The Reading Life

This week’s Mind the Gap: How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand? drew my attention….stand by your screens.

My name is EBL and I am a Geek. I work in IT and have done for too many years to admit. OK, it’s more than 25. Actually it’s 26. Some of you weren’t born when I set up my first server in Novell Netware and learned Edlin to handle the batch files.

Read the strap line: this is a nostalgia blog!

I am also a Book Nerd. I had read all the Junior Library books before I was ten and progressed to the Adult section under the watchful eye of the Lady at the Library, who was like a surrogate mother to me. I have no idea of her name, which now strikes me as odd, although it didn’t at the time.

I love books and I love gadgets. So e-readers should be a no-brainer.

And yet, and yet…

I only bought my device in April last year. I had not been impressed by the demos I saw in shops and was a little addicted to the smell of ink. You know the smell I mean; the smell when you open a new book, fresh from the publisher, and riffle those virgin pages. That inky scent wafts out and you are carried away in a haze of antici……

…pation (as Tim Curry would say), the first eyes to scan those pages, the first hands to turn them, smoothing them lovingly until they settle like anxious birds. Or is it just me?

The promise of being able to carry a reasonable library about in my bag seemed pretty appealing; I travel for work frequently so I could see where it would be helpful. I wouldn’t have to carry multiple books or face running out of something to read on those long, dark nights in the hotel room.

The ability to download instantly was a threat to the bank balance; but the option to trial a sample chapter addressed the risk of hasty and regrettable purchases. An e-reader would have saved me from some serious pain by letting me realise that just because some books are popular does not mean I am going to enjoy them (Dan Brown, I am looking at you).

The green credentials were appealing. Save those trees! OK, producing the actual thingummybob would have environmental impacts, but paper is a toxic process too, and we need forests to breathe for our sorry planet.

The final decider was the fact I could resize the text which was important because of my eye problems last year; I had built up three shelves of books which I couldn’t read during that time. It was physically painful to see them piling up and gathering dust, forlorn, unread, despondent and pitiful. One day, I promised them, one day….

So the e-reader was purchased and Project Gutenberg was raided for beloved classics at no cost. I discovered that I could get a newspaper delivered every day for less than the cost of a Sunday paper in the pulp. That was fantastic because where I live there is no newsagent accessible on my way to work, and who wants to read the paper at night?

I have been using the thing for about nine months, and I am using it less and less every day. As soon as I was able to read normal books I started doing so and rediscovered a love of dead tree. I love the feel and smell and heft of a book. What I have learned is that I integrate it all into the reading experience. By which I mean, I want to know how far through I am, really, not by looking at a progress bar. I want to be able to flick back and forth between chapters and stick my finger on a page two chapters ago because I remember a description or an event which is relevant to the story: what was he carrying; where was the car parked; what time did the clock on the mantelpiece say; what colour was the doctor’s coat, or hair, or front door? Sometimes it’s because the writer has made a mistake and jarred my reading, like a continuity error in a film; more often it’s a clue or a link that is important.

My e-reader presents the words, but not the sensory experience of a book. It has no personality. Whether I am reading Lord of the Rings (about 1700 pages) or The Snow Goose (about 50 pages) or a newspaper, the look and feel is the same. I left the thing lying around for over a week because I forgot about it and read a paper novel instead. I don’t forget paper novels, even when I want to (Dan Brown!).

I re-read one of my favourite books on the e-reader. I was completely unengaged. It was a shock. That is a book I read at least every couple of years because I love it so much, and every time it produces something new and interesting and beautiful I hadn’t noticed before. This time – nothing. I only knew how far through I was because I know the book so well. I had no real sense of progress while reading, no early heightened tension that I was nearing the end because the pages were running out, no feeling of achievement (not quite the word I want – perhaps commitment or solidarity with the writer?) as I looked back at pages read and a shared journey.

Immersing myself in a book is a complete and utter abandonment of the daily routine. I let go of the world around me and enter another, with all my heart and mind and even soul. It’s a risky business, opening a book. If you choose the wrong author they can scar you. It’s a drug, and you want to get the good stuff, not the stuff cut with something cheap and nasty and damaging, like the time we gave a friend a crumbled Oxo cube and told him it was top quality grass. He smoked it and told us it was really good shit, and couldn’t understand why we fell about laughing. Bless teenagers for their pranks. You don’t want an Oxo cube novel.

I’m sorry, dear little e-reader, I know you tried really hard. I do have some use for you, but it’s more restricted than either of us hoped. I still admire your sample chapters. I still like your text resizing when I am having an off-day. I appreciate being able to buy trashy novels really cheaply to fill my time, or download classic texts for nothing to enjoy. Let’s stay friends. Sadly you will never be able to replace my many shelves of dusty, crumbling books, some with pages yellowed and crumbling after only 40 years. You can’t replace my reference books yet, although one day one of your descendants will try.

Several years ago I read a book by Nicholas Negroponte about his vision of the future for technology and he talked about electronic newspapers. The e-readers we have don’t come close to what he recognised as essential – the feel and convenience of something you can roll up, fit into a pocket, that weighs almost nothing. My newspaper subscription is now cancelled. The thing doesn’t even update through the day. I was still reading the news websites to find out the latest on stories I was interested in. I now consume news on the go, and even an electronic newspaper fails to meet my learned expectation of instant gratification to know the latest regarding Richard III’s skeleton or the results of a by-election or the progress of snow from west to east. To be fair, that’s what “news” means.

I tried, my friends, I tried so hard to commit utterly and faithfully to my dear little e-reader. It was not its fault, it can only do what it can do, as can we all. Its limitations were built in and it performed mightily within them. We aren’t compatible for a full-time relationship, but I think we’ll keep in touch and spend the odd evening in each other’s company.

And in the end, is this the wisdom I have found? To work within the boundaries of what is, to work creatively and joyfully to find my way in reading to the fullest extent that I am able, and not to bemoan or begrudge what is not possible. I have choices I never used to have, and if the world does not meet my exacting expectations, then I can still obtain pleasure from what is around me. Those three or so shelves (maybe four, who’s counting?) are still waiting patiently for my time and attention, and it shall be theirs.


The Invisibles

Today I went to the dentist for a check-up. That’s not what I’m going to tell you about though. I am going to speculate wildly about the automatic doors at the train station.

Usually you see, when I catch the early train, there is a constant coming and going, a turmoil of busyness, thrashing about the station waiting room-cum-ticket hall. The young folk who travel into York to attend school are huddling and shrieking about homework and OMG-ing about so-and-so’s new nail varnish or football boots or electronic device of choice, or moaning about Miss Battleaxe in Divinity who gave them detention for not being able to name the Apostles or worrying about the cross country run they have to do in the afternoon because they forgot their kit and everyone knows that Mr Satan in PE will make them do it in their underwear in front of the girls and what the hell is a bunga-bunga party anyway? Among their rumbustious throng the grey and weathered commuters stumble and bumble, breaking skin and shins with laptop case edges and dropping phones and e-readers and iPads as they scrabble for tickets or credit cards.

In other words, dear friends, it is a hubbub and frothing, frenzied confusion. It is Life’s Rich Tapestry in market town hues.

Throughout it all the doors open and close as travellers come in from the cold or go to wait on the platform so they can be first on the train and get a seat. They swish and slide for everyone and often for no one as the queue for the tickets gets too close or the teenage ant’s nest swirls into their orbit. The blast of cold air from outside acts as a prompt for the perpetrators to move aside before their legs freeze off at the knee, and so doing the doors whisper closed again for a few moments. Then it all begins again. It’s not like Brief Encounter, I can tell you

There is a tea room on the station, but it doesn’t open until after the early trains have gone, so I rarely see it on the inside. The tea is dark and thick, just the way I like it, and very reasonably priced, as we like to say in these parts when we mean cheap.

All of this was history when I went to catch the later train after my dental appointment. I am aware that some people across the Atlantic don’t realise we have dentists in this country. We do, and many of them are quite good and some even do all that cosmetic nonsense for people with more money than sense. The rest of us don’t care what the teeth look like so long as they masticate efficiently. I get irritated with my dentist for polishing my teeth each visit and removing the carefully built-up layer of tannin. Honestly, white teeth are just so shiny and sometimes one wants to be the Shadow. I don’t want to smile at the driver who waits for me to cross the road and blind him so he runs down the little old lady along the street. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. It’s a worry. Even now I am having to type with one hand so I can contain the nuclear-powered glow f my freshly minted chompers behind the other hand, for the sake of humanity

Anyway, back in the ticket hall things were quieter than the early morning rush. There was still a reasonable number of people waiting for the train, but not the dense throng catching the 7.23. Various people came in to buy a ticket and wandered outside to wait, only to return as the bitter wind and flurries of snow persuaded them of their folly. In between the incursions the rest us,, wiser and more patient, sat and waited quietly and peacefully. Waiting for an English train is akin to Zen meditation. I’m almost certain the noise of the tannoy is one hand clapping; certainly it is a bit buzzy and not recognisably a sound of the everyday world, which is how I imagine the Zen hand sounds too.

The doors at the front of the hall opened. No one was there or even walking about the ticket office, which can trigger the doors. We were all sitting down. No one came in or even walked past on the pavement outside. Interesting.

The doors closed again and then the doors to the platform opened. Still no one was there or even walking about the hall. We were still all sitting down. No one came in or even walked past on the platform outside. Interesting.

Clearly there was only one sane and rational conclusion to be drawn. There were silent, invisible creatures passing through the ticket hall. You couldn’t see their reflection in the glass, so they could be vampires. Now, I’m not mad enough to suggest they were necessarily catching a train. That would be not be supported by the evidence. They may have been trainspotters. Or lost tourists. From Alpha Centauri.

What did they look like under their invisibility cloaks? If not Romulans, then sufficiently large – humanoid equivalent at least – to trigger the doors. Of course, they also allowed us to walk through their bodies, or they would have been detected before. So large and substantial but also invisible, silent and insubstantial to human touch. Perhaps some kind of phased timey-wimey distortion or portable wormhole solution. Interesting.

The biggest problem I can see (or not see, I suppose, in this context) is how to communicate. I guess they can’t talk to us or they would have asked for help with managing the rail network. Everyone does, in the end. I have not noticed any written notes, but will keep an eye out for the next couple of weeks in case. They may not be substantial enough to hold a pen but perhaps they can use a touch screen and tweet us. Some of the tweets I see certainly seem to originate on another planet.

They wouldn’t need much intelligence of course. Pigeons can cope with travelling about on the London Underground, hopping on and off trains at various stations, and waiting patiently near the doors in order to do so. Pigeons may also, of course, originate from Alpha Centauri, and in fact be pan-galactic, hyper-intelligent beings like the mice. No one seems to have published conclusive evidence either way. At least they don’t tweet.

I don’t think the Visitors can be very heavy because this phenomenon is only noticeable with automatic doors. I have been typing this on Leeds station while waiting for the delayed train home, and the old-fashioned doors are behaving entirely in accordance with the well-known Law of Human Interaction, and only opening when a visible humanoid operates pressure. The Visitors may be sidling through the doors after the humans, as the doors are quite slow to close. Clearly more research is needed.

In an infinite universe, as every hip frood knows, anything is possible. Even Invisible Visitors on the National Rail Network.

Tell me I’m not the only one to have noticed!



EBL’s One and Only Style Guide

Lately my mind has been distracted by thoughts of writing. Ooh, look, pretty, pretty writing!

In particular, by thoughts about my own writing, why it is so rubbish, whether I have the capacity or intention to improve it.

Let me take you, back, dear friends, to last November. I finally succumbed and signed up for NaNoWriMo because an idea for a novel had been rumbling in my brain and I had managed to work out what that novel was. I wrote like a demon, in the sputtering glare of candles made from the tallow-grease of bankers, my quill dripping scorching acid on the vellum of politician hide. I wrote my quota, oh yes. It was all about the numbers.

Now I would quite like to turn my carefully numbered words into beautifully crafted words, but I don’t know how. I read and re-read. I am occasionally struck by a passage and think, “Not too bad, that bit!” Then I remember Johnson’s sage advice:

“I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: ‘Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.'”
Boswell: Life of Johnson

My heart sinks. How can I know what is good?

I read all the advice and guidance, I read the blogs. So many of you write so beautifully and so wisely about how to write. I yearn to emulate your creativity. I started to try to write every day, and to read more, paying attention to the structure and craft as well as the story. I bought John Banfield, for heaven’s sake!

What I have learned is:

  1. Writing here almost every day is fun and means I can avoid my novel
  2. Writing here almost every day relates to my novel very little
  3. I enjoy writing here more than writing my novel

I write in this blog in a stream-of-consciousness, conversational, devil-may-care way. It’s not supposed to be great literature (which is just as well), and it’s not supposed to be eternal (also just as well, although ironically thanks to Internet caches it may well outlast some novels). It’s a bit of fun, a playground to try out new things occasionally, and a chance to share toys with other kids.

I have written in a number of styles: academic texts and papers; work reports and strategies; letters; teenage poetry (not so much a style as a hormonal imbalance). I can do them all fairly well (except the poetry), and have been told so directly so I am confident of it.  I have never written a novel, although I have read thousands.

The styles, my dears, are not at all the same. This is not a Huge Revelation, but what I am learning is that I may prefer blog-style, and may never finish my novel. I am a little sad about that because I am still quite passionate about the story and I would like to share it. It still perturbs my thoughts and prods me to pay it attention.

I have too many hobbies, and no matter how I structure my life I must decide whether to focus on a Great Work, or dabble at the water’s edge, tracing lines in the sand. My confidence suggests dabbling is less risky; I can’t really fail badly at it, or if I do, it doesn’t matter. This approach has driven my life, but lately I am more inclined to take greater risks and reap greater rewards; I am starting to grow into my purple.

Fear, as we know, is the source of conflict (hey, bloggers4peace – got you in again!), and I am conflicted.

And I enjoy your company so very much.



B4Peace goes Gutsy

Today my body betrayed me. Like a bad worker blaming her tools, I hold it responsible for my loss of peace and descent into frantic, darting confusion. Let me tell you about it.

Sigoth and I went to Quaker meeting. We hadn’t been for a very long time, but part of our decluttering project is to do, or do not, and not just waste energy talking about it. So off we went. I felt a bit stressed at the thought of giving up so much of my precious time when there are so many busy things to do, and then I thought “Get your priorities straight, old girl!” and calmed down.

The Met Office had promised us snow, but it was sunny, although a bit frosty and icy. Yesterday’s sleety deposits had otherwise disappeared and the sky was blue. We rattled along the road to town and I was thinking about Kozo’s post about the need to surrender ourselves to life instead of fighting all the time. It seemed a good starting point for an hour’s contemplation.

The meeting room where we sat was cold; Quakers believe in layers and being Green (while also turning blue). I had expected this, so was wrapped up like supermarket packaging. The room had seats and a few old benches, and very high windows which let torrents of light in but only allowed you to see the sky and tips of trees. Today even that was obscured by condensation. It’s an old meeting house, from 1793, when the Georgians had inexplicably not heard of central heating.

I waddled in and found a seat and looked around at my fellow sittees. We were in a circle, and there was the obligatory bowl of hyacinths on a low table in the centre. All around me were about 20 people, mostly grey haired, it must be said, while outside a couple of children were being taken noisily for a walk.

We settled in and started to centre down. This kind of quiet reflection is very different from meditation; it’s a collective exercise. In Britain, Quakers hold silent meetings for worship at which anyone moved to do so can speak. We waited together for the meeting to gather and for someone to be so moved.

That was when it happened. Like a woolly mammoth thundering across the frozen, pre-historic tundra, my belly began to roar. There’s always one in every meeting and today it was mine. I snuffled a little and shifted, hoping to coax the beast back to sleep, but it persisted. The mammoth was replaced by humpback whale noises; long yowling, mournful moans, rapidly changing in pitch and intensity. My guts groaned and whinged and shrieked, and everyone definitely didn’t let it bother them in that very definite way of sitting and not moving or tutting at all.

The whale frolicked alone, producing a lengthy and melancholy solo. I thought of Pink Floyd. Then it found a friend. Across the room there was a response and the twin voices joined in ecstatic harmony. My musical score moved to Wagner.

Inwardly I ran through a broad and thorough range of emotion: irritation, embarrassment, a terrible urge to giggle, boredom and frustration at my powerlessness to impose order on the processes in my innards. I had lost my inner peace and gained only a buzzing, blooming internal cacophony which completely distracted me from any meaningful contemplation. I thought of the joke at the original LiveAid concert: “There’s been a complaint about the noise. From a woman in Belgium.”

I wondered briefly about Belgium. Well, you do, and I say that having visited only last summer. I remembered the carillon concert in Bruges and felt better.

Meanwhile the chemical carnival cavorted with abandon, and those around me certainly didn’t hear anything at all. So much so that there was not a single piece of ministry for the entire hour.

My body surrendered completely to the demands of catabolism. My mind, on the other hand, was torn between right-brain incredulity at the sonic range it witnessed and left-brain attempts to solve the “problem”. My dears, it was almost rent asunder. I was exhausted by the end, but fortunately another tradition decreed tea and biscuits, to which in turn the rest of me surrendered utterly and so I was saved.

Other bloggers for peace include:


Yellow stockings, cross-gartered

My dears, a very happy Twelfth Night to you!

I hope you have taken down the Christmas decorations, otherwise the dreadful wrath of the elves will be visited upon you in 2013. I tremble for you, I really do.

Obviously for a woman with traditional and somewhat classical education, my first association with this date is the Bard’s comedy. We “did” Twelfth Night at school fairly early on. I think it’s supposed to be an easy introduction to the joys of Elizabethan English. I loved poor old Malvolio, thinking that wearing some outrageous garment would make him attractive to the ladies. Bless him, so human.

The season is all about dressing ourselves up to make us attractive but failing in a spectacular misjudgement of taste and significant dissociation from Reality. According to my extensive research, using my own eyeballs, an awful lot of people are afflicted with the Malvolio Syndrome. It proves to me every year that things on your planet are not as they were on mine when I was a young alien.

It’s not just people either. Oh no, nowadays even houses get all dressed up. Sigoth and I are genuine curmudgeons. Ours remained almost nude except for a tasteful wreath adorning the front door to protect its modesty. A Christmas Figgy Leaf, if you will. Personally I think it’s a tempest in a teacup, really just much ado about nothing. Some people (and I can assure you that I am muttering darkly at this point) even have flashing lights and music, and not even for charity, but apparently for pleasure. I shudder, my dears, I simply shudder. It’s just not cricket.

Christmas fashion, be it for party outfits or house couture, is an infinite wormhole of unending horror, fueled by alcohol and commercial connivance, spinning violently and irresistibly out of control. I have stared into the very abyss, like a young Gallifreyan encountering the Time Vortex at my initiation rite. It may have driven me insane.

And so to happier things.

As Twelfth Nights go, today has been a mild and mostly sunny one. We deposited Youngest Offspring at the railway station to return to the Home Counties University where he is studying. We visited Offspring Who Lives Locally to hand over a poster frame for a poster – sadly not the right size, but never mind – and did those kind of necessary things that Saturday mornings so often involve.

Then we took down the gay garlands and shiny baubles. We put the tree outside and phoned a neighbour who collects them for the aviary at the zoo. The parrots will be enjoying our Nordmann Fir soon, and I wish them well of it.

I’ll confess, it is a pleasant thing to be back in old routines. Remember the Bard? He knew that feeling:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

That’s Christmas in a nutshell, my dears. Surfeiting, the appetite sickens and dies. By now we are ready to return to our daily round. When the decorations go up I am a giddy girl, and when they come down I feel I can breathe again as the space opens up and light pours in unrestricted by cards and dangling stars and a tree in the window. Honestly, a tree indoors! Whose bright idea was that? Clearly no one who had to sweep their own floors, I can tell you.

This winter’s tale ends happily. It is a comedy after all. Everyone lives happily ever after and gets married and all’s well that ends well. It’s practically a Disney film right there.

So for me, I’m away to watch the new series of Borgen and then to bed. Tomorrow we take flight across the moors to pick up a new netbook for Sigoth, so he can start blogging every day, like a real boy.

And so good night, my dears, may flight of angels sing ye to your rest.

If this blog has offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And EBL shall restore amends.

Namaste (as the Bard would say).


In harness

Today I finally bit the bullet and went back to work.

I like my job. It’s unfashionable to say so, but EBL has never been knowingly fashionable. I may once have sported a trendy outfit in error, but I gave it straight to the charity shop so it doesn’t count.

I like my job because I have a Nice Boss who said “Take the week off!” when I mentioned to her about how tired I was from Christmas and mother and so on. The Nice Boss also has a mother, if you catch my drift, and knows very well how tiring it can be, having a mother. Mothers can be tiring, they surely can.

As a mother myself, I am obviously the Exception that Proves the Rule. Apart from flirting with purple in my twilight years (and thanks to a lovely Offspring I am now the proud owner of a new purple dressing gown to lounge about in, in a purple haze. It makes me very cuddly, on the outside at least.) As a mother, I am always delightful and fun and a pleasure to be with and I usually remember the names of the Offspring, although not always.

I genuinely forgot Youngest Offspring’s name one day and called him Stephen. His name is not now, and never has been, Stephen; it doesn’t even begin with S. So I had to ‘fess up that he had an Evil Twin whom we had hidden from him all his life, and who lived in the loft. That was what he could hear moving about at night, not mice as previously indicated, and it explained who stole the odd socks, pens, and chocolate cereal. He should stop blaming Sigoth for any and all of those things. At once.

The end result of that revelation was that he occasionally feels sorry for Stephen and lets him out to play. Every time he is too annoying he pulls a face and says, “But I’m Stephen, mwahahahaha!”.

You might not be surprised to learn that Youngest Offspring, if he survives that long, will be 20 in the spring. At that point all my beloved teens will be 20-somethings. Eldest Offspring will be 29 in the summer. The others fall in between (hence Eldest and Youngest. Do keep up!)

We have been a little economical with the actualité, on occasions, with regards to our Offspring. When Eldest Offspring, who bore the brunt of it but then grassed us up to the younger siblings, was pre-school, we told him the ice cream van was actually a nice music van which drove around playing tunes. Because he only saw ice cream vans parked up to serve ice creams, and so not playing Da Tunes, he fell for it and only found out when he started school. It’s true that we are Slut Parents From Hell™.

In an effort to save humanity the Offspringses have rejected our values, as Offspringses often do, and grown up to be decent, honest and honourable. Oh, the shame.

But today I ignored Nice Boss and logged in anyway because I have to travel on Monday and wanted to Get to Grips with Things before that happened and I couldn’t catch up at all. I think it was worth it. I have spoken to lots of people, mostly about the joys of the Eurostar and the fireworks from New Year, and sorted out training for the team, more or less, and printed off what I need for Monday. I’m shattered. I thought the week would never end. I can’t be expected to work at this pace all the time.

More importantly I arranged the annual service for the boiler, the Aga and the chimneys, which we have every year even though the last time for all of them was in January 2011 because that’s how good I am at prevaricating! In fact I have been so good at it that the Aga engineer has emigrated to Australia and I had to find a new one. Really, all he had to do was say he was too busy. It seems a bit extreme.

Obviously going back to work has meant I can sort those things out. Doing them in the holidays just wasn’t cricket.

I hope your Friday has been productive and you are ready for Real Life to resume.



Toasty New Year

As we all know, God not only invented the world in six days, but also invented the Venerable Bede, who in turn invented the calendar.

It is thanks to Bede, and not the Mayans, that in the West we have the method of measuring time in terms of the Christian Era, or Year of our Lord (Anno Domini). The main bone of contention in Bede’s time was how to calculate Easter, but that all got sorted out thankfully by the nice lady Abbess at Whitby, just down the road from EBL Towers. This was fortunate because otherwise how would we know when to put chocolate eggs in the shops? (The answer, by the way, is on Boxing Day. A shop in town had Easter Bunnies on its shelves when I popped in for some items on 27th December. I was unable to restrain my staire. The woman serving looked rather weary of it and I suppose she had endured the same from every other customer that morning. What I should have done, my dears, was to summon the manager and give her a quick lesson on appropriate shop display and how not to irritate the hell out of fragile post-celebratory customers.)

Come on EBL, stop blathering about Easter when it is a glorious new day in a new year!

What I really wanted to do was start this year with a lung-clearing, heart-stopping, brain-exploding rant. I know, I know, it’s not like your mild-mannered EBL to let rip in this fashion. But really – carers! What are they thinking?

Today being a Bank Holiday there were no carers available to get mother up and dressed. Not a problem, as it is a Bank Holiday, so I am home and can do it myself. It did mean I had to make sure I didn’t oversleep this morning as there was medication to administer on a strict schedule, but that was not a problem, not for good old EBL and faithful Sigoth.

We saw the New Year in down at the pub with friends and neighbours, as planned, and had a jolly nice time including counting down with Big Ben on the telly and singing Auld Lang Syne enthusiastically and tunelessly. The walk back home, all of 3 minutes, was dark and muddy, but the night was glorious as the rain had finally cleared and Orion was posing in his belt and the sky was a dark tent of diamonds and pearls sheltering us kindly. We relaxed back home with a cryptic crossword from the book of Daily Telegraph Crosswords which Santa kindly provided me in my stocking, and then slept like peaceful little lambs.

Up I jumped in the sunny rays of the 2013 morning, bright and eager (once Sigoth had provided tea to kick-start my system), and pleased the weather has finally improved. Oh my dears, it has been such a soggy Christmas, positively a catastrophe for many. Offspring Who Lives in Town has had a friend sleeping on the settee for days, having been flooded out of her flat not once, but twice, in December.

Anyway, off I went to raise mother from her bed and feed and drug her.

Mother, of course, was unaware it was New Year, but was pleased to see the sunshine this morning and got into the spirit of wishing me Happy New Year endlessly once I prompted her. It was a kind thought, but inevitably one that spun round her head with giddy abandon and no sign of stopping until replaced by something else.

I persuaded her out of her snug cocoon and started setting out the clothes for the day, including one of her new blouses. New Year wishes started to make way for how pretty the blouse is, which is also true no matter how many times she says it.  Meanwhile I rummaged for knickers in the chest of drawers, then in the wardrobe, then in the spare drawers in the spare bedroom, just in case. There were none in any drawer in any room. Even when I looked three or four times. I checked the washing machine which contained clean but wet apparel of every kind. As mother was safe upstairs, I got heated on the topic of carers who don’t think very hard about what will be required tomorrow and how long it takes to dry things in an English winter.

The only option was to shower and dress mother sans culottes which caused her some considerable anxiety. All the way down the stairs she kept telling me about it and I kept explaining that she needed to wait a few minutes while I dried something in the tumble dryer. It was a tense and stressful few minutes for both of us, but eventually she had toasty warm undies to slip into and she was happy. The consolation of dementia is that she will hopefully have forgotten it by now. The rest of her clothes are drying as I write, so tomorrow the carers will not be faced with the same problem. Whoever came yesterday was clearly not the sharpest tool in the box. Actually it’s hard to rant about them because I couldn’t do this every day for an endless stream of other people’s relatives.

It reminded me though of when I was little. Mother had a similar challenge in the winter when laundry refused to dry in the cold, dank days of November. We had a covered area outside the back door of the kitchen where there was a washing line and coal cellar and space for bikes. In the worst weather that was where we hung the essentials to dry, out of the rain but still in fresh air. November air may be fresh, although it is open to debate, but it is also cold and damp, and clothes tend not to dry even under shelter.

The next stage was then to put the really essential essentials on the airer by the boiler overnight. The kitchen had a small coal-fired boiler for heating water and allegedly to supply the radiators. My parents had a very modern house, built in the mid-1950s, with parquet floors I polished by tying dusters to my feet and skating up and down, and with real radiators for central heating. Sadly the boiler was far too small to make the radiators work, but the water was hot most of the time and the kitchen was always cosy.

No matter how warm and embracing the boiler was, sometimes it couldn’t manage to dry the essential essentials by morning. School hours wait for no parent, and faced with damp knickers and a child half-clad my mother did the only thing left to her and grilled my underwear. In the cooker. She removed the grill pan first, otherwise I would have smelled of good Danish bacon.

Toasty knickers. A great start to the day, let me tell you.


Share the love

I have been messing about in the blogosphere for some time, and only recently started to take it more seriously and build it into the fabric of my routine. Well, I say “routine”. Anyone who visits EBL more than once will realise that I am using the term in a very loose sense here, as in “not really a routine at all”.

There are a few blogs I read regularly which I find interesting or inspiring or just downright entertaining. Recently one of these writers suggested writing a post about why I read her blog regularly, what I liked and what I wanted from her in the coming year. Step forward, bottledworder!

It seemed a great idea to spend time thinking positively about other blogs rather than whinging about my own. So here we go.

The main reason I enjoy reading BW is that the posts are well constructed, clearly signposted, planned and full of good ideas and suggestions I can consider for my own writing. The failure to translate this wealth into quality blogging is all my own, but I have been adapting some of those posts for the Great NaNoWriMo Endeavour, and generally taking posting a bit more seriously. Some of us are born to blogging, others have it thrust upon us. I just kind of fell into a blog-pit and am planning to build an escape ladder with words. Life, eh?

Back to the purpose of this post, though. I like it that BW writes about her writing in an accessible way and shares her experiences generously with the rest of us. She engages readers very directly and pertinently – something I am yet shy to do as I am still nervous of blogging. I love you all for reading, but am terrible at telling you so.

So far, so fan-girl, and a bit dry. Honestly, just go read it. It’s good.

And yet – there is something else I enjoy about blogs that I would like to see more in BW in 2013. It is present, but not as extensively. It is this: more emotional intelligence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s there. Just not as often as the helpful, but factual and relatively unemotional, tips on blogging. Give me passion, BW, with ripped bodices, heaving bosoms and heart-stopping tension. Well, maybe not all those, but as the most popular stories to share are allegedly positive and emotion-rich, perhaps it is a strategy worthy of pursuit and conquest.

I enjoy reading bloggers for their ability to share experience of life, of how they feel, how they perceive the world (good or bad) and how they resolve the questions of existence. They might not put it like that, but that is how I, in turn interpret their writing.

The reason I pick up on this is because recently BW’s readers were commenting on what they like about blogs, and again the emotional connection was a recurring theme.

By reading a blog regularly and potentially by engaging through comments I start to meet new people and find new perspectives. I do a fairly mundane job, live a privileged life in a comfortable house with a great partner. Generally I am pretty OK. There are challenges, as with any life. Dementia, depression, redundancy, social conscience, people not doing what I want, lack of time, lack of ability, lack of choice, lack of cash, lack of public transport, not always getting my own way.  Blogging connects me to others going through or having survived all these and more. It can give me hope or strategies or tools to get through the day.

In fact, my dears, the more I think about it, writing a blog feels like trying to meet the needs of others, but it’s the reading of other blogs that’s all about me and what I need. I would have thought it was the other way round before I began this journey.

So, BW, I enjoy sucking your soul dry. In exchange, you are welcome to consume my little aura if it should please you.

And not one to shirk a challenge, what can EBL offer you, dear, patient reader, in 2013?

The great thing about blogging is that, like love, the output is infinite, if variously effective: if one reader takes it all away to read, yet still it is left behind for everyone else to consume as well. It’s a kind of magic.


Once upon a time….

Before I was seduced by the glamour and promises of glittery, shiny, popular NaNoWriMo, I found it hard to write every day. Other things happened to get in my way, like work, family, friends and basically having the attention span of a …

Sorry, back again now. Where was I? Oh yes.

Then it was like a miracle. I decided to do the November writing shuffle and try to meet a 50,000 word target. I wrote almost every day, come hell or high water. We have had flooding here so I’m not joking. The Hellmouth thing was hushed up though. It’s all true, but they hunt you down if you try to talk about it. I’ve probably said too much already.

Where was I, again?

Oh yes, the miracle of writing. Prior to NaNoWriMo, when capitals were at the beginning of proper nouns and sentences, I struggled to write regularly. I tried the fifteen minutes a day rule, I tried prompts form various places, like Plinky, or Daily Post. I tried doing those 30 days of Whatever lists. I tried, my dears, but I did not succeed.

You know what they say, of course. No, not that, the other thing. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Honestly, do keep up!

So I tried NaNoEtc and I succeeded. Now it’s December and all those anti-writing, word-hating, finger-deadening, mind-swallowing, ideas-munching demons are back and I can’t write every day. I have done a little bit of work on Da Novel, but not as much as I would like. I have started a few posts, but they have been pretty shambolic. The least shambolic have been posted up for good measure, just to show willing.

Is it the post-NaNo stress? Did I just hold life back, but now it’s overwhelmed me? Did I win the battle, but lose the war? Is Santa to blame – because I would be doing better without his shenanigans, I can tell you.

I’ve been having fun though, visiting Offspring in the West, knitting a very little bit (that’s another target for this weekend: to finish a gift by next Tuesday), reading all the great blogs I found in November, as well as those I already followed, trying to restart the yoga now my eye is getting better, and also dealing with life’s harsh realities.

Must be off now though – quiz to print for tonight’s episode at the Village Hall.

Thanks for dropping by.


A day in the life

What is it like to live in a small rural village in the early 21st century? Well, my dears, draw closer and I shall reveal to you a day in the life of a typical village resident.

The alarm goes off at 6 am. It isn’t a surprise. I have been lying awake for at least half an hour. I have two old fashioned wind up clocks that chime, usually a minute or two apart, and I heard them strike the half hour. If I listen carefully I can hear the church clock too, slightly off set again. It’s easier in the summer because the bedroom window is open but in the winter the sound is muffled by the double glazing we had installed about 3 or 4 years ago. A woman in the village is responsible for keeping the clock going and no one knows what will happen when she is no longer with us; she is quite elderly now and not in the best of health so it is a pressing matter, but church attendance is very limited. Only a handful of villagers attend the services, and these are spread between a number of churches which are the responsibility of the local priest. I am not an Anglican so I do not attend but I am sad to think the church may not be able to continue.

Sigoth gets up to make a cup of tea and we stumble through our early morning routine, in and out of the bathroom, dressing and getting ready for the day. We both have to travel today and need to catch the bus which comes at 6.55. The next bus isn’t until 8.55 and it is about 8 miles to the nearest town or train station.

Downstairs we put the breakfast news on so we can keep track of the time and I download the newspaper to my e-reader to read on the journey. After the local news and the sport it’s time to go. I have to travel to Leeds to go to head office for a couple of days. Tomorrow I am going to visit an Offspring overnight before heading back to Leeds for an afternoon meeting.

Sigoth and I find our way carefully down the street, slip-sliding away. It is a good thing there is a moon not long past full to light our way. The streetlights here are further apart than in the town, so it is dark. There has been a heavy frost, or perhaps light snow, and the pavement is white and slippery, and we are the first to tread along it. In the distance a barn owl is hooting, and we crunch the frozen leaves which have fallen from the horse chestnut. In the summer we are serenaded by peacocks as we wait for the bus, but in the winter it’s the owls. Sometimes there is a cockerel, but today he is too cold to shout.

When we reach the bus stop we look at the stars and moon and feel blessed. Sigoth has an app for identifying stars and we find we can see Mercury, Venus and Saturn towards the east, all in a tidy line. It’s very kind of them to queue up to be viewed.

We often meet a neighbour at the bus stop on his way to work, but today he must be working at home. It’s just me and Sigoth waiting in the freezing darkness, and the bus is unusually 10 minutes late. I worry I might miss my train, and Sigoth worries he might miss his connection to another bus.

The bus usually connects quite well, but last week there were problems because of delays on the journey caused by diversions around flooding. The late bus still gives me 5 minutes to lurch across the road in the dark and ice and reach the platform just as the level crossing comes down to announce the arrival of the train.

I scramble into my seat in the last of 3 coaches. My ticket is pre-booked so I can reserve a seat but the regular commuters are not so lucky and it can be difficult to find somewhere to sit as the journey progresses. Quite a few children use this train to get to school so it is noisy and boisterous.

By the time we reach Leeds about an hour later the train is crammed with commuters standing in the aisle and their bags all end up in the face of whoever is sitting nearest to them. Luckily I have the window seat today. Most of us are playing with gadgets: e-readers, smart phones or tablet PCs. There is no phone signal for much of the journey however, so blessedly few loud conversations. We have to travel through the Howardian Hills which block signals, but which are home to rabbits, deer and foxes if you are quick to see them, as well as fields with sheep, horses and cattle. When it is light there is a lot to see, but at this time of day you can only see your reflection in the glass.

I have put my suitcase in the overhead rack for the journey. It is difficult to reach it when we are ready to get off in Leeds because the press of people trying to leave the train prevents me standing up and reaching it. I have to wait for a gap and then get it down by which time the people on the platform have surged forward and now I have to fight past them all with the suitcase, my laptop and handbag. At the same time I am clutching my ticket in hand ready to negotiate the automatic barrier to get out of the station.

I stumble onto the platform and manage to find my way to the escalator, trailing my suitcase. An eager commuter rushing for the train trips over the case and we both apologise to each other, then hurry on our separate ways. I go up the escalator, across the bridge and down again to the exit, juggling bags, tickets and crowds.

By the time I reach the barriers the main crowd had already gone through and luckily no other trains have arrived so the way is fairly clear. Just the last few stragglers like me.

Now I have made it through the first hurdle I head for the hotel where I will be staying tonight. I leave my case with the concierge, exchanging a few cheery words as we now know each other quite well. I am a regular, which affords me certain privileges with the staff. I set out for the office with laptop in hand, already running late for the 9.00 meeting. I make a point of stopping on the way to pick up lunch; there won’t be a chance later.

Arriving at the office the lift isn’t working so I use the stairs, carrying laptop, handbag and now a coffee and lunch as well. I swipe my ID card to open the door, sign in and take my lunch to the fridge. Already colleagues are asking questions about the new release, the issue with the system and the workshop we are holding at 10.00. I find my way to a hot-desk where I can check emails in the 5 minutes before I have to dial in. I need to speak to Finance about the capital budget, and plan to do so at 9.30 after the teleconference.

The rest of the day is a whir of meetings, questions, emails and discussions in odd corners. A colleague and I have to take part in a telecon in the first aid room because there is nowhere we can go to dial in that is quiet. I fail to speak to Finance because the gap I had planned is taken up with a more pressing crisis. I eat my lunch in one of the meetings, along with other colleagues on similar schedules.

My last meeting is with a colleague who has had a busy day too and we decide to go for a pint of beer to recuperate. It’s great to have an hour or so to talk about something other than work. I check into the hotel properly at about 8 pm but they are so busy that I end up using the restaurant instead of room service for dinner.

Eating in a hotel restaurant on your own is very depressing.

When I get to my room the heating has broken down. It’s December in the north of England, so not very warm. The staff rush up with heaters for me, and I begin to thaw out as I type this story.

I call Sigoth; his buses ran fine and he got home at a reasonable time. I also call Offspring to be visited, and agree where we will eat tomorrow night, assuming the weather does not prevent my visit.

Tomorrow is another day, and I plan to head west across the Pennines after work. Who knows what adventures await? I will cross Saddleworth Moor, the site of appalling murder, and also the highest train route in England. Or I may use the Leeds – Settle route across some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (although it will be dark). I will visit a medieval cathedral city which isn’t York, the site of the gaol where George Fox, father of Quakerism, was imprisoned in the 17th century.

What will you do today?