The Good the Bad and the Unreadable

It would not be an exaggeration to say that writing has spoiled reading for me. This is not to say that I no longer read. I do. In fact I consider that reading-widely and variedly-is essential for anyone hoping to produce any written work of their own. But the sheer hedonistic escapism that ensues when you are engrossed in a rip-roaring, breath-taking story is rare nowadays.

I became a voracious reader as a child, devouring the written word as soon as I could read; beginning with fairy stories and developing an appetite for fantasy in the form of the Narnia books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and the Alan Garner novels. A friend with a penchant for Enid Blyton led me to flirt briefly with The Famous Five but I was soon disenchanted by the formula aspect of the plots [although I was keen to replicate the ‘gang’ aspect by forming a club and pursuing some vague exploits].

Later I flogged my way through Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, indulged in an Ian Fleming phase with some gentile porn thrown in [a furtive, febrile partaking of Lady Chatterley plus a few dismembered sections of Frank Harris’s ‘My Life and Loves’ undertaken during geography lessons and passed around partly opened desks-little wonder I was not invited to pursue my geographical studies].

Later, during my hippy phase I spent every spare moment during one week reading The Lord of the Rings and became sucked in to the extent that when Gandalf disappeared down the chasm I was devastated to the point of despair and felt my own life to be at an end. Such is the susceptibility of youth-and Tolkien’s writing of course.

As a student I was influenced to read more widely and began to enjoy modern classics like Catcher in the Rye or Sylvia Plath’s fascinating and darkly comic The Bell Jar. I became aware that there were differences between good and poor writing.

Once real life had set in with the onset of work, marriage and babies there was a hiatus in my reading while I dipped into Dr Spock and Penelope Leach whilst wringing out the nappies. Still later, teaching left no time or energy for reading outside of holiday periods, when I’m sad to say pure escapism took over in the shape of thrillers. There was a Stephen King period, a Ruth Rendell/P D James/Minette Walters period and even a Lee Child stage before, short of a book I stumbled upon a dog-eared paperback in a hotel in The Gambia. It was The Blind Assassin. The title grabbed my attention then I was gripped, following up by reading more Margaret Attwood. I discovered Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and began to read Sebastian Faulkes, Ian McEwan etc

At last the work of good writers lured me into having a bash myself-a foolish notion. The work of such writers only serves to underline how futile my own attempts are. Worse than this-the [still published] work of poor writers induces a powerful frustration. I wasted a lot of time last year trying to read ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’, which won the Booker Prize!

Onwards and upwards…

Adventures in Dance

Some people are dancers. Others are not. I fall into a kind of hybrid category, in that I am a dancer in my imagination.

As a tiny child of four I was hauled off to Ballet lessons. Initially these took place at ‘Miss Pinegar’s School of Ballet’ in Salisbury, Southern England. Miss Pinegar’s was held in a dark and gloomy hall. We’d use a cloakroom to have our shoes changed for those soft, flesh pink slippers and off we trotted to perfect our pliés and pas des deux. I was even involved in a performance-as a flower fairy in an extravaganza loosely based upon ‘Babes in the Wood’. So far so good.

We moved to East Anglia [as described in a previous post]. A ballet school was duly found. I was given a list of French terms to learn. Others seemed more accomplished and lissom than I, so that I fell by the bar side. I dug my tiny heels in and refused.

When the sixties rushed in, deluging all with Minis, Carnaby Street, The Beatles and swinging style I applied myself with dogged single-mindedness to learning ‘The Twist’ and then ‘The Shake’, gyrating in energetic circles around my friend, Gillian Farley’s kitchen table.

The sixties morphed seamlessly into the seventies and hippie-dom saw us drifting around like characters from Lord of the Rings in elfin attire, skirts sweeping the floor and covering our bare feet-which was just as well since they were filthy from being unshod. We swayed about to ‘Are you going to San Francisco’ with flowers in our hair, thinking we were ethereal, mysterious and elegant.

Thereafter any adventures in the land of Dance were curtailed owing to being mired in the bog of children and domesticity, although my own small daughter, clad in her own soft, pink slippers cavorted around a church hall looking more than cute in a gauzy, circular skirt and leotard.

In my forties I began a newly single life and took up activities hitherto unimagined during married life such as ‘Ceroc’, sometimes called ‘Leroc’ [originating in France] and these days called ‘Mo-jive’-a form of super energetic, fast jiving involving countless moves with a partner which took [me] a very long time to learn. While we single women were not prevented from acquiring Ceroc skills by being in a partner-less state we were hampered by there being significantly fewer male pupils, and since we were required to move along and change partners every few minutes there was always long, snaking queue of women waiting to get back into the line.

There were pleasant enough men at the Ceroc sessions but romantic attachments were rarely formed, however one startling outcome was that after many months of dogged stumbling and treading on toes I learned to dance the Ceroc, for a time becoming addicted to it. Even now, after nearly 20 years with Husband [who planted his feet firmly in the dance-free zone] I am always entranced by watching others twirling together in an effortless jive.

Watching dance, in fact is something I find I love-whether it is the uninhibited thrashing about to a band at the pub or the unutterably lovely elegance of Swan Lake. What’s not to like?

Grey-What Does it do for You?

Grey. It’s the colour of the moment.
For one thing, I have just swapped the vibrant, colourful exuberance of the Caribbean for the dull, sombre, grey skies above the UK. It made me wonder what immigrants from hot, sunny climates must make of their first sight of our island country. For grey weather, which we are prey to for long periods of our year renders everything else grey. Trees, vegetation, buildings and people-we are all grey; never mind that we are a ‘green and pleasant land’. It is not at all evident at present.
For another thing, the odious ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, that best-selling novel which was a sensation, made its lucky ‘writer’ into an immediate millionaire, spawned a brood of follow-ups plus copycat novels and should have been consigned, at best, to the Mills and Boon section of book shops and libraries has been released as a movie. The timing, of course is cynically devised to coincide with Valentine’s Day; the advertising and the accompanying merchandise in your face at every turn. The book, and it its turn the film are said to appeal to mature women. One study, by Michigan State University found that readers were more likely to be in abusive relationships or have drinking or drug problems. A cynic might suggest here that the university was somehow involved in the marketing of the book.
In other areas the ‘grey’ theme continues as, on returning from a holiday, once I have recovered and regained the ability to stand upright to peer into the mirror the inevitable grey roots of hair are apparent, surging through the remaining vestiges of colour as usual. At times like this I envy those who’ve had the courage to ditch the pretence. I almost followed suit two years ago as my 60th approached but was deterred by Husband, who may just have been right on that occasion. Making radical changes to your appearance is not best effected at such a momentous lifetime event.
From time to time the fashion industry conducts a serious campaign to seduce us to buy a lot of grey clothes. It does always work for me-I like grey, especially deep, charcoal grey although as I’ve grown older I’ve begun to realise that the relationship I have with it is not evenly balanced. Grey may not actually be so fond of me.
At the end of the last of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy a significant number of the main characters drift off in pale ships to somewhere called the ‘Grey Havens’. I’ve always wondered what the Grey Havens was. Was it a euphemism for death? After all some of the characters [eg the elves] had traded their immortality to save the world. Poor Frodo, forever injured by a blow from a ring-wraith was also compelled to repair to this mysterious location. Perhaps Tolkien knew something we don’t. Perhaps we all end up there, condemned forever to the grey. Who knows?