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)