Five Minutes Peace

April 7, 2012 at 6:19 am | Posted in books, Childhood, Children, insomnia, Literature, London | 2 Comments
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Blog, I have neglected you. This ends now. I did do well by you in January, but now you lie abandoned in the great internet orphanage/Battersea Dogs’ Home/some other appalling metaphorical place of forsakenment. (Apologies for the antiquated word: but it is rather fitting considering yesterday’s date).

I woke suddenly this morning about five after having a recurring nightmare (I won’t share details, but it involves murder). Too restless to sleep again, I read some blog posts by this lady and this one too. Both made me realise how much I missed writing up my own adventures.

I’ve not had a laptop for ages since my brother ‘borrowed’ mine (hey, at least my diary is password protected), and although I’m hoping to get one, I rather like this funny little QWERTY IPhone keyboard. Sure, the screen is somewhat ambitiously tiny for my shortsightedness, but that’s part of the fun (or something).

The silence this morning is so delicious. I can hear nothing whatsoever apart from, well, that slight buzz of soundlessness you get when you are somewhere very still. Here comes The Desiderata bit (apologies for the link to THAT website, but it was that or businessballs.com…). So much of our lives are consumed by busyness that sometimes we forget how easy it can be to find quietness in the midst of madness. Get up an hour earlier (not easy when you’re knackered, I know), or take ten minutes out of your lunch break to find peace (not of the inner or world variety, just peace, pure and simple). Where I work in Tenterden, it’s amazing how quickly I can find silence just a few minutes after walking out of my shop, even on the high street. You seem to enter a whole new universe which runs in parallel to the craziness of the usual world. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago in Richmond: a friend and I were en route to a lovely pub, and the further we walked up the hill, leaving the bustle and Bugaboos of the main town behind, the more the soft sounds of nature descended. You have to walk up this hill at least once in your life: the views are absolutely amazing. Plus perving on the abodes of the rich and famous is such an enriching activity.

There’s something so wonderfully expectant about a Saturday, particularly when it is very early and still (not, I should add, when you are rolling out of bed, dry-tongued and hungover). When I am up very early on my favourite day of the week, I always think back to walking over Kew Bridge as the sun comes up, or of sitting outside Waterstones Thanet as a probational bookseller, and reading the terrible eponymous book.

That’s all for now. Je Reviens, as Rebecca’s boat said. And remember: go placidly, folks…

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Are you goin’ to Tenterden Book Fair?

February 25, 2012 at 8:04 am | Posted in books, Literature | Leave a comment
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I have very fond memories of Tenterden Book Fair, although my memory is undecided as to when I first went there – some time during university? Before then? Anyway, like parties, I was always going for more than the Book Fair itself. I was going for Waitrose; I was going for the magnificent journey through the Kent countryside, which takes in an isolated house surrounded by poplar trees; I was going for the independent gift shops. I was going to feel posh, basically.

And the meatloaf. Oh, the meatloaf. After browsing round the stalls, it would be time for a cup of tea served from a Brown Betty pot, and a slice of meatloaf smothered in gravy and accompanied by mash and greens. It was as if I’d stumbled into an HE Bates novel.

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My favourite purchase is a signed Iris Murdoch, which is in storage at the moment, but I also found this beauty at the Book Fair one day:

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The dreaded V-Day is almost upon us….

February 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Posted in love | 4 Comments
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…so to ‘celebrate’, I’ve decided to list my favourite literary lovers.

1) Cecilia and Robbie in Atonement. So gorgeous, and so goddamn tragic (though the casting of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as the star-crossed lovers may be partially to blame for my use of the former epithet). And Robbie writes a very dirty love letter.

2) Antony and Cleopatra. She pretends she’s killed herself, so he kills himself; he dies in her arms, so she kills herself. What could be more tragic than that? Perhaps Shakespeare inspired The Smiths? ‘To die by your side, would be a heavenly way to die…’

3) Jude Fawley and Sue Brideshead in Jude the Obscure. Yeah, so there’s suicide here too, and a nasty scene with a pig. And – SPOILER ALERT – they don’t ultimately end up together. But Jude loves Sue, and Sue loves Jude, and but for a bit of fratricide, they might have stayed together.

4) Humbert Humbert and Lolita in Lolita. You might not like it; in fact, you’ve probably not even read it and have already decided that he’s a pervert, pure and simple. But this IS a love story.

5) Hanna and Michael in The Reader. Hmmm…suicide, murder and an unusual coupling…can you sense a pattern here? Despite her sadism, despite her war crimes, and especially despite her illiteracy, I believe that Michael never stops loving Hanna.

Enjoy your V-Day, happily or unhappily single or paired up. And maybe try to have a normal, boring relationship, unlike this lot.

I’m with you on the printed word, Jonathan Franzen

February 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Posted in books, Ebooks | 1 Comment
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It’s probably snobbery, to be honest, which makes me prefer the book to the ebook.  For me, the desire to possess the very newest form of technology (i.e. the Kindle, in this case) strikes me as a petit bourgeois, Del Boy desire, and yet I fully acknowledge that this is an unattractive and hypocritical point of view, as I am lying here writing this on my IPhone. But I’ve never understood parents who allow their children to have televisions in their room from a very young age, nor my brother-in-law’s desire to own as many giant plasma screens as possible.  I’m positive I could live without a television, and indeed did so when I lived in Berlin for a year.

But I digress.  Like Henry Porter in the Observer, I don’t think that ‘the printed word [is] the guardian of all democratic values’.  It’s an aesthetic appreciation of the printed book which makes me value it far more than I ever would an ebook ( even the word itself kills a little something in me).  But it is precisely this widespread aesthetic appreciation of the hard copy which has seen vinyl remain so popular.  After all, there is nothing quite like the crackle at the beginning of a song played on 12″, or the turn of a page of a book.  And would it have had the same effect if my English teacher at Eton had hurled his Kindle across the room instead of a paperback, when he demonstrated Roland Barthes’ ‘author is dead’ theory?

I have had a lovely, lovely weekend…

February 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Posted in books | 2 Comments
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…because I met my dear friend in a pub in Kew yesterday afternoon, had a lovely conversation with him which led to dinner at Pizza Express, followed by watching Pyscho back at his.  It has also been very lovely because I just met the wonderful writer Jacqueline Wilson at an event at which I was working at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.  This was all rounded off, naturally, with a gin and tonic.  What a great start to my week off.

The Birdsong backlash begins…

January 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Posted in books, History, love, relationships, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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It was inevitable, really.  Most critics have praised the BBC’s Birdsong production, so one grumpy old man journalist had to fight popular opinion, didn’t he?  It’s like Harry Potter and the Twilight Saga: many people will hate them simply because so many people love them.

So what, exactly, was David Aaronovitch’s problem with the production? Well, for starters, there were too many posh people, apparently.  Let’s not forget that ‘Other classes took leading roles in the First World War’.  Except no one’s forgetting, David: what about the character of Firebrace? Not exactly a toff, is he?

His second issue is with the fact that there are lots of ‘lingering glances’ and ‘slowly melting eyes’ before the love affair between Stephen and Isabelle begins.  What’s the matter, David? Do you need the actors to enunciate what they’re feeling every five minutes?  Can’t you decipher what is being implied? Poor David.  You’ve obviously not seen Lost In Translation.

He also questions whether Wraysford ‘would […] really be thinking of his Grand Meaulnes time with the heroine before final curtain down’. Do any of us really know what we’re going to be thinking just before we bite the bullet? I’d like to think I’ll be thinking of the people I’ve loved, and – stop reading now if you’re a prude – I may even recall a time I slept with one of them.  Sex is a massive part of life, David: deal with it.

I also disagree with his argument that casting directors are only scouting for pretty boys now.  Redmayne is a really talented actor who can convey more meaning in a glance than many can in a soliloquy.

Finally, ‘if I were a woman enjoying passive oral congress’ with Eddie Redmayne, I’d be grinning like a lush in a winebar. Face facts, Mr Aaronovitch: you’re wrong about this Birdsong.

The eReader

January 20, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Posted in books, German literature, internet, technology | Leave a comment
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Imagine, please, for a moment, that Bernhard Schlink is writing The Reader now.  And it goes a little something like this:

1) Michael meets Hanna, is violently sick. She cleans him up, he does a runner when he realises she’s ogling him naked.

2) Michael sends Hanna an ecard to thank her for clearing up his sick. She tweets him to say come over.

3) Michael gets himself all dirty repairing Hanna’s Mac.  They have passionate sex and then sext at regular intervals for weeks afterwards.

4) Michael begins reading to Hanna from his Kindle. It is compulsory for all German school children to have Kindles.

I don’t think I can bring myself to continue.

The EReader: coming to a bookshop near you soon.  Loving it? No, me neither.

The Luddite relents….

January 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Posted in books, capitalism, film, men, women, work | 1 Comment
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Have you seen Metropolis? No? Well, what are you waiting for? It is one of the greatest cinematic achievements known to mankind; sadly, the version Fritz Lang wanted is lost, leaving us with only a fragment of his vision.

Anyway, Metropolis is a truly beautiful film which shows what happens when society becomes increasingly industrialised. There are two characters called Maria in the film: one is angelic and endeavours to save her fellow humans from the horrors of the Heart Machine, and the other is a devilish and sexy mechanical Maria, engineered to incite the workers to rebel, whilst encouraging them to remain at the mercy of their dangerous, industrial surroundings.  Well, my new IPhone has turned me into the latter, and to hell with it (gentlemen, I would never trust an angelic lady: cinematic studies have proven that they usually have teeth in unmentionable places. More on that subject later).  What I mean to say is, is that I am finally embracing technology and joining the twenty-first century. I will never ever own a Kindle and will continue to fight to preserve the book; I will never worship at the Apple shrine or give a toss about Facebook again (cue one giant collective sigh of relief). But I shall continue to develop a passion for computer shortcuts, and the quirks of the somewhat antiquated Phoenix system. I shall continue to enjoy the thrill of seeing just how quickly I can type an email or text. I may never be a technophile, but I’ll certainly never be a technophobe again.

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh…..

January 16, 2011 at 2:25 am | Posted in books, dreams, family, house, insomnia, work | Leave a comment
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…………or not.  Not only can I not sleep, and have been forced to confront the Clipper Sleep Easy tea which smells of manure and other unwanted countryside fragrances, but I also still have the freaking Carpenters in my head (Goodbye to Love, to be precise).  Nice and uplifting for 2am on a Sunday morning in winter.

If I lived here, I would go outside for a cigarette, or, better still, have a cheeky fag in the flat, but this is my friend Emma’s place, and she probably wouldn’t be too impressed by the smell of tobacco, given her ex-smoker status.

So, I have work tomorrow at 9:30; great, let’s hope I’ve managed to actually get some sleep by then, given the fact that I have to drive to Thanet and may have to cash up/operate heavy machinery (ok, well, Phoenix is neither ‘heavy’ not a ‘machine’, but there you go.

I’m not prone to imsomnia, but I am susceptible to bouts of nervous energy; it’s one of the reasons for my recent weight loss, along with too many fags and an aversion to breakfast.  My brain is at its most active at the most inconvenient times, lately, mainly because I am no longer living with my son and therefore no longer need to be a lark.  I’ve never quite decided if it’s a lark or an owl I am naturally; I was an owl at university until prescribed Prozac, which turned me into the larkiest of larks, for want of a more suitable epithet.  If you need to be wide awake and raring to go at 5am, I heartily recommend it.

It is now 2:10am and I am starting to worry, given the fact that my morning shower and subsequent attempt to get a comb through my sodden hair really require me to rise at 7:30.  Yes, many an all-nighter was pulled during my university days, but I would not advocate doing so when you actually have to work for a living.  Nevertheless, despite the hour and the fumes of toxic, manure-esque Clipper tea invading my nostrils, I am decidedly bright-eyed.  I need a lullaby from W H Auden.

The other day, my dad (I am chez parents while waiting to move into my new house) walked in and woke me from a delicious dream.  I was playing a clown on Eastenders and Hilary Mantel had offered to give me free piano lessons and pay me £350 a week to write.  Nice work if you can get it, eh?

What will survive of us is love

January 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Posted in books, debate, men, Waterstone's, work | Leave a comment
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The Doobyman

When I was but thirteen or so (ok, sixteen, but I wanted to go all poetical), my parents started giving me £100 a month pocket money (what a spoiled brat I was).  It never went very far, for on that first Saturday of the month, I would hotfoot it to Canterbury in search of the finest gin, kitten heels and new publications.  Yes, I would dabble with Methuen, the charity shops and the independent bookshops, but Waterstone’s was my favourite.  Back in the day, there was only the one in Canterbury, the ‘chip shop one’, as I call it, and I would linger there in the poetry section, hoping to meet my future husband (what a ridiculously romantic teenager I was).

 I am no longer that sixteen year old in her secondhand Burberry trench, scouting the Sylvia Plath section for lines to rip off.  Twelve years on, and my lyrical tastes are more Thomas Hardy and Hugo Williams than the suicidal poets (although Anne Sexton’s verse is truly beautiful).  But I still believe in beautiful bookshops, and I still rage against the company which offers half price chocolate at its tills and employs someone who thinks The Life of Pi is a cookbook.  I still believe in bookshops in beautiful buildings, where the booksellers actually know if Nigel Slater wrote a cookbook called Simple Suppers and who the author of The Master and the Margarita is.  And I really do believe that the company for whom I work will rise, Phoenix-like (how fitting), out of its slightly financially dubious ashes and remain the bookseller’s in which I once loved to roam and for whom I now love to work.  Simples.

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