The Observations and Obsessions of a Superego's Sidekick

Books

For The Love Of Books.

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I grew up surrounded by books, my parents were avid readers and encouraged us all to read widely.  When I was twelve, my parents purchased a set of encyclopaedias.  I still recall vividly the visit by the sales rep with a few demonstration books, as we poured over the pages with such enthusiasm and anticipation.  An anticipation of a world opening up to us, and those encyclopaedias were still in the bookcase, where they’d always been when I left home for the last time.  Although I always remember reading, especially lazy afternoons, lying in the garden, my overwhelming passion for reading was ignited at 14, when I read for the first time ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.  No other school curriculum book, or for that matter any other book I’d read prior to that,  had that same hold as this gorgeous book.  For the first time in my memory, I could see the book coming alive for me in pictures, in my mind.  And that has been my guide to this day.

I’ve now a home and family of my own and like my childhood, books are everywhere.  There have only ever been two rules regarding books, don’t scribble on them and don’t damage them in any way.  They’re grown up now and I no longer have to remind them.  I’m guessing like most people I have my favourites, genres and authors, and I tend to return to them over and over.  However joining and belonging to a book club has opened me up to new and exciting authors and books.  I have one personal rule, if a book doesn’t grab me, I won’t finish it.  My time is too precious and passion for reading is too important to waste on a book, I find unworthy.  The greatest of books, take me on a journey, to a new place and time.  They’ve been my life line many, many times and have lifted me for the darkest hours and the darkest times in my life.  I owe them everything and to me there is a sacredness in reading, a very personal journey and great privilege in being able to read.  There was a time when reading only belonged to an elite few, and I wonder at how small their world and lives must have been.

Right now I’m re-reading for umpteenth time Pride and Prejudice, and before you all start saying, ‘oh she loves her romances’.  The only thing Jane Austen went dewy eyed and gaga over was real estate, Pemberley and to a lesser extent Rosings.  Any marriages that take place are swiftly pushed off the page to make way for Austen’s social satire, wicked wit and the glorious grotesques that grace the pages of this wonderful book.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh (of the piano “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”) one of her more unassuming proclamations, Mr. Collins, the loquacious and laughable parson.  But then I can laugh, because I don’t have to live with him, if I did have to live with him I think I would probably have punctured my own ear drums. The delightful Mr. & Mrs. Bennett, solo or in tandem and to a lesser extent the hapless and bitchy Caroline Bingley.

There are however two proposals which get more time than one or two sentences, the painful and cringe worthy fumblings and mumblings of Mr. Collins trying to woo Elizabeth Bennett and the first attempt at a proposal by Mr. Darcy….

(Cue romantic background Baroque/Classical music)

“In vain have I struggled.  It will not do.  My feelings will not be repressed.  You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

………..He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness then of pride.  His sense of her inferiority – of its being a degradation – of the family obstacles which judgement had always opposed to inclination,  were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed  due to the consequence he was wounding, …………… (music skids to a halt)

Yikes….you haven’t done this much, have you Mr. Darcy.

And just for good measure, he adds.

“……….Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related.  They are natural and just.  Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?  To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

If you want to know where the pride in Pride and Prejudice comes from, he was shocked and stunned when she says no.

Jane Austen wasn’t a romantic, she was by all accounts a practical, acid tongued and occasionally coarse woman.  I think I like her.  Marriage for her was a contract, one of very few options for a gentlewoman of little means.  And this is very evident in her writing, Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners and Austen is at her greatest when she’s holding up a magnifying glass to the arrogance, vanity, stupidity and pride of many of the great characters in this wonderful and delicious book.

I tend to use my kindle a lot these days, apart from the obvious advantage of being able to store 1000’s of books in one place, it’s less likely than a mighty tome, to leave me concussed when I fall asleep reading at night.  However I often return to books, there is something magical about the act of turning a page in a book, a physical and emotional response and interaction, and an empathy with the characters and story that I don’t get in using a kindle.  There is a progression and immersion in books, that make you believe you’re living the story, that’s missing with an e-reader.  My kindle is a moment in time, disconnected and static.

E-readers do have a purpose but I don’t believe they will ever replace the book.  And thank god for that, I say.


Food for Thought

I’ve never really got cookery shows, those of a competitive nature such Masterchef or any number of cookery shows by master chefs.   Now I can sit and salivate over a beautiful dish put in front of me but seeing the same on television, well that’s just cruel.   Now I have a wonderful friend who just adores them and for her its food porn.  Her Masterchef is my crime thriller television and she’s the same with recipe books.  She just loves poring over a good cookery book, like I would a medieval or tudor history book.

Recently though Sky Living have started running five series of My Kitchen Rules Australia back to back and I am hooked, BIG TIME.  And yet I’m not really sure what it is that’s drawn me in, is it the food perhaps the personalities and as the series move from one to the next those personalities are getting bigger and nastier.  I just don’t know.  And of course the two tastiest dishes would have to be the judges, Manu Fieldel(right) and Pete Evans.

Pete Evans Manu Fiedel

So am I wrong ladies.

So  it is certainly not a chore.  Or perhaps its the images of my childhood, having grown up in Australia, the first series included a couple from Shorncliffe in Queensland, a place close to my heart and where my grandmother lived and it brought back memories of Sunday evenings just me, my father and grandmother sitting down to her mock chicken, a favourite of mine.  If you’re wondering mock chicken is grated raw potato mixed with egg and seasoning and shallow fried and by the way it tastes (nothing) like chicken but boy was it good to this child.

So I get food, its about the memories it conjures up, of happy times with friends and loved ones.  I now live in Ireland but the smell of ripe fruit takes me right back to my childhood.  So what is it about cookery shows, has anyone any ideas or thoughts.   I’d love to hear them.  What is the great attraction?

The one thing watching MKR AUS has done is made me more adventurous in the kitchen.  After cooking family meals for the past 25 years, one gets a little jaded.  Cooking meals that no one turns up to or everyone turns up (including boyfriend, girlfriend and or other unexpected guests) and I’m forced to utter the immortal words, no its fine I’m not hungry (grrrr).   But I’ve tried experimenting with flavours and combining and trying something different and I’m enjoying it.

I searched my kindle recently for a book on flavours and all it could give me was anything and everything on the Hay diet.  Maybe I need a different approach.

I think I might be developing a new interest,  only time will tell.

Bon Appétit!


Attaining Contented Isolation?

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I have recently started therapy, a ongoing attempt at re-connecting with myself.  CBT with John on Tuesdays, a space to talk and explore.  No egos hurt, no damage done.  Last week, a compassionate letter to myself, I sat for ages looking at a blank piece of paper and all I could come up with was I’m a good mother and a loyal and loving friend.  Pathetic! Difficult!  Apparently this is common, somewhat comforting, misery does love company. This week it was social interaction and isolation, that opened deep wounds for me.  Then art therapy with Sarah on Thursdays.  Art therapy shows me I can do contented isolation well, I get absorbed in what I’m doing, as I caress the paper with my charcoal covered fingers and I forget all around me, I become calm and at ease with myself.  I also do it well, when I snuggle into bed with my faithful companion, my Kindle.  I get lost in the worlds of Bilbo Baggins, Elizabeth Bennet and Scout Finch and I feel my pain ease and my breathing slow.

I can feel myself sinking again, I’m turning  back inside, the critical and angry me, the hyper-vigilant me, the despairing me.  I’ve learnt how to recognize the signs, and I attempt to self isolate, although that doesn’t always work out, in an effort to avoid further damage to my already suffering friendships.

I think one of the greatest losers in depression is friendship, the desolation that depression brings affects everyone. I find myself now very isolated, my children are grown up and I rarely see them.  My family a long way away, my friends are few and even fewer are my close friends.  And over the months I feel some  backing away, retreating somewhat to protect themselves, I get this, I don’t blame them, I was horrendous, I only hope that when this is all over, I can regain what I’ve lost.  My friends are precious to me, to me they’re my family and family is everything.

I lost Liz at this time to sudden death, the ultimate isolation.  I get so angry with her, then I think of the senselessness and futility of this and I get angry with myself.  I still see her face everywhere, and sometimes I forget she’s gone and I smile and start walking towards her and then I remember.  I’m exploring my grief in therapy but sometimes I feel I’m moving backwards.

I know the greatest gift I can give myself is contentedness in my own company, the gift of being alone not lonely, see I know this, but doing it is something altogether different.


For Liz

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Our revels now are ended. These our actors,  As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind.

We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest.

William Shakespeare.

People come into our lives for lots of reasons, some say for a lifetime, a season or a reason.

My friendship with Liz lasted a lifetime.  Her sudden passing this weekend, has left all who knew and loved her, heartbroken and desperately seeking an answer to why.   For me, for the rest of my life she has taken a special place in my heart, thoughts and soul.

I find myself a day after her beautiful and simple funeral, utterly bereft.  I spent the day in quiet solitude, thinking of her laugh, her smile and her last words to me on Saturday.  I chose to turn to writing, and hopefully gain some peace from that.

I’ve known Liz for years, her daughter and my children having gone to primary school together, but I only really got to know her well about six years ago, when I started piano lessons, and this quickly became a deep friendship that grew and grew. A friendship of mutual respect and admiration, of shared passions and of sheer enjoyment in each other’s company.

Liz was a wonderful musician, an exquisite pianist and I loved to watch her play.  Her beautiful long fingers danced across the keys, her eyes closed gently and her body swayed as she played.  The beautiful music singing not only from the piano but from her very being, her lovely spirit.

And then it was my turn, and the spell was broken.

“It’s the C, Gill.”  “Oh the other C.”  “You weren’t playing the C.” “Are you sure about that, Liz.” “Fairly sure, Gill.”

OR

“That’s lovely, Gill, but it’s not what the composer wrote.” “Mine’s Better, Liz.” “Undoubtedly, but as he went to so much trouble to write it his way, we should probably respect that and try our best to follow his score.”  We would both then dissolve into laughter and tears of laughter until many minutes had passed before we could resume again.

But my favourites times with Liz, were the coffees, occasional meals together, or the glasses of wine in her favourite room, looking out over the stars and city lights, surrounded by her childhood piano and her much loved books.  And we would sit late into the night discussing music, books, family, life and love.

I was with Liz two weeks ago, when her last student was finishing up, and she said to me, “Ah Gill, look at the beautiful gift I got.” And she showed me a beautiful bunch of roses.  “And Gill, we must have a coffee from my new machine, it’s second hand but it’s brilliant.  It makes lovely coffee and we must share one.”  Last week, when we met again, it was, “Ah Gill, look at my lovely new sandals, they are so comfortable.”  And her face lit up again, like a child on Christmas morning.

That was my friend Liz, such joy in the simple pleasures of life.  A gentle honesty, generosity of spirit, such calm dignity, living life so passionately, and sending lovely picture messages which always seemed to come at just the right time.

I stood again in her favourite room, Monday evening, looking down on her coffin, grief stricken and in shock. Her daughter leaned into me, took my hand and shared with me, her mother’s feelings for me.  I will hug them to me for rest of my life.  But I wondered too, did she know how special she was to me.  Did I tell her enough.  We all think we have so much time.

Yseult said to me Monday, “Gill, Mum was a donor and she saved six lives, isn’t that wonderful.  And it is, and back in February, at one of the darkest times in my life, her gentle coaxing of me, back to piano and something to focus on helped to save mine.

I have much to be grateful for, all these people in the world, and Liz and I connected.  In time too, all my lovely memories of her will bring me great joy.  And I will think of her as I look at the stars, a shining light that once blazed here on earth is now twinkling down on me from the heavens.


Philo Vance

Both my Plinky and blog sites appeared to be littered with book reviews, maybe they’re both morphing into that sort of site, not surprising though, books are a huge part of my life. The book I’m reading at the moment on my Kindle is the last of the Philo Vance detective stories, The Winter Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine. There are 12 Philo Vance novels in total, all written and set in 1920’s & 30’s New York.

S.S. Van Dine was a pseudonym for the writer Willard Huntington Wright, his last book being published posthumously. I can’t even remember how I came across these books, perhaps I saw a reference to Philo Vance in another book I was reading. All the same though I’ve loved these books and have read them one after the other, over the last few weeks.

I would recommend these books but not to everyone, the writing is a little old fashioned, but the writers use of the English language is exquisite. Fortunately the kindle allows you to highlight words and find the definition and I’ve discovered some incredibly beautiful words. However these are clever detective stories, particularly the early ones and they’re solvable. I abhor detective novels where it’s impossible for the reader to work out ‘whodunit’, to me that’s not playing fair.

But the main reason I love these books is because of Philo Vance. I downloaded the first book and enjoyed it and so downloaded the rest. Very early on in the second book, I fell in love with Philo Vance and can pinpoint the exact moment.

It was in the book, The Canary Murder Case, canary being the well known soubriquet of the murder victim Margaret Odell, a famous singer and dancer (no stampeding to the comment section, I haven’t given anything away) and follows:

‘Currie sensed an emergency and departed. A minute or two later Vance, in an elaborately embroidered silk kimono and sandals, appeared at the living room door.

“My word!” he greeted us, in mild astonishment, glancing at the clock. “Haven’t you chaps gone to bed yet?”

He strolled to the mantel and selected a gold-tipped Régie cigarette from a small Florentine humidor. Markham’s eyes narrowed; he was in no mood for levity.

“The Canary has been murdered,” I blurted out.

Vance held his wax vesta poised and gave me a look of indolent inquisitiveness. “Whose canary?”‘

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The Canary Murder Case with William Powell as Philo Vance and Louise Brooks as Margaret Odell (The Canary)

That was the moment, that I fell in love and would have adored to be his friend. He would have infuriated me, and I dare say at times I would have wanted to kill him, but then at times I feel that way about some of my dearest friends. Why, because despite that, or perhaps because of that, they’re the most inspiring, comforting, enjoyable, exciting and lovable people I’m blessed to know.  And I get a sense of that about Philo Vance.  He came alive to me.

No doubt Philo Vance is irritating, a regular polymath, a know it all, not a ‘Cliff Clavin’ know it all, but one you however can’t help admiring. He’s a gentleman, a connoisseur and gentle soul.

As the poet Ogden Nash wrote ‘Philo Vance needs a kick in the pance’.

I’m quite sure if you decide to give these books a try, you’ll feel the same way on a regular basis, but you will laugh and you may even work out a couple of the culprits. These books are great, give them a try, and enjoy.

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Second, third, or fourth time around? Books I never tire of.

I love reading, it’s been a passion of mine since childhood, and still for the same reason. I can escape to a different world and forget my own. I tend to stick rigidly to certain types of books. I love crime, mystery, historical, fantasy. I joined a book club sometime back with a view to sharing my love of reading with other like minded people, and that works well, but I forgot that with that goes, the reading of books I generally wouldn’t have considered before.

Occasionally I’ve come across books that introduced me to a new style, author or type, but more often than not I’ve had it confirmed time again that I’m not a modern chick lit girl, but in fairness I’ve introduced to others in the group, books I’ve loved, just to have them all wanting to throttle me. So fair is fair.

I have three books that I return to regularly. I go back to these because life may have been fairly trying, and I know these three will get me through, and help me to temporarily forget my troubles.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Why?

The Hobbit is magical and full of imagery, and a wonderful metaphor for life.

Bilbo Baggins, pushed out of his comfort zone,and excelling and surmounting every obstacle. The dragon, hobbits, elves and dwarves, I feel like I’ve come home

To Kill A Mockingbird is rich, humorous and warm, the ramblings of Scout Finch are a joy, her turn of phrase, insight, thoughts and familial descriptions memorable. I love this book and despite its violent and racial content, it’s wonderfully uplifting.

Pride and Prejudice is the closest I get to chick lit and enjoying it. I love the romance, rocky and uncertain, the humour and wit of Jane Austen is delicious, and I always love the ‘Mr. Bennet’ moments, so wonderfully reminiscent of my Dad’s humour and his teasing interaction with my mother, throughout my childhood.

Second, third or fourth time round. Try eighth, ninth, tenth or maybe more.

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Books and the Places they take Me

I published my first post in May 2011 and with that fulfilled a dream of many years and although I love writing I often struggle to find something that touches me. WordPress and more importantly a handful of friends I’ve left into my secret, are always encouraging and the wonderful Daily Post email occasionally leaves me tingling and full of inspiration and such was the case with ‘The 5 Most Important Books I’ve Ever Read’. Now before we go any further I have to say I’ve bent the rules slightly and selected seven. Oh, I know there’s no rules in writing, well maybe a few, the obvious being grammar, plagiarism and common decency. But I’m a master at creating rules for myself, so forgive me for indulging myself. I couldn’t imagine my list without these 7 and to contemplate the 5 most important would have left me dithering for another several weeks if not months. And trust me I don’t need any encouragement to procrastinate.

I started this post sometime back and life did what it ultimately does and got in the way and my good intentions was left to moulder away in my drafts. Now I find myself with a great deal of time on my hands, and I’ve struggled greatly the last few weeks with very distracted thoughts and unproductive actions with one exception, reading, snuggling down into my bed or a cosy chair and losing myself in another world, lets just say it’s been my lifeline.

Of course the first book I reached for was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and for me it’s always been my great friend, my comfortable pair of shoes and my cuddly teddy. I’m a willing and happy companion in the travels of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield and company. This is a book for the child in all of us and I love reconnecting with her. Tolkien created The Hobbit as a bedtime story for his children and I imagine myself curling up and listening to him speaking and it takes me back to my own childhood when worries were few. And for a brief moment in time all my current ones dissolve too.

Of course we all remember the required school reading lists, and classics and critically acclaimed be damned, some of them were mind numbingly dull, and like all teenagers, I bucked, thank god for film adaptations I say. Of course film adaptations aren’t always sympathetic or even accurate and I was often left trying to explain myself. Sorry about that, Mr. Campbell. Until I came across To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I grew up in a home where reading was encouraged, books were ever present, but my passion for reading was ignited because of this book. I can’t explain why this book touches me so much, perhaps we just connected, maybe the right time and the right place as they say. But this I know, I always finish it with a satisfied smile and think ’till we meet again’.

Awareness by Anthony DeMello was a recent find, it was recommended to me about 2 and bit years ago and I’m forever grateful it was. His words are full of wisdom, but he’s tough and doesn’t pull any punches. I think when I first read it, I likened it to being mauled by a loveable floppy-eared puppy, and that pretty well still fits. I listen to his audio tape of the book and his voice is wonderful, the laughter, the joy but always the words and thoughts come back to me and I continually strive to find my own awareness. Dare I say it, it’s become my bible.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. I’ve read all the books in this series and I’ve preferred the storyline to some of the later ones more, but the first is hugely important to me. I first read this book some 3-4 years after it was published and it came to me at a time of great heartache. My youngest child had recently been diagnosed with a chronic life limiting disease, which left me grieving, angry and full of self blame. My beloved father had died suddenly and my husband had been diagnosed with cancer. I felt like I was in hell. This book transported me into the world of magic and Hogwarts, and took me out of my own for days on end. A breathing space, a place to hide and recharge myself.

To the wonderfully delicious offerings of P.G. Wodehouse and his Jeeves and Wooster stories. His turn of phrase, his glorious caricatures and comic genius. The derring-dos of Bertie Wooster, his bungling aide to friends and run ins with various aunts and his man Jeeves are a pure joy and a enormous treat. Read often and enjoyed always.

Now I’m not a chick lit kind of girl, but I do enjoy a bit of romance from time to time and Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen certainly fits the bill. The feisty Elizabeth Bennet and the brooding Mr. Darcy. And at the end of the page when the eyelids are flickering I picture Mr. Darcy as portrayed by Matthew MacFadyen walking across the field towards Elizabeth (we’re on first name terms) coat open and flapping in the breeze, crisp white shirt, breeches and riding boots…………………..Mmmmmm…………………….. ……………..Ahem.

And finally The Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I love all the Sherlock Holmes books, but this is the book in which we’re introduced to Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Through the eyes of Watson, we get to experience their new found friendship and discover the eccentricities of the wonderful Holmes, and of course their first case together. A great story in itself. I can while away endless hours reading these adventures.

So, are these my most important books, definitely. These are the books that have reinforced my passion and love of reading. But more importantly they’re the ones I reach out for again and again and again.

Enjoy!!!