It looks like January 2010 is on its way out, and I can't say I'm sorry. Thus far 2010 isn't shaping up especially well in my parts. I'm a bit of a miserable old Hector. Apologies for this mahoosive post - I have rambled
This month I feel I must first mention the awful events we have all seen on the news following the earthquake in Haiti. Nature can be so cruel, and I thank goodness my loved ones aren't living on the edge of a tectonic plate, or that we aren't residing in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Both the kids' schools have had fundraising events; they were only too happy to give to those in such dire straits, as are we all, I'm sure.
I must say a huge 'thank you' to Jane for tipping me off about the option within Blogger to moderate comments on posts older than 14 days. Thus far it has 'caught' all the oriental spam, as well as some new Greek spam, which was headed for my Halloween post of last October. You've saved me having to go back and delete loads of comments Jane - thank you! x
I've been doing quite a lot of reading this month. I guess partly because the weather meant we all had to stay in a lot more than usual, and partly because of my introspective down-in-the-dumpness. I'm not a terribly fast reader - it really depends on what else is going on in life as to how much reading I normally do (or don't). But this month I finished not one, not two, but three books.
The first was 'Shakey' by Jimmy McDonough. This book is 786 pages long, so perhaps it's no surprise that I read it over the course of a couple of months, but then there was a lot to pack in regarding the life and work of Neil Young. I think it fair to say he has a reputation as an unpredictable performer, a unique musician, and a driven human being. This book details all that about him and more.
I am not a dyed-in-the-wool, long-time fan of Mr Young (the blues of Eric Clapton, Gary Moore and BB King was always my 'thing') but after listening to more and more of his music over the past few years, having been introduced to it by a friend, I have come to respect his talent and the wide range of 'flavours' of his musical creativity.
The book also makes it clear how passionate he is about music, though he has driven fellow musicians to distraction with his sometimes eccentric demands of them (musically speaking). I have nothing but admiration for the way Mr Young (and his wife) have coped with the personal challenges life has dealt them, and I think if anything I have even more respect - for the man and his music - than I did before. But my abiding memory of the book will be in learning just how much 'substance' many musicians (and, I'm sure, non-musicians) got through in the '60s and '70s. Last summer I watched the BBC shows from Glastonbury Festival - where Neil Young, and his sometime collaborators Crosby, Stills & Nash, were performing (though not together). Before I read the book, I just enjoyed the music. Watching them now (I recorded their performances), I marvel at how they can all stand there, still able to sing, play guitars and perform after ingesting so many drugs!
Nevertheless, there is no getting away from the fact that the music they all made is great. Neil Young is still making good music, whilst many of his contemporaries have lost that creative 'edge'. More power to his elbow, I say.
The second book I read this month was 'The Gift' by Cecilia Ahern. I have written about Ms Ahern's books here before, and as always I liked the quirky angle from which she approached this novel. You cannot take anything for granted in her books, there is always another dimension. Yes, that other dimension can be fanciful but I don't care, I'm enjoying the storyline too much.
In this book, her central character is not a person to whom one naturally warms. Lou is fiercely ambitious in his career, and treats anyone (including his wife and family) who gets in the way of his rise up the corporate ladder, with ill-concealed exasperation and impatience. The main 'thrust' of the story takes place at Christmas time (I bought the book just before Christmas in WH Smiths who had some great offers on) which also happens to be Lou's father's birthday.
The abiding message is that we should all be aware of what we do with our time. Aware of the choices we make regarding it; the people to whom we give it, the pastimes on which we spend it. As a Police Sergeant in the story says:
"So that makes time more precious doesn't it? More precious than money, more precious than anything. You can never earn more time. Once an hour goes by, a week, a month, a year, you'll never get them back."
Some novels I read and pass on, or take to a Charity Shop - I don't do that with Ms Ahern's novels - they are all still here, on a bookshelf. I'll read them again, and No.1 has now started reading them too.
The third book was 'For One More Day' by Mitch Albom. I have already read the first two books from Mr Albom ('Tuesdays With Morrie' and 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven') so it was no surprise that this book also centred around the issue of death, and how we live life prior to death.
I enjoyed the 'Morrie' book because it detailed an obviously close relationship between subject (Morrie, who was Mitch Albom's professor at College) and author; and Morrie had some interesting theories. I enjoyed the 'Five People' book because it is such an intriguing concept - that 5 people in your life mark huge turning points, even though you might not realise it. This third book is about a guy called Chick Benetto, a baseball player turned alcoholic. I read the book quite quickly, but I'm not sure whether I'll buy any more books by this author - is he a one trick pony, I wonder?
I want to give a large vote of thanks to the Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Service. Last Tuesday Mum called at 7.30am to tell me her carbon monoxide detector was going off, and what should she do? On the back of said detector, the advice was to call the local Fire Service, open the windows and stand near some fresh air. So that's what she did.
A fire engine, complete with flashing blue light was at her house within 10 mins of her phone call. By the time I got there, another Fire Officer was there with a couple of super-whizzy CO Detectors. It turned out that Mum's detector had malfunctioned - there was no carbon monoxide in her home (thank God) - so I went out and got her a new one. But how brilliant a response did she get? They were so thorough, kind and polite; I was really impressed (and thankful).
I'd like to ask those of you who have small male people in your household if they are as keen on 'Where's Wally?' (the official site is 'Where's Waldo?' as that was his original name) as the small male person who lives here? One of my friends gave him a boxed set of WW books for Christmas, and we have spent - literally - hours and hours poring over them looking for Wally, Wilma, the Wizard, the dog, and Odball. Not to mention the binoculars, the bone, the camera, the scroll and the key.
What astounds me is that if we go back to a book we've already 'done', No.2 can remember where in the jumbly, busy pictures, each of those things was hidden. How does he do that?! If we are having trouble finding something, I try turning the book upside down and look again. I have found lots of the little bits that way; but No.2 can't 'do it' upside down. It's probably something to do with the way the male and female brains are 'wired' or perhaps is because I'm left handed (and therefore right-brained) and he's right-handed (and left-brained). I find it interesting, nonetheless.
Speaking of No.2, I overhead a conversation between him and his friend 'A'. They were discussing girls - and three girls in particular. A said he liked one of them better than the other two because "She's pretty, she doesn't keep on and on and on all the time, she's not bossy, and she's shy". Quite an insight into the development of the male mind where girls are concerned; it made me smile.
I attended an evening at No.1's school this month on the issue of which choices she will make for her GCSEs. She is required to take English, Maths, Science (which will be three separate papers - Biology, Chemistry and Physics), RE, ICT, and French; but was given other options to make up the rest of her timetable.
Before we got the letter detailing her choices (not every pupil was offered the same choices ... the choices were, to some extent, tailored to each child) she said she was desperate to do Art and Music, and would like to do Graphics and/or Textiles if possible. She was very lucky then, to be able to pick Art from one list, Graphics, from the second list, and Music from the third list. We are going in to school next week to talk over her 'final decision' but she's pretty set on those three subjects.
I really wanted her to pick subjects that she enjoys, since enjoying school is, I think, important. I'm sure we've all been stuck in jobs or situations which we don't enjoy - it doesn't make daily life very pleasant, does it? She loves those three subjects, so it should stand her in good stead. When I was at school, I remember being required to speak to a Careers Guidance person about what I wanted to 'do', before I made my choices. Of course I had no idea, so probably mumbled about something essentially idealistic and impractical, because that's me. No.1 would like to play her guitar for her living, but I have said I think it's a good idea to have a 'Plan B' ... not many people get to play a guitar to earn their daily bread, do they?
I'll leave you with a picture I took this month, something appropriate to my reflective state of mind: A white tulip on a mirror.