Month: July 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Who decides where to put public benches?

This is a weird thought I had yesterday while driving around West Wales: who decides where benches are placed, particularly those around the countryside?

One of the benches I came across today

One of the benches I came across today

I hadn’t really noticed before but when you go on a public walk, someone will have kindly placed a few benches along the way for you to rest your tired legs on.

Lady resting on a bench in Ellesmere

Lady resting on a bench in Ellesmere

Later on yesterday, after I had the initial weird thought, we were driving back to our base along a busy main road, and I saw a public bench left looking rather forlorn on a busy t-junction. This got me wondering in particular about who made the decision to put a bench there. And how often was it sat upon? It didn’t seem to be a place by which many pedestrians would pass.

A very photogenic cat having a rest on a bench

A very photogenic cat having a rest on a bench

Ever since I’ve had this weird thought, I’ve been spotting benches, everywhere. They really are everywhere you go. You can’t walk more than 200 meters without having the opportunity for a sit down.

A bench I sat on today at Devil's Bridge

A bench I sat on today at Devil’s Bridge

So, do people have meetings to decide where to put these public benches? Do they pore over a map, with pins in their hands? Do they have to come to a consensus before a bench is officially placed? I’ve never seen a bench being placed so do they do it at night while we are all sleeping? Can a bench be moved if it transpires that nobody sits on it because it isn’t quite in the right location?

I have so many questions and a need to find some answers.

 

Proust was a very wise man

This is the weird thought (not that weird) that I had after finding something in a souvenir shop in New Quay today.

I saw an object in a shop there and was immediately taken back to a time in my childhood,. As I gazed at the object, flooded by a memory, I could almost sense that Proust’s ghost was watching me (his most famous literary creation was taken back to his childhood after eating some mandeleine cake).

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me…. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea (Proust, In Search of Lost Time)

Yummy orange cake

Yummy orange cake

I have no conscious memory of owning this object, which is a gathering of coloured stones with eyes on a bigger stone in front of a stick which reads ‘rock concert’. But upon seeing it I knew straight away that I had bought it over thirty years ago with my hard-earned holiday money and treasured it. I knew this to be true even though I no longer have this object now and obviously hadn’t thought about it for decades. I have no solid evidence that this memory is real (I need to ask my mum if she remembers). But I knew, I just knew, as I stood there in that shop today that I had owned an almost identical rock as this.

Rock concert - get it?

Rock concert – get it?

So I took a photo of this object and showed it to my husband later back on the beach. He immediately asked: ‘Why didn’t you buy it?’ I hadn’t intended to buy it. What need did I have for a tacky ‘thing’ made from pebbles? But as soon as he had planted that idea in my mind, I knew that I had to have it. I had to go back to the shop and part with £2.99. To me, as an adult, that isn’t much money. To me, as a child, the equivalent value would have been a lot of money. So I had to have it. It was fate. It was fate that we went to New Quay today. It was fate that I decided to go for a wonder around the shops by myself. It was fate that I saw this curious object and was reminded of my childhood. So I decided that I would be going against the gods if I didn’t go back and buy it. So I did.

I think I felt that I had to have it so that that feeling of being flooded with happy childhood memories would happen again, every time I looked at the object.

Proust remembering his childhood

Proust remembering his childhood

As I parted with £2.99, Proust smiled.

More on straplines

Today I came across this little treasure in Aberystwyth on the side of a Stannah Stairlift van parked on the outskirts of town.

And the winner of the longest strapline ever goes to...

And the winner of the longest strapline ever goes to…

So I thought I ought to add it to my collection of fantastic straplines.

I doubt that Sunderland and Sydney appear together in the same sentence very often. I’m pleased, though, that mobily-challenged Australians and Geordies are both able to get up and down staircases thanks to Stannah. I wonder if they use the same strapline on vans in Australia? Or perhaps it says: ‘From Lapstone to London, Up stairs and downstairs, We help people to retain their independence’

By the way, normal service is resumed in the weird thoughts department. I suspect that I’ve adjusted to the change in the water.

No weird thoughts – is it the water?

At the moment I am in West Wales and I’ve had very few opportunities for weird thoughts. I blame the water as whenever I come to Wales, I spend a less-than-usual amount of time having weird thoughts. So this has led to me to wonder: is the water here hard or soft? How does it compare to water at home? And since we’re on the subject of water differences, how come I need to use more washing up liquid here than at home?

Where we are

Where we are

The Dwir Cymru Welsh Water website tells me that the water quality where we currently are is considered ‘soft’. Severn Trent’s website tells me, in an equally useful way, that the water quality where we live is considered ‘moderately hard’. So therein lies a difference and perhaps an explanation.

 

A water quality map - blue is hard, green is soft

A water quality map – blue is hard, green is soft

The Internet has surprisingly little to offer on the subject of the effect of the quality of water and the number of weird thoughts to be had. I’ve known ever since I was a child that coming to Wales often necessitates a dose of Milk of Magnesium so therefore there must be a link between water quality and regularity. A trip to Devon has the opposite effect on me. So why doesn’t the Internet confirm this? Or at least help me understand this?

The Internet explains what hard water and soft water are, which is fairly interesting. However, in terms of amount of washing up liquid needed, the information the Internet offers completely contradicts my experience in West Wales vs Shropshire.

There shouldn't be more  bubbles in Shropshire compared to Wales but there are

There shouldn’t be more bubbles in Shropshire compared to Wales but there are

So perhaps I should consider the teeny tiny possibility that my 35-year old belief that water quality correlates to my weird thoughts is psychological rather than medical. Perhaps this knowledge will help me have a weird thought tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

If only things found in books could tell their story

At the moment I keep finding things in books. I like to create narratives behind these objects, imagine their stories. Every object has a story.

In Platform by Michel Houellebecq, which I read last week, I found a boarding card. Someone had presumably been reading my book (bought second-hand at Attingham Park bookshop) while travelling from London Heathrow to Gibraltar and had used their boarding card as a bookmark.

The book with a story

The book with a story

What is the story behind this object? Was it used for holiday? Or was it from a business trip? Or perhaps the owner of the card lived there. Had they ever been before? Was it their first trip abroad or one of hundreds? Were they a nervous flyer, or a bored flyer? What did they think of Platform? Did they worry about the person next to them on the plane reading over their shoulder (Platform contains lots of rude words)? Or perhaps the boarding card had belonged to someone else in their family and they were just using it as a bookmark.

If I imagine the time when this boarding pass was used I see the owner of the boarding card to be male. I see them as in their 40s or 50s. I think they are going on holiday to Gibraltar, or perhaps to visit a friend. It is July. It is hot. They are a bored flyer (they travel a lot for business too). I think they are staying with a friend and just for a few days. They like wine and fine food. They aren’t married, perhaps they had been once. They have teenage children. Their friend is an old friend, perhaps from work. They are follically challenged and have a slight paunch. They are single. They are good with the ladies though. They often drink whisky, on the rocks, with a twist. They are a manager. They manage people for a living. In fact, they are a middle manager. Of course now in the age of electronic boarding passes they could be no longer of this world. The text on the boarding card is very faint. I reckon this man is called Graham. I hope Graham is still bumbling about, perhaps taking his grandchildren to the park now.

London to Gibraltar

London to Gibraltar

In my current book, W or the Memory of Childhood by Georges Perec I found a pleading note. This note was not written by anyone in my family. It was obviously written by a child, called Gabi, perhaps aged about 12 or 14. I imagine a girl. But then W or the Memory of Childhood is not a children’s book. Perhaps it was given to a child by someone who thought the word ‘childhood’ in the title indicated that it was a children’s book?

Actually I imagine the owner to be a bit older, maybe late teenage (but with childish writing). They have been forced to read this book for their English Literature A level. They are more concerned with their crumbling friendship to study literature though. They fell out with Gabi over something trivial, that seemed significant at the time. The book belongs to Milly. She obviously wants to make friends again with Gabi otherwise she wouldn’t have kept the note in her A level English reading text. I hope they made friends. I hope they are still in touch. This note looks quite recent so perhaps they are at University now, not the same one, but keeping in touch by email.

Are they friends now?

Are they friends now?

Milly and Gabi, I do hope you are now friends

Milly and Gabi, I do hope you are now friends

A while ago, when I was at Powis Castle researching for my current art project which is based on the castle I spent some time talking to the ‘book cleaning ladies’ about things found in the books of Powis Castle that they clean. They told me that the most bizarre thing they ever found was a rasher of bacon.

Saved for later?

Saved for later?

I have no narrative for this article. I think someone just needed a bookmark in a hurry.

I hope I continue to find things in books. It makes life that bit more interesting.

 

I need to be about to start a new book by the time we go on holiday and I’m failing

I have a problem that is causing me a lot of stress. It is related to an impending holiday by the sea. We’re going on holiday on Saturday and I have already selected my holiday reading (purchased at a very good price from Tesco this week). My problem is that I need to be ready to start my holiday reading on Saturday.

Light reading for my holiday

Light reading for my holiday

On Monday, I finished the book I was reading (Platform by Michel Houellebecq) and so needed to find a book that would last me exactly four days so that I could start my holiday reading on time. I have a shelf of ‘to read’ books.

My ever-growing 'to read' shelf

My ever-growing ‘to read’ shelf

I scanned this shelf for a suitably short book. I selected a play to read thinking it would be the perfect length. I bought this book about six months ago having always wanted to read it. This was my chance to do so.

Be afraid, very afraid

Be afraid, very afraid

However, I finished reading this most excellent play on Wednesday evening (a beautifully crafted satire on married life set in 1960s America – not a happy read). So now I had another dilemma. That is, should I start my holiday books, with the risk of actually finishing one of the books before I go on holiday or should I try to find another short-ish book? I didn’t want to pick a ‘normal’ sized book as there would be little chance that I could finish a ‘normal’ book in two days. So I chose a really short book, purchased about a year ago for 50 pence in a charity shop.

A fabulous little book - just a bit too short for my needs

A fabulous little book – just a bit too short for my needs

However, I finished reading this fabulous anthology of short stories by Magnus Mills this morning (simple, elegant, poetic and imaginative – he touches so gently and so cleverly on human relationships). So again I was faced with the same dilemma,  but this time with a greater intensity. What to read? So after some thought I plumped for this (I’ve read about two pages as I write this blog). I suspect I’ll still be reading this on Saturday but I have a two-hour car journey  during which to have a good solid read.

I love a bit of George Perec

I love a bit of Georges Perec

Oh the stress of it all! I need a holiday.

I wish I could touch my nose with my tongue

This was a thought I had yesterday.

Last night, my husband I shared a Czech beer. He poured the beer into two identical glasses and filled it to the brim (otherwise we’d have been left with about two sips worth in the bottle). The only way I could start drinking mine was to lean down towards the glass which was on the kitchen counter and drink (so as to avoid picking up the glass and causing a spillage). However, doing this meant that my nose dipped into the beer. This was a little annoying (and damp). I had no way of licking the beer off my nose. I tried. I couldn’t do it. If only, I thought, I could touch my nose with my tongue. In the end I just let it dry. So then my nose smelt of Czech beer. Apparently being able to touch your nose with your tongue is a genetic trait. So there’s no hope for me in this department then.

The Czech beer from Sainsbury's

The Czech beer from Sainsbury’s

Sometimes life isn’t fair.

The glass filled to the brim

The glass filled to the brim

My least favourite word in the English language is…

…slacks.

Are these slacks?

Are these slacks?

This is an American English term but I really, really dislike it. It is such an unattractive way to describe a pair of trousers. Who would openly admit to wanting to wear a pair of slacks? When I think of ‘slacks’ I think of elasticated nylon trousers with a crease neatly ironed down the front. I think of Harold and Hilda from Ever Decreasing Circles (1980s Sunday evening sit com). I think of Marks and Spencers.

Harold and Hilda wore slacks

Harold and Hilda wore matching slacks

If you google ‘slacks’ the definition it thows back at you is ‘casual trousers’. Perhaps it is partly because I don’ t wear trousers very often (I only wear jeans about twice a year and trousers perhaps once a year) that I dislike the word ‘slacks’. The word is unattractive. The item of clothing it describes is unattractive.

Incidentally, I also dislike the word ‘pants’ (as in trousers). It makes them sound completely unsexy (but slightly more sexy than slacks).

Who would want to be seen out in their pants or slacks? Who dons their slacks for a night on the town? Who ever met their future love interest in a pair of slacks? Exactly!

Loom bands make great fiddle objects

I’ve talked here before about how I am a constant fiddler. I fiddle with Lego, random bits of plastic, bits of paper, the edge of my dress, the cat’s ears or, if desperate, my hair. I fiddle when I’m working, walking, reading, waiting and watching TV.

This cat is happy to let me fiddle with her ears of an evening

This cat is happy to let me fiddle with her ears of an evening

At the moment I am in fiddle heaven thanks to the discovery of my children of the latest craze: loom bands. I’m amazed they resisted for so long. But now they are hooked. So now our house is full of tiny colourful rubber bands.

Fiddler heaven

Fiddler heaven

Currently I have three of their loom bands around my index finger on my right hand which I call upon to fiddle with when bored or nervous. They are perfect for fiddling. They are portable. I don’t need pockets to transport them. They are light. They are unobtrusive. They don’t look too strange (strangers might think I am wearing a colourful ring?). They win over Lego on so many levels.

I can twang them, twist them, roll them up and down my finger and swap them between fingers. I can flick them, pick them up, move them between hands, twist them around pens and chew them. The fiddle potential is endless.

My hand right now

My hand right now

The only thing I don’t do with them is make bracelets or cauliflowers, or something useful…

My son with his loom creation

My son with his loom creation

…such as dresses I can sell on eBay for thousands of pounds.

Does her bum look big in this?

Does her bum look big in this?

There are just a few completely unputadownable books in the world…

…and they aren’t necessarily works of great literature. Why is that? This thought occurred to me on the toilet last night because I am currently reading an unputadownable book.

My unputadownable book is called Wonder. I only picked it up by chance during a general book buying frenzy I went on with my children on Saturday (we bought ten books in total). I’m so pleased I did.

Read it, read it, read it!

Read it, read it, read it!

It is unputadownable because it is a brilliant book. It is better than brilliant. It is truly remarkable (so hence why I am remarking about it). I read over 150 pages of it yesterday. I had to stop reading at 10.30pm because my eyes were starting to swim. There are only a few books I’ve read in my life that are truly unputadownable in my opinion. They are (in no particular order):

  • Wonder by R. J. Palacio
  • To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
  • Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
  • N-W by Zadie Smith
  • Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend (and The Growing Pains)
  • Lace by Shirley Conran
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (and follow up titles)
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  • I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
  • Hold the Dream by Barbara Taylor Bradford
  • The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

The astute reader of this blog will notice that not all these are widely regarded as works of great literature. Some are, but not all are. So if it is not quality of writing, what makes a book unputadownable?

It might be partly to do with the time in my life in which I first picked up the book: as a teenager with nothing  better to do (this applies to the likes of Lace or Flowers in the Attic) or maybe I was on holiday when I read the book (I devoured N-W in two days in Devon).

This book was so brilliant to a fifteen year old reader

This book was so brilliant to a fifteen year old reader

Sometimes a book is ‘unputadownable’ because I want to know what it is about it that everyone seems to love or I’m willing it to get better and reading with speed seems to help get me to that point (the Shades of Grey trilogy and The Da Vinci Code are both in that category).

Perhaps the unputadownableness comes because I relate to the story or the characters (in some warped way, Adrian Mole sits in this category). Or they touch a nerve emotionally (The Thorn Birds).

Are my unputadownable books someone else’s unputadownable books? Are there any reasons for being unputadownable that I have failed to mention?

Sometimes, though, going back to Wonder, a book is unputadownable because it is just plain very most excellent. Although having said that I’ve read some very most excellent books I’ve been able to put down because I need to have breaks between reading so I can properly deal with their brilliance.

Will we be reading this book in fifty years time?

Will we be reading this book in fifty years time?

I have about 20-odd pages of Wonder to read so what I am doing writing about unputadownable books, I’m not entirely sure. I need to read! NOW!

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