Monday, 22 January 2018

Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon...

This week I have technical insight and self-reflection to impart. I know. I'm spoiling you. Last week I could ponder neither of these areas with confidence. Yet just five days into the editing of Book #2, I have all kinds of life-lessons to share - for free! You're welcome.

In terms of the editing process, my plan of action was - and still is - to tackle the superficial stuff first. I have a completed manuscript that is very rough. I've mentioned before that the key objective when writing it was to get words on the page. That was all I was concerned with until last week. I wanted to get it done regardless of quality. Now the time's come to shape it into something marvellous. So last week I started to read it from the beginning in order to tidy up the obvious stuff. Things like typos, missed capitals and bad grammar. The basic things that can be neatened up easily before I move on to bigger areas like character voice and narrative arc.

Errors stand out better on paper so I printed it out, took Chapter One and a red pen to Costa, and got cracking. This is where the technical insight comes in. I had only read a couple of pages before I had the realisation. It's something I remember spotting when I saw the first draft of Carry the Beautiful too. Ready? OK, here goes... 

I use commas like there's no tomorrow

Seriously, I really do. They're everywhere. It seemed all I did as I read the pages was cross out comma after comma after comma. I throw them around all over the show - sometimes correctly, but often extraneously. If I had a limited supply, I'd have used them up years ago.

I think I am a bit rubbish with the actual technicalities of commas. I have no recollection of being taught them at school. I distinctly remember speech marks and apostrophes but not commas. Also, when I was a teacher I only had to teach their use in list sentences. And that was towards the end of the year for the more able pupils. Teachers in later year groups did the rest. As a result, I'm hazy on it. I think I know what an Oxford comma is but not whether it's a good idea. I have seen commas used after words like 'because', 'so' and 'but' but other times they are not. Is it just author preference or is one way correct? I also think they come before anyone's name is mentioned. Hello, Nicky. Like that. But I only think it. I don't know it.

These pesky little
beggars get everywhere.
Like all literary technicalities, I have gained my understanding of them from reading. When you read lots and see commas 'in the field', the knowledge seeps in without you realising. But as authors' use of punctuation is flexible depending on the context and effect they are aiming for, it's not necessarily the best place to learn the rules. And do I even need to learn the rules if I am allowed to break them anyway?

It's all a big jumble. However, there is some clarity in my mind. I think I have worked out where the issue has come from. (This is where the self-reflection comes in.) It occurred to me that when I am writing as someone else, I am imagining the character act out the words I write. That means I am thinking about the pauses and delivery of each sentence. I picture the film version of my story in order to make it real for me as I go along. My overuse of commas is merely the frustrated director inside me, trying to give the actors all the cues they need to perform the lines in the way I want. That's where my comma-fest is rooted. Deep down I want to be Sofia Coppola. 

Actually, I have even more insight than that. It's not Sophia Coppola I want to be. I finished that last paragraph by googling 'female directors' to find someone I could use to make the point. (It could have been Bigalow, Jenkins or DuVernay. All marvellous. All emulatable.) But it isn't them I'm channelling. I know exactly who I'm trying to be when I write a line. It's Victoria Wood. Yep, the legend that is her. As anyone who memorised the Kitty monologues at high school knows - and it's definitely NOT just me* - there's a lyrical quality to her sentences. They meander away, hitting a variety of notes before the laugh comes. They are full of pauses and beats. They are written to be performed.

*Not only did I memorise it, I borrowed the book of scripts from the school library, photocopied the ones I wanted to learn and
stuck them in a file. Three house moves and plenty of decluttering later, I have just found it at the back of my loft. 👏

So to end this week's ramblings, I'll leave you with one of my favourite Victoria Wood lines of all time. In 1985 Patricia Routledge played Kitty on Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV. Read it, then watch it be performed. This line comes up on the clip at 2.15 but you could do a lot worse than watch the whole thing. 

 'Fortunately, I've just had my TV mended. Well I say mended, a shifty young man in plimsolls waggled my aerial and wolfed my Gipsy Creams, but that's the comprehensive system for you.'
                                              Victoria Wood

There are commas and there are pauses. The sentence does not shy away from layering up the imagery before landing the laugh. It's wordy and wavering. (It's also slightly different than the final version that made it to TV.) I just need to remember that in spite of any inflated ego I might have, I am not actually Victoria Wood. Nor am I a writer/director. I am composing sentences to be read inside someone's head, NOT performed aloud. I need to chill the frig out with my willy-nilly attitude towards punctuation.

So now I have to drag myself away from You Tubing Victoria Wood all day and get back to the editing. By this time next week, I'll have discarded several thousand more commas under a sea of red pen. The good news is, it's because my subconscious thinks it's Orson Welles. Definitely not because I'm shite at punctuation.

Have a lovely week, folks.


Monday, 15 January 2018

Need to Refuel? You Need Biscuits and Books...

I'm not really into New Year's resolutions. I am more than capable of showcasing my discarded plans and failed attempts at behaviour change any time of the year. No need to make a song and dance about it come January. That seems to be adding an insult to the injury of taking down the decs and eating wilted greens and steamed dust for the rest of the month. However, there are a few decisions I made several New Years ago, that stuck. Three life rules that have managed to transcend the usual pattern of one week of effort then fifty-one of failure. And what are they? Well let me tell you! 

1. I never click on a Daily Fail link.
2. I only ever leave the house in shoes I can walk in. 
3. I make sure I have a book on the go all the time.

I bought these for R and
S's wedding in 2011.
 I wore them for about 20 mins.
The first time I've ditched
wedding shoes before the
The first two life rules are fairly obvious. I won't show digital (or paper, for that matter) support of views I find abhorrent. My life is all the better for actively avoiding hate-filled bile masquerading as fact. And I've also spent too many nights out walking like a just-born giraffe to waste any more time and money on silly shoes. Since a three-month bout of sciatica last year, I am eternally welded to my trainers. If it means I enter mid-life with 'eccentric dress sense' I don't care. Walking comfortably is not to be taken for granted. 

Sexy? Not a bit.
Comfy? Oh yeaaahhhh.
And then there are books. I do try to keep the always-reading-something resolution going throughout the year. I really do. And it is true that you can't write if you don't read. Reading is the fuel that fires the pen, or something. So I try to read all the time. But then there are times when I don't. If I'm in full writing flow, I worry I'll subconsciously ape the author I am reading. I tend to avoid books in the same genre as the one I'm working on and go for something completely different. But when I'm not in the writing-from-scratch stage, I can go wild. I can read anyone and anything and refuel that pen once again. 

And so over Christmas I caught up with some books I had been waiting to read. I haven't added these to the Reading List tab above, purely because they have all been read in the past couple of weeks. I'll add to that as my reading becomes more sporadic again. But in the interest of sharing, and with a mix of fiction and non-fiction, here's what has kept me busy since mid-December.

This makes me tingle just to think about it. A murder mystery, set in the days before Christmas, in Iceland! What's not to love? At just 215 pages, it was the perfect easy read before Christmas. I had a day off on 18th December and so took myself and this book to a coffee shop to soak up the creepily bleak and atmospheric Icelandic thriller with a large cup of tea. Now I need to forget what happens and read it again at the same time next year.

I never watched Bake Off (I know, I know, it's marvellous, I just don't like being judgy about food) but there are many reasons to love John Whaite aside from his winning baking from back in the day. His last book - Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients - revolutionised my cooking. No mean feat considering how many hours a day I devote to thinking about what I put in my mouth. (Stop it!) His next book was a Christmas present and is just as perfect. Focusing on comfort food, it breaks down into enticing chapters such as  Something Cheesy, Something Spicy and Something Pillowy. His recipes are never fussy and always easy to replicate. This book will contribute to the food I cook and eat at weekends, where the delayed gratification of comfort eating will make it all the more mouth-watering.

I tend to avoid being political on this blog. Sure, I bang on about sexism and the evils of gender stereotyping but I don't mention party politics much. I don't want to alienate anyone first of all, nor feel the need to defend or critique specific party political positions as they arise. And yet when it comes to the US election of 2016, between two very different parties with two very different candidates, there are no grey areas. I can't be even-handed or balanced on here. I am happy to state I was and still am gutted the result went the way it did and I'm watching the subsequent and ongoing investigations with great interest until wrongs are righted. So it's no surprise that Clinton's book detailing the election campaign and her eventual loss is right up my street. What I was surprised at is how accessible it is. As much as I doubt her politician's barriers ever truly come down, there is a sense of honesty and at times vulnerability running through her recounts that makes me really like her. I'm not sure she goes as far as baring her soul, but she certainly shares a lot of insight into the fairly unique position she holds in public life. Like Jess Phillips' Everywoman, it also acts as a call to arms for women to speak out and not be silenced. A really enjoyable, and at times funny book that lifts the lid on recent events with a refreshingly candid take.

The power of social media is fascinating. It seems in order to nab me as a customer, all you have to do is live tweet during Eurovision. That's what Scandikitchen did a few years ago. I followed them on Twitter and started to use their online food shop. Then I visited their actual shop when I was last in London. For Christmas I got their cookbook, as well as a hamper of Scandinavian food and drink. All because they enjoy Eurovision as much as me. It's a marketing strategy all businesses should consider. Scandikitchen, the book, is marvellous. Whereas I'll be saving John Whaite's comfort food for lazy weekends, the food in here is perfect for every day fuel. The section on open sandwiches is glorious. You think all you need to do is leave the top slice off a cheese and ham butty? Think again. These are works of art that masquerade as lunch any day of the week. Let's get stuck in!

I love what Robert Harris does. Or at least what he gives the impression of doing. I think he decides he is going to write a new thriller. So he looks at the history books and chooses a nice juicy time from the past. Then he does a shed load of research, learns about the ins and outs of the period, and creates a page-turning-historical-edge-of-your-seat thriller that both entertains and informs in equal measure. It's really quite clever. Because of Harris I know loads (no really, LOADS) about Russian gulags, the Vatican, code breaking in World War II and now 1938 and the talks between Chamberlain and Hitler prior to the outbreak of war the following year. To be fully transparent, I have to say I've not finished this yet. It's my last book-present to read and I only started it a few days ago. But I know once I sit down and get on with it I will love it like I loved all his others. This is because Harris does what he does very well. It's solid story telling and it's gripping right to the end. And my new Mastermind specialist subject will be Hitler and Chamberlain, even though I won't be completely sure which events are historically accurate and which are made up for the purposes of a jolly romp. Hey ho.

And now that I've written this week's blog, I'm going to put my lap top away, pick up Munich and crack on. That pen needs refuelling once again. And with a mug of tea and a load of biscuits, so do I.

Have a lovely week, folks. 

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Joy of Editing...

The decs are down, the tree's been lashed out the back, and the first Weight Watchers class of the new year has been attended. The routine has returned!

In terms of the new book, the routine isn't quite the same as it was last year. For most of 2017, I spent Tuesdays writing the first draft of Book 2. I finished it a couple of weeks before Christmas. And now, as I get back to the grind and plan out this year's writing schedule, I have to decide what comes next. What do I do with the rough, any-old-words-will-do draft that currently sits at almost 80,000 words? Well, what I do is edit.

The stats don't lie!

This sounds simpler than it is. When I was a teacher, I regularly told my kids to go back and edit their work. It was one of the things you hoped they'd remember to do before they showed you what they'd written. They never did, obvs. I would take one look at their story, spot that the first word of the first sentence was in lower case and start doing my pretend smoke-coming-out-of-my-ears routine (to much hilarity!) as I indicated that they needed to have another look. Editing - in Year Four at least - seemed to consist of checking your capital letters and full stops before saying you were finished.

And to be honest, there's a large part of the next steps I need to take that will be similar. After having had a month's break, I know when I look at the manuscript again, loads of errors will jump out. I will read it through from start to finish and spot erroneous commas, daft typos, and less than well-chosen words that need replacing. That will be the first thing I do.

But that is only the start. Some time ago, when I was trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I wrote a list of things to do once I'd finished the rough draft. Here it is.
  • ·      Re-read for spelling/grammer etc
  • ·      Split each month into chapters and ensure cliff hangers and closure in each.
  • ·      Re-read for consistency. Make notes about formats used. (Year Six not Y6 for example)
  • ·      Make sure all kids names in the school are the same throughout
  • ·      Make sure place names are consistent throughout
  • ·      Read for meaning
  • ·      Read for excitement and ebbs and flows
  •        Check the recurring themes actually recur
  • ·      See if clues and suspense need to be dropped in earlier - people need to want to read on!
  • ·      Check characters are consistent in isolation 
  • ·      Edit whole book for pace - no dragging 

So, there you go. Even though I'm not even sure what I meant in some of those points (Read for meaning?) that is my To Do list. The real challenge is to take the entire story and shape it into something that piques early interest and then carries the reader through the comings and goings of a year in the life of the protagonist. Right now it's a shapeless blob. In time, it will be a mountainous landscape of peaks and troughs, highs and lows, drama and contentment. I am allowing five months to get it into shape (including using a real-life editor towards the end of that time), then a couple of months of formatting and making. Never let it be said I don't involve you in the process.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 1 January 2018

So What Did We Learn from 2017?...

Well hello 2018. You're here! Hurrah for new starts, attempted resolutions and an end to picking at the cheese board that's been in the fridge since Christmas.

Anyone reading this will definitely be doing so in the New Year, but I am actually writing it in the old one. It's just over 24 hours before Monday morning blog publishing time - AKA New Year's Day - and I am still firmly in the previous year. As a result, I've not quite made the natural transition from the post-Christmas-reflection period into fresh and forward-thinking optimism. Yet here I am trying to imagine what I will be feeling once 2018 kicks in. I am a living, breathing example of cognitive dissonance right now. With that in mind, allow me to have a bash at merging the two states. I will look back at some of the themes of the past years' ramblings, and see what resolutions they can suggest for the following twelve months. Quite likely it will result in a mish-mash of conflicting concepts and clumsily long sentences. But hey. That's me! Let's crack on and do our best.

I will make the joke
so you don't have to.
Looking back over the past year, certain themes emerge. This is not intentional. Everything I write on here is absolutely random and unplanned. Thank you for not noticing. No really, thank you. But some of the more popular posts I have written can be categorised as Bondie Gets Opinionated. Back in June I shouted from the rooftops about Wonder Woman. It wasn't really a film review. More a feminist rant about how other films have let me down so far. It got a gazillion clicks (well, a few hundred at least) and caused lots of people to message me to say, 'Hey, nice blog'. (I've paraphrased.) In a similar vein, there were lots of clicks for Tales of a Feminist Aunt and Godmother, which could also be summarised as a feminist rant. And finally I ranted (can you spot the theme?) about my enjoyment of the Netflix Series, Mindhunter, even though it wasn't really concerned with representing women particularly well. By all means click the links and see if they stand the test of time. (I know it's only been a few months, but hey. Do it anyway.) In terms of resolutions, I am happy to use this platform for a timely rant now and then. I imagine there will be a continuation of that in 2018. Soz like.

I need to be more like Amélie.
I do enjoy writing about films. Not just any old film I've liked, but ones that take me out of myself and into a random train of thought. They can be categorised as Films that Linger. This year I've shared my thoughts on Trainspotting, T2 Trainspotting, Pretty Woman, Pride, and Murder on the Orient Express. It's been interesting reading these back, not least the Trainspotting pieces. It was in January and February that I watched them and I couldn't remember what I had written. How reassuring to find I still agree with myself. Phew. That could have been tricky. In terms of the year ahead, I think I need to go to the cinema more. As we all know, I have my monthly pass that I pay for, even though it remains stashed away in my bag most of the time. I need to get it out more often. 

The biggest event of my year, is the reason I started this blog in the first place. I wrote and published a book! I know!! I still find that utterly ridiculous and massively pride-inducing. All of the blood, sweat and tears of the process were recorded on here. Let's call this category Author Insights even though that makes me sound like a dick. From coming up with my publishing imprint name, to working my way through the technical minefield that is book formatting, to banging on about it in an attempt at marketing, to a summary of the whole process. It's all here to read and relive. I currently have the first draft of my next book ready and waiting to begin the editing process this week. When I read back these posts it reminds me how far I still have to go with it, but never fear. I am ready to crack on now 2018 has arrived. I'm aiming for an Autumn publication date. (Well, I can aim even if that's stupidly unrealistic.) Do NOT worry. You will be informed at every step.

My pet peeve. Stow your massive bags!
Finally, I have realised I've written about my travels a little bit so let's call this category My Travels. (I'm so imaginative.) This time last year, the only holiday I had booked was the annual Bond piss-up to Wales. That's also the case now. Yet as the Summer got underway, I knew I would lose my mind if I didn't go somewhere. (You can remind yourself of how much I hate the summer months here.) I ended up escaping the North West for Mid-Wales (yeah, there's a theme) to a seaside apartment where I chilled the frig out. However, I was very clever too, oh yes. My little break doubled as a research jaunt for the book I'm going to start after my next one. Carry the Beautiful 2 is the working title (and will be ditched when I get round to thinking of something better) and I wrote about it here. The other trip I made this year was very recent. Canada! Finding out about my paternal Grandad, Alf, was epic. I'm glad I recorded my thoughts so I can look back and remind myself of the entire shebang when I'm old. If you want to relive the experience too - and of COURSE you do - then click away at my first attempt at a series. Who Do I Think I Am?...Part 1, Who Do I Think I Am?...Part 2 and Who Do I Think I Am?...Part 3.

So there we have it. A summary of some of my ramblings from the past year. Obviously I only included the more interesting posts. There's no point bringing up the shitey, boring stuff. We can forget all that and move into the New Year with only the positive memories to buoy us up and keep us going. And now it's time to ditch the week-old cheeseboard and remind myself what vegetables look like. Farewell my cheesy friend. I'll see you next Christmas. 

Happy New Year and have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Gird Your Loins, 'Tis the Season...

Ah yes. It's that time of year again. Doesn't it come around quickly? The time of year where we have to fit in as much gaiety and excitement as we can before everything becomes tense and stressful. I've written before about how I milk every festive drop of giddiness from the period leading up to Christmas Day. That way, when the much-anticipated morning arrives, I can make peace with the ensuing and inevitable anti-climax with as little emotional effort as possible.

So this week I am your Christmas Curator. I bring you the essential activities you simply must experience so that these last days before the BIG ONE are lovely, twinkly and warming. These are the things that can provide a comforting memory when on Christmas morning, you swallow down the thousandth urge to respond to an ill-informed Brexit opinion. Or when you have to wrestle a 20lb turkey out of a bucket of water without spilling the germ-ridden liquid all over the pompoms of your seasonal jumper. You can remember these happy moments that you took the time to appreciate before it all went bad. Enjoy.

1. First of all, the most basic of rules. Everything is better when lit with fairy lights and candles. Literally nothing more needs to be said on the matter.

2. Christmas Radio Times. I don't give two shiny shites about menus and planners and Sky Plus. If you haven't spent a happy evening circling programmes with a marker then it isn't Christmas at all. You're acting like it's June, and that won't do. What's wrong with you?

3. Music. If you're like me then the second Halloween was over, Christmas music has soundtracked your every move. Obviously there are the cheesy classics - Slade, Jona Lewie and Wizard -  then there are the brilliant classics - Kirsty MacColl, Band Aid and Mariah Carey - and then every so often a new song pops up. One that isn't tinged with childhood nostalgia. Recent examples are When the Thames Froze by Smith and Burrows, or this - White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin. It is possibly my favourite Christmas song ever (sorry Pipes of Peace, you've been usurped.) Despite being wholly secular, it still conveys the meaning of Christmas for many. Clever and warm, tingly but not saccharine. It's ace. Listen!

4. It really is all about food. Whether you go full-on traditional, or prefer to mix things up, food plays a massive role. I have spent many happy Winter evenings watching repeats of Nigella, Jamie and Nigel's Christmas specials from yesteryear. I have dawdled whilst doing the food shopping, eyeing up the recently arrived wheels of cheese, huge hams or packs of party food that sadly don't appear at any other time. I even bought a bottle of mulled gin the other day. I'm still unsure why, but it's festive and looks pretty on top of the wine rack. I spend most of December salivating. And yet, true festive food fun can be found on BBC iPlayer (although YouTube have it too). Fanny Cradock Cooks for Christmas

Fanny Cradock is terrifying, marvellous and funny as frig, even though the food she makes (in 1975) looks pallid and unappetising. I think this is due to a) the concept of food porn not being invented for another couple of decades and b) no one having any money in 1975 and aspirational food TV not existing. She tells it like it is and regularly refers to how to do things on a budget. The whole series is a treasure trove of historical and cultural information. From the ingredients available to the fashion of the time to the references she makes to stretching 'the housewife's purse'. I watch this every year and it is fabulous. It also means I want to pronounce the word 'buffet', 'boo-fy' as she does.

5. The Last Christmas video. Now then. This is far more than a Christmas song, otherwise I'd have included it in point three of this list. For me, this is four minutes and thirty-seven seconds of MY IDEAL LIFE. Not the underlying 'I gave you my heart but the very next day you gave it away' theme that runs through. Oh no. I don't care a jot about that. For me, it's the snow! It's the mates piling out of cars and staying in a log cabin! It's the wooly jumpers! It's the snoods! It's the log fires! And most importantly, at one minute and thirty seconds into the song, it's the part where George Michael whispers 'Happy Christmas' just to me. He actually does. At least that's what I decided when I was six. Everything about this song is tingly. Everything is exactly how I want my life to be. When the merest hint of a snowflake is forecast, I assume I will be reenacting the Last Christmas video when I wake up. The untimely death of George Michael on 25th December last year was awful, but exactly right at the same time. He has always been part of Christmas for me, and he most definitely is now. If Last Christmas finally makes it to No. 1 this year, I will be made up. It's right. It is part of the fabric of the season. It's as it should be.

6. Poetry. I once read somewhere that the actress, Rebecca Front starts to read Dickens' A Christmas Carol on the 1st December every year. (I can find no reference to it now, so can only assume I didn't dream it. And if Rebecca Front finds the implication libellous I will retract it immediately.) Anyway, I thought this was ace. I tried it the following December but unfortunately I only lasted a few days. I don't think Dickens is for me. (I know, I know he is marvellous, but it just seemed a bit of a chore when there were Nigella repeats to watch.) But there are some seasonal reading traditions that involve a little less effort but are equally lovely. For years, I've read the poem 'Twas The Night Before Christmas at some point on Christmas Eve. Also known as A Visit from St. Nicholas, it's sometimes just a quick google before I go to the pub. Other times it's when I get in and I can get the full effect with candles and fairy lights. Either way, it's a thing I do. You're welcome.

So there are some things to be getting on with. I haven't even mentioned the need to rewatch every Christmas special of every TV programme ever, or the law that says Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Elf, Trading Places, It's A Wonderful Life and both versions of Miracle on 34th Street MUST be watched every year without fail. I feel those are instructions no one needs. We all know the score. But for now, enjoy the last week of pre-lash. The last week of building anticipation. The last week of delayed gratification before the bubble bursts and reality hits. Enjoy it all, every last glittery, shimmery drop.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Happy Monday/Christmas to All...

Seasons' greetings to you and yours!

If you don't celebrate Christmas then have a lovely Monday whatever you are doing, and all the best for 2018.

If you do celebrate Christmas, but it's hard for whatever reason, then Sarah Millican's #joinin hashtag on Twitter could be worth a look. (People can chat, connect or just feel reassured by others in the same boat.) Alternatively, the Samaritans is open today like always. Contact details are here.

And if you are full of the joys and giddy as a kipper, then crack on and make merry. Have yourself an absolute belter.

Wherever you are, whatever you're up to, I hope you have a lovely day.

Till next week, folks.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Who Do I Think I Am? Part 3...

Welcome to the 3rd and final instalment in the 'Who Do I Think I Am?' trilogy. Memory whizz kids may remember the previous two instalments - 1 - where I explain how I have very little knowledge of my long-dead Grandfathers, and 2 - where I share the only thing I really know about my paternal Grandad, Alf - that he survived the Halifax explosion of 1917 and wrote a diary detailing what he saw.

Me and Dom. Waiting for bags
at Halifax Airport
This week, myself and four other family members went to Halifax, Nova Scotia to be there for the 100th anniversary of the explosion - the largest human-made explosion before nuclear weapons. I had little idea about what to expect. All I'd been told by anyone who'd previously visited was, 'Wrap up warm' and 'Canadians are lovely'. Aside from that I didn't know how the trip would pan out. I imagined that my Dad would look at the waterfront for a bit, and then we'd find a nice restaurant and eat and drink lots. Classic Bond family activities. Beyond that, I had no expectations.

Here are some things I learnt while I was there.

1. Halifax is a beautiful city.
2. People from Halifax are called Haligonians.
3. Haligonians are the nicest people in the entire world.

No really, they are. Everyone we met was interested in why we were there. At first I thought this was because we had a great story to tell. But the truth is that everybody had a great story to tell. Loads of people have a connection with the explosion because it was so far reaching and devastating. We met people from various places that had travelled to Halifax like us, to be there for the Centenary. So it wasn't that we were unique. It was just that everyone we met was utterly lovely and made us feel like we were part of the history of it all. I knew it in my head before I went, but I felt it for real whilst I was there.

Display along the waterfront.
A model of the Niobe. This was ship
that Alf Bond was on.
So what did we do? How did we commemorate the explosion? Well, the day before the anniversary was classic school trip territory. We went to the Maritime Museum! There was a great deal of focus on the explosion (natch) with posters along the waterfront detailing biographies of local heroes, and a large section of the museum describing not just the explosion but the after effects of rebuilding the city. 

Vincent Coleman - train dispatcher.
He stayed where he was to
alert an incoming train to stay clear, via Morse
Code. He knew he would die.
 "Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in
harbour making for Pier 6 and will explode.
Guess this will be my last message.
Good-bye boys.
I had read lots beforehand but the exhibits brought it to life. A hundred years ago, upon hearing about a fire in the docks, everyone went to their windows to watch. (Just as we'd all do now.) When the fire reached the munitions store and the explosion happened (9.04am) the shattered windows across the city meant hundreds of people were blinded by the glass. As a result, the Halifax explosion led to changes in care for those with vision impairment across Canada. Details like that were new to me. It was also fascinating to see primary sources from the actual ship that Alf was on at the time - the Niobe. Actual photos for real. All so fascinating. And then of course there were the other people in the museum. 

My Dad and Mary. Their
Dads were on the Niobe.
My Dad got chatting to the man behind the desk (who was later spotted on the local news so he must be An Expert!) As my Dad told him about his Dad on the Niobe, a woman overhead, nearby. She took my Dad off to meet her mother who was further inside the exhibition. It turns out this woman's Dad was also on the Niobe and she'd come back to Halifax for the Centenary too. On the one hand, big deal. Two people met, whose Dads were on the same boat once. But then also, BIG DEAL! My Dad met a woman whose Dad might have once met or said hello to his Dad (that later died when he was seven) in another continent a hundred years ago. It was all a bit mind-blowing at times.
The Bond family contingent
as snapped by professionals!
 That and more photos here.
On the day of the anniversary, everyone assembled in Fort Needham Memorial Park at 8.45am. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. It was rammed. It was also throwing it down. We stood in the relentless rain waiting for the ceremony to start. The Mayor, Mike Savage shook hands along the row and came to us. My Dad told him his 'My Dad Was on the Niobe' story. Half an hour later we got a mention in his speech about how people have travelled from England to be there. It was us! Another woman that got a mention was nearby in a wheelchair. It turns out she was ten days old on 6th December 1917. I can't imagine, ten days after my 100th birthday, sitting in a wheelchair in the pouring rain for a couple of hours on a Wednesday morning, but she did it. She definitely deserved her mayoral shout out.

The bell from Alf's ship.
The minute's silence took place at 9.04am - the time of the explosion. To mark it, a ship's bell rang. It happened to be the bell from the Niobe. Another 'hair standing up on the back of your neck' moment. Alf would have heard that clang. A hundred years later, so had we.

There were many other highlights of the day. Hearing a poem from the parliamentary poet laureate - George Elliott Clarke; signing the Book of Remembrance that will be placed in a time capsule until 2067; realising with a weird pride that Alf would have spent his next few days in Halifax helping search for people in the rubble - possibly even saving some lives? Who knows? His diary is fairly blank until he leaves Halifax a week later. All the uninjured survivors - particularly those stationed on the boats - were tasked in starting the clean-up operation. I can't imagine it being anything other than horrific. 
Dad signing the
Book of Remembrance. 
Dad looking at the
waterfront. As predicted.
What I do know is that this trip was worth doing. Everyone who asked me how long I was in Halifax, seemed surprised it was only four days. And yes, four days isn't nearly long enough to spend in such a lovely place. (I didn't even scratch the surface of all the restaurants I wanted to try and the beers I wanted to sample.) I did loads though. Not a moment was wasted. In those four days, there were a hell of a lot of wow moments. And as predicted, my Dad did look at the waterfront for a bit, and we did find nice restaurants where we ate and drank lots. So I was right about that.

John from the Archives Office, 
with Mum and Dad. 
As for the diary? Well after nearly a hundred years of it being in Liverpool (in a drawer or box) it has moved house. It now resides in the Nova Scotia Archives building. My Dad signed it over to them when he arrived. It makes sense. We've all seen it, we've all read it, and now it is back where it started, a hundred years later. Nice one, Halifax. You really are a lovely place to spend a few days. Nice one, Alf. I feel like I know you a little bit better now. Thanks for surviving and thanks for the genes.

Have a lovely week, folks.