Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Books, cronedom, a drawer full of hair

Now the children are back at school, I have to find other things to talk (complain) about. This is difficult since I am basically the most boring human being in the world, I discover to my distress. Last night I sat in the kitchen in the dark for an hour like the mad old crone I am fast becoming, waiting to see if the hedgehog came out, even though the chances are it is dead (update: I have just done exactly the same again tonight. Still no luck. "It is just a rat, really. It is probably dead" commented a child, briskly).

So. Erm. Let's have a scrape of this barrel.

1. Books.

Ok, this is not too barrel scraping, as I have read some absolutely wonderful stuff recently.

- Life after Life, which I think everyone in the world has read or is about to read or is halfway through. Wonderful, affecting, clever, haunting. Bloody hell, she's good. Of course the 'starting your life over and over' thing is the headline here, but this is also a book with elements of wonderful, waspish comedy and sharp dialogue and characters you become viscerally attached to and proper, painful emotions. Actually, one of the things that really stayed with me was the beautiful, dreamy, longing-filled descriptions of English countryside. It's got an incredibly elegiac, wistful quality. Lovely.

- Lottie Moggach's Kiss Me First as still displayed in the sidebar, although I gobbled it up in about 4 minutes. This has a really smart, well-executed central premise about whether and how you can disappear in the Internet age, with a fascinating, unreliable narrator.

- One of my very, very favourite authors, Charlotte Mendelson, has a new book out this summer and I threw my British reserve to the winds and begged for an advance copy. It was totally worth it. Almost English is glorious, probably my favourite portrait of the graceless, awkward, longing and bathos of adolescence since Jane Gardam, a wonderful tale of squirming sympathetic embarrassment and hilarity. It's also about Englishness and not-Englishness, as the title suggests: Marina, who is sixteen, and lives with her rather broken, genteelly falling-apart mother and three very elderly, secretive-yet-demonstrative Hungarian relatives makes a break for freedom via the dubious means of a traditional English boarding school, but it's far from the haven of sanity she hoped. It's both wickedly funny and very touching and it will have you saying things like "VonDAIRful, darlink" and I want to read it again, now.

- Brussels residents or ex-residents or enthusiasts (yes, I am informed that these exist) may also enjoy this, reviewed over on my Belgian blog, a creepy thriller set in the prosperous expat suburbs of the city.

- I'm now reading Capital (some strands more compelling than others, for me, but a rattling, clever read and the death of one of the characters was very very powerfully, forensically written, I thought), then I'm going to read the new Nicola Barker which I have been saving for, clearly not a rainy day, or I would have read it 6 months ago, but something. A functioning brain perhaps, but that is beyond all reach and hope.

Have you read anything wonderful recently? Or even anything sweatily, brilliantly, nastily gripping? I especially like those.

2. In 'professional' (ahem) news, I have lost one of the jobs I most liked, which is a shame. I haven't really lost it, exactly, I mean, it isn't a result of my incompetence for a change: it has ceased to exist in the present format, but the result for me is the same. I am trying to use this to galvanise me to find more and better jobs, but I am such an abysmal pitcher, it is utterly pitiful. My basic starting position is that I am importuning the recipient of the pitch in such a ghastly and awkward way, that I will die of shame if they read it/reply/acknowledge my hideous faux pas in any way. I am throwback to another age, 12th century Japan, perhaps. I have managed a feeble 3 pitches in the last week, success rate thus far an unsurprising 0%. I will be writing hotel copy until I die. I am, I discover, actually very good at writing hotel copy, however, so there is that, I suppose.

3. I am also the woman who cried owl. The owl chicks are AMAZING at the moment, huge, fluffy balls of ridiculousness, experimentally flapping their ludicrously tiny wings and making heart stopping practice jumps on the edge of their cliff, but tragically, I am shouting into the ether, since I have already bored everyone I know both in real life and on the internet with my sodding owls. 'Come and look... ' I start, then my voice dies in my throat because I can't bear the pitying, not remotely interested looks from my infants.

4. Things that are currently broken:

- my glasses (frames 6 years old, glasses misty with age)

- my eyes (constant infections, can no longer use Bobbi Brown Gel Liner, may as well just wear a paper bag on my head and dress like a tramp and walk the streets muttering to myself, oh hang on, I already do)

- my handbag (so old it now looks like it was dug up from an archeological excavation of a Viking settlement)

- my elbow (arthritic)

- the dog, who is having one of his periodic nervous collapses, for no apparent reason.

I'm putting all this decrepitude and decay down to the harsh new scrutiny of the SUN (all five minutes of it). I am sure things will settle down. I have started taking some new baobab capsules someone sent Facegoop. I'm sure they help with fading eyebrows and a broken handbag and canine temperament issues. Otherwise, there is always the sweet, seasonal embrace of Piriton.

5. This is distressing me:

What 'dialogue des cultures' is that, exactly? That is not a poster with mass appeal, Branly, you will attract only weird hair perverts. Also, I am not sure that your full page ad in 'Science et Vie Junior' is perfectly targeted.

6. Speaking of hair perverts, I opened this drawer in the bathroom whilst searching hopelessly for nail clippers this morning and it made me laugh out loud with its horrifying contents. I mean, really. Voodoo? Contemporary art? One of those horrifying tumours that are made of hair and teeth (a teroma, is it?)?

There is really not a shred of dignity to being me, I think. Not an iota. Why am I stockpiling threadbare wigs anyway? Perhaps a donation to the Quai Branly is in order.

What is broken in your life? What unexpected items lurk in your bathroom drawers? Any other business?


Jonathan Lethbridge said...

Did I tell you I visited Brussels last week? I stayed for about 15 minutes, and then left again. I had to rescue Mrs L, who had had her car keys "stolen" (read lost) in Ixelles, thus stranding herself and 2/3 of my childen in Belgium. Reading your blog I knew this was BAD, so jumped on the Eurostar with my car key and performed a daring rescue mission. Much easier than I had anticipated actually, apart from the Brussels taxi-driver believing he was in charge of a fighter plane and not a Renault Laguna. Anyway, survived the experience, and have the car back. Oh, and the wife and kids, obviously, which was the whole point hem hem. Er, not so much a comment, as my own blog post, but hey, beats wigs.

grace said...

Brilliant post, as ever. Particularly like the hair and teeth draw. Imagine if the dog tried those on for size. Now THAT would be a poster.

In my life everything is broken at the moment. But of all the things that can be fixed with a bit of tightening, there are many that are still close to breaking point. The reason? In the ten years that I have owned a tool kit I have not bought a Philips screwdriver that is big enough to fit into many of the screws that come loose. Every time I go past a hardware store, I forget to pick one up. So maybe my memory is fucked.

Kim said...

Eye infections - try Vitamin D supplements? I had loads of problems with constant styes and infections and I thought it was just age/contacts. Started taking Vit D as blood tests found I was low and the eye problems disappeared overnight. HTH :)

Waffle said...

Kim - ooh, thanks, I will definitely try. It's been so annoying.

Jonathan - I saw. Welcome, briefly, to my beautiful homeland with its deranged taxi drivers. 'Beats wigs' is debatable.

Grace - I feel quite impressed that you have a toolkit at all, even if it doesn't have the right size of Philips. It makes you sound quite badass.

kath said...

Jonathan! We went to Belgium last week too! Emma we went to the parc thank you, it is very near our friends. CRAZY what fun. A meerkat attempted escape by biting a visitor on the finger and hanging on, nearly made it, was sitting on wall but someone shoved it back in. Giraffe licked my son and lemurs patted him.

Eyes, try No7 paint on eyeliner, it stays on forever too even swimming. I have developed a sensitivity to blue and eyeshadow which is a pain.

Anna Maria said...

Thanks for the reading recommendations, I'm definitely getting Almost English. In return, I'm recommending Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller, about a Jewish New Yorker, who moves to Oslo, Norway, at the age of 82. A fresh and entertaining take on Scandi crime genre.

Waffle said...

Kath - Ahahahahhahhahhahah the meerkat. That place is insane. I love those lemurs. We are having a Facegoop summit in a fortnight, I'll raid Boots for this good of which you speak, thanks for the tip.

Waffle said...

Anna Maria - Ooh, that sounds absolutely great. Getting!

frau antje said...

I know someone who watches the owls in real time, while surrounded by stupidly priced women's clothing at the edge of the Pacific, and comes to bleak conclusions about motherhood.

Unless you tend to be gripped by trade and politics in nineteenth century Mexico, or early Connecticut, I'll just leave off the books altogether--also what's broken, as I find it too gripping.

cruella said...

I've just read, no, consumed, no, gobbled up a quite marvelleous book by the Swedish author Therése Söderlind on witch hunts in northern Sweden in the 1600s. Mainly about misunderstandings, lying, forgetting, shame and the like. Beautifully structured in four different times, held together by family relations, stories partly uncovered through genealogy.

Recommended to all who perchance read in Swedish.

Broken: Mainly my mind. Mainly because of China distress and teenage drop-out.

Jonathan Lethbridge said...

I went to a Zoo at the weekend. They had Lemurs AND they had a Capybara. I took a photo of it yawning at all the lowlife (me) ogling it.

Z said...

The most broken thing in my life is me, unfortunately. But we don't talk about that.

Nimble said...

At your prompting I just watched the backs of the fuzzy owlets for several minutes. This made for excitement when one turned so I finally got a side view (beak! eye! panting gullet!) and a wing stretch. Actually flapping might be too much for me. They look vicious and adorable.

I recommend Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran. The first half at least. It's set in New Orleans and our narrator is such an unreliable druggie that it was not clear to me whether anything was really happening. The second half is unfortunately more definite. I preferred the disoriented whirl.

I cannot beat a drawer of discarded wigs. Could they be repaired? If not, cut one down to whippet size, stat.

Helen said...

Whippet wig: MAKE IT SO.

Thought that poster was for a film not an exhibition at first. 'A heartbreaking tale of one woman's love for a creepy VooDoo god.' There's longing in her eyes. Waffle please write screenplay.

I sympathise with broken-ness. I have to look through the bloody Grants Register (which is eleventy million pages long) to find people who might possibly want to give me some money and I just don't think I can handle the rejection.

Gosh aren't I cheerful today? In Brussels early May - let's do something awesome!

Anonymous said...

Oh the owls are amazing I agree! Just watched a parent owl dismember and eat big chunks of another bird. A whole wing went down, feathers and all - it's surprising just how much it can swallow in one go! Then it groomed the babies rather vigorously with that same fierce beak. When they stretch, the baby wings look quite long now. Baby owls dropping off to sleep are quite a lot like human babies dropping off to sleep.

Must drag self away to do real work now...
Heather (NZ)

Patience_Crabstick said...

I'm reading The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard (4 books: The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off) and they are so good! They're the sort of book you can't wait to escape into at the end of a day. I'm almost finished with the fourth one and I'm mourning that there are no more.

J. said...

Yes! The people of the interwebs have spoken; with one voice, they cry "whippet wigs!"

My roof and my city are broken, at the moment, due to flooding. We have 3 leaks in our living room ceiling, and Chicago re-reversed its river because the gigantic water retention vaults underground are full; there are terrifying sinkholes swallowing cars whole; and water main breaks are creating weirdly beautiful geysers and reflecting pools in front of the local high school. My workplace is closed again tomorrow because all the bridges that lead there are flooded, and I plan to spend any time not occupied with getting exorbitant estimates from roofers with inpenetrable Eastern European accents huddled in front of the owlcam and weeping.

Nimble said...

@ Patience_C: yes! the Cazalet chron books demand to be gobbled. A good mix of period details and family characters.

Ruthie Saylor said...

Hello wonderful Waffle. I have been lurking here for months (I got here via Miss Underscore's blog), admiring but mute (story of my life).

I've just finished Alan Turing: the Enigma by Andrew Hodges which was wonderful and heartbreaking (anything Bletchley-related tends to induce weeping), although the science bits were HARD. Fingers could probably explain it all.

I broke my fingertip hold on competence at a farcical test and job interview this week (after having distinguished myself at the application form stage by wazzing on at great and typo-ridden length about my legendary concision and accuracy). It could only have gone worse had a bird shat on me on my way in. In fact a bird with an upset stomach would have done better. Never mind.

Also this week I broke some Le Creuset (something I didn't think was supposed to be possible) by welding bits of dinner to the bottom of it.

My bathroom drawers sometimes yield unexpected treasure, mostly samples of luxury beauty products I once had the wherewithal to contemplate buying.

Anonymous said...

BBC Radio 4 returns The Cazalets as daily drama on Woman's Hour from Monday. V good

Helen said...

Soak the Le Creuset! It'll almost certainly come off, even if you have to re-do boiling water and soap three times. I refuse to believe one can break it, it is the kitchenware of hopes and dreams.

hairyfarmerfamily said...

Ohhh! Owl babies! OWL BABIES! Immense mprovement of day! I was slightly nonplussed by the 'Beleef de lente' to begin with, as I had misread it as 'beef' and initially thought it was slow-cook shin of some kind...!

Ruthie Saylor said...

Thanks Helen - it's soaking now. Maybe all is not lost (though I might need a chisel). Le Creuset has mythic cachet for me too (the one I mutilated isn't even mine, argh).

Salome said...

I've just read a deeply odd book. The premise is: "You know how some people call depression 'the black dog'? Well what if it WAS a black dog?..."

That's it.

I can't decide if it is genius or not. But it was quite a quick read and some of it was funny.
Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt, if you've ever imagined that depression was a black dog.

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