Thursday, 29 December 2011

Anaesthetic Story, or the Melodrama Of My Death That Never Was

Ah well.  Here I am again, albeit briefly.  I don’t know HOW you’ve coped without my moaning and whining, but I am back now, so we won’t give it a moment’s more thought, eh?!

Since we last met I have had my Euphemism Operation.  Right before Christmas.  Most intriguing that was too.  I hate hospitals, and most doctors and some nurses.  The NHS can make quite a mess of you.  But in this case (touch wood) I seem to be fine.  It’s interesting – I had so much extensive experience of the NHS when with my ex-hub, Alias Troubadour.  Many different departments, in and out of hospital for years with him, I was.  And I grew to see that people in the so-called caring professions can be hellishly callous.  You don’t have to be paid great sums of money to simply be kind, polite and have basic time for people who are sick and scared, and suffering indignity.  So that was where a lot of my experiences were forged.  (I speak of St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington.  Maybe its improved now, what can I say?  Other than Alias Troubadour was never going to be an easy patient.)

Yet my experience with the hospital here – so much nicer.  It’s been almost 2 years coming, this little op I had, and I waited for it where we were living before, and my number never came up.  I grudgingly went along here, to get re-registered for it (having moved quite out of town and borough, so messing up all the bureaucrats’ locations of me).  First I went to my doctor – who agreed immediately I needed the op and didn’t try and put me off.  Then I got an appointment at hospital that came up within 2 weeks.  When I went to that appointment, they immediately confirmed I needed the op, and put me on a waiting list.  I expected to wait another 6 months to a year.  But no.  Two weeks later, I am having the op.  Isn’t that the quickest NHS turnaround ever??

Fast forward to me waiting on a hospital bed and crying in fear.  Of dying under anaesthetic; or of waking up if I did, with brain damage.  I was constitutionally unable to understand that since my brain talks at me constantly, how can anyone possibly switch me off like a lightbulb without actually accidentally killing me?!  I am here to tell any of you with the same fear – they can, they do, you wake up, you are fine.  Or at least, speaking for my groany self, I was fine. 

This is despite getting on the wrong side of the Anaesthetist (lets call him Alias Mr Quill Pen) who when he came to see me and asked if I had any questions, was asked if he was properly certain he wouldn’t be accidentally killing me, nothing personal, I would be saying this to anyone standing infront of me with your job right now, I end, with a sort of smile, but again, so close to tears.  He tells me I navigated the worst part of the day already, statistically, by getting driven here.  Logic was so not what I needed.  Later the doctor comes, a warm hearted family man kind of person.  I cry again, in a day of never ending embarrassments.  He takes my hand and says: ‘What’s going on here?  What’s wrong?’  So softly and kindly.  I just say I’m frightened, and he pats my hand more and says, ‘no no no, you’re going to be just fine.  Dry your eyes now, and I’ll explain exactly what we’re going to do, see here, dry now, as you need to see, I’m going to draw a diagram…’  All quietly, and calmly and making eye contact.  A rather more officious woman doctor comes in after and adds as a tail to the otherwise successful stopping me crying procedure – ‘Don’t cry anymore, or your blood pressure’ll go up, then we won’t be able to do it and you’ll have to get all worked up again another day.’  Gosh, thanks, that’s helpful.  But anyway.  I return to my word search (the only thing I can do to distract myself when under extreme pressure and forced to be still).

Then its time, about an hour later.  I walk in to the theatre’s ante room, feeling like I am going to my doom.  I sit and then lie on a gurney bed, as instructed.  I discover all the people buzzing round me are Aquarians, after quizzing them in desperate fits of conversation making.  This is a bit reassuring, as it means they will be paying a visionary level of attention to my wellbeing.  Goody.  I chatter to Alias Mr Quill Pen, who seems to have come to terms with the fact I am going to be awkward and troublesome and terrified.  He cracks a joke.  The surrounding assistants, all with names beginning with the same letter of the alphabet (lets call them Lester and Larry) , are all chatting away over me and to me, and laughing, while busily attaching things to me.  Then suddenly, Quill Pen says – ‘Hmm, that’s the anaesthetic…’

It’s not like American TV at all.  There is no mask over the face and count back from 10, be asleep by 9.  Nope.  An insertion to the back of the hand (very skilfully done in this case, its left hardly a mark now, a week later), a slight sensation of cold to the wrist inside…and a very odd feeling of someone blowing up a balloon inside my body that is crowding out my brain, but not at all in a scary way as I had feared.  There is simply suddenly no room for me in my own head.  ‘Oh,’ I say, ‘I feel really weird…Someone please hold my hand?...’  And I feel one of the smiley men take my hand firmly. 

And then someone is taking a mask off my face (they put the oxygen mask on your face during the operation, as well as a tube down the throat which gives you a killer sore throat for a couple of days, but not longer).  She is asking me to lift my head a little.  She is smiling warmly at me and telling me it’s all over, gone well.  I feel like I am emerging from the longest and best sleep (of about 40 minutes) I have had in many years.  (Considering Fluffhead, this is actually true, it was.)  I am trying to navigate my voice, and hear myself slurring and thanking the nurse, and the doctors and the assistants and Mr Quill Pen.  This is quite funny.  Apparently people coming out from anaesthetic can be unpredictable and hostile on occasion.  (Woe betide anyone waking Alias Troubadour, for example – duck, you sucker…)  It is quite nice to know my inner most self roused from deepest sleep does the equivalent of giving out a massive Round Robin Polite Thankyou Note.  Quite unlike my grouchy waking self.

Amazingly, within 20 minutes I am fully awake and totally not nauseous, as I had feared I would be.  In fact, I am ravenous and exceeding thirsty.  (No food from 7p.m. the night before; no water from 6 a.m. – op at about 11 a.m.)  I am wanting to walk about, and in fact go home NOW.  Of course, they don’t let me.  I have to drink loads, eat something, prove I am able to pee without pain or any other hiccup, and take several laps of the room over a couple of hours without swayage.  I accomplish it all masterfully, especially the drinking of 5 hot chocolates.

I am chatting to other people waking up and starting to wander about in the Recovery Ward.  One woman, in for a termination I think I heard, gets up, dusts herself off after half an hour, and winks at us as she leaves.  She has been the most cheerful person in the room all day – we all assume she is off for a cigarette, as she kept saying she fancied one earlier.  Half an hour later there is a panic as she hasn’t come back, and you’re sposed to lie down, really, for 2 days after anaesthetic, as your blood pressure can suddenly drop and you’ll get all feeble and maybe faint.  So you’re sposed to rest.  But no – she’s absconded.  Security get called, nurses search.  We all feel a bit dim for assuming she was just popping out.  She calls, from home, 3 hours later, and says she’s on the way to the pub with her husband.  The nurses are beside themselves – partly as they are cross they spent so much time looking for her when they had other people to care for; and partly because she hasn’t even had the needle out of her hand, and will have to go to the doctors to get it done.  As to the wiseness of going home so soon and then to the pub, they to a one purse their lips, shake their heads and say she’ll be back in here by nightfall.

I never find out if this is true, as I am discharged sooner than expected as I keep frolicking about with a strange amount of energy.  (It’s actually easier to folic in a very understated way than to sit, as my Woman Bits are in Fiery Pain.)  But I have done all required, so I am given pain meds and a discharge sheet and instructions that Stanley is to check the wound site every day in case of infection.  (This turns out brilliantly for him, as he is a sort of Mad Scientist type: he fetches a headband with magnifying glass lenses and a light on it, and examines the wound every day with a gratifying degree of seriousness to detail.  The headband is for the construction of small models, but hey, how useful is it proving?)

Apart from a Fainty Turn the next day (due to attempting to still frolic, and getting the blood pressure lowering thing, just as predicted) I have been doing well.  I have been sitting for a week now on a ring shaped cushion, saying ‘oww’ a lot and getting Stanley to do most of the lifting.  Fluffhead is a very active package and needs lots of running about for.  You don’t realise how much of it involves lifting till you can’t do it.

And there were pluses to the whole thing.  Stanley and I have seen loads of each other.  Usually, we are always dividing our time, or passing like ships in the foggy old night – he is up and out just as Fluffhead and I emerge of a morning; gone all day, then a brief hello before he babysits Fluffhead so I can make dinner; then half an hour sitting and eating and chatting and watching something….then Fluffhead and I are off to bed.  This is partially because I have not got the Fluffhead sleeping by himself thing sorted at all; and partly because I am genuinely exhausted by the time he is ready to sleep.  At weekends we tend to split the time, each of us getting some alone time (sorely needed), and each of us getting some Fluffhead time.  There’s hardly ever time for any US Time.  So all these days of me not being able to move much and Stanley being here all the time are brilliant.  We have had time to watch whole films through, and finish extended conversations, to cuddle, to go out for small walks with Fluffhead.

So there we are.  For a person who spent most of the week before the op contacting her friends and telling them it had been very nice to know them; and in the case of Mr Hooting Yard, requesting a nice obituary on threat of a haunting were this not done…I am greatly pleased to be still alive, un brain damaged and able to finish reading his latest book, sometime in the misty far awayness that is so much closer now; that island of 2012 we are all sailing ever closer to.

Not dead!  Not dead!  Yay!!!!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

2012: The Year I'll Be Queen of Everything. Yup.

So here I am, pondering my New Year’s Resolutions already.  I have that coming to the end of the year feeling.  I can feel things tapering off and down, slowing.  I can feel a sense of new things, new starts, fresh chances.  I like this feeling, since I have always ballsed up in some way or other, spectacular or small, with any manner of things in the past year.  Always a fresh chance.  (Bit like Monday’s too; only they lose that lovely fresh feeling due to slippage – being associated with the start of a working week, rushing, tube travelling and being crushed, having a very boring/stressful job etc – it clouds over the wonderful possibilities that all Monday’s COULD represent.  Since New Year is a day a lot of us can take off work and actually have a think with (if we choose), then it’s more likely to be useful.

All the presents are now wrapped.  (I have discovered that Stanley is going to hate one of his, due to a segment on breakfast TV this morning involving one half of the two people in one of the DVDs I got him.  Oops.  Well.  This is what happens when he will insist on some surprises; they may be wrong!  I shall watch it, even if he doesn’t.)  The tree is up (more baubles, more tinsel, than a small plastic tree should ever have to bear, poor tiny now very gaudy thing).  The Christmas cards are blu-tacked to the wall, and Fluffhead imperiously demands picking up every few minutes to have the pictures labelled again: reindeer, Christmas tree, other Xmas tree composed of Australian animals (he accepts this as completely normal), camel and sun, Santa Claus, different reindeer, frozen pine trees with snow, Christmas tree with carollers….and back to the beginning again.  For a while.

So there’s a tidy feeling of waiting for one thing, with a sort of void before it happens.  Hence, am reminded of New Year, as after Christmas has that same void of nothing following lots of anticipation and excess, also.  (And though I bought less presents than usual this year and had to watch my money a lot, it really felt like excess anyway, as all that money could have gone elsewhere.  But hey, I love to give presents, so there.)

Resolutions then.  What do I want to change about 2012, for me, that I can do myself.  (Don’t expect anything terribly profound or earth-shattering here.)

I will spend less out, pay off more of loans and debts, and actually start to save (no matter how hard this seems).  This involves shopping in a more wide awake way, not buying pre prepared food things unless they are on special offer, or really will save the time they are s’posed to (as its convenience you pay for there, the time saving – so it’s a worthy deal some of the time).  It involves NOT buying so many or hardly any books.  (I don’t think I can buy none, unless we are suddenly peasants again and the currency is eggs and piglets and honey[1]; in which case let’s hope I get a knock to the head and forget how to read as well, as I’d be a bit miserable with nothing to read if I was capable…)  It involves getting to the end of the month and realising I am not skint due to astonishingly organised and unrelentingly discerning financial management; and resisting the urge to then buy (a) more expensive food, or (b) treats like …books or DVDs.  I can see myself doing that hammy horror film thing, yelling and pulling out my own hair and fighting with my own arm, ululating in grief as I force myself to pay more off a credit card (I don’t have one of my own, I have one Stanley lets me look after as though it were my own), or add money to a savings account.  For a rainy day, no…it seems we are already engaged in a bit of a financial Rainy Year, as a country and a continent.  No – for birthdays, for Christmas next year, and for …ill defined emergencies.  I shall try and get a higher interest savings account maybe.  (I am only allowed the most basic of financial things in banks and building societies as I am a past naughty person; a terrible risk.  Funnily enough, this applies to savings accounts as well as credit – people are worried at the idea of you saving with them though there is no borrowing involved.  How weird.)

I have this vague poorly thought out Master Plan idea of being the Queen of Bargains, Coupons and Discounts next year.  Not in the sense I will signing up to a million corporate internet sites that promise to send me free samples of things.  Nope, not that into the idea of discounts and freeness.  Hate spam mail, and the encroaching tide of endless data gathering about my shopping ‘habits’.  That Annoys Me.  Nope, I just mean: I will try and pay attention to my receipts at Boots and Tescos and those little coupon things disguised as another receipt.  I caught hold of one 2 weeks ago and it promised a pound off a packet of nappies if I went back and bought them before a certain time frame.  It was the ones I usually get, I saw no imminent end of Fluffhead’s need to pee in his pants, so I used the coupon next time I was there.  Or the one that said I could have £3 off if I bought more than £10 of vitamins, which I was about to do anyway, so again, actually useful.  Sometimes I ignore these, but not anymore.  I will pay attention to vouchers and coupons and such that cross my path, and see if its economic to use them (as getting caught into buying something you didn’t need is dumb, regardless of how cheap it suddenly is).  I will be lithe and awake and watchful for times when these offers apply to me.  Since the price of fresh fruit and vegetables in particular, has gone up (round here) by definitely a third over the last year.

Also, a Charity Shop Queen next year.  There was a worrying time, for about 10 years before last year, when it stopped being cheaper for me to get clothes in charity shops, and I switched to supermarkets.  This was because of 2 things.  Firstly, said charity shops raised clothes prices, almost to a one.  When I used to live in Paddington, I queried this in several shops.  I said to them that they were pricing out of their shops the people who really needed to shop there: people on benefits, part time workers with no benefits from their jobs, students, and the elderly on state pensions.  They were, to a one, completely unsympathetic (except in platitude terms), and replied that it is a Charity and Needs To Make Money.  Which really Annoyed Me.  So who is going to shop with you if you carry on this way, I said?  Those ultra middle class people, who will be the ones left able to afford you?  They are more likely to go to a proper ‘vintage’ labelled shop…not a charity shop, where some of the clothes aren’t washed before selling, and you can tell.  Heh.  Anyway – I argued a bit with some of them (and stopped giving them my excess books).  Secondly, the supermarkets in particular got incredibly cheap in their own brand clothes lines (George at Asda, Florence and Fred and Tesco, TU at Sainsburys [my favourite, that one] etc).  Massively cheap.  I hate to think what blind children were stitching these cheap clothes in sweatshops somewhere.  But this has ended.  The supermarkets are still cheap, but not AS cheap as they were.  And charity shops, due to everything else getting so expensive, are now looking cheaper as options again.  Which means I shall go back to them.  Am in a different area now, and like to think the rude volunteers at some of the shops in Paddington were simply bad ambassadors for their charities (its not like I got organized enough to email anyone at Head Offices for a proper explanation of price increases, other than the obvious, like rent).  Plus, I always loved the seeking for treasure element of charity shops.  You might go in there with a strong need for a pair of jeans, but come out with a brilliant jacket or two thick winter tops for under a tenner.  (I do miss jumble sales, two thick winter tops for 20p…)

Following on from this, I want to rehabilitate my sewing machine.  And get my needles and threads out.  As I can’t really afford any news clothes (of any kind from anywhere) currently, I am getting lurid dreams when I lay in bed at night, of cannibalising my old clothes.  I have, f’rinstance, a khaki green jersey top, V neck.  With those annoying three quarter length sleeves that finish at the mid forearm.  How cold I get when I wear this is an irritation to me.  I have lots of tops like this, as they were very in for a while and it was almost impossible on my budget to find a proper length of sleeve![2]  I also have a very impractical similarly stupidly sleeved top with loads of colours and bubbles on, a wild pattern.  A nice green in there too, that matches the other top.  What if I extend the sleeves of the first top with the sleeves of the second one, and then they will be the proper full length?  It’ll be all patchworky and bright and happy and gypsyish – cool!!!  I can extend the bottom too, as I find lots of tops are too short, they shrink up in the wash.  It will also then be a one off, and all exclusive to me!  (Uhuh, or a massive sewing disaster whereby I lose 2 tops!  LOL.  Well – we’ll have to see, eh?)  Imagine, I could do loads of stuff like that.  It’ll be like Pretty in Pink, where Molly Ringwald was a sewing goddess, and the bitchy girls at school laughed at her putting lace on everything….but who got Andrew McCarthy at the end????? (Swoon, still, after all these years.  Still love him in St Elmo’s Fire[3], looking to the camera with those eyes, after being asked how he was by Ally Sheedy, who he loves in secret as she’s with Judd Nelson...yes, anyway, and he says: ‘Me?  It ain’t easy being me…’ and slides those liquid brown eyes away…ahhhhhhhhh.  Anyhoooooow…..)

Speaking of goddesses, sewing or any other, here’s the next resolution.  Spirituality.  I read a lot of it.  I do think on it.  I do rituals here and there.  I say to myself that my life is too full of Fluffhead and Stanley and Saint Mum and Fry and reading books and replying very late to emails from friends and trying to write stories and DOING THIS (which does take about 2 or 3 hours a time then more to add links if I am going to, and check for typos etc etc etc), to actually be properly organised about it.  Then I go around, complaining to myself that I don’t FEEL very connected to the earth, to my own Best Me, and to that intangible whatsity thing I have a notion I have felt before several times, and experienced another several, the effects of.  I need to plan things to do, regularly.  Regularly meditate, just for 5 or 10 minutes, cos that’s actually doable.  Light my candles and sit before my regularly cleaned and seasonally organised altar and just do nothing but be there with it.  See – this is the main problem.  I have this awful sensation of TIME’S AWASTIN’ all the time!  I find it really difficult to do nothing and just meditate, or rest. 

This is a new thing, since the birth of Fluffhead.  Since I did that at late 30s, and am now 40, I have this terrible feeling of hurtling toward the Rest Of My Life, which I feel will be shorter than the bit I just did.  I used to be capable of say, taking a day off work for mental health (where I said I was sick physically of course, as people don’t get that your brain will explode if you see them again for another day and you must Be Alone for 12 hours), and just…Sleep for 5 hours, and then reading a book.  Staring quietly out of the window for an hour at nothing in particular was easily doable also.  I was sliding into a feeling of peaceful nothingness, calm.  Mental quiet.  Nowadays I get no time like that; and when I get a couple of hours I choose to try and do nothing with, my brain yells at me the entire time.  STRIVING for mental quiet is no way to get it!  Sliding into it, that’s how you do it.  Distract self like toddler.  (I have so much sympathy with Fluffhead; the amount of times I have watched his reactions to things and thought that I am still at that same exact stage of mental development.  I want it now!)  But I won’t get there if I don’t make time for it.  I used to do this brilliant thing with Open University exams, told to me by a brilliant counsellor there once.  She advised me, when I told her that I panic in exams and then freak out about the time I’m wasting that I won’t get back and it all feeds itself, etc etc…she said to simply make an exam plan with times, and factor in the panic.  Like this: Turn over exam paper.  Panic without being able to even read the questions (10 minutes).  Read questions slowly and thoughtfully (5 minutes).  The 2 essay questions (30 mins each + 5 mins for plan, which you do not strike through at the end, you leave it clear, so it will also be marked.  In the plan, you just put the very simplest phrases of what goes in each paragraph of the essay – so the examiner can see your thought process and know you know the stuffage, even if you never get to complete the essay…etc).  I need to be that regimented with my spiritual stuffs.  As I have deadlines and tiny times.  And factor in the yelling brain, the desperate ‘but there isn’t enough time!’ feeling.  Just factor it in, and move along with the plan. 

Having recently gone vegetarian again (after having done it twice before, each time for 2 years), I have all these healthy eating ideas for next year too.  I’ve been reading my recipe books and marking the recipes easy to do, quick to do, and above all, cheap to do.  I’ve looked out all my exercise DVDs, and sold the ones that won’t do, and accumulated a few extra ones (2nd hand, cheap cheap cheap!).  So the routine next year will be Iyengar yoga (to add to the Hatha yoga I’ve done for a few years with varying regularity), some pilates and other stretching, and some basic beginner cardiovascular bounce about in the living room stuffs – as I am so unfit since Fluffhead.  (Unless you count the massive biceps I have from carrying him about?!)

I’m hoping all these things will tally together: I’ll be happier and calmer from knowing I am doing the best I can with the housekeeping money I get (I am managing on less than Fry gets on Jobseekers Allowance per month, and I’m taking care of 3 people’s entire food, medicine, toiletries, clothes, babyfood and nappies on this; and any travel I may do).  I’ll feel virtuous and slightly buoyed by knowing I am building up savings for emergencies and birthdays/occasions etc – a safety net is always a good feeling.  It will be very small, but even trying is worthy.  And obviously, being fitter will help health and mind; being vegetarian will  (hopefully) make me as slim and as clear in the head as it did last time (careful of the cheese though, when I’m Sherbet…).  And I’ll feel calmer and more ALIVE from prioritising spiritual things, and connectedness work.  It’ll basically be like Eat Pray Love without the international travel, money, superbly conversational writing skills, people to chat to and acquiring of new squeeze. (Note to Stanley, who never reads this, but just in case:  very happy with you as my squeeze!)

Discipline.  That’s actually the key to all this.  Organization and Discipline.  I am going to become my old acupuncturist, the German Joska!  He was great.  A model of everything I am listing here that I would like to be.  (Except sewing; but hey – he could do acupuncture, he had skills!)  He was slender, fit, spiritually connected to his idea of Everything, intelligent to a scary degree, and powerfully vegan (and had the best smelling breath of anyone who ever breathed on me – that’s HEALTH for you).

So that’s the plan!  Best laid plans and all that.  Care to accompany me through the Romp of Whatever Reality Turns Out To Be, next year?!!  I could do with the company…come on, you know you want to hear about how I might slip up and eat too much oily pizza which I really couldn’t afford to pay for, while I relax watching soul suppurating Lewis on a DVD I shouldn’t have bought because I twisted my ankle exercising after all this time on the very first go because I was all over enthusiastic?  You know you wanna…

[1] …like in Survivors, the proper 70s one, when they got the barter economy going.  If you haven’t seen it, its very good, try to see it.  SO many thought provoking topics in it, not least the one in the last series where Ian McCulloch (that staple of 70s horror, here captured just before he went off to be the Euro-horror god with Fulci and others that he was to become) became a sort of king figure to the remaining peoples of Europe, as they went beyond local societies and started trying to re-start an infrastructure country and pan Europe wide.  Oh, the theoretical arguments Stanley and I had during those series’….We often had to pause the DVDs so I could argue with him at length.  (He was always wrong, of course!  I said there should be no king figure it was a retrograde step; he saw why it was needed as a morale booster, a figurehead.  I said they should keep their new communities small, as globalisation had created so many problems, let the rot come in its own time, I said…he disagreed, pointing out the many good things that had indeed come with globalisation, eventually.)  If you fancy heavy late night arguments about politics and economics and farming methods with your spouse – by all means invest in this brilliantly well thought out original.  ESCHEW the crappy remake!!!
[2] I apologise to anyone reading this who is now bored – first money, then charity shops, now sewing…or anyone who has money, and finds all this talk of squirming round the edges of things because of money tacky.  Or do I apologise?  Do I just say get lost and go and read a different blog?! Or the FT – check your investments!  Ok, that last was tongue in cheek; I WISH I had investments – I have a dream of opening a bank account with The Co-Operative Bank and doing ethical shares and stocks, and having a ‘portfolio’.  But only the ethical stuff.  No gambling with people’s lives for me, that’s cruel, irresponsible - immoral.  And I don’t say that about many things.
[3] Yes, St Elmo’s Fire WAS a good film, shut up!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Best Books 2011, Part 2 - plus a digression...

As promised, here are the second lot of Good Books I read this year. 

It’s strange to think that so many of those books I read, I owned (having bought online first or second hand, or at a charity shop).  As of 2012, which promises to be a Year of Really Boring Ultra Austerity (oh!  Did I say Really Boring? – of course, what I meant was – An Incredible Opportunity To Embrace The Providentially Given Challenge of Impecuniousness and Make It Luscious!![1]) for our family, I shan’t be buying hardly a book at all.  Nary a one…well, maybe a couple.  Who am I trying to convince that I am even capable of NOT buying books, there being a constant and comforting flow of them, in and out of the house?  Well.  I can but try, as we are set to be Yet Poorer. 

Anyway.  To this end of Actual Yet Virtuous Skintness, With A Mind to Eco Friendliness (observe my spin there, see, that’s not too annoying for positive thought; realistic too) I have become reacquainted with our local library.  This library is so cute.  It’s not like when I was living in Westminster, when the local library down the road from Royal Oak Station was a two floored haven of all manner of interesting books.  Or the fact that I could use my card in any Westminster library, and there are some pretty massive and well-stocked libraries in Westminster.  Nope.  This library is the size of my living room, times about 4.  It’s a very small library.

I am bothered by some of its sections.  For instance – no feminism, literary theory section, or LGBT.  Yes, I know, these are not the first sections most go to – but a bit of an explanation about gender/role/expectation things is always helpful, and most of us could do with knowing a bit more about these things.  And the selection in these sections is always a bit indicative as to what sort of community you’re (outwardly at any rate) living in.  (It’s my potted glance to see if I am in a room of Liberalism or not!)  Annoyingly, I can’t order any feminism or literary theory in from another library either – every title I’ve queried so far (I’m reading Judith Butler and some Elaine Showalter at the moment, a bit of Camille Paglia) has been not even on the system at any of the borough’s libraries. Hmmm…

More worrying though, is the Social Studies Section.  It’s full of those books that have white covers, pictures of children with sad beaten eyes, and are about horrible childhoods filled with incest and abuse.  You know these books, like Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It (2001).  I’ve read a couple of these type of heartbreaking and oddly voyeuristic books, and I feel like I never need to read another.  I feel very strongly that these books should not be labelled Social Studies: it’s incredibly misleading.  They aren’t textbooks, they aren’t written academically, and they aren’t – of course, they can’t be – objective.  They are deeply subjective memory stories, deeply emotional.  They should have a section of their own: ‘Nightmare Childhoods’ or something.  

Aside from those 2 main worries, and the general smallness of anything factual in this library (the history section is mainly military and that’s it), the Fiction sections aren’t too bad.  There’s a massive over-prevalence of Catherine Cookson, and those books about the East End or the Mersey in other Pre/Post WWI or II, or further back in Ye Olden Hard Up Times, that seem to really addict some people[2]…But behind these, there’s a solid Fictional Crime section, an ok Horror section (for once, NOT mixed up with Sci Fi or Fantasy, themselves too often conflated).  If you roam about two or three times, even for just a small ten minute period (with an anxious Fluffhead making lion noises and trying to fight his way out of the new In-Law Present for Xmas pushchair that’s built like a Hummer, which causes me to rush for fear of disturbing other readers at the tables), you can discover treasures.  The Literary Fiction is all mixed up with the regular fiction, but there is some.  The Classics are likewise mixed up but there.  There’s a surprisingly rich section on child development, both practical (what to feed fussy toddler cookbooks, not all Annabel Karmel type ‘I Shall Feed My Child Costly Asparagus and Salmon for Every Lunch’, either) and theoretical (I found a Piaget!).

I hope to be draining this library dry come 2012.  I already filled in a big suggestion form about what books to possibly buy in.  And made a pile of books to donate to them (things I can’t sell as the postage would kill me or they are too common at the moment, but are in great condition – these are just the sort of books libraries need, as they tend to be common fiction).  So far I have borrowed 15 books (yes, like I get the time to read all these, as well as what I own already – its not like I have a shortage of books – it’s the one thing I am Totally Awash with, and ever happy that this be so.  Like my dad used to think, my books are My Friends, whole other worlds in each one, where I am in communication with the author deeply and personally – intimately – while reading each and every one.  Bliss!).

So – the library has faults, but I am making friends with it anyway, and hope to try and help it a little bit, if I can.  (Hopefully life will be as kind to me?!)  On to the list.  That was the Digression bit.

  1. Strangers, by Taichi Yamada (2006, for this author, putting the year of the English edition I read, not necessarily the year it was first published in Japan)
    (Excellent ghost story.  Simple.  Tons of exposition; I don’t mind being TOLD rather than shown, any day, if the narrative voice is persuasive.  I think a lot of modern views on reading and teaching of writing are plain wrong with this over-insistence on showing all the time.  Both have their place.  This story had imagery; but a lot of it was the reasoned thoughts of the hero, delivered in plain, sparse, simple prose.  I loved it.  Calm and thought provoking.)
  2.  In Search of a Distant Voice, by Taichi Yamada (2007)
    (A very odd mysterious story.  If possible, even more excellent than the last one?!  In a different way.  Slightly more complicated.  Didn’t like the setting and character at the beginning and thought I wasn’t going to like it at all, then it ran away with me, and I was left stunned at the sudden end – which explained nothing.  Very good indeed.)
  3. I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying For A While, by Taichi Yamada (2008)
    (So…what would I do if I was 67 and suddenly started to get much younger?  And what would a man who felt in lust with me do?  And would armed robbery be involved?!  Amazingly brave and spooky book.  And sad, sad ending.  Why are not MORE of this amazing writer’s stories translated to English???  WHY??!!  I will have to learn to read Japanese!!)
  4. Smashed, by Koren Zailckas (2006)
    (How could I not love a book with the lines: ‘Cheap champagne, which is both romantic and lethal, will hit me like a crime of passion.  I think it can help me behead myself.’ [p.164] Never read so much vomiting in one book – why drink when the hangovers are that bad??  And her going down the street with her mother and throwing up every few paces – whoa…and the sorority and fraternity houses, what a terrible thing, all that mess and decadent excess and for no good reason…!  Very well written.  Though I never entirely understood why she drank – where did the self hiding come from?)
  5. Innocence, by Kathleen Tessaro (2005)
    (Perfect, 10/10, absolutely nothing wrong with this book, loved the style, loved the subject matter, loved the characters.  The best kind of upmarket chick lit.)
  6. Notes From An Exhibition, by Patrick Gale (2008)
    (Excellent, really felt all the characters.  Caused a single-handed reawakening of my Quakerism, which alone is astonishing.  [Didn’t last long, but felt it most strongly at the time; remembered everything I used to love about the Quakers and Quakerism…then finished the book, and remembered why I don’t go anymore, and what annoys me about them…] So sad Petroc died, but good he died after such a lovely experience.  The book felt like it finished really suddenly, I was surprised.  I wanted more – felt like the story wasn’t done.  Did Garfield tell his wife about his infidelity?  I hated that bit, it scared me, it was the personification of all my worries about lonely people in circumstances.)
  7. Living Druidry, by Emma Restall Orr (2004)
    (Intense.  Exceptionally trippily intense.  Parts of it – well, all of it I think; I agreed with completely.  Some of it I didn’t entirely understand.  She appeared so utterly spiritual as I would never get anywhere near where she was; nor in some cases would I want to.  But this is probably the most informative – if difficult – pagan book I have read in ages.  And poetic.  Will definitely be rereading; there’s stuff here I won’t properly absorb for some time.  I’ll need to come back to this several times. [NB/ its 8 months later and I’m still puzzling it; deeply affected.])
  8. A Sort of A Life, by Graham Greene (1974)
    (As the title says, almost a memoir, but not quite.  Stodgy and annoying and very very superior in places; in others, wonderful and honest and kin to me.  He’s a puzzle, and I like him.)
  9. Ferney, by James Long (1998)
    (A novel sort of about time travel, but not really; more about reincarnation, but not exactly.  Some very good debate about time; the nature of history; perception over generations (the idea of time being measured in ‘old men’s lifetimes’, making each period seem not that far away) and reincarnation.  But the end, while an amazing twist, somehow ruined it – it wasn’t a fitting ending for such an epic and deliberate love story.  Though it was certainly memorable, it was chilling pathos.)
  10. Child of the Prophecy, by Juliet Marillier (2002)
    (One of the best fantasy writers I have read in a few years.  Amazing writing.  Almost cried several times near the end.  Such clearness.  What a good writer she is.  Wish I could write like that.  The scene with the birds and her freeing them.  But the middle book – weirdly, unusually, was the best one in this trilogy.)
  11. Gifted, by Nikita Lalwani (2007)
    (A very unusual book.  Not only was this a massive page-turner about a clever teenager who was under terrible pressure; but it had some of the most lovely writing and imagery I’ve some across in ages.  Maybe the best book I’ve read this whole year, for deliberate writing quality?  And it really reminded me of someone I used to know – the way her family was, what family pressure can do to someone.  The addiction to cumin seed chewing will stay with me. Why has she not published anything else yet??)
  12. Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, by Karen Casey (2005)
    (This was a very interesting little book.  I was quite down when I started reading it.  I felt wary of some of the concepts; they seemed too simplistic or difficult to apply – but others shone out as the sanest common sense.  And as the week I read it drew on, my depression started to lift [and came back as I was finishing it, lol!].  I think if you think of the ‘Higher Power’ stuff as the part of yourself that is not insecure, stupid etc, the best part of you, the calmest part – or spirits/forces of truth, beauty, goodness, etc – then you will be ok with these parts.  It was a wonderful read, and I will keep it to read again – these things made sense, and I should do them.  I am nothing if not ridiculously co-dependent here and there.  And putting some of these quiet, but important principles of ‘tending my own garden’ into practice would do me a lot of good, I think.)
  13. After Dark, by Haruki Murakami (2007)
    (I LOVED this.  It was short, simple and spare in style. Direct and easy to read.  Its simplicity and the way it kept me reading amazed me – nothing much at all was happening, but I was fascinated.  So many of the characters seemed to drink milk.  See the odd things I carry away as impressions from books?!)
And there you have it!  And I just realised Haruki Murakami has had a new book out since October (I saw an ad for it yesterday...there's a thing to order from the library!  Am Virtue Incarnate as of course, my first thought was to buy it when I can't afford it really).
Right - we are unlinked again.  This is 'cos I was worried this post might not appear next week at all unless I got it up now, whilst Fluffhead sleeps.  Next week gets crazier (in terms of fitting in things that seem to be piling up to be gone out and done) by the second.  But as before - all said books on online bookshops, either first or second hand; or search them out at the wonderful charity shops near you!
PS - for the one person (thankyou!) who cared to ask what my op was about, its as a result of the Euphemism Problem I mentioned a post or two earlier (in 'A Cheese Sandwich', I do believe...)
PPS - Thankyou to the 128 Russian people who inexplicably came and read my post about 'Imaginary Gardening' last week in one day... I am puzzled at your choice of post, and happy to meet you all.  (Stanley thinks you are only reading me because you think I am speaking in some sort of secret agent code with important political messages; as he thinks the blog is mostly gibberish!  Heh!  I on the other hand, am merely grateful to be read - and no, sorry, no code - it just is what it is: me rambling!!)  Thankyou Russian Readers for coming by!

[1] Ack.  People who insist on speaking ONLY positively Really Annoy Me.  As in, I shall make it a Really Annoying Me No.4 or 5 or whatever post.  I mean – there’s ways of being positive, and trying to re-educate your mind, or look on something in a way that helps you cope etc.  And then there’s mindless optimism, highly irritating words like ‘challenge’, ‘opportunity’, ‘community’ etc, and people who won’t hear one word that sounds like it might possibly be not positive at all – regardless of whether it’s a true thing, and therefore needs some possible looking at, to address the situation to correct it.  You know – Action.  Instead of Head Up Arseness.  Arghhhh.  I have some Ultra Positively Minded Friends, and man, I don’t know how I tolerate them!  (Actually, I haven’t heard from them recently, so it could be that they took some pop psychology advice and decided I wasn’t a good vibe of positive waves (or some poodly somesuch) and have eschewed me from their bubbles of nothing but love and light.)
[2] Interestingly (or not), I can’t stand those Hard Times in the East End, or the Mersey novels – which is funny considering I am always quite openly going on about how skint *I* am!  I find those novels dreary and depressing.  Maybe I do have some optimism on the subject – things are hard, but WILL improve, so I’m not going to read tome after tome of waffling about how sad and not good everything is.  I prefer the Monty Python sketch way of approaching it (‘I used to get up before I went to bed’ – remember that one?  Everyone competes to see how hard their lives were, till it was very silly?).  Some things I prefer to laugh about money problems, or moan about in an overly way that you can't really take seriously – there’s my coping mechanism…

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Best Books Read in 2011, Part 1!

By popular request (by that, I mean 2 of you; out of the regular 4 of you[1]) here is my list of Good Books I read this year, Part 1.  Its not part 1 because I have the time to read so very very much, as simply because I do indeed waffle on about what I’ve read, so very very definitely much.  ( And I very very very much wish I had acres more time to read...!)

I was tempted to get all organizational and break it up into themes, but I’m leaving it as higgledy piggledy as I first read them.  In order.  (With the not so good ones left out, of course – though they had some of the most interesting notes.  Maybe I should also do a ‘Flawed Books Read in 2011’ List…?) 
Ok.  Here it is…

1.       Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut, by Emily White (2003)
(The title says what its about, really.  [I detest the expression ‘does what it says on the tin’ that’s all over the place the last couple of years, and WON’T say that about this book.]  An exploration of how people myth-make on this subject, who the myths get tagged on to, possibly why, and how it affected them.  This has to be the most lyrically written feminist book I have ever read.  Of course, it doesn’t have the bonkers poetry of Irigaray or Cixous, but it made sense [unlike some of Irigaray or Cixous!].  The first 2 chapters and the last 4 chapters were excellent. The middle sagged a little, and was repetitive.  But I really enjoyed the book, and the way it managed to be thoughtful and rigorous without being dry at all.  It’s made me put a lot of theory books on my wish list to read.  I don’t know if we have the exact same archetype going on over here, and going to an all girls secondary school, I couldn’t tell you precisely.  But the ostracism and bullying tactics – they seem to be similar no matter the breed of outcast you are.  I understood and remembered some of them from being the booky 'well spoken' outcast.  She does a good job of highlighting the problems with racial and class stereotyping, when seeking an all-encompassing explanation.  She also, rightly I think, sites ‘boy craziness’ as one of the major reasons girls are set against each other – all their lives; bred to mistrust.  There were many good points here, too many to note.  A keeper.  I recommend anyone interested in the theme to get a copy of this!)
2.     The Vampire Tapestry, by Suzy McKee Charnas (1980)
(Wonderful book.  Today there is a strange over obsession with vampires going on in fiction and film.  This was way before all that.  Life of a real vampire, a product of evolution: seen through the eyes of several interludes with others, then gradually, through his own eyes.  How he sleeps and comes awake a clean predator, but is gradually more and more taken by his prey, until he has to sleep again, as his distinction between himself and them has hazed too much for him to be effective.  No fangs, no massive sexiness, except that which people attribute to him.  He is a mutation, a biological plausible anomaly. He seems to be the only one.  Fascinating read.  Cold, yet very sweet on the ear.  A real page-turner.  And Katje de Groot – there’s a character I don’t think I will ever read again, so un-PC now.  But so honestly done.  Really enjoyed.  20/10)
3.     The Aspern Papers, by Henry James (1888)
(Excellent.  Some of Henry James can be so very overly wordy [and this from a person who loves to over-saturate a sentence], but this was more conversational, less turgid.  Loved the sly and acquisitive narrator.  Loved the interplay of the characters.  Loved Miss Tina – an unlikely woman.  Men always seem to write women as stereotypes of one kind or another.  This one was an actual person.  And I loved the twist at the end.  Made me gasp.  And you know how much fun it is to be made to do that by a book!)
4.     Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes (2011)
(Excellent!  The most page-turning book I’ve read in ages.  Shan’t do the plot, it needs to be read.  Desperate to know what was going to happen next.  Loved the way the heroine was not an angel by current moral standards, yet utterly did not deserve what she got – echoes of The Accused, there. It was a book about overcoming fear and anxiety, in many ways.  Excellent too that this book was by a relative rookie and a result of National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo] – hope for me yet.  Will definitely read anything else she puts out.)
5.      Affinity, by Sarah Waters (2000)
(If I could write as well as this I would be eternally happy, I am sure.  An amazing, excellent, page-turner of a book. 20/10
J  I’m not going to crit this – I think it should just be experienced: séances, ghosts, Victorian mental institutions…the atmosphere and the twist at the end alone – kisses fingers; this novel is as good as the best food.)
6.     The Frost Fairs, by Jon McCullough (2011)
(My old Open University A215 tutor, the best one I ever had.  I bought the poems because he was nice to me, and very encouraging; I wanted to be supportive of a fellow writer-person.  I read them, and re-read them and was amazed by them, because they are mad and brilliant.  He loves words.  Excellent collection.  Some so sad, some so clever [‘Tropsheric’ blew me away], some so tender.  More, nice John.  Even if you don’t like poetry [and I mostly don’t], I think you’ll enjoy the way he loves words and paints pictures.)
7.     Valiant, by Holly Black (2006)
(Another Excellent, she is a brilliant writer.  This is a ‘Young Adults’ book; but it doesn’t read like one – just reads like regular fantasy.  We’re in a world related to Faerie, here.  Imagery is intense; and in this one, realism of a nasty situation intense too.  And very good G.K. Chesterton quote at the head of one of the chapters – that reminded me of me.  This is my nature: ‘Strike a glass, and it will not endure an instant; simply do not strike it, and it will endure a thousand years.’
8.     The Triumph of the Moon, by Prof. Ronald Hutton (1995)
(Brilliant!!!!!!!!!  The BEST THEORY AND HISTORY BOOK I HAVE READ IN YEARS!  Both so stimulating, so angering, so arduous, so fluent, so engrossing, enthralling, enchanting…so much information, so much truth after obfuscation…I have learned so much.  WONDERFUL book
J  And took me a month and half to read, on baby time…every single spare minute, and note taking.  It’s about the modern explosion of witchcraft, specifically Wicca, and where it got all its iconography from – where it would like you to think it did, and really believes it did…and where it actually did.  The lack of unbroken centuries of lineage seems to bother some practitioners; as if only old ‘traditions’ could be valid.  But all ‘traditions’ have to begin somewhere…and Professor Hutton shows where and how.)
9.     Sleepwalking, by Julie Myerson (2006)
(Gripping, yet a very sad and depressing book. Very well written.  Strangely a perfect book to read after giving birth.  Its darkness matches some of my own.  But the grandmother, Queenie, making the children cakes with pins in…her casual and measured cruelty, and the father, making the children read the affidavit…the way it all leaks down, the bad parenting, from generation to generation…spot on.  I must try and love Fluffhead well.  And not make the mistakes of fear I made with Fry, that paralyse him to this day.  This was a good book, but so dark I won’t keep it, I will sell it.)
10.  Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto (1997)
(In places incredibly original and well written.  But also something oddly cold and detached.  Kitchen was a novella and was accompanied by Moonlight Shadow, a short story.  Both good.  The second somewhat supernatural, almost a ghost story.  The Japanese writers do these very well.)
11.   Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami (2002)
(Another most wonderful writer, with a great sense of wandering through life, randomness, and yet specificity.  A missing person story.  Not a whodunnit, but a …sad song of a story.  Soft.  Sparely written, very involving, hardly a novel, really. A sense of spaciousness uncommon to a novel.  Immensely well done.  Where did Sumire go???)
12.  Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett (1987)
(A re-read.  The adventures of various characters in Discworld, going about their business and reflecting on our own society, as always is the way.  Didn’t remember this one, it’s been so long.  I first read Pratchett over 15 years ago.  Still adore him.  How can you come up with so many brilliant metaphors and excellent out of the box ways of seeing things, be so funny and also such a good plotter and character creator??  The man is a god, as Mozart was!!)

(No time to do links again, apologies, 4 faithful readers, and will not make a habit of this unlinked postage – but all these are available on the trusty Amazon or elsewhere in the real go out and remember to put your mittens on world; all findable.)

I feel that’s enough for a part 1.  Part 2 to follow, hopefully next week.  Though time is getting incredibly truncated now.  Have a Christmas Lunch with Saint Mum and Fry, last minute gifting to be done, a Pre-Op assessment, then an Op: the day before Christmas Eve, no less…there goes Christmas!! 

Hmmmm – fear of that alone will send me diving for distraction from now till then…which is a bit awkward and difficult to do, what with small Fluffhead not wanting to remain in one room for more than 10 minutes at the moment, but rampage through the house; so watching things on TV is a bit out of the question.  Friends far away, so visiting not really an option.  Can only read when Fluffhead sleeps.  Ah well.  What a time to be in need of some Zen thoughts…This is what books were invented for – to take you from your own life (and fears) and give you perspective, by placing you squarely Elsewhere, for a while, where your mind can play and think and fly free…

[1] …and did the other 2 of you mean an implicit criticism by NOT asking, eh??!