Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Dancing in my Dreams

The Theatre sent some photographs that were taken during rehearsals for the performance of Dancing in my Dreams, so here is a picture of the group of young people from the Musical Theatre group. M is the one sitting at the back looking wistfully into the distance. This is the only nice picture as they were singing in most of them so all had silly open mouthed expressions. They all look rather waif-like as the play is set during the war and the children are evacuees.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

I felt a bit of a fraud reading 'The Catcher in the Rye', it's almost as if you have to be an angst ridden teenager to read it. It is spoken about as one of those books that's supposed to help you understand the meaning of life but although I read it first time around as a teenager I did not have a strong memory of what happens in the book, other than the meeting with his little sister. It felt like I had merely metaphorically ticked it off the 'The Books you are Supposed to have Read' list. I read a news article recently linked to someone's blog about Salinger coming out of wherever he is in recluse to try and prevent the publishing of a sequel to 'The Catcher in the Rye', and I was struck by this quote from him; "There's no more to Holden Caulfield. Read the book again. Holden Caulfield is only a frozen moment in time." And on reflection that is exactly right. And it is right that the author should be the person who decides such things, and it is right that Holden does not need a future.
As I read it I was reminded all the time of 'L'Etranger' by Albert Camus, a novel that I read during A level french. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, describes in minute detail what he does over the two days, and his emotional reactions to everything he experiences. He most definitely experiences his own existence as being an 'outsider'. He refers to other people consistently as 'phoney', sees them pretending to be friendly or interested when they really aren't. And at the same time he seems desperate to make contact with other human beings. He seeks out the company of a boy he does not particularly like, chats to people on the train, in cafes and in bars, and he makes a date with a girl he knows, but mainly it seems to keep himself from being alone. In other ways it also made me think of 'We have Always Lived in the Castle' because it is a book that lets you inside someone's head, into their thoughts, with total honesty. There is not much to say about the story. Holden has been expelled, not for the first time, and decides to just leave school rather than wait out the final few days in anticipation of his father's angry reaction to the news. He thinks a lot about his brother who has died, he obviously still experiences the loss quite acutely. After a night and a day of hanging around, not really knowing what he wants or what to do, he goes to his home in secret to see his sister. She seems to be the only person who understands him, or at least that is what he feels. Theirs is the only real close relationship that he has. He makes a decision to 'run away' and forge a life for himself on the periphery of society, somewhere where he can pass unnoticed, and it is her reaction to this decision that changes him. She packs a bag and announces she is coming with him. It is almost as if being forced to think about her, rather than himself (as he has been doing rather intensely the rest of the book), makes him appreciate the value of their relationship and it puts his rather negative view of human relations in some perspective.
In a way this is partly what the book is exploring, how hard it is to know other people. Or the process of learning how to know other people. Young children are very egocentric, they don't really think about other people except in relation to their own lives and experiences. It is part of adolescence that you begin to really look outside yourself, but also to be inside your head more, to reflect on your own thoughts and behaviour. Holden is described as a rebel and an anti-hero but I did not see him like that at all. He is just an ordinary teenager. I guess when it was written (1951) there was no such thing as 'teenagers' and it was quite unique to be writing a book based on the experience of such a young character, not a child but also not an adult. I think it stands the test of time because it continues to speak to the young people who read it. The disarming honesty is both what made it shocking at the time but is what ensures it's enduring appeal. We do not need to know Holden's future because you are left with the certainty that whatever it is he will not be going through life thoughtlessly.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Midsummer's day with Will and Lyra

Today we had the most perfect visit to Oxford. It is midsummer's day and M had requested that we go to the Botanic Gardens to go to Will and Lyra's bench. For those of you not familiar with Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy I should probably just tell you to go and read it because it is far too complex to explain in a few sentences. At the end Will and Lyra agree to meet every midsummer's day at midday at a particular bench in the botanic gardens, since it is a place that exists the same in both of their worlds. There is quite a detailed description of how they reach the bench and I was not totally convinced that it was a real place but we decided to go anyway. We were hoping that it was long enough since the book was published for there not to be hoards of people thinking the same thing.

"There was an ornate gateway, with stone seats inside, and while Mary and Serafina sat there, Will and Lyra climbed over the iron fence and into the garden itself. Their daemons slipped through the bars, and flowed ahead of them into the garden.
"It's this way," said Lyra, tugging at Will's hand.
She led him past a pool with a fountain under a wide spreading tree, ......
... and then struck off to the left between beds of plants towards a huge many-trunked pine.
There was a massive stone wall with a doorway in it, and in the further part of the garden the trees were younger and the planting less formal.
Lyra led him almost to the end of the garden, over a little bridge, to a wooden seat under a spreading low-branched tree.
"Yes!" she said. "I hoped so much, and here it is, just the same.....
Will, I used to come here in my Oxford and sit on this exact same bench whenever I wanted to be alone, just me and Pan. What I thought was that if you - maybe just once a year - if we could come here at the same time, just for an hour or something, then we could pretend we were close again - because we would be close, if you sat here and I sat here in my world -"
"Yes," he said, "as long as I live, I'll come back. Wherever I am in the world I'll come back here - "
"On Midsummer's Day," she said. "At midday. As long as I live. As long as I live ..."
He found himself unable to see, but he let the hot tears flow and just held her close." (P.511-512)

We arrived at the bench and found it occupied by a young man. We waited around a bit thinking he would leave, but he didn't. So eventually I went up to him and asked if he was sitting there for some reason. And he said yes, he was waiting for his girlfriend and he was planning to propose to her right there because the book was special to them both. We were all so overwhelmed at something so romantic that of course we gave them the moment there on the bench with Will and Lyra. His young lady was five minutes late and we sat at a discrete distance and hoped everything was alright. But it turned out just fine and she said 'yes' and here they are:
After a little while we did get to have our moment on the bench too, not too long however because there were quite a few other people all coming for the same reason. One young girl from Ireland had come over specially and had waited several years for the opportunity.
M reading the book right there.
And someone had carved Lyra's name in the arm of the bench.
While we waited this robin appeared and hopped about our feet as we sat on a nearby bench. It seemed kind of appropriate to me. He seemed a bit like a daemon.
As we were walking back up into town M paused and looked down the adjacent side street and spotted this lovely gateway, which just happens to be the college where the open casting was held for the part of Lyra in the 'Golden Compass' film. Every time we have been to Oxford since M has insisted we try and find it but we never have, obviously because it is farther down the high street than we might be bothered to walk. We came here in April 2006 with Julie and R and stood in line for four hours in the rain.
To finish off our trip to Oxford we went to Yo Sushi for lunch to celebrate Tish's graduation from college. We had a lovely meal, but in trying to stack up all the bowls to take a photo we knocked them flying and made a huge mess!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Free Form Needle Felting

The felting needles arrived a couple of days ago along with a nice thick sponge mat. I didn't really have much idea what I might do with them so was just tinkering around with some little bits to see how it worked. I made one little piece, then another, then attached them together and added some blobs. It wasn't looking like anything so I just kept making shapes and attaching them and adding loopy twists of roving around the edges. And I invented 'free form' needle felting. Ok, probably not invented, but I have seen lots of people doing free form crochet and knitting but not needle felting. No use to anyone but strangely satisfying.
This is how the second one started off; the main bit was lengths of different colour roving woven loosely together then needle felted.
Then I attached the whole thing to a lovely piece of backing felt that I made ages ago. It is made from alpaca with bits of sari silk fibre snipped on to it randomly. I am pleased with this one, it actually looks like a piece of fibre art.
Then I made the mistake of giving my daughter M a 20 second lesson in how to use the felting needles and now I have to buy another felting mat as she is absconding with the original one. She started off with a little circle and made it into this lovely felted cuff:

Friday, 19 June 2009

working week

These photographs were not all taken the same day but I have put them in the order that they occur during the round. Some are 'typical' postie job images and some are just things I found interesting. My round this week has been through Little Compton, Chastleton and Barton on the Heath.
First one had to be a dog really didn't it. They punctuate my day; the merely noisy (like this one), the enthusastic biscuit lovers (but I am not a biscuit giver so they are sorely disappointed), the indifferent and the downright nasty.
I stopped in the woods because on Monday a buzzard swooped down amongst the trees in front of the van and I hoped to see it again, but alas, having seen several this week I have been unable to get a picture. I like the fact it looks so dense and impenetrable.
This one is the 'historical interest' photo. It is of the Four Shires Stone. It stands about a mile outside Moreton in Marsh and is unique to us. It marks the only point in the country where four counties meet at a corner. The counties are: Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, though in fact the counties no longer meet at this point due to boundary changes. One theory concerning the name 'Moreton in Marsh' is that it was originally 'Moreton in Mark' i.e. the marking point for the meeting of the counties, but there are no doubt many differing opinions on this subject (though there is definitely no 'marsh' here and even more definitely no 'the' in the town's name.)

Another postie picture, this is a King George post box in Little Compton. There are still some from Queen Victoria's time but they are very unusual.
Gorgeous roses, that strangely seem to have two different colours on the same bush.
Because of the rather overcast lighting I found this guard goose somewhat menacing.
At the weekend this lovely thatched cottage was totally gutted. Fortunately no-one was injured but it took the firemen two days to damp it down. Amazingly the thatch on the porch seems to have survived intact!
And this morning these nice men laid a new road surface ... just for me.
I have never had occasion to drive down this road (the farm has an old metal box by the gate) so have not had to brave the dangers awaiting me around the blind corners.
My favourite kind of dog ... made of china ... but pretty life like before the plants started to take over, he did stop me in my tracks the first time I called there.
And so back to yarn:-) Three alpacas in a field on the edge of Barton.

Back in Moreton for my final photo. This is the St David's Centre (it used to be the school and is now a community centre). It is remarkable because this is how it was redesigned after the flood damage in 2007. The first time I walked past after they put up this lovely glass entrance I was absolutely gobsmacked that Cotswold District Council would allow them to build something not clad in cotswold stone. I find it depressing that the obsessive need that the planners seem to have for any new construction to 'blend in' with the existing buildings means that there is absolutely no variety in our built environment. This extension to the original schoolhouse is just so refreshing and I love it.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Proud mum post.

video
Tish had her college prize giving day today. She was awarded a National Diploma in Animal Management at Distinction level. I am very proud of her. It has been a hard two years for her, especially the three hours a day she has spent traveling back and forth. It was a very dull ceremony, marked by the man with a very thick neck sitting right in front of me and a horsey woman who did the shaking hands with all the students and who definitely should not take up public speaking.


























M is appearing tonight in her first (of many, I hope) professional stage performance. She goes to the Youth Musical Theatre group at Chipping Norton Theatre and they were asked a few weeks ago if any of them were interested in participating in a performance with the Oxfordshire Theatre Company. So she jumped at the chance (or did I push her?), and having had a couple of rehearsals to learn the songs a group of ten of them will be appearing tonight, then Wednesday and Thursday this week in Dancing in my Dreams by Neil Duffield. She is having to wear a very ugly brown dress but I insisted she must get a photo as she will want a record of everything she appears in over the years to come. I will try and nag her into blogging about the experience but having got her signed up a few months ago to Blogger I have yet to persuade her that it is a fun way to record and share what goes on in your life.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Day off felting

I made myself do the ironing before doing any fun stuff on Friday (telling you far more about me than any soul searching blog post might do) ... anyway, in putting stuff away I came across some precious things I had not been able to part with tucked at the bottom of the wardrobe. One of them was a lovely hand printed cotton dress that I bought many years ago in Chandni Chowk in Exeter. It is all thin and very faded but has a lovely paisley type design. So I decided to try another nuno experiment. Here it is all laid out using roving colours to match the design:
Then I had some inspiration for the rolling. I had this cardboard tube with some fabric still wrapped round it on top of the wardrobe, so I covered it with parcel tape to make it waterproof and used it. And it was excellent, very sturdy and meant that I could sit on the sofa ......
and watch Gilmore Girls for the afternoon. And I did end up rolling it **all** afternoon. This was not a good idea as I slipped down the stairs on Monday and bruised my back, so rolling felt for a few hours did me no favours whatsoever.
Again (yet again) in spite of all the hours and checking and turning round, I am only partly pleased. It is bonded quite well but, although when I laid it out it looked like there was quite a covering of roving over the fabric, there are bare patches and the roving had clumped a bit in places. I suppose the plus side is that you are getting the effect of both the fabric colours and pattern and the roving. The down side is that I am getting quite a heap of 'experiments' gathering in my bedroom and am not sure what I am going to do with them.
My other experiment was with a ripped silk skirt. I had to cut it down to remove the damaged fabric so it was this long curved strip. It felted really beautifully, lovely nuno texture on the reverse side, but (there is always a but) I was then not sure about the orange that I used. The fabric was the dark purple and mostly I used other darker roving but then added the orange as an afterthought and now wish I hadn't.
and here is me wearing it. The plus side is that because it is already curved it sits nicely around your neck.

Shirley Jackson (spoiler warning)

I have not read anything for weeks. This is sometimes the case when I really enjoy something, I am not sure what to try next. I have had this book for a few months now. I read this article about Shirley Jackson in The Independent (back in January it seems), tore it out and suggested 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' to my book group. The idea was sidestepped so I bought it anyway. I picked it up yesterday morning to take to work. (Convoluted explanation of why I get to take a book to work: We wait for 45 minutes for the lorry on Saturday, a kind of protest about the mailcentre's failure to return us to the 5.30am start time that was promised in the pay agreement. I do not care, in fact rather like the 6.15am start, but others think it would give them more family/football time on a Saturday to start earlier, so I just go along with it.) Anyway I only read a few pages as the lorry amazingly arrived at 5.50am, but that was enough to get me hooked. So I read it all evening and this morning with my cup of tea until it was done.
I liked the idea of this book because it would be a little outside my comfort zone. In the end it turned out to be exactly the kind of story I love. Jackson's most famous book is called 'The Haunting of Hill House' which was apparently made into a very notorious horror film, not something I would choose to watch. I would say that this book was definitely chilling and creepy, but did not veer into horror at any point. The cover illustration is very good and captures the atmosphere of the story beautifully. I put the spoiler warning because I want to write about the whole story and why I liked it so much.
The background to the situation of the story is disclosed gradually through the first few chapters. Uncle Julian, the only member to survive the family slaughter, writes and talks obsessively of what he refers to as the 'last day'. He also reminds the reader frequently that Constance was acquitted of the murders, so you know straight away that there was something very wrong in this family. So I have to tell you that I was pretty sure that Constance had nothing to do with it at all. The story is narrated by Merricat (Mary Katherine) and she is plainly the crazy one. You wonder at first if her craziness has been caused by the tragedy that befell her family, or if it is more deep rooted than that. The two sisters, and their uncle, have cut themselves off from the world, living in a grand house, which they preserve immaculately, and Merricat visits the village twice weekly for food and library books (which are somehow symbolic, the only outside thing that invades their safe haven.) It is as if their lives have become locked in to this tragedy that neither of them wants to look at directly but cannot escape.
So Merricat braves the hostility of the locals, who believe that her sister is a mass murderer, and tries to keep them safe by weird obsessive rituals. She buries items of value as offering, posts talismans around their house to ward off intruders, casts 'spells' around them and builds real and imaginary barriers between themselves and the outside world. But she is still afraid. And rightly so it seems for their house is invaded by their cousin Charles, who takes up residence in their father's room and begins upsetting their sense of security. Most sinisterly it seems that he manages to come between the girls. Merricat sees him as first a ghost and then a demon who must be removed from the house, where Constance seems almost pleased to have him around, someone who might rescue her from the life they are trapped in.
It is at this point that you really start thinking that it is not Merricat protecting Constance from a world that condemns her but most definitely the other way around. At one point Charles goes to the village for them, depriving Merricat of her task for the day. She does not know what to do and her thought process is described like this: "I wondered about going down to the creek, but I had no reason to suppose that the creek would even be there, since I had never visited it on Tuesday mornings". This is what is so good about the writing. The reader gets right inside the thinking of someone who is clearly very disturbed and has a very skewed view of the world. Her behaviour is controlled by rules that she obeys quite strictly, places she can and cannot go, things she can and cannot touch, tasks that are hers and tasks that are only for Constance. The rules seem to be also part of what keeps her safe and in control of her world.
It was only towards the end when Uncle Julian and Charles are arguing, about Merricat burying things (Charles digs up her box of silver dollars) when I realised I had not noticed something. Uncle Julian says "My niece Mary Katherine has been a long time dead, young man. She did not survive the loss of her family; I supposed you knew that." At no point in the book does Merricat talk to him, nor he to her. Constance does everything for him (he is ill and disabled by the long term effects of the poison that did not kill him) and Merricat is not permitted in his room. I had not see this as I read, only in retrospect was it obvious. So Merricat has lived all those years with her adoring sister, and a man who does not acknowledge her existence, no wonder she is going crazy.
The thing that is really thought provoking though, and intriguing was a little passage (sorry, I can't find it to quote the exact words) where Merricat is re-imagining the final evening of her family and her parents are saying such lovely things to her, about how good and obedient she is, and how she must have everything that she wants and everyone must love and respect her and how she never does anything to deserve punishment. Now the reality of the situation was that she had been sent to bed without dinner, for some unspecified misdemeanor, so you are left wondering about her life before the tragedy. She was plainly always 'odd' and probably incurred the annoyance and disapproval of her parents by her strange behaviour, when what she obviously craved was their love and acceptance. I am left with the impression that being sent to bed with no dinner was like a final straw for her. So when she says to Constance as they crouch in her secret hiding place after the villagers have ransacked the house, "I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die" it comes as no surprise when Constance replies, "The way you did before?" Merricat is a creepy and disturbing character, but I could not help but sympathise with her. I want to know what she did that caused the punishment, and I want to know what she thought as she poisoned the sugar, coldly and calculatedly, knowing that Constance was the only person who would not eat any. I just want to know. And I like a book that leaves you wondering.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Where have all the fleeces gone:-)

Driving to a farm between Evenlode and Broadwell the other day I had to cross a field full of naked sheep ... and all I could think was, "I wonder what they did with the fleeces and where can I get hold of some."
Tish was going to ask at college what happened to the fleeces from the farm flock (they run a working farm at the college) since they are bred for meat, but unfortunately it is her last day today so I think that avenue is closing. I really want to try some larger more 'ruggish' experiments but don't want to spend a lot of money on prepared roving when I am not sure how it might turn out.

Also I had been thinking of doing a 'day at work' post with random photographs of stuff I come across during my round. I took this lovely early morning view of the allotments that I walk around each morning ... and then it was a really hectic day and I did not get around to anything else. Although they erected an ugly metal fence around the far side you can see in the foreground of the photo the beautiful proper laid hedge that was redone last year.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

On The Kitchen Table

Don't forget to ring school
Tish lunch money
Pack some clothes and pj's and I will get the toothbrushes
Hang out the washing
Hairbrush, cream, aspirin
I will be back around 2, don't burn the house down
don't forget eardrops
Mum can you look for my phones, can't find them
See you about 11
All the animals need cleaning out!!!
Someone feed the cat when she turns up
Washing needs hanging out
Shopping: plasters, cocoa
Hi, I will be late laat M x
Tish lunch money
Ring council
Phone theatre
We have your children ....
Check you have your ticket and railcard
Need more FFW cos I ran out and will die if I don't have any
Jake we will pick you up at 4.30 ish
Bedding in the machine
Dunk, get milk
lunch money for Tish
mum record survivors for me
gone voting, be back soon Tish/Jake
Washing in the machine - please hang up (this means you)

Everyone in our house comes and goes at different times so we have a pad for messages on the kitchen table. The pages are all covered in scrawl now so I was about to throw it in the recycle bin, when I realised it was a lovely record of recent ordinary family life. Sometimes I miss my children being small and being around me all the time but seen like this I like the new independence that they have and how they mostly want such small things from me. The "we have your children line..." is meant to be a little cryptic, it was from a little something we did with the visitors in May (No children were harmed in the making of this film, the characters and incidents portrayed and the names herein are fictitious and any similarity to the name, character and history of any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and unintentional.)

Monday, 8 June 2009

Agreeing with a Tory politician

This has never happened to me before. I was listening to Nicholas Soames on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 (he happens to be the grandson of Winston Churchill) and he said he was ashamed of the fact that the British electorate has returned two British National Party representatives to the European Parliament. I too am ashamed. Over a million people in this country chose to vote for what is essentially a fascist political party. I can only hope that this was a protest against the recent disaster that has been the British parliament and that it will be the highlight of the BNP's political existence, and they will swiftly return to the marginalised obscurity that is the only place for such opinions. I was quite annoyed by Jeremy Vine's interview with one of the new BNP MEP's, he did not pin him down about their policies, harped on about his brief membership of the National Front when a teenager and allowed him to get away with claiming not to know much about the policies and practices of the party because he had only been a member for 3 years.
Other than it being my 18 year old twins' first voting experience, which they undertook with some relish, going out at 7am to vote before going to work and college, I fear there was little to celebrate in the recent results. As an anarchist poster from the early 80's used to reliably announce: "Don't vote, it only encourages them!" Apparently (according to my sister's partner Geoff) Plato has some significant observations on the subject of democracy. We were discussing the world's environmental problems over lunch when I visited recently and I pointed out that democracy will not necessarily have a way to solve them as long term solutions are needed and the inevitable changes of policy that result from democracy mean that there will not be such long term commitment to any solutions, and that was basically part of the conclusion that Plato came to on the subject. Sometimes I wish I had the time to read such deep stuff as Plato, maybe one day I will.
(I am not sure about introducing politics to my blog. I had been mostly keeping away from contentious stuff as I do tend to have an opinion about everything and I worry that it could turn into an opinionated rant if I am not very careful. So I will try to keep it to a minimum and go back to the felt tomorrow.)

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Bat Cave

Tish took this striking photograph during her recent trip to Borneo. It shows a hollow at the back of a bat cave that they visited where the sunlight shines down into the cave. It has been on her desktop and I decided to use it as inspiration. I really love the little island of greenery in a place where nothing else grows.
In spite of my distinct lack of black and dark green I came up with this very impressionistic interpretation of the image. There are bits of silk highlighting the green and other little touches which I hope will show up more when it has completely dried but i am quite happy with the overall look. I used some of the blended colours I created the other day. It was quite hard to give the impression of the light coming down. I am thinking it would look quite effective mounted at the back of a dark box with a small light.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Another little job

Poor Tish was trapped in the bathroom for an hour this morning as the handle broke and she had to wait for Dunk to get home. So we popped out this afternoon and bought a new handle and it all works fine again now. But since we had the tool box out I got around to doing one of those niggling little jobs that just get forgotten about. I bought a loo roll holder in Ikea several years ago and it has sat on the shelf in the kitchen ever since ... and here it is finally attached to the back of the bathroom door:-)

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Bits and bobs

So what with having to go to work this week I have messed around at a few things. This is the first bit of spinning I have done in a while. I started it when I was at my sister's a few weeks ago and finished it at the weekend. It was a blended berry coloured roving from Sarah's Texture Crafts.
This one is just playing around with layers; white underneath which is then exposed by pulling holes in the coloured layer over the top when it is partly felted. I think it will be more effective the other way round. I will probably try some other combinations. But it is quite pretty and now acting as a mat in the middle of the kitchen table.
Then I spent a while doing some blending. I bought a nice stash of colours a while ago but they are all very vibrant and I wanted to make some more muted colours, so I used a pair of mini carders and created some little rolls blending different colour combinations. Some started out with just two but then I started adding little bits of several colours. It is quite fun, you don't get a new colour exactly,because of course you can see the strands of the different coloured fibres but the overall effect is very pleasing. I particularly liked blending dark colours with a bit of white.
A lovely new bag of undyed roving arrived as well so then I took some of the blended colours and decided to do a bowl round a circular resist. This is the spiral pattern laid out, wetted down and partly rolled:
However it did not shrink anything like as much as I expected, so it ended up as a beret instead. Something else that requires further experimentation
As usual it fits M ... and anyway she is the hat person in the family.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Existentially deracinated

The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands. This book was mentioned a while ago by Yvette on Felting your Soul and I was intrigued (her blog is in dutch but you can get a terrible google machine translation if you click the picture at the top). Again it is nice to be able to say that I have never read a book quite like this one. It does what it says on the tin; it is about a wolf, with some philosophy thrown in. No, that is not fair, it is much more than that, but it's quite hard to put your finger on what it is. So this philosopher buys this wolf cub. Now you have to be a strange kind of person to do this in the first place, and he admits he didn't have an awful lot of time for human beings. The book is about Mark and Brenin, and how their relationship impacts on his life, both in a real practical sense but also in a philosophical sense. It made me laugh out loud, and I always consider that a good thing in a book. I guess you can't ever own such an animal without it becoming the centre of your existence, a wolf does not sit quietly while you get on with life, and this one didn't even like to be left alone for a moment, somewhat impractical if you are a university lecturer. So he lives a life amongst students, where Brenin sleeps in the corner of the lecture theatre and Mark struggles to maintain some kind of physical superiority over him. I loved the bit that described going for runs in an attempt to tire Brenin out, runs that got longer and longer as the wolf got fitter and fitter. After some years of this he then takes himself off to Ireland and basically becomes a recluse, writing philosophy books, and living with Brenin, joined later by Nina (a Malamute/German shepherd cross) and then Tess (one of Brenin's only litter of pups). In amongst their story are scattered Mark's reflections on the nature of human beings as compared to wolves, the nature of human society and morality. It is almost as if the years he spent with the wolf led him to think in a different way about life, the universe and everything. And he comes up with a much better answer than '42'. They lived together so closely that he comes to see existence from a wolf point of view and it helps him to understand what is missing from how humans live. The best chapter title is definitely, "The Pursuit of Happiness and Rabbits", in which he looks at the way people seek 'happiness' as if it were a thing, when they should be chasing rabbits with the enthusiasm that his animals do (and incidentally also do so relatively unsuccessfully.) And then during the year they live in the south of France Brenin falls ill. Through Mark's fierce determination and dedication he recovers and they have a grace year before the cancer catches up with him. It is almost as if it is Brenin's death that brings together the understanding that he has been developing into the big question of 'the meaning of life'. It is interesting how he makes his case because he lays out a variety of well examined philosophical arguments and then tears them apart to see what is wrong with them, to look at the underlying but unacknowledged assumptions about human nature. I liked his conclusion because it is not upbeat or simplistic. It is a challenging read, he does not have a very positive view of human nature and can be pretty tough on how people relate and behave to each other. Although he knows that the mere process of being a 'philosopher' makes him "existentially deracinated" (that's 'pulled up by the roots')(and that's me enjoying being pretentious) he does come across as remarkable well grounded. He does not say 'go out and find your own wolf' but that is kind of what he means.

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