Friday, 14 January 2022

January colour

While most of the garden is looking brown and wizened it was lovely to look out this morning and notice that some little plant in a wall pot had put forth a bright orange flower:
When I went out to take a photo I found that the wallflowers were still blooming, having done so continuously since mum sent them:
 And the Sarcococca confusa that I planted back in July has not grown much but it is doing what it promised and blooming with tiny white flowers:

Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy the winter blooms.

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Summerwater

'Summerwater' by Sarah Moss was sent to me by the library. When I just searched her name I found the review of 'The Fell' that I read in the Guardian, and I am pretty sure that that was the book I reserved, and that the library just sent me another random book by her instead (another random book by her also reviewed here). It is not a novel as such, they are more like vignettes of family life, of a group of families staying in loch-side cabins during a dreary, rainy summer. They live both, claustrophobically, inside their little huts, but also watch each other's comings and goings, while pretending not to, making crass judgements and feeling irritated by the rain. Some 'foreigners' occupy one of the cabins, and there is a growing resentment at their loud intrusive nighttime music. I felt disappointed that there was limited story development or relationships between the characters, each of the chapters focussed on one person, then moved to someone else, with the human beings in the story only coming together for the denouement. It made me feel lonely, because all the people were quite lonely, self-contained, living inside their own heads even alongside their families. 

I liked the first chapter best, an intense description of a woman running:

"It's more than a wingbeat this time, as she splashes through the brown puddle that now covers the whole width of the path. More, she thinks, grinning at the menagerie now imagined in her ribcage, at the entire damn food chain gathered in the chambers of her heart, more like a small mammal, something with hurrying feet. Smaller than a hare. A vole, doctor there's a vole in my upper ventricle. One of these days, she thinks, one of these days, girl, and she pulls off her wet vest, balls it in her hand, picks up the pace, races bare-bellied in the rain past the tent and through the trees and around the barriers at the top of the holiday park, part the bicycles and the blue gas cylinders and the limp laundry and the old man sitting again at his open French windows with a cup of tea. Safety first, the consultant said, there in an overheated pink room with the machines resting between patients, we must think of your kids, they need their mum, don't they, I'm afraid I must say there's to be no more running. And if you really won't take my advice at the very least don't go far, don't push yourself, don't ever run alone.

But what's another person supposed to do, if her heart stops? How would it help, to have a witness?" (p.22-23)

We are finally back at the gym this week, after a month away. I was too tired during Christmas pressure and then we had to isolate, so we are all feeling a but sluggish after a fortnight on the sofa. I did not make new year resolutions, though will continue to not beat myself up about stuff. I joked to the girls about doing a Tough Mudder as a way of giving us something to work towards ... but who am I kidding.

Stay safe. Be kind. Push yourself.

Saturday, 8 January 2022

Coincidences

 

I love coincidences. They are a kind of magic. I encounter them regularly at work in a low key way that amuses me. Someone will come in to collect a parcel, and then the next person comes in, and their parcel is the one right next to the previous one (out of about 1500 in stock). Or a person comes in, and the next person has the same surname. Or a person comes in, from a little road with a dozen houses, and the next person who comes in is one of their neighbours. Ok, so yesterday I had the freakiest coincidence. A lady comes in with a message to say her parcel is available to collect. When I search the tracking number we do not have it. I put the number in the tracking system and strangely, even though it has an M14 postcode, it is booked in at Hastings delivery office (see above image). I apologise and explain to the lady that they probably have an Ealing Avenue and it has been missorted. I suggest (apologising again) that she phone customer services. Anyway, she collects another parcel that we did have and leaves. The next person at the counter ... their surname is Hastings.
A while later I remember the DOBI, and find an email address for Hastings delivery office and send them a message about the package. They email right back and say they will send it on. Job done. Then this morning, just out of curiosity I look to see if there is an Ealing Avenue in Hastings, and strangely there is not, which leaves me wondering how it came to be booked in on their SPS. But curiously ... there is a Hastings Road in Ealing.

Stay safe. Be kind. Enjoy the magic.

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Bewildered

'Bewilderment' by Richard Powers is definitely a book worthy of inclusion on the Booker shortlist. In it Theo and Robin struggle with life without Aly, but that is not their only struggle. As Robin decides to continue his mother's fight to save the planet's wildlife Theo must battle the authorities for the soul of his son; Robin's increasingly erratic behaviour is causing concern that may lead to 'medication'. Theo's job involves the search for life on other planets, and he creates a game with his son where they imagine that they are exploring alternate realities, possible lifeforms across the galaxy that manage to exist in the most unlikely of circumstances. Robin continues to have problems controlling his anger and frustration so Theo turns to Martin Currier, a former colleague (and lover) of Aly who does brain research, and the boy takes part in a study involving mapping brain patterns of emotional states. The technique helps him enormously, and he in return contributes to the research. In attempting to balance protecting Robin from the pressures of a system that does not wish to accommodate him with the need to be a professor they discover the joys of home schooling; they jump through the curriculum hoops that the state requires and leave Robin free to pursue his passion for endangered animals.  When Martin asks to use Robin's experience in his research to help with his funding Theo reluctantly agrees, and that's when things get a bit out of control, with consequences that might have been anticipated. 

A beautiful book, intense and emotionally fraught. Lots of obscure science stuff, that may or may not have any basis in reality, but you can imagine that it does. It feels like the fate of the planet is in the hands of this boy, he takes the weight of the world on himself, and it squashes him. I liked that he was bright and precocious, but also a child, with the way that children can experience things so intensely, and feel so intensely their smallness and weakness in the face of the powers that control. And his father supported him in what he was trying to do, in spite of his smallness and weakness, he made him believe it was worth trying. And then hopes are crushed all round and the reality of the world come crashing in and I cried.

The trials of being a parent loom large in the book, and that is what really sucked me in:
"But it turns out children have a tolerance for mistakes that I never imagined. Who's have believed a four-year-old could pull a grill full of hot charcoal down onto himself and walk away with no lasting harm beyond a brand like a shiny pink oyster on his lower back.
On the other hand, the ways of going wrong never fail to stun me. I once read my six-year-old The Velveteen Rabbit and only learned from my eight-year-old about the months of nightmares it had given him. Two years of night terrors he's been too ashamed to tell me about: that was Robin. God only knows what the eleven-year-old might confess to me about the things I was right now doing wrong. But he'd survived his mother's death. I figured he'd survive my best intentions.
I lay in our tent that night, thinking how Robbie had spent two days worrying over the silence of the galaxy that ought to be crawling with civilizations. How could anyone protect a boy like that from his own imagination, let alone from a few carnivorous third-graders flinging shit at him? Alyssa would've propelled the three of us forward on her own bottomless forgiveness and bulldozer will. Without her, I was flailing.
I twitched in my sleeping bag, trying not to wake Robin. A chorus of invertebrates swelled and ebbed. Two barred owls traded their call-and-response: Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all? Who would ever cook for this boy, aside from me? I couldn't imagine Robin toughening up enough to survive this Ponzi scheme of a planet. Maybe I didn't want him to. I liked him otherworldly. I liked having a son so ingenuous that it rattled his smug classmates. I enjoyed being the father of a kid whose favourite animal for three straight years had been a nudibranch. Nudibranchs are deeply underappreciated.
Late-night anxieties of an astrobiologist. I smelled the trees respiring and heard the river where Alyssa and I first swam together, polishing its boulders even in darkness. A noise came from the bag next to me. Robin was pleading in his sleep. Stop! Please stop! Please!" (p29-30)

Stay safe. Be kind. Get tested. (We finally had covid here last week, it can strike even the fully vaccinated.)

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Ho, ho, ho

I got to the end of Christmas Eve, but no, why would I want to go home and start the holiday if I could offer to go back to work and sort out the late driver's vans before the weekend collection risked taking all the keys away. Exhausted is one word, and none of its synonyms seem to quite capture the need to sit down and not get up again for quite some time. So, having drunk quite a bit of Bailey's and watched everything from Die Hard to Muppet Christmas Carol I feel utterly unprepared to reflect on the passing year. 'I am past caring' seems to be the expression that has passed my lips most often in recent months, and yet I still found myself searching boxes of unprepared mail for people's Christmas cards and tracking down missing packages. We had a small win when a house full of young men denied all knowledge of a mis-delivered package and Jason had to threaten them with the police, suddenly they managed to find it. But Covid has gone round the office again in the last fortnight so mostly I have spent several weeks just apologising to people that their mail has not arrived. 

Books this year (will have to list them first then debate the favourites):

Books that I borrowed and returned to the library: Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (didn't like any of the people enough to pay the fine I would have gotten to keep and finish it) and The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (very much not in the mood for fantasy, if that is what this was). 
38 books is a step up on last year, and lots of translated fiction and poetry this year. For the second time, I give the fiction winner's title to Anthony Doerr, closely followed by Ocean Vuong, but the best book of the year must be The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, that I loved every page of and which gave me a very necessary lift and renewed positive outlook. Am thinking maybe some reading challenges might push me to read more next year. Or maybe I just need to disable facebook.

Stay safe. Be kind. Read more.

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Three postmen chatting on Palatine Road

Prefer to stay in?
Yes, why not.
Other people can go out in the rain.
It's their job after all.
In fact, why leave the house at all.
We will call and collect
that crap that you bought
but now want to return.
Like magic we will just absorb the extra load
and whistle cheerfully
as we come down the path
(not forgetting to close the garden gate).
And if the service begins to slide
through the sheer exhaustion
of the workforce
it's ok
you can come in 
and accuse us of not working hard enough
and I will politely say
Yes, of course you can speak to a manager
and then you can tell her
how you saw
three postman chatting on Palatine Road,
which is just not good enough.

Friday, 3 December 2021

Some other things

I went to a Literature Festival poetry event, mainly to hear Andrew McMillan, but came away with a copy of 'A Blood Condition' by Kayo Chingonyi. It was interesting that the ones he read were mostly 'set' in the UK, when in fact the collection reflected much more on his Zambian roots. Many are very brief, like memories encapsulated. I like this one, the word ginnel is very northern:



Ginnel

1.
an interstice
a quarter tone
last known
whereabouts
of missing persons
the world over
2.
From the Old English:
the coast's open maw
pointing the way
to the whale road
3.
gap in the teeth
of a terraced street

Currently enjoying 'The Souvenir Museum' by Elizabeth McCracken, short stories to read in between other longer things.
I ordered 'The Small Backs of Children' by Lidia Yuknavitch and was very disturbed by it. It is an interesting technique where a writer does not give characters names, but identifies them by other means, in this book they are called 'the writer' 'the photographer' 'the artist' and so on. It allows you to stay a step back from their experiences. There were a lot of fucked up people in this story. I did not like it and wished I had not read it, to the extent that I was not going to mention it at all, but decided that the blog is supposed to record all my reading. I don't think I am in a place right now to cope with the darkest side of humanity in my reading. Having said that she is obviously a very well respected writer with interesting things to say.


I found 'Natural Novel' by Georgi Gospodinov in the Oxfam bookshop, where all the best European literature can be found. And who doesn't like a nice self referential storyline, where the writer himself is the main character, and he observes through the novel his own disintegration. Or something like that, I'm not sure to be honest. But a bit of experimental writing never hurt anyone. This is a quote pulled at random:

"My father's ashtray is Finnish, with a lid. It looks a bit like a cask with a single-cigarette indentation. I always liked the idea of a personal ashtray, as personal as only a toothbrush or razor can be. Some completely unfamiliar letters are engraved on the side of the ashtray (my father didn't know what they meant either). Much later, when somebody translated them for me, I was struck by their bluntness: 'Everything is ashes.'
When I smoke, I unconsciously copy my father's gestures. The energetic tapping of the index finger on the cigarette, the knit brow as you suck on it, all the concentration and importance of the gestures. The hardest thing to learn was the natural slight bending of the index and middle fingers. Mine were always artificially straight." (p.75)

Stay safe. Be kind. Read weird stuff (occasionally).

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