Aside

Musings: You know you’re grown up when…

… you do the V for Victory sign and think of Winston Churchill rather than the Spice Girls. This has only happened to me in the last year. (It’s true.)

This evening. I’m watching a drama in which a soldier comes home from the war and suddenly I remember waiting at Brize Norton for J when he came back from Afghanistan. The shyness I felt before I ran at him. The smell of his fresh sweat and the scratchy feeling of his not-quite-shaved jaw. The always surprising softness of his lips and the fuzzy prickle of his military cut. How I could not hold him tight enough, how I buried my nose and eyes and mouth in his neck to convince all my senses he was real. The memory was so strong I reeled slightly, my shoulders tensed as if I were braced as he leaned against me with his eyes closed.

Memories. Some of them are as solid and powerful as bricks.

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Superstition Ain’t The Way

peanuts

Nothing ever sums up my thoughts quite as well as Peanuts.

Do we make our own luck, or wot?

When walking in 30 degree heat over the arid hills of the Greek island Hydra I had a bit of a chat with myself. About 4 days into my holiday, the same as I do every year, I get panicked by an undefinable, unidentifiable Something. My guts twist into a cats cradle; I feel sensitive and twitchy, like someone’s put a hedgehog in my knickers. I finally told my other self that I realised I have fear because I have So Much, and I haven’t really done anything to deserve it, so I’m scared it will be taken away from me. I can’t really enjoy it without thinking, “This will not last forever. It’s all transient.”

Right now there is something really, really cool in the wings which might indeed happen, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen, but I daren’t long for it, and I have squashed all excitement I have about it because I am scared of tempting the gods.

This is nonsensical because I don’t believe in the gods, and I believe in God; and I know God would be up for it happening to me, while the gods never seem to do anything nice for anyone, so why be frightened of the ones I don’t believe in? Why pander to them? I’m making myself cross just thinking about it, but I’m still doing it.

I salute when I see a magpie; I touch wood; I hold my breath while crossing someone on the stairs (why?); I freak out if someone puts new shoes on the table (they’re invariably heels which nobody wants to do the March of the Dead in). Technically I know none of these things will make a difference to whether my Important Thing comes off or not, or whether my life continues in a good vein or a bad vein, but there’s no harm in doing them is there. I wouldn’t say I’m superstitious so much as super (copywright Emily, Jilly Cooper) but I don’t believe in taking unnecessary risks either. Someone at work (and I’m sure he didn’t make this up out of thin air) said that the harder one works, the luckier one gets. I’m not one for blowing my own trumpet or even shaking my own maracas, but I have worked rather hard over the past 25 or so years (I think I bobbed along without any effort at all on life’s millpond until I was approximately 9). It would be nice to have a bit of an emotional payrise. Not saying that I haven’t had anything! *frantically thumps nearest table*

That’s my personal Carrie Bradshaw (yeuch) bit for this post. You only really want to know the book bits, innit. So, these are the books I took on hols:

Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front (Richard Holmes) – a startling and rich account of life in WW1. Both surprisingly humorous and painfully distressing.

Coming of Age (Valerie Mendes) – a not very interesting story about a not very nice teenage girl in a flimsy and unbelievable plot. I really should know to avoid stories entitled coming of age by now; the subject is inevitably trite with the milestones of first kiss, first sexual experience, tortured adolescence.

The Servants (M M Smith) – an odd and eerie little story which I didn’t quite understand but this lack of comprehension didn’t stop my enjoyment.

Christ Recrucified (Nikos Kazantzakis) – a troubling tale in which a small Greek village are preparing to re-enact the crucifiction, when a group of refugees arrive seeking aid. Left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

110 Stories: New York Writes After 9/11 (Ulrich Baer) – a devastating and uplifting collection of stories, essays and poems written after the terrorist atrocity in 2001. I found this hard to read, but important to.

Me Before You (JoJo Moyes) – yes I’m probably the last person in the world to read this and that’s because I was put off by the saccharine, cartoony chicklit cover. What a disservice the publisher did to this warm, witty, beautiful, heartbreaking story, which deserves to be recognised for the utter triumph it is. I was sitting on the beach with tears pooling unashamedly behind my sunglasses.

Spirit House (Mark Dapin) – I really didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book, but it wasn’t what I got: which was a rich, engaging, amusing, distressing and captivating story, both of an Australian POW during WW2 and his grandson as they both come to terms with his past, and find a way to make peace for the future. The story is tautly written, the characterisation powerful and disturbing, the humour genuine and vital and the horror haunting. This is a vibrant, original and powerful novel which had tears spilling down my face as I read it on the beach. Stop reading this review and buy it – you won’t regret it, but it may give you a couple of bad dreams.

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) – probably the last person to read this as well. I devoured it, but rather lke a Chinese meal it went down well but left me ultimately unsatisfied. Yes it was very taut and shocking, but I was left thinking “So what?” and apart from Nick’s sister, everyone in the story was hugely unlikeable.

The Haunted Book (Jeremy Dyson) – an odd tome. I think I was hoping for a straight forward anthology of stories whereas I got something very different.  I’ve not hear of Dyson before but he uses the gothic technique of the Chinese Box Narrative (a story within a story within a story) to great effect. The initial ghost stories are unsettling, and could have been made more of. The end of the book takes you by surprise, and is quite astoundingly beautiful. I wasn’t quite sure where the book was going, and even where we were when it finished – but I’m glad I went with it. A peculiar, but nonetheless enjoyable, volume.

Lots and lots of Jeeves stories, which made me giggle on the plane.

The Personal History of Rachel Dupree (Ann Weisgarber) – a raw and vital story of a woman fighting to keep her family alive in the 1917 Dakota Badlands. I found myself clenching my fist when I read it, rooting for Rachel and her little ones.

Tony and Susan (Austin Wright) – I’ve not read anything like this. Susan receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, the story of maths professor Tony driving his wife and daughter through the night to a summer holiday. The story is both the tale of Tony coming to terms with his present and Susan with her past. I think I looked like Homer at the end of this, with a bit of drool hanging out of my mouth – captivating.

Capital (John Lanchester) – a snapshot of London life through the eyes of many different people (a banker, an old woman, a Pakistani shop owner, a Polish builder); humorous, devastating, and above all utterly believable. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Gathering the Bones (Ramsey Campbell) – I love Ramsey Campbell. I love his anthology of offbeat horror. Bad dreams ago-go!

The Delta of Venus (Anais Nin) – forget Fifty Shades of Grey Boxers – if you really want something blush-making, this is the best sensuous erotica I have read in my short and rather prim life. Problem was after reading it I couldn’t look at anything without feeling a bit embarrassed: an umbrella standing proud in the sand, half a watermelon, a gushing drain… like that scene out of Naked Gun that granny wouldn’t let us watch though we weren’t old enough to understand it.

Let me finish with Groucho Marx*, bringing me back to sanity.

“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”

* I typed Grouchy, which made me laugh so much I wanted to keep it, but I figured it might not be a good idea as I imagine he’d have a tenacious ghost.