Archive for October, 2008

October 17, 2008

Conspiracy theories

(From last weekend in the NIE)

On a Saturday evening in Dublin I was startled suddenly by a gang of women in short pink wigs apparently running towards me. At the last moment, though, they turned towards the street and I realized that they were merely trying to get a taxi. As they ran across the road into a waiting cab, I realized that they were all accomplishing this in most unstable looking pairs of high heels.
I’ve been traveling rather a lot recently, and at every airport and station I have been struck by the athleticism shown by women in stilettos. They walk briskly along main roads. They negotiate traffic. Cobblestones. Huge amounts of luggage. Or even all of the above. When I wear stilettos I teeter. I can barely negotiate furniture and a handbag. If there is any soft ground anywhere I will find it and sink into it. I catch myself wondering if there were secret classes held to teach people how to negotiate these shoes that I somehow got left out of.
It’s the same with a number of other minor skills. Each year during the monsoons I curse my inability to competently roll up my jeans so that they won’t get drenched in the rain. One leg will always be longer than the other, and the minute a dirty puddle appears the whole thing unravels and rushes lovingly down into the mud. It’s like one of those old myths about how certain animals came to be the way they are – “one day the gods summoned all the animals to teach them how to roll up their jeans. Only one animal did not arrive. Aishwarya was asleep in the forest and so had missed the message”.
Comfortingly, I am not alone in the “secret lessons” theory. Stephen Fry (actor, author and genius at large) has also voiced this suspicion. In a post on his blog a few months ago he spoke of his inability to dance and his bafflement when, as a child, all his classmates seemed to know how to do it. “Here were boys and girls my age twisting, spinning and jumping at each other and they all seemed to know what they were doing. Had I been confined to the sick room with an asthma attack the day disco dancing was covered in the syllabus?” Evidently I’m in distinguished company. A friend of mine believes that the art of whistling, too, might be said to fall into this category of mysterious skills. She’s been trying for years, asking for help from anyone who might provide it, and no amount of practice or instruction has ever coaxed a sound out of her. She’s beginning to suspect they are giving her the wrong directions to keep her out of the club.
As a whistler myself, however, I can assert that this is not the case. I can remember exactly where I was and how old when I first learnt to whistle, the ability just arrived out of nowhere. Perhaps dancing, and walking in high heels, and rolling up one’s jeans; all these and countless other actions are also just instinctive – some are lucky enough to have them and some aren’t. But it all seems terribly unfair.

October 10, 2008

The Return of Project Objectify: Kevin Pietersen

I have walked right into a city of Liverpool fans (from my taxi driver at the airport down to random people in pubs) and this pleases me. But what with no television, a residence hall largely populated by American students, and, well, being in Ireland, I’ve been having minor cricket-withdrawal. Cricket-based manflesh is the obvious answer.

So here’s someone obvious for you to salivate over – the startlingly pretty Kevin Pietersen.

October 10, 2008

Voices from the margins…

…was a title we were given in second year for seminar papers. I did mine on writers from marginalised communities writing genre. It was fun, but I wish now that I’d done something related to the physical margins of the book.

Anyway, since I’m a) too busy to write and b) 23 as of a couple of days ago and really should do responsible grown up things now like read my texts, here’s last week’s Express article for you instead.

Aristotle is said to have given his student Alexander the Great a personally annotated copy of Homer’s
Iliad. Alexander slept with it under his pillow.
The margins of my copy of C.S Lewis’s Till We Have Faces – found secondhand at a book fair many years ago – are filled with bad drawings and notes in purple pencil. The previous owner has also underlined all the paragraphs that she (or he) most enjoyed in the same bright purple. It’s interesting, but it’s sometimes hard to read and looks horrible.
But there’s something fascinating about the traces left by other people who have held a book before you. Library books, for example. I generally hate it when people write in library books. Often these acts of vandalism are in the form of word definitions – people take out books, discover that they do not know the meanings of half the words (why not take out books whose words you do understand?), underline them and then painstakingly look them up in the dictionary and write the definitions in the book. Perhaps they think they’re doing the rest of us a favour. They’re not. Library books do not belong to you, you’re (hopefully) going to return them, and there’s no need to spoil the reading experience of future library users.
Then again, not all writing in library books is bad. I once took a very old book out of a library to find that comments (sensible ones too) had been made in the margins by someone who had read it perhaps thirty years ago. And someone had replied, also in the margins, and someone else had chimed in below. And so, wonderfully, there was a conversation going on across generations at the edges of those pages. The notes in the margins brought up points I hadn’t considered, they enhanced my reading, and at some point they crossed over into art.
Notes and marks left in secondhand books are different and far more personal. From previous owners of books I own, I have received artwork, pressed flowers, earwax, class notes, declarations of love, and bills for vegetables. I know that the previous owner of my Lewis book was a terrible artist, but I also know that she could recognize a good sentence when she saw one, and I like her for it. Then there are the little notes from book givers to book receivers. Many of my friends are upset by people giving them books without writing something on the first page to provide some sort of context for when and how this book entered their lives. When I read these notes in second hand shops I can see why. I even own a book that seems to have been personally gifted by the author to a friend of his (who hopefully waited for a decent interval before giving it away).
I’m tempted sometimes to make up fascinating inscriptions of my own and write them in my own unmarked books. Perhaps in the future some young bibliophile will think I led a far more interesting life than I actually do.

October 6, 2008

So, you know I said I was going to rewatch Through The Dragon’s Eye?

This is priceless!

October 4, 2008

Death, destruction and cute furry animals

A few weeks ago the theme tune for The Animals of Farthing Wood popped into my head out of nowhere. Reminded of the series, I looked for it on youtube (it’s all there – joy!) and was lucky enough to find (Aadisht did the actual finding) an omnibus edition of In the Grip of Winter, Fox’s Feud and The Fox Cub Bold at a secondhand book stall in Saket.
In my room at college (equipped with impressively speedy broadband) I have finished watching all three seasons of the TV show.
I cried when Bold died.

I cried at a lot of things, to be honest. The deaths of the hedgehogs. Many of the other deaths that seem to occur every other episode. Though not at Dreamer’s death, because somehow that is glossed over rather* – perhaps because the foxes are the animals we’re made to identify with the most during the series, and seeing Fox and Vixen reacting to the death of their cub might just be too much. But really, animals are dropping like flies throughout.

And one of the things I kept wondering as I watched was, how did I survive this series growing up? There’s violence and blood and death (and not the Tom and Jerry sort, where bodies magically reconstitute themselves, this is violence with emotional consequences) in every episode and I have always been the sort of person who cries at anything. In these degenerate times when a friend’s cousin only lets her child watch Bob the Builder, this amount of serious violence just feels startling. Were things really that different fifteen years ago?

I was also thinking what a wonderful series it was. Strong, nuanced characters, solid plotlines (for the first two seasons, at least). The books have some of this too, but the TV series really does add new layers to the animals’ characters. So you have Fox, who is excellent and heroic all through but is capable of becoming a snappy, old and conservative father where his own cubs are concerned; Badger who is nice but ineffectual (and knows it) and eventually senile; Bold, who does everything he can to escape his father’s reputation but ends up with a mate who married him “for your father, of course”. There are the weird emotionally abusive relationships within the family of blue foxes (and among the weasels in season three, but that was more about the series writers utterly losing the plot and trying unsuccessfully to be funny). And then there are the little things I would never have picked up on as a child – the male Vole’s trade unionism “we shmaller animalsh musht shtick together” (a lot of the time he has a point) and the moth-eaten rook in season three who spends his time running after owls while his mate sighs patiently and looks after him because that’s just the way he is.

I suspect I’m going to spend a lot of the next year or so watching things from my childhood online. Next week: Through the Dragon’s Eye, perhaps?

*Strangely, while arguing about their various parentages Charmer uses the deaths of various other Farthing Wood animals to justify Scar-hatred to Ranger, while somehow neglecting to mention her own sister.