Saturday 24 October 2020

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon


It's time for the read-a-thon. I have not joined in much the last couple of times, too distracted and unable to focus, or working, or just lazy. I have done quite a lot of reading in recent months but only in short bursts at bedtime. It's my long weekend off and a day of just sitting and reading sounds like a good way to avoid feeling like I should do some hoovering. There has been no advance planning so I will just gather a few books and get the kettle on. 
Well Claire woke me up with a text and I thought it was the boss asking me to come to work, so that was a relief. All set up for the day, though I will not stay up in my bed nook all day.

I am part way through 'A Thousand Moons' by Sebastian Barry that I bought from Chorlton Bookshop recently so that is first in the pile. I have poetry from Jack Mapanje and Imtiaz Dharker, 'My Dark Vanessa' by Kate Elizabeth Russell and 'When I was a child I read books' by Marilynne Robinson that is on my 101 books list and I found in a charity shop the other week. I downloaded an audiobook of 'Race Matters' by Cornel West after reading a fascinating interview in the Guardian the other day, so that can accompany a bit of crochet (still working on a sofa blanket for a friend's wedding present). I think we have something for every mood.

You can visit other people who are participating and see what they are reading here (though I am working my own schedule so it's not officially started yet). Hope everyone has a wonderful reading day.

Friday 23 October 2020

100 Days - the magic that is the internet (day 68)


map of the internet
A young man came into the callers office today and asked me to 'go on the internet' and change the address on his parcel. I was momentarily confused. I asked for clarification. He said he wanted to send the parcel to the reception instead of his flat. The parcel had been dispatched and he was not able to change it, but I could, by some magic, alter the label that was on his parcel. I tried to explain in words of one syllable that this was not possible. He left making a sarcastic comment as if I had been unhelpful. 

The world is full of idiots.


Thursday 22 October 2020

100 Days : Christmas posting advice in the time of Corona


Way back in 2012 I started posting some advice about using the postal system at Christmas. The traffic of parcels through the system has been akin to Christmas levels since the lockdown started back in March. People who couldn't go out and buy stuff suddenly found the only way to fill their houses with crap was to order it over the interweb. (The only perk of the situation was that everyone was at home so at least we got rid of everything and the number of packets being stored at the office plummeted.) Added to the extra parcels some staff have been sheltering or isolating, meaning people are often doing double deliveries and extra overtime. Consequently people are feeling stressed and exhausted, and as the Christmas pressure period approaches we are beginning to wonder just how much workload the posties and the system can handle. And what does Royal Mail do in this situation ... it introduces a doorstep collection service. So please forgive us if your postie is less than their usual chirpy self this festive season. 

So, to reiterate the recommendations given previously:

1. PUT A RETURN ADDRESS ON THE BACK OF EVERYTHING YOU PUT IN THE POSTAL SYSTEM. This is the cardinal rule. Things fail to be delivered for all sorts of reasons; incorrect address, insufficient postage, damage to the address, failure to collect from the office, so if you want to get it back we have to know where it came from.

2. PUT ENOUGH POSTAGE ON. A first class stamp is only suitable for a flat letter 24cmx16.5cm, anything bigger and you should consult Failure to do so will result in a surcharge. Only about 10% of people bother to pay for their surcharged items so the chances are that it will never arrive. Be wary of large or thick Christmas cards that will need a large letter stamp. Don't guess, just go to the post office.

3. PACKAGE YOUR ITEM SECURELY. Packages are sorted by machines and tipped in and out of bags, ensure the packaging is robust. 

4. USE THE POSTCODE, and most importantly, USE THE CORRECT POSTCODE. Large cities often have multiple roads with the same name so using the wrong code may result in delay and possible non-delivery. 

5. LAST POSTING  DATES are a guideline, post early to avoid disappointment as I anticipate the service will struggle even more in the coming weeks.

6. A final appeal to STOP buying shit that is not Christmas pressies. Let's be honest, stuff does not make you happy and the thrill of purchase is not going to alleviate the existential dread that accompanies the loss of reality in our current climate. Add to that the fact that the planet is well and truly fucked maybe if everyone just gave charity donations for Christmas instead (perhaps the Woodland Trust or Medical Aid for Palestine) we could all sit and feel smug on boxing day that we haven't made the world a worse place in pursuit of meaningless consumerism. (I have major cognitive dissonance as I rely on Royal Mail for my income but I really wish people would stop buying so much crap.)

(Disclaimer: This is not official Royal Mail advice)

Tuesday 20 October 2020

100 Days - the books have to go back to the library (day 66)

'Apeirogon' by Colum McCann. I have been failing at not beating myself up, and the more I was beating myself up about my inability to settle down and write a half decent book review the less likely I was to actually do it. I renewed it again and still it sat there, joined by two more books, on my bed steps, getting in the way. This is such a wonderful, moving, profound, political book. I was just heart broken all over again to discover that it is about two real men and two real daughters. It is one of those books that your read, and get so drawn in to the lives of people that you stop thinking of them as characters. The inside cover calls it a novel, and no mention is made of the origins of the story, but I just searched the names and found them. It is a book that meanders to make its point, but coming back time and again to the moments of the girls' deaths. The story is told over and over, in the way that in their lives Rami and Bassam have come to tell their stories over and over; to share their pain in the hope of spreading understanding and shaping a new future for their country. It is both hopeful and depressing; the stresses of living in a militarised society is oppressive for everyone and the entrenched situation between the Israeli and Palestinian populations seems insoluble, but the friendship between the two men in the face of their terrible losses is remarkable, to come from such different places and experiences and find common ground. 

"Satyagraha: the revelation of truth and the confrontation of injustice through nonviolent means." (p.278)

I think literature helps you understand things in a way that mere information cannot. The history of modern Israel is complex and fraught with contradictions. Stories let you in to people's lives and give glimpses that political analysis somehow lacks. One quote from the beginning of the book, one from the end:

"Rami often felt that there were nine or ten Israelis inside him, fighting. The conflicted one. The shamed one. The enamoured one. The bereaved one. The one who marvelled at the blimp's invention. The one who knew the blimp was watching. The one watching back. The one who wanted to be watched. The anarchist. The protester. The one sick and tired of all the seeing.

It made him dizzy to carry such complications, to be so many people all at once. What to say to his boys when they went off to military service? What to say to Nurit when she showed him the textbooks? What to say to Bassam when he got stopped at the checkpoints? What to feel every time he opened a newspaper? What to think when the sirens sounded on Memorial Day? What to wonder when he passed a man in a keffiyeh? What to feel when his sons had to board a bus? What to think when a taxi driver had an accent? What to worry about when the news clicked on? What fresh atrocity lay on the horizon? What sort of retribution was coming down the line? What to say to Smadari? What is it like being dead, Princess? Can you tell me? Would I like it?" (p.33-34)


She emerged from the dark of the shop. Areen waited outside. Twelve times nine. One hundred and eight. Twelve times ten. A small bell on the door rang. The street outside was dusty. The sunlight swung underneath the metal awning. She tucked one bracelet away, handed the other to Areen. Twelve times eleven. Their shadows bobbed into the street. One hundred and thirty-two. The thud of a shell near the roundabout. Twelve times twelve. Her schoolbag swung as she ran.


One afternoon, in the Dheisheh refugee camp south of Bethlehem, Bassam watched four boys in white jeans and white t-shirts carry a single mattress past the low houses. They moved carefully through the narrow alleyways with the mattress propped high on their shoulders. Placed on top of the bed were four red carnations, arranged in a neat row.

It took him moment to realise that the boys were in rehearsal for carrying a bier.


The only interesting thing is to live. " (p.434)

'Where the crawdads sing ' by Delia Owens is, on the other hand, just a novel. I enjoyed the story but if felt predictable; the good people support each other and the nasty people get their comeuppance and the young woman has to have 'wild beauty' as well as being intelligent, but her poetry is really bad. I am not going to bother with more than that. I read it, now it can go back to the library.

'10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World' by Elif Shafak was much more engaging. It reminded me of 'The Ministry of Utmost Happiness' by Arundhati Roy, because it is all about the people and how difficult lives can make for strong bonds of friendship. Leila is dead, but as her brain shuts down memories of her life emerge and we see them as snapshots that make up the significant moments and how she came to be friends with the group of people who then decide they must rescue her from an eternity in the Cemetery of the Companionless. The story is bitter sweet because the friends live at the bottom of society, each of them struggling with their own problems, but making life better for each other.

"Now, as her brain came to a standstill, and all the memories dissolved into a wall of fog, thick as sorrow, the very last thing she saw in her mind was the bright pink birthday cake. They had spent the evening chatting and laughing, as if nothing could ever pull them apart and life was merely a spectacle, exciting and unsettling, but without any real danger involved, like being invited to someone else's dream. On T.V. Rita Hayward had tossed her hair and wiggled her hips, her gown falling to the floor in a silken rustle. Tilting her head towards the camera, she had given that famous smile of hers, the smile many around the world had mistaken for lust. But not them. Dear old Rita could not fool them. They never failed to recognise a sad woman when they saw one." (p.183)

Elif has quite a back catalogue, many of which have been translated from Turkish, so lots to explore.

Thursday 1 October 2020

100 Days : pretentious for National Poetry Day


I read about Ocean Vuong in the Guardian recently, though I think it was a novel review, and found his collection 'Night Sky with Exit Wounds' at the library. It is the kind of poetry to which one might attach the label 'pretentious'. It is very esoteric, personal, and uses language and metaphors in quite unique ways. There were some I did not understand and others that were very beautiful, but I give you this one, that struck me most forcefully with the images that it brings to mind, of an event that is both very familiar and very shocking (I won't try and replicate the page layout, which is something else he plays around with). 

Of Thee I Sing

We made it, baby.

We're riding in the back of the black

limousine. They have lined

the road to shout our names.

They have faith in your golden hair

& pressed grey suit.

They have a good citizen 

in me. I love my country.

I pretend nothing is wrong.

I pretend not to see the man

& his blond daughter diving

for cover, that you're not saying

my name & it's not coming out

like a slaughterhouse.

I'm not Jackie O yet

& there isn't a hole in your head, a brief

rainbow through a mist

of rust. I love my country

but who am I kidding? I'm holding

your still hot thoughts in,

darling, my sweet, sweet

Jack. I'm reaching across the trunk

for a shard of your memory,

the one where we kiss & the nation

glitters. Your slumped back.

Your hand letting go. You're all over

the seat now, deepening

my fuchsia dress. But I'm a good

citizen, surrounded by Jesus

& ambulances. I love

this country. The twisted faces.

My country. The blue sky. Black

limousine. My one white glove

glistening pink - with all

our American dreams.