends milestone birthday, people I've known from college who are more like family than friends, coffee with others who I've known for less time, but I still hold as dear.

We get to choose our friends, they become our extended family, somehow I have to get this across to the 9 & 10 years olds I teach. Maybe they can't choose their friends, they are all lumped together in one class, friends through circumstance, not choice, and their friends go back to their own families at the end of the day. When you're nine, thinking a friend you have in class will be a friend for life is an insurmountable thought. Two of my best friends were with me at primary school, we are just as close now as when we played Scooby Doo at break time or argued over who's turn it was to sharpen the pencils. When you're nine a broken friendship can feel like the end of the world, the idea of being kind is hard in practice when your heart hurts. Making friends is easy, losing them is easy too. You have to make the effort. As Kurt Voennegut put it:

"There's only one rule I know of; You've got to be kind."

Saturday, 2 November 2013

She Who Dares Writes: Chicago, my kinda town fo showa

She Who Dares Writes: Chicago, my kinda town fo showa: There are times when, America, you are awful, but I like you (apologies to Dick Emery). Chicago is an impressive city, impressive enough to...