Good Riddance!

The decade is almost over. How was it for you? For some it will have been a life-changing 10 years, as the sixties were for so many of we ‘boomers’. For others it will have been harrowing or depressing. However you feel about the 2010s there will have been amazing innovations as well as gaping anomalies. Since turkeys are so much more entertaining than peacocks, as we close the decade here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of my personal gripes of the last 10 years, the trends I’d like to see die out in the ‘twenties’.

  1.  Built-in obsolescence.

Moving to a house with a spiral staircase led us to buy the wondrous item that is a cordless vacuum cleaner, and delighted we were-except that after 2 years the battery was lasting long enough to hoover a modest sized bath mat. Three hundred pounds worth of cleaner and a battery which costs £299 [or thereabouts] to replace.

Then there’s the growing heap of redundant devices in a deep drawer in our office [‘office’ sounds posher than it is-for office, read ‘glory hole’-a term my mother used for a dumping ground]. Their batteries are extinct, their operating systems superseded. My current laptop [being written on as I speak] is losing its longevity when untethered. It’s time for all this constant consumerism to stop.

2.  The Ghost High Street

The UK is not alone in experiencing the death of its vibrant town centres. Empty shops, flaking facades and litter strewn doorways can be seen throughout Europe’s towns. It is not, however the same for every High Street, since some communities have fought back in a variety of innovative ways. My favourites are those that have replaced tired ‘chain’ cafes and betting shops with delicatessens, independent cafes, micro-pubs, refill and eco shops, fair-trade and recycled or handmade goods. While everyone needs barbers and nail salons you can have a little too much of the grooming business.

Wouldn’t it be just great to see 1. on the list above combined with 2., so that each and every High Street had a repair workshop where you could get a battery replaced, a hose for a vacuum cleaner, a new pocket in your favourite trousers, new heels on your shoes, a watch strap or some re-upholstery?

Or how about a swap shop, where for a small charge you could swap the designer dress you’ve grown tired of [or grown out of] for something of equivalent value? Or somewhere you could borrow an item-like a bicycle, a posh outfit or a painting?

Of course all this would require cash-strapped councils to use their imaginations and waive or limit their rates. I don’t suppose many of them are forward-thinking enough to do it…

3. Packaging

At the risk of doing the thing to death, the plastic dilemma continues to run and run. Myself, I’m at a loss. I bought the re-usable vegetable bags. I tried to use them. Each time I visit a supermarket [one of which claims to be in the forefront of recyclable, ‘plastic-free’ goods] there is less loose produce available for those with their own bags. I’ve posted before about the frosty reception I received for presenting my own containers at the deli counter…

I also read that more and more plastic bottles of water are being sold. Water! We do not live in a third world country without piped water. Our drinking water is clean. I’d like someone to explain to me why anyone in this day and age, living in a country with clean sanitation and tapped drinking water needs to BUY bottles of the stuff. Please stop this madness now! Or else the government need to force the companies that cynically sell this over-priced commodity to use glass or compostable containers.

4. Selfies

What an appropriate word ‘selfie’ is! Is anyone else fed up with self-absorbed, pouting, thrusting, leg-out, chest-out, ‘I’m-having-a-wonderful-time-with-all-my-friends-not-you-drinking-eating-drunk’ photos? Last year in Venice we were almost unable to look at anything without posing selfie-takers draping themselves in front of it. Enough!

5. Subscription TV

I’ve done the free Netflix trial. It was pants. I’m not doing Amazon Prime for a variety of reasons [Jeremy Clarkson is one]. I mostly watch BBC. I loath ad breaks. I’m a dinosaur.

6. Celebrity nobodies [and the challenge programmes they are all on].

7. Shoulders sticking out of tops and knees poking out of jeans.

8. ‘Smart’ things.

9. Pompous, egotistical, old, white, male, megalomaniac leaders of nations.

10. Annoying lists.

I expect you’ll have your own ideas about what should die, reader. Feel free to post in the comments! Happy New Decade!

 

 

Fiction Month 5

Fiction month concludes with the prologue from my novel, The Year of Familiar Strangers, a tale of trust and betrayal, a friendship forged then mired in deceit. It is written by my alter ego, Jane Deans and available to download from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Year-Familiar-Strangers-Jane-Deans-ebook/dp/B00EWNXIFA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417341020&sr=1-1&keywords=the+year+of+familiar+strangers

Prologue

“Look round” he whispers. “Look back! Please!”

He stares out at the receding figures as they cross the tarmac; the urgency of his whispered request growing weaker with their diminishing size. He stays, leaning forward in the seat, craning, until they reach the building, a squat, ugly concrete block. They are in profile now, moving along the side towards the entrance. In a heartbeat the two tiny figures will disappear. He holds his breath.

“If you turn and look back I can’t do it.”

Then they are gone.

For a moment he cannot shift his gaze and continues to sit motionless as the audacity of the act he is about to undertake seals him into a rigid inertia. A second later he is out of the vehicle, heart pounding, slamming the door shut with a force that sends a few prowling seagulls into the air in a corporate flurry of panic.

He dives to the back of the car to wrench the boot open. Beneath him the assorted bags and cases glare back in silent accusation. He reaches in. As he withdraws the case the surrounding luggage sags into the space it has left, as if his absence, as yet unmarked, has already begun to be obscured.

He drops the case on to the tarmac, closes the boot, fumbles in his pocket for his keys then realises he must not lock the car. He glances over to the terminal once more to check that they have not emerged and opens the driver’s door to reinsert the keys into the ignition.

He must be quick now. A rapid scan of the loading area reveals little cover except for  a couple of container lorries further along the quayside and it is these he makes for, imposing a fast, business like stride upon his flight while his instincts scream at him to run. When he has gained the shadow of the lorries he looks again at the terminal building before scuttling through the gap between them. He pauses, trembling. His shirt is soaked with perspiration. He takes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his face. The sun is high, unforgiving. There is a stifling smell of mingled diesel fumes and metallic tarmac.

The lorries provide a barrier between him and the car. He continues towards the street, squinting against the glare, cursing his forgetful abandonment of his sunglasses on the car’s dashboard. At the pavement he halts to look over his shoulder once more but is unable to see the vehicle lanes from here. He wonders if they’ve returned to the car, although it’s only been a few minutes and he wonders what they will do. The thought that they may come running to find him spurs him to make haste with his disappearance and he hurries across the busy road, looking up and down as he goes, seeking a taxi. On the opposite side he manages to flag one down, leaning in to give his directions.

“Atesa-alquiler de coches, por favour.”

He throws the case on to the back seat of the cab before scrambling in. As the cab pulls away he allows himself a long intake of breath, closing his eyes to exhale, smiling a little in acknowledgement of the anticipation that is growing inside him like a slow, insistent flame.

It’s all about the Story

                We have made good our escape from windy, waterlogged England and are making for [hopefully] warmer, drier lands to the South.

                In preparation for this first jaunt of 2014 I loaded up my e-reader with some novels I’ve missed, some I was seduced by, having read reviews [though not Amazon’s-having been fooled more than once before] and some I feel it my duty to read.

                The first book is one that surprised me by its 99pence price tag, since it is the book from which the current blockbusting, award winning, sweep-the-board movie was made from-‘Twelve Years a Slave’.

                Now I have yet to see this film, and I’ve no doubt I will, but in my view films rarely match up to their book form. Although I am less than 25% through the story, ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ has gripped me and held me in its absorbing clutches. Solomon Northup’s account of his capture and subsequent subjection as a slave is both dignified and moving. He recounts the horrors that he and his fellow slaves endure in a measured, matter of fact narrative. Some of his descriptions are particularly moving, such as his account of the people of the Indian village celebrating with their visitors, enjoying a meal and dancing around a camp fire accompanied by music played on a fiddle [Solomon is himself a fiddle player]. He is captivated by the scene, whilst not once pointing out the irony of their freedom against his captivity.

                There is much to be said for personal accounts of horrific events in history. They tug our emotions more than facts. We all know of the dreadful horrors wrought on so many during the war, but Anne Franck’s diary story, documenting her life and including domestic trivia, teenage angst and family squabbles brings to life the awful reality of the events. It is the story of an ordinary family, one that we can relate to. How much more poignant than factual accounts!

                At school we were taught the dry, fusty dates and facts of history; the reigns of Kings and Queens or the politics behind the wars. If we’d have been given the personal stories behind the events I think we’d have been more interested-interested enough, perhaps to have ceased the passing round of a particularly smutty and sexually explicit paperback that some miscreant had purloined and divided into lesson-sized portions.

What would Solomon make of all the Oscar hullabaloo, I wonder. After all, the success of the film relies entirely on his story, whatever the performances and direction were like.

                We have reached the South of France, where the early March weather is already warm enough during the day to bring a blush of heat to the skin, though plummeting sharply at night. We cycled 25 miles up and down the Canal du Midi in glorious, unbridled sunshine without a cloud, the vineyards laid in neat rows ready to come into leaf. Along the side of the canal those who’ve made their houseboat homes in Dutch barges are busy spring cleaning and sprucing up. Spring must surely be the nicest season, with a promise of long, warm days to come.

                

The Fickle Art of Reviewing

                How wearying it is that reviewing has become such a cynical marketing ploy, instead of the useful consumer tool it was invented to be. It is no surprise, these days, to learn that companies such as publishers and tour operators are prepared to pay vast sums to get positive evaluations, but saddening all the same, that large conglomerations see us, the consumers, as so easily manipulated.

                I was ‘stung’ a couple of times myself when trawling through the cyber aisles on Amazon. I was seduced into buying ‘One Day’, a shallow rom-com [never a favourite genre of mine], which was eulogised about by hundreds of gushing reviewers. I did, at least manage to get to the predictable end of the book. Then there was ‘Shantaram’, which also achieved massive acclaim, and which I assumed would be more my style-it concerning travel in exotic locations, and which I deleted after less than two chapters. I also vented my spleen by writing my own vitriolic review of this egocentric and tedious story.

                None of this, of course applies to my own, lowly and self-published contribution to Amazon, my debut novel, ‘The Year of Familiar Strangers’ [by writer Jane Deans]! The book has managed to elicit two reviews so far, contributed by such acquaintances as I have persuaded to press finger to keyboard following their purchase. Between them they have bought it three and a half stars, hardly meteoric acclaim, but nevertheless respectable for a first go. Verbal feedback, however, has been startlingly gratifying. In another life, where I’d have begun to write novels in my youth, I might even have achieved the limitless wealth that could have bought me hundreds of rave reviews. Who knows?

                I get through a number of fiction novels each year, though I no longer look to Amazon to suggest the selection. It is tricky, as an innocent consumer, to know where to look for a good read. How can you be sure to get unbiased opinion? I go, often to book prize long-lists, which can be a reasonable guide; not so my recent purchase, the Booker choice of Richard House’s ‘The Kills’, which I found incoherent, confusing, boring and frustrating. I had more luck with Christine McKenna’s ‘The Misremembered Man’-a quick, light, amusing read with stereotypical characters but plenty of comedic, Irish, homespun philosophy.

                But I suspect my ‘big reading hit’ of the year will be the current occupant of my Kindle screen; A M Homes’ ‘May We Be Forgiven’, which has started explosively, a stonking rollercoaster of a story, darkly, bleakly comic in its exploration of a dysfunctional American family. It was an Orange prize winner, but gets mixed reviews, although I very much doubt anyone was paid to write them!