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Sunday 4 April 2010

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The Lenten Read - It Ends

It is Easter Sunday, signifying the end of Lent, and while many are gorging on the vice they had denied themselves, I have spent much of this morning sitting in the sunshine with a book.

My reading forty pages a day is essentially a commitment to Time. One of the most regular complaints I hear from customers in the bookshop is that they don't have enough time to read. First of all, quantify "enough". Second, this is exactly why I do my Lenten Read, to give myself permission, in pop-psychology parlance, to ignore the many tasks screaming for attention and devote a guilt-free hour to a book.

The gamble in making a commitment to [fill in your Lenten pledge here] is not knowing what will be thrown at you by Life during those forty days. Life made things interesting for me by producing a stray puppy, and puppies take up Time and finding that hour to read became a real challenge until she went to her new home. I did choose to spend time with friends visiting from afar over completing the full forty pages every day, and had been careful to pick a book that was easy reading for the duration of their stay, but I caught up easily over a couple of days. Overall, I managed to do what I had set out to, finding the flexibility to fit in a dog and people, and without the rest of my life descending into complete chaos. Already I'm looking forward to doing it all again next year.

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Wednesday 31 March 2010

The God Squad, out in full force

I cried buckets of tears reading The God Squad (1989), Paddy Doyle’s account of being brought up in a religious institution in Ireland. I sat on my back door step, smoking cigarettes – one after the other – and shivered at how this man, who was about the same age as me, had suffered and barely survived while I blithely grew up in relative safety and comfort not many miles away. How could I not have felt (in a kind of Jungian collective unconscious way) something of what he was going through? As I read I felt guilty, terribly sad, raging, angry, and full of admiration for the writer who had managed to keep hold of his sense of self. He survived. He lived to tell the tale and be a witness to unbelievable cruelty in the name of religion.

When Paddy’s mother died of cancer, his father took his own life in front of his innocent four-year old son. Young Paddy was taken before an Irish District Court, to be detained in an industrial school for eleven years. You may have to read that sentence again because it really doesn’t make any sense. And the more you think about it, the more you realise that this beautiful green country of ours harboured a great evil that has yet to be addressed in any kind of proper fashion. If I feel despair, it is nothing in comparison to the despair felt by the forgotten children of this Ireland.

I thought in my innocence that he had been singled out. I didn’t realise 'til recently that he was one of many. What I feel, however, is irrelevant. I am a mere Second Hand Rose and must listen to the voices of those whose childhoods were stolen, who were treated as if they were murderous criminals beyond pity or love.

As Paddy Doyle said: "It is about society's abdication of responsibility to a child. The fact that I was that child, and that the book is about my life, is largely irrelevant. The probability is that there were, and still are, thousands of 'me's'".

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Saturday 20 March 2010


The Curve-billed Thrasher sits on the back wall just above the compost heap singing the strangest song as he watches out for grubs and lizards. The American Robin hops about in the yard rooting for insects on the ground before he heads back to the mountains for the summer. And the splendid Sandia Mountains are a continually changing backdrop from sunrise to sundown.

I saw a roadrunner yesterday. He was speed walking around the car park. When he stopped to look around and sniff the air, his long tail lifted up high like an antennae, and as he started zooming around the place again, the tail dropped down anchoring him to the ground.

How can I read a book when there’s so much to see from the car window and the back yard teams with all kinds of life that I never see at home?

I brought six books for my sojourn abroad for all the good it did me. One, I read on the journey to keep me from dying of boredom (it did little more); another I started but left on the table where Alice picked it up and is now engrossed in a yarn that didn’t do it for me. The rest are still in my bag and that is where they’re going to stay for the duration.

Yesterday, my sister packed the car with bits and bobs to take to the Goodwill in an effort to cut down on the inevitable clutter that seems to multiply and grow like weeds in the garden. We helped carry the bags in for which she received a receipt (giving is tax deductable, helping both the community and her pocket) and then walked around the front where we proceeded to buy the equivalent amount to take back home with us. We had great fun perusing the aisles of dresses, tops, trousers, coats, hats, shoes along with shelves crammed full of household goods, toys, bric-à-brac, and books galore. Eventually, I decided on a Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities, I’ve been meaning to read since forever. I also found Harlequin by Morris West, written in 1974 and set in the tough world of international finance; it has lost none of its relevance seeing as how us mere mortals continually repeat our past mistakes. I couldn’t resist a copy of American Wholefoods Cuisine by Nikki & David Goldbeck to give me some inspiration in the kitchen. All in all I spent $2.97!

There are over 2,300 Goodwill donation locations throughout North America that help fund job training programs, employment placement services and other community-based programs for people who have disabilities, lack education or job experience, or face employment challenges. The other side of the coin is that for a fraction of the cost, people on a budget can dress their families and fit out their homes without breaking the bank.

As we made our way back to the car, loaded down with bargains, laughing ourselves silly, a roadrunner dashed about in front of us, tail up, tail down, lost in a world of his own. And back home, the Curve-billed Thrasher was still warbling away while we put the kettle on for yet another pot of tea.

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Wednesday 10 March 2010

She’s Leaving Home!

Children never really leave home; neither do they ever become adults, in their parents’ eyes at least. Until I had my own home my accumulated detritus, collected over many years, lay undisturbed in the attic of my mother’s house. It was my god given right, or so I thought, to leave whatever I wanted in the home that I had grown up in and had my mother ever complained I would have been startled, completely taken aback at such an unthinkable state of affairs.

One fine afternoon I overheard her, in her twilight years, order a young man (to whom she wanted to give a few hours work in case he came in handy one day) to build a large fire in the back garden and put on it anything he could lay his hands on from the garage. I thought no more about it but wandered out, some time later, to find the smouldering remains of my niece’s collection of archaeological reference books amongst other former treasures. It was up to me to inform said unfortunate niece that the bits and bobs she had thought would lay undisturbed until she had the wherewithal to retrieve them, were decimated, destroyed, burnt to cinders, and quite beyond rescue. I can still hear the shrieking and gnashing of teeth that came down the phone line that otherwise sunny afternoon.

When my youngest daughter left home she asked if I would do the same with her collection of books as I had done for my eldest son. A carpenter was duly contracted to create and fit another long shelf or three and no sooner had the varnish dried than Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Stephenie Meyer, J.R.R. Tolkien et al were lined up side by side and left to await being reunited with their owner at some future date.

On the opposite wall, in higgledy-piggledy order sits Philip K. Dick, Harry Harrison, Arthur C. Clarke, Iain Banks, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Brian Aldiss, Gary Larson and his Farside Gallery, and the high jinx of Calvin & Hobbes.

My son didn’t arrive home to deposit his book collection before heading off to the States. Instead, I got a frantic call saying that his erstwhile father, who had housed his library until now, was moving and would perforce have to dump the books unless arrangements were made. I thought long and hard and two minutes later rang my ex-boss in the UK, a man of integrity, incredible and many kindnesses, and a father himself. Two days later this company director drove up to Horsham and proceeded to load his car with everything that was known to belong to my son and heir, including his art portfolio.

The books were taken back to company headquarters, boxed and shipped, gratis, to Ireland ready to take possession of three rows of shelving where they collect dust but look no less impressive for that. The bonus was that two of the pictures in the portfolio were mounted and framed and hung with great delight, a reminder of the other career path he could have chosen. Whenever my son comes home (it’s been so long now I hardly know what he looks like) he mooches about in my sitting room, taking down the odd book, enjoying the fact that they are all here, safe, on show and not going anywhere.

There is still one shelf dedicated to my children's childhood heroes that entertains visitors, keeping the younger ones amused and sending the older ones way down memory lane. There’s Rupert Bear with his oriental chums; Asterix and friends up to all kinds of tricks; and the complete collection of Tin Tin with the faithful Snowy at his heels.

I’ve heard it said that you’re never alone with a shelf full of books to keep you company. And I know that as long as my tiny sitting room is crammed full of all our favourite books, my children will keep coming home, if only to check on Philip, or Iain, or Terry, or Douglas, or even me!

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Monday 8 March 2010

Beg, Borrow, Steal

Sometimes a book calls out to you in a voice as strong as a summer breeze. You lift it up, caress its inviting cover, turn it over and back as though to make sure it fits the grip of your hand and before you know where you are, it belongs to you. You leave the shop, and head for home knowing you have a treat in store. A million chores await, the list goes on and on in your head but wait a minute, a poem arrives on cue, a reminder that some things can wait and other can’t, some simple pleasures should not be denied. "You’ll be a long time dead," she said so long ago, and she is now and she was right and I dare not forget her words. You slip into your favour chair, kick off your shoes, and ignore the world for a while as you dip into Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg. Joy of joys! Need I say more?

Leisure by W. H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

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Sunday 28 February 2010

What we talked about....

....when we talked about nothing.

Lobby talk:

“Did you see him?”


“Yer man, whatshisname.”

“Oh, yea, he’s staying here with his wife.”

“Must have arrived last night.”


“He was sitting outside reading that book, you know, the one that won the IMPAC.”

“The horses one?”

“Yea, Out Stealing Horses, I think.”

“Loved it. By Per Petterson, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, think that was it.”

And here’s another one as we enjoyed dinner in a high-class restaurant off the orangery:

“Well, did you?”

“No, I never slept with a policeman.”


“...but I did sleep with a policeman’s wife!”

We all cracked up at that one.

Instant friendship:

“But I can come with you. I speak Spanish, it’s absolutely no trouble at all.”

Ulla could and did and without her our visit to A&E would not have gone so smoothly. She translated, filled in forms, held hands, and guided us through the system with ease. P, having fallen down some marble stairs, emerged after her ordeal looking like Frankenstein’s moll with large black stitches running up her gashed arm. We could not repay Ulla’s kindness but we can pass it on.

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