Wednesday 27 December 2023

Being Dead?

I just searched Jim Crace because I knew I had read him before; Harvest was such a different book, and yet I can sense similarities in the atmosphere and the way he writes and what he observes about human beings. Not a very cheery subject for the festive time of year, but this is what I found myself reading.

In 'Being Dead' Celice and Joseph are dead, but in echos of Chronicle of a Death Foretold we learn the history of the beginning of their relationship, the fateful week when they met at Baritone Bay as students, and the story of their last day, told in reverse from the moment of death, and how they came to be in that place again where they died. They are zoologists on a study trip, and on the beach in the early morning he enchants her with a sprayhopper and his singing voice, and the romance of their meeting becomes, later in life, something he yearns to recreate, and on that sunny day he coaxes her back, to her death. 
In between we have also a zoologists eye view of what happens to the bodies of Celice and Joseph, as the creatures of the beach approach and begin the process of returning their atoms to the universe. 
Our omniscient narrator begins the story somewhat cynical and pitiless:

"Jospeh and Celice were irretrievable. Do not be fooled. There was no beauty for them in the dunes, no painterly tranquility in death framed by the sky, the ocean and the land, that pious trinity, in which their two bodies, supine, prone, were posed as lifeless waxworks of themselves, sweetly unperturbed and ruffled only by the wind. This was an ugly scene. They had been shamed. They were undignified. They were dishonoured by the sudden vileness of their deaths. Only their faces were expressionless. No one could tell what kind of a man he was, what type of a woman she had been. Their characters had bled out on the grass. The universe could not care less." (p.11)

But by the end, I felt that they had come to care about Celice and Joseph, and softened their harsh view of death, had come to realise that it both matters and doesn't matter, a view that I also mostly find myself subscribing to:

"And still, today and every day, the dunes are lifted, stacked and undermined. Their crests migrate and reassemble with the wind. They do their best to raise their backs against the weather and the sea and block the wind-borne sorrows of the world. All along the shores of Baritone Bay and all the coast beyond, tide after tide, time after time, the corpses and the broken, thinned remains of fish and birds, of barnacles and rats, of molluscs, mammals, mussels, crabs are lifted, washed and sorted by the waves. And Joseph and Celice enjoy a loving and unconscious end, beyond experience.
These are the ever ending days of being dead." (p.21)

Stay safe. Be kind. 

Sunday 24 December 2023

Crimbo Time

Last Christmas we were striking and the whole thing was very stressful, so in comparison this year has been a breeze; cards and parcels have been delivered on time, there is no backlog in the office and the mood has been pretty positive. The manager informed us that our office had successfully handled over 66,000 tracked packets this December. That's a lot of packets. But look how tidy and organised my cage is. I have done lots of overtime, to keep things running smoothly and to help everyone else do their jobs. I tend to feel quite ambivalent this time of year, I do it because it matters to people, but I am mostly glad when it's all over. 
My favourite job in December is making sure people's Christmas cards get where they are supposed to go, so I spend time every day with a pile of badly addressed cards finding their intended destination.

Our home made Crimbo tree is still going strong since 2016. It gives me joy not to add to our carbon footprint to have some glittery decoration.

I am not sure how much I have read this year ... so lets see ...
Must I Go by Yiyun Li
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
Long Live the Post Horn by Vigdis Hjorth
Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi
Otherlands by Thomas Halliday
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon
If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
Forget Me Not by Sophie Pavelle
Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman
The Last Resort by Jan Carson
The Reservoir Tapes by John Mcgregor
Old God's Time by Sebastian Barry
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa
How to be Human by Paula Cocozza
The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li
Various Poetry
A Brief History of Everyone who ever Lived by Adam Rutherford
My Friend Anne Frank by Hannah Pick-Goslar
Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro
Resistance by Anita Shreve
Hard by a Great Forest by Leo Vardiashvili
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura
Wild Things by Laura Kay
A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
The Hero of this Book by Elizabeth McCracken
Quilt by Nicholas Royle
A Widow for One Year by John Irving
The Zoo of the New
The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Future by Naomi Alderman

That is not a lot of books ... but you know what, I don't beat myself up about how I have spent that last year. I am not sure that I have a favourite from this year's reading, lots of things I enjoyed but nothing stands out for me looking down the list. 

Wishing regular readers and random visitors Merry Christmas.

Sunday 10 December 2023

The Future

I had to take 'The Animals in That Country' by Laura Jean McKay back to the library because 'The Future' by Naomi Alderman arrived ... and there are only so many hours in the day when I'm not at work. It's a pandemic story with a disease that makes people able to understand animals. While I like a good disaster movie as much as the next person I was not finding the story very engaging and the nonsense that the animals were talking was just meaningless and I was impatient with it. And anyway, The Future arrived.

So now I have to try and write a review without giving *anything* away about this book. Like 'The Martian' (that I read nearly a decade ago!) it feels like a book that will make an excellent film ... the end of the world is nigh, how would you behave, what would you need to survive, will technology save the day ...
It is a portrait of the power of wealth, and of inequality, and of how the super rich do seem to live on a different planet from the rest of us.
That's all I can say, anything else would step into spoilers.

Stay safe. Be kind. Be prepared.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Winter Garden

I have not been out in the garden hardly at all since June. The rain arrived in July and it seems to have been raining ever since. I have pushed past the overgrowth a few times but not sat and enjoyed, nor watched the bees. It is very straggly and scruffy this time of year anyway but I knew the worms really needed sorting out ... so instead of the gym today I spent an hour chopping stuff back and just taking a look around.
To my delight the worms are still alive ... and having been left so long the bottom layer of the worm bin was full of the most beautiful dark magical plant food, with not a trace of tomato skins or undigested random lumps. I literally just scooped it out into an empty compost bag ready to be used in the spring. 
Also delightful was the small selection of blooms that I found.
Most delightfully, a rosebud:
To be expected, the ubiquitous self-seeded pelargoniums:
And on the kitchen windowsill, some alyssum:
Stay safe. Be kind. Hurry back inside where it's warm.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Meanwhile, in Japan ...

Two weeks ago we took the daughter formerly known as Monkey, now known as Monkey sensei, to Terminal 3 at Heathrow and she officially went to live on the other side of the world. She has just finished her first week as a JET teaching assistant in Kawagoe. Like the process of getting into Manchester University it has been long and torturous. Having applied over a year ago she was told back in March that she was on the reserve list, but that if she didn't heard by July she would be unlikely to get a placement this year. Then back in October she got a message telling her she had been 'upgraded' and to expect to travel in November. A huge flurry of activity ensued: many random purchases were made, another trip to London for her visa, much yen was acquired, copious forms were filled in. And the next thing we knew she was gone. 
Look, there's a shrine, just to prove she's really there.
And she eats Japanese food (but they just call it food), and even school dinners too:
And watches Japanese telly (but they just call it telly):
She has a tiny apartment, with a tiny kitchen, tiny bathroom, tiny living space ... and this fab cosy sleeping mezzanine:
So, there will be many updates about life in Japan in the coming months ... and years. She might stay. Who's to say how long. I am planning a visit in spring 2025, she gets a holiday in the break at the end of the school year.
Stay safe. Be kind. Try not to miss your daughter too much.
Mount Fuji (from the plane)

Saturday 25 November 2023

The Power


'The Power' by Naomi Alderman won the Women's Fiction Prize in 2017. At one point I did a challenge to read all the winners but I have not kept it up in recent years and there are four that I have not read (but probably still will at some point). The Power is a pretty scary book. What might happen if women suddenly find they have the power to inflict pain on others ... will they behave just like men do? It turns out that power does corrupt. A young woman finds she can produce electricity from a mysterious skein organ across her collarbone, and with practice can target and control it. Soon more women can, and younger women can awaken the power in older women. There ensues a fight for control of the human race. Men try to cling to their millennia old position but you can see where it is all going to end. A new religion is born and wars begin. Some women just go mad with their new found freedom. The tale is told in retrospect ... somewhat I suddenly realise, like Handmaid's Tale, but by a man, who has researched and written a book about the period of transformation. His editor suggests he might want to use a woman's name, to add credibility to his narrative. That's all really. So much going on in the story, lots of strong women characters of course, but not lacking in men, and utterly gripping. Fantastical but also utterly believable.
Here Margot is a politician, and has had to pretend that she doesn't have the power. I love the notion of 'constant ease', the idea that having this new strength makes her feel safe.

"Late at night in a part of town that she knows has no surveillance cameras, Margot parks her car, gets out, puts her palm to a lamp post and gives it everything she's got. She just needs to know what she's got under the hood here; she wants to feel what it is. It feels as natural as anything she's ever done, as known and understood as the first time she had sex, as her body saying, Hey, I got this.
All the lights in the road go out: pop, pop, pop. Margot laughs out loud, there in the silent street. She'd be impeached if anyone found out, but then she'd be impeached anyway if anyone knew she could do it at all, so what's the margin? She guns the gas and drives off before the sirens start. She wondered what she'd have done if they'd caught her, and in the asking she knows she has enough left in her skein to stun a man, at least, maybe more - can feel the power sloshing across her collarbone and up and down her arms. The thought makes her laugh again. She finds she's doing that more often now, just laughing. There's a sort of constant ease, as if it's high summer all the time inside her." (p.64)

Stay safe. Be kind. Don't let the bastards grind you down.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Library books and not-library books

Like number 17 buses the library books always arrive all at once, so I will have to check out which ones have a reserve queue and read them first. I was handed a sample chapter of Naomi Alderman's new book 'The Future' when I was in Chorlton Bookshop the other week, so I ordered it along with 'The Power', that won the Women's Fiction Prize in 2017.

'Quilt' by Nicholas Royle (who is not the Nicholas Royle who has written several other novels) was bought because I thought from the ambiguous blurb that it might have something to do with quilts. It doesn't. A man coming to terms with the death of his father goes quietly crazy and builds a huge aquarium in the downstairs of the father's now empty house ... to house rays. They require a very specialist environment and he goes to a great deal of trouble and expense. Weird and disconcerting as he behaves as if it were all totally normal for the people at the wake to have to move around this huge tank in the middle of the dining room.  Not quite sure how I felt about it. Just a very unusual story.

'A Widow for a Year' by John Irving again suffered from the fact that it was not Owen Meany, which I loved so much and nothing else I have read by him has quite measured up to it. What I did like very much about it is that it is not about one person. All the characters in it seem equally significant to the story and the relationships between them and their own individual story arcs combine to create something very engaging. Eddie spends his life pining for Marion. Ruth spends her life pretending that she is not pining for Marion. Ted is an arsehole. I loved Harry and I sympathised with Marion's decision. And the whole book is somehow overshadowed by the lingering legacy of death of the two sons. The empty spaces where the photographs had been are this huge glaring symbol of the sense of loss that people struggle to cope with. A book very much about the human condition. And who the hell would publish children's stories that are so fucking scary. 

'The Zoo of the New' has been a lovely large anthology of poems edited by Nick Laird and Don Paterson. It covers a few hundred years (so a lot of poetry) and mixes up old favourites with undiscovered gems. I stated off reading them all, as I often do and then began to flick through and pick and choose. I still managed to pick out lots that I enjoyed so now I'll have to find just one ...

Field Guide by Tony Hoagland

Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
up to my neck in that most precious element of all,

I found a pale-grey, curled-upwards pigeon feather
floating on the tension of the water

at the very instant when a dragonfly,
like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,

hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
That's all.

I mention this in the same way
that I fold the corner of a page

in certain library books,
so that the next reader will know

where to look for the good parts.

Stay safe. Be kind. Look for the good parts.

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Pre-Christmas post - postage and scams

These old postage stamps are now no longer any good for posting letters. If you use them your item will be surcharged. If you have some they can be swapped for the new bar-coded stamps. If you buy postage on the website or app please don't guess how much your item weighs or measures, if you underestimate your item will possibly be surcharged. Be aware there are lots of fake stamps out there ... the main clue is the price, you are not getting a bargain to send your Christmas cards, you are getting worthless bits of sticky paper.

Beware. It's nearly Crimbo time so the scammers are going to be out in force. I have had several people in recently with messages about missed deliveries. Beware of any message that does not include a tracking number. If you are expecting a package check with any dispatch confirmation you might have been sent that will provide tracking information. Messages might refer to a specific delivery company or might be vague. Some messages include a delivery driver's name in order to seem more authentic. Any message that asks for money outright is a scam. I don't know about other companies but Royal Mail never asks for payment for redelivery. Some ask for a very nominal sum, this is because it is your bank details they are after. If you click any link or supply details to any scam website, contact your bank immediately. The Royal Mail website has lots of examples of scam texts and emails:

Enjoy your Christmas preparations, I'll be back in a few weeks with my annual posting advice.
Stay informed. Be cautious. Delete that scam message.

Thursday 26 October 2023

The Hero of this Book


Elizabeth McCracken is a novelist, not a memoirist, but I found her firstly in 'An Exact Replica ...' nearly a decade ago, swiftly followed by 'The Giant's House'. 'The Hero of This Book' is a novelisation of her relationship with her extraordinary mother.  In the story the narrator retraces some of her final times spent with her mother, and navigates the grief of losing a much loved parent. There was so much to love about this book, so here come a bunch of quotes, because the story reflects thoughtfully on loss, parents and life in general. This first one I liked, because it makes a distinction about different kinds of loss:

"Condoling friends used the words grief and mourning. But neither was what I felt. All my life I'd heard people use those words to discuss the ordinary deaths of elderly people - or, worse, elderly animals - and (I am hard-hearted) I found them melodramatic. Those old people and dogs were never going to be immortal. Grief, as I understood it - grief and I were acquainted - is the kind of loss that sets you on fire as your struggle to put it out. My mother's death hadn't changed my mind. I just missed her. I hated to see her go. But she's had a sweet end, or so I kept telling people, though who was I to speak for my mother? She'd hate that, my opinion about her experience. It was sweet for her family, at home with hospice nurses and cats, and friends around the bed, at the time - 2018 -  when you couldn't count on a sweet end but it wasn't impossible." (p.5)

What her mother didn't approve of:

"I took her hand. I did this without permission. My mother was not a hand-holder. I sat by her bed. I said, 'I'm sorry this happened to you.' Without permission. I found her dear in her reduced state. I called her honey. I kissed her hello and goodbye. I can't imagine she approved of any of it.
Not this, either: typing sentences about her, calling her only my mother, as though that were her most important identity. 'I don't approve,' she said, of Barbie dolls, and certain flavors of bagels, and all bagels cut in half, and eating anything but the traditional pies on Thanksgiving; she disapproved of fiction written specifically for young adults (she believed they should be reading William Saroyan) and tutus on small girls. She enjoyed being a crank." (p.62-3)

This lovely interaction in a corner shop:

"I thought about buying cigarettes - I smoke sometimes when I travel - but they were kept behind doors, so you couldn't look at brands and then say casually 'Silk cut, please.' You had to be a serious smoker with a plan, and I wasn't. Years before I'd been a devotee of the English ten-pack; a lovely thing, to be able to buy just ten cigarettes at a time. Like my father before me, I fooled myself when it came to bad behaviour. I worried that the young woman behind the store counter wouldn't like me if I asked. For anything large, I don't worry about judgement. Only for the cigarettes, the 10:30am prosecco. Only going on a Ferris wheel by myself, alone and middle-aged. She had a pretty, lupine face.
I pretended I didn't speak the language, put my sandwich and brownie on the counter, and paid in coins, which I counted out as though I were unfamiliar with the notion of money. I tried to look worthy of kindness." (p.92)

And the trials of old age, to be resisted at all costs:

"But her and my mother knew: When you're old, safety is overrated. Safety is the bossy Irish lady, who is, after all, your employee, taking away your wineglass, saying, 'That's enough, that's enough now, that's enough now, darlin'.' Safety puts you in a nursing home and turns you over regularly so that you do not die in your sleep. You could be kept for years if you weren't careful , like a roped-off chair in a museum that nobody is allowed to sit in, which makes it only something shaped like a chair. Watch out for safety. It will make you no longer yourself, only an object shaped that way." (128-9)

The narrator has a lovely visit to London, relishing doing things alone. Relishing things she might not have done with her mother. Missing her mother, but enjoying her activities while thinking how she had loved doing them with her mother, recalling her mother's exuberant enjoyment of life.

It's a story, it's not a memoire about Elizabeth's mother, but I hope it nearly is. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Mum's are the best.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

October Flowers


I chopped down a load of stuff in the garden a week or so ago, and just left it in a huge heap hoping it might dry off or something. It is all still a mess. But I popped outside just now to see what has been going on and found all sorts of delights. Above, a sunflower in with the plum tree.
Below, the miniature rose decided it was warm enough to put out some fresh blooms:
The persicara flowers on and on since July:
The morning glory was a disappointment all summer, growing huge and attaching itself to the honeysuckle but no flowers ... and then suddenly a few weeks ago a fabulous display of bright blue ... delightful:
Some random borage self seeded in one of the pots, it remains one of my favourites:
Indoors: I had left a couple of basil plants on the outside kitchen window sill (just to see how they would do) and I had bought one inside to use recently and now it's decided to flower too:
And the lemon pips that Dunk saved for me have all sprouted and now I have 3 tiny lemon trees:
And I totally forgot to mention that when I chopped down the *outside* cucamelon plant I was astonished to find it had fruited ... a dozen cucamelons ... I call that a win.
Stay safe. Be kind. Get another compost bin because it's amazing how much waste 20 square metres of concrete can produce.

Sunday 1 October 2023

A Guest is a Gift from God

Is a month long enough to have a half written blog post waiting around? Probably. So I will also tag on the end a list of the others that have also been read in the last month since I went to Devon.

'Elena Knows' by Claudia Piñeiro is not a detective novel. I keep reading that she is known for this genre, and while a death occurs and police are involved that is not what this book is about at all. Unless, I suppose, it is an investigation into a mother/daughter relationship. It was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize last year, probably how it appeared on my radar. Elena and her daughter Rita seem to have developed ones of those bickery but can't imagine life without you kind of relationships. We jump into their lives in the moments after Rita is found hanging in the church belfry and Elena insists that she did not commit suicide. She can't get the police to take her seriously, despite her repeated pestering, though the local detective placates the grieving mother by continuing to meet her and listen to her growing list of suspects. The main problem is that Elena has Parkinson's disease, and is incapacitated to a significant extent, and so realises she is going to need help with her investigation. There is only one person she can ask, who she feels owes Rita something, and the book follows her struggle to get to this person.

"Mum, enough, she said and she stood up, walked over to the stove, turned the flame to maximum, and set the pamphlets on fire. When the flame was about to burn her hand she let them fall, the charred pages fluttered to the green tile floor, landing beside the uncooked pieces of pasta that her mother had spilled.
Rita stood motionless watching the paper as it blazed, cracked, and danced until it changed colour, melted away, turned to ashes, and finally, went to the place that fire goes when it burns out." 

She despises Roberto, Rita's boyfriend, and his mother Mimi; here she is, under protest, having some beauty treatment, because Rita is disgusted by her hairy chin.

"Mimi said, your feet are a disaster, how do you even wear sandals with those heels? I just put them on, she answered, or Rita does it for me when I can't. At least put some lotion on them at night, Elena, that helps with the roughness. And even though Elena showed no concern for the roughness of her heels, Mimi said, I'm going to send you some calendula cream with Roberto. It'll just go to waste, Elena thought, because she wasn't willing to add any more chores to the unending list of daily challenges: walking, eating, going to the bathroom, lying down, standing up, sitting in a chair, getting up from a chair, taking a pill that won't go down her throat because her head can't tip back, drinking from a straw, breathing. No, she definitely wasn't going to put calendula cream on her heels." (p.98-99)

The pain and struggle she goes through to find out what really happened tells you more about her relationship with Rita than all the bickering. I liked her, she was so lacking in self-pity.

'Resistance' by Anita Shreve was a typical Anita Shreve picked up at Claire's house. I went through a bit of an Anita Shreve phase some years ago and loved her small town america stories. This one is set during World War Two however and concerns a shot down airman rescued by the French resistance. Lovely, atmospheric, and without the predictable ending, which was nice.

'Hard by a Great Forest' by Leo Vardiashvili, was won in a Caboodle competition and is not actually published until next year. Written by a Georgian writer about the war that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent exodus of the family concerned. It is a part of the world that I know little about and it was a real eye-opener. Forced to make hard choices and haunted by the people they left behind, many years after their departure Irakli returns to Tbilisi on unfinished business. When he vanishes both his sons follow in a desperate search to find the truth. Well worth looking out for.

Quote from near the end:
"But then I remember one night from my childhood. I was in a bed, all alone in an unfamiliar bedroom. We must have been visiting someone. Pools of darkness filled the corners of the room - perfect hiding places for some other family's monsters. I kept my eyes open owl-wide. There was no way I'd sleep.
Irakli appeared in the doorway, haloed by cigarette smoke and lamplight from the other room. He came and sat down, shifting the bed with his weight. He didn't say much, and what he did say I can't recall. Vague words of comfort. Faint smell of tobacco and wine on his breath.
He put a hand on my chest. And finally, I slept.
Laid out on the lumpy wet forest floor, I try to feel the weight of my father's hand on my chest." (p.216)

'Lonely Castle in the Mirror' by Mizuki Tsujimura, translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel, was pressed on my by Monkey because she wanted someone to discuss it with. I was confused, because I thought it was going to have more fantasy element, but it turned out to be a bunch of lonely teenagers learning about real friendship via a magical mirror world. Not my usual kind of thing but we had some interesting chats about it anyway.

'Wild Things' by Laura Kay was a lovely comfort read for me. El decides to have a year of doing scary things. But then suddenly she and a bunch of friends buy a house together when one of them breaks up with a girlfriend and is going to abandon their plans. It's all very cosy about them getting to know the locals and making their house and garden into a home. The main character faces her fears and has some personal growth, that kind of sentimental stuff. Sappy and heartfelt. I like one of these occasionally.

Currently reading 'A Widow for a Year' by John Irving, and not sure how I feel about it. Life a little in flux at the moment and struggling to hold it together. Stay safe. Be kind.

Post script: 
'A Lost Lady' by Willa Cather, picked up in the charity shop on the basis of having enjoyed My Antonia, was a small story of a woman's vulnerability. A young boy watches and idolises a local beauty, watching as her life's fortunes change, feeling both protective and often angry at her poor choices. While it was interesting it was mostly as a study of patronising misogyny: Marian fails to live up to to Niel's idea of what a woman should be and how she should behave.

Monday 25 September 2023

Mantis Shrimp


We have found a new puzzle game to add to the daily list, called Metazooa. You have to try and figure out the animal, based on some pretty obscure clues with lots of long latin words. It's fun anyway.
The other day the answer was the Mantis Shrimp.
What's not to love.

Tuesday 29 August 2023


'My Friend Anne Frank' by Hannah Pick-Goslar is the story of Hannah, childhood friend of Anne Frank, and the story of her war, a completely different one than Anne experienced. But before that it is the story of their friendship, having met at the age of 5, both German immigrants to Amsterdam, thrown together by circumstances but forming a bond that outlived Anne, and that meant Hannah spent much of her adult life educating children across the world about the Holocaust. It is both harrowing, for she experienced suffering that in some ways Anne was shielded from in hiding, but also heroic. Not only did she survive but she saved her young sister Gabi who was only a toddler when they were incarcerated; one by one the rest of her family died and they were left, and she devoted herself body and soul to caring for her sister. They spent nearly a year at Westerbork in the Netherlands and then over a year in Begen-Belsen, ending up on the lost train as the Germans tried to move prisoners as the allies advanced. She was a child, one of so many millions, forced to grow up too quickly, who experienced things that nobody ever should. This is from 1943, just after her mother has died in childbirth, one of so many losses she barely had time to grieve:

"My mother was my confident, my cheerer-on, she who knew me best. She had loved me and spoiled me in the small ways she could. I would have done almost anything for one more Wednesday afternoon crossing Dam Square to reach De Bijenkorf, our hands gliding over the silks and satins of dresses made in Paris, sipping our cups of warm hot cocoa for me, coffee for her. I missed her devotion to me, the intimacy we built over those years when I was the only child, fortunate in my devoted, doting parents. Where was I in this world that kept getting darker if she was not there to help me find my way? I'd sometimes creep into the bedroom she had shared with my father and open her wardrobe to hold her dresses to my face, eyes closed, imagining I could still feel her here with me. On my fourteenth birthday, one week after she died, I thought of the word 'motherless' and realised that's what I'd be for the rest of my life. People I knew - meaning the best but breaking my heart - said that I was 'quite the little mother' for Gabi. But I didn't want to be her mother. I wanted our mother back.
Papa told me that the lessons Mama had taught me through the way she lived her life were now part of me too, woven into my heart and there to tap, even if I did not understand that now." (p.108)

After liberation she went to Palestine, became a nurse and married, living to the ripe old age of 93. Surviving and thriving seems to me to be the only way to deal with such inhuman treatment and horrifying experiences, and I was very much left with the feeling that her childhood full of family love and friendship fortified her, gave her resources to draw on and she was certainly an amazing woman.

Also this, the moment she and Anne become friends:

"We went into a classroom where there were lots of children looking extremely busy. Some sat at small desks, playing with wooden blocks; others traced letters or sat on mats working on their writing. I spotted a girl with glossy dark hair that was almost black. I couldn't see her face as her back was turned to me. She was playing on a set of silver bells. In that moment, she turned around and looked at me. In a flash, we recognised one another. It was the girl from the corner grocery store? We instantly rushed into each other's arms as if we were long-separated sisters, sentences in German flowing between us like a volcano of connection. My clenched stomach released; my anxiety vanished and I smiled.
'My name is Annelies. You can call me Anne,' said the girl."

Monday 21 August 2023

Butt-faced Miscreant


I have started a new rota and feel discombobulated by having days off.
Algorithms can sometimes be handy and Netflix sent me back to Gilmore Girls the other week. When you are in a funk what you need most is to sit and watch something that is so familiar you barely need to pay attention and definitely not bother to pause when you pop to the loo. So Rory calling Logan a butt-faced miscreant has been the best moment of today.
The cucamelon in the kitchen has died from neglect, and the lovely batch of basil plants that I put on my bedroom windowsill for the best sunshine became completely infested with whitefly and utterly inedible ... I never even got the chance to have a chicken and basil bagel. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Tidy up your dead plants.

Saturday 19 August 2023

Weddings and all that

We should have been at Horton Grange three years ago, but you know ... covid. It was worth the wait. Lewis and Rachel have been a couple for about 15 years now and finally last Saturday they got married. The day was perfect. The food was lovely, the place was lovely, and the threatened thunderstorms did not materialise. 
This moment as the boys stood waiting for Rachel to arrive was what set me off first. 
Hopefully we will get more photos at some point but a few people shared ones they took. I love photos of my children together ... they are so few and far between these days. I wanted to take one with my two daughters-in-law but somehow it didn't happen.
Much fun was had by everyone. Lewis split his trousers on the bouncy castle and Mindy's shoe fell to pieces, and you can call it a success if that's the worst that happened. And I did have the most lovely lunch with Ady.
Stay safe. Be kind. Relish the special time.

We're all related to Charlemagne

Yet another book that has to go back to the library ... why are there people out there wanting to read the same books I am reading. I mean it's not new out or anything, look at it, it's really battered. 'A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived' by Adam Rutherford is utterly fascinating and I am just going to have to re-reserve it to read the other half. This is just going to be a quickie as I have other more important things to write about than the history of the entire human race. While he tries very hard to make it accessible to the lay reader I did flounder a bit in places with the vocabulary but I liked him because he is brutally honest about the fact that the subject is so complex that we are barely scraping the surface of genetics:

"Even when we know the genome intimately, and the pattern of inheritance, and the history of the DNA, and the migration patterns of the people who carried it, and the evolutionary pressures that led to the perpetuation of the genes and phenotypes - even when we know all that, how it manifests can still be mysterious and surprising. Anyone who says differently is selling something." (p.104)

And then it got even more brutal about the random people who make grandiose claims about their ancestors ... because when it comes down to it, you don't have to go back very far before everyone is related to everyone else:

"You are of royal descent, because everyone is. You are of Viking descent, because everyone is. You are of Saracen, Roman, Goth, Hun, Jewish descent, because, well you get the idea. All Europeans are descended from exactly the same people, and not that long ago. Everyone alive in the tenth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today, including Charlemagne, and his children, Drago, Pippin and, of course, not forgetting Hugh. If you're broadly eastern Asian, you're almost certain to have Genghis Kahn sitting atop your tree somewhere in the same manner, as if often claimed. If you're a human being on Earth, you almost certainly have Nefertiti, Confucious or anyone we can actually name from ancient history in your tree, if they left children. The further back you go, the more the certainty of ancestry increases, though the knowledge of our ancestors decreases. It is simultaneously wonderful, trivial, meaningless and fun." (p.152)

Because the study of DNA is mostly interesting and useful on a grand scale, because it is teaching us about the history of the human species rather than the history of any particular person. Because genes are not deterministic, they indicate that something might be the case, or is likely over a population holding a particular gene, not that you will definitely have blue eyes, or die of cancer.

Stay safe. Be kind. Respect your genome.

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Much poetry


Poetry all from the library ... it's been a delight to find so many there when I search someone's name, mostly from reviews in the Grauniad. 'So Many Rooms' by Laura Scott is one I would buy. They are interesting, pithy poems, never wishy-washy. I liked all the first few with references to Russian literature. I like poets unafraid to be clever. A smattering of memories and observations, the little things you mostly pass over. Some are 'descriptive' but mostly they ask you to pause a moment and consider something. It is ok to use the word profound? 

The soft thud of it
as it hit the car,

feathers floating 
up like smoke

rising into the blue
on a packet of gitanes.

I've always thought
too much of death,

let it hang around
my ankles like a child

you drag across the floor.
I never found

the right broom
to shoo it away.

'All the Men I Never Married' by Kim Moore is a fabulous feminist rant of a book, venting the poet's frustration at the state of the world and the complexity of human relationships. They cover uncomfortable moments in taxis, and on trains, unsolicited opinions, ex boyfriends, deepfake porn and rape. Sometimes harrowing, but I don't mind being harrowed by poetry, it doesn't feel manipulative because it is honest.

The night I left home, walked away even though
he told me to come back, I caught the night bus
into the city. Around me were young women
wearing the clothes I used to wear,
bra-straps showing, bare-legged, lounging like cats.
Their laughter washed over me as the bus
staggered and leaved itself around corners.
I didn't move as they swayed and fell into each other.
Through the window I watched a man
skirt a puddle, his briefcase against his chest,
a strange and solitary dancer.
He looked at me, then looked away.
I wish I could say I stayed out all night,
had a life-changing encounter with someone
homeless and lonely and worse off than me,
or even that I'd sat in McDonald's,
drank cup after cup of lukewarm tea,
vowed never to go back home again.
The truth: I was too afraid to stay out all night
because everything wild within me had gone.
I went to my sister's, though I knew
he would find me. The path in darkness
the crunching of snails underfoot.
The many small deaths of that night.
His fist on the door, again and again.
Realising he would not leave, pretending to her
that it would be ok, that this was an ordinary row.
Making myself go downstairs and get into his car.
And what happened next, and what came after,
I do not remember. I see the same things you do now.
Him walking down the path in his leather jacket.
Me following after. The back of my head. His smile
as he opens the car and mock bows me in.
My sister standing in the light of the porch,
her arms crossed, angry and silent.

I love Mary Oliver, I mean what kind of self respecting poetry reader doesn't love Mary Oliver, but I was underwhelmed by 'Why I Wake Early'. They are very descriptive, unprovocative, almost sentimental. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it. Several religious references put me off. I give you, unseasonably:

The snow
began slowly,
a soft and easy

of flakes, then clouds of flakes
in the baskets of the wind
and the branches
of the trees - 

oh, so pretty.
We walked
through the growing stillness,
as the flakes

pricked the path,
then covered it,
then deepened
as it curds and drifts,

as the wind grew stronger,
shaping its work
less delicately,
taking greater steps

over the hills
and through the trees
until, finally,
we were cold,

and far from home.
We turned
and followed our long shadows back
to the house,

stamping our feet,
went inside, and shut the door.
Through the window
we could see

how far away it was to the gates of April.
Let the fire now
put on its red hat
and sing to us.

Stay safe. Be kind. Take a moment.