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…

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Pass!

One of the phenomena I’ve noticed in the process of getting older is the process of things passing me by. Some of them pass by from my not having noticed them, some from my not liking them and some from my not knowing about them in the first place.

Is this a natural part of ageing? In his dotage my father took impressive steps into the world of new technology when he not only mastered some elements of word processing but also managed email [albeit in a somewhat antiquated manner, beginning all mails with ‘Dear’-letter fashion, unable to quite take in the informality]. He never got to grips with surfing the net, fearing the exposure of his personal details, perhaps his previous role as secretary to the parish council or membership of the village history society.

The phenomenon of ‘Things passing me by’ has crept upon me despite efforts to keep up. I feel it is the tip of a large iceberg, the top of which is visible, the underparts carrying a mass of culture, technology and who-knows-what-else I cannot even dream of. But here are some of the items on the top-the visible-part of the obstacle:

  1. I know what a smartphone is. I own one. But aside from texts it is rarely used, or even switched on, except for an occasional look at internet, as long as it is not too onerous to access. Most of my smartphone is a mystery. I don’t use the camera. It took me over a year to be able to swipe to answer a call [my call-answering is still not reliable]. I haven’t been able to memorise the number. It has passed me by.
  2. I understand that apps are applications. I just don’t use them. It seems that as soon as I have made the effort to acquire one something else has superseded it. ‘WHAT?’ friends and relations cry, ‘You don’t use ‘Picsnap’ or ‘Instabomb’? How do you manage to live? Surely everyone does ‘Smype’? No, they don’t.
  3. Hit TV programmes. I like thrillers. I like corny, old-fashioned cop detective shows, [like soon-to-be-axed ‘New Tricks’]. I can’t get to grips with ‘Game of Thrones’-nor do I want to.
  4. Talent shows. X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent et al. Contrived, hyped and wearisome. The only exception I make is for ‘Strictly’. I recognise few of the ‘celebs’ but I like the dancing, although the programme, with its padding, pretend humour and feeble, contrived banter is nowhere near as good as it was in the beginning. I do not, however feel enslaved to watch every episode.
  5. Contemporary music. By which I mean Rapping [I know it is all social comment/poetry and all that, but I can’t conceive of the likes of Tiny Someone, Master Monotony or Kanter East as actual music], Plastic pop [of the ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ band kind] and that monotonous, thrumming, repetitive techno you are so often assaulted by in European bars. Give me a blast of Eric Burden delivering his stark rendition of ‘Bring it on Home to me’ any day of the week.
  6. Piri-Piri chicken, Nando’s etc. Where and when did Piri-Piri spring from? I went into a Nando’s for a coffee once.
  7. Dresses worn with leggings. No. Pass by. Please.

If all this sounds curmudgeonly it is probably because I am becoming a curmudgeon. Kay Sera.

A Bucket Seat Full of Cinematic Musing

It is film award season. Oscars, Golden Globes, ceremonies, red carpets, gowns, overblown, tearful speeches, lovies, tabloid bitching. What fun!

Most the world has adopted the term ‘movie’ these days and although I have stepped cautiously into the use of the word, ‘film’ [if I’m honest] is still my word of choice. I say this because ‘movie’ is what I regard as an Americanism.

I have apologise to American readers here, right at the start of this post, since it will seem as if I am anti-American, which I am not; it is simply that growing up, the terms I was used to hearing were ‘film’, ‘flicks’, ‘the pictures’ and sometimes-‘flea-pit’.

My earliest experiences of going to ‘the pictures’ were treats, to be enjoyed during holidays-or as an escape from relentless rain on one of our family camping jaunts [described in a previous post]. Although there were earlier visits to the cinema, the first film I can recall is seeing ‘Swiss Family Robinson’, the 1960 Disney version, in ‘glorious technicolor’. It was a captivating adventure romp involving shipwreck, pirates, an island, treehouses, wild animals and a dramatic rescue.

As an adolescent, trips to the cinema were at first thrilling first outings alone with friends, then more adventurous attempts to flout censorship laws by getting in to see films we were too young for. It was more about the preparation than the activity, a lengthy Saturday afternoon with cosmetics and wardrobe choices-memorably to get into ‘Cathy Come Home’, a ‘gritty realism’ film about homelessness but containing a birth scene, which I am ashamed to say was the main reason for our attendance.

Soon after this, cinema-going took a new turn with the film itself becoming immaterial, the principal motive being getting ‘a boy’ to take you. This objective, I seem to think was rarely an unbridled success, since some assignations resulted in ‘no-shows’ and those boys who did turn up would have arranged to meet inside the cinema in a bid to escape paying for two tickets.

The cinemas were vast auditoria with prickly upholstery, intermissions, ‘B’ films and Pathé News.

Later I became a fan of thrillers, with Bond a clear favourite, although Sean Connery was, for me the only conceivable choice for the lead and all successors paled in comparison. I also loved the ‘Doctor’ films, mild comedies with gorgeous Dirke Bogarde starring [no one knew he was anything but heterosexual then].

What did most of these films have in common? They were either British made, or were dominated by British actors.

These days I rarely visit the cinema, since Husband seems to dislike film-going. I tried ‘Sky Movies’ but not being a fan of rom-coms, cartoons and action-hero movies I found nothing I could watch! I have, however discovered the joys of ‘Blinkbox’-a streaming system that allows me to catch up on the flicks I’ve missed. Now all I have to do is think what they are.