Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Ever-Expanding TBR Pile

It's been a while since I wrote on here; I'm going to claim that it's because I know you all have as large a TBR pile as I, and don't have time to read weekly blatherings from yours truly.

But speaking of the toppling TBR pile, I've just finished a book that is likely to add, indirectly, to the pile.

Lucia Graves is the daughter of Robert Graves, well-known poet and author of such books as I, Claudius, and she grew up largely in Spain, particularly Mallorca and Barcelona. Her memoir, A Woman Unknown, is beautifully constructed, weaving past and present, but also detailing much of life in Spain beyond her own personal experience.

When I was preparing for Carmen - The Musical, I found out considerably more about the Spanish Civil War than I had previously known, but only from the point of view of its beginnings and early encounters. Graves' book describes the effect on the people, particularly the losers, of Franco's regime, and (briefly) their ultimate emotional release on his death. More reading to be done on this topic.

She also mentions a queen of Catalonia, Margarida of Prades, who sounds as though she must have been the Spanish equivalent of Eleanor of Aquitaine, though there is much more detail about her in Graves' book than in the wikipedia entry for her, though to be fair it does acknowledge that the equivalent articles in Spanish or Catalan will extend the entry. An interesting woman, about whom I feel I need to discover more. More books needed.

And a final topic of particular interest to me, given the novel that I've been writing for some years about a survivor of the Jewish massacre in York in 1191, was the detail that 1492 was not only the year Columbus 'discovered' America (and that's a *whole* other blog entry!), but also the year in which Jews had to either leave Spain or convert to Christianity. I knew they had faced the dilemma, but hadn't realised the coincidence of the date. When I get back to my historical novel (the current one is very nearly ready to be released into the big wild world), I will doubtless need to do some reading about the experience of the Spanish Jews.

So that pile that I had diminished by a whole book? It's just grown by at least three....

*TBR = To Be Read

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Knowing how to use the correct terms

On a day when a certain well-known president is dining in the same shire, a consideration of terminology may be in order.

He is often referred to as a narcissist, but I wonder how many people who use the term have the training necessary to use it correctly. (I'm not saying they're wrong, though!)

At the weekend, someone I had just met told me I was clearly autistic, on the grounds that I spoke in short sentences. She did then go on to say that she was autistic, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that she was socially inappropriate. But she made no mention of qualifications or the autistic triad, so I suspect she was basing her judgement on an informal knowledge of the subject. I was trying to concentrate on something else, so I didn't go into the details of my shyness, introversion and general fatigue. And autism is a spectrum, so it's possible I'm on it somewhere, but a swift assessment based on a two minute distracted conversation is not a reliable one.

In general, we bandy about labels with a casual knowledge of their meaning, and it's not always helpful. It can lead to prejudice and hurt, whether intentional or otherwise. We really shouldn't make such swift judgements of people, even though first impressions matter. Unlike Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, we should allow our first impressions to be overruled by a greater knowledge of the other person. In other words, give people a chance. Two minutes is not enough. Two years probably is.

For what it's worth, Psychology Today's definition of narcissism says:  
"The hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their own success, beauty, brilliance) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. ... 
"People with narcissistic personality disorder believe they are superior or special, and often try to associate with other people they believe are unique or gifted in some way. This association enhances their self-esteem, which is typically quite fragile underneath the surface. Individuals with NPD seek excessive admiration and attention in order to know that others think highly of them. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat..." 
(Psychology Today UK

Remind you of anyone?

Thursday, 24 May 2018

The R Word

When I finally quit teaching at the school where I had been working, on and off, for about fifteen years, a few people asked if I was retiring. "Retiring?" I replied, shocked. "I'm far too young for that!"

As a child, retirement was something people did when they were tired of work and practically had one foot in the grave. It meant you were seriously old. You had finished with life. Early retirement was for the sick and pools winners.

Now, things have changed. A number of our friends have taken retirement, ready to potter at home and complete all those projects they've been contemplating for years. (Their partners would quite like them to get on and *do* said projects, but that's another matter.) Others have retired in the sense that they have given up paid work but now got on with life, walking the length of the River Thames or trying to visit every gin joint in London. None of them are what I would consider old - and I don't mean that in a biological sense, but more in a psychological sense. They don't have an old attitude.

Back at university, I was looking at the effect of personality on retirement; the conclusion I quickly came to was that if your job was everything in your life, then retiring was a disaster. You lost everything and waited to die. If, on the other hand, you had plenty of other interests in addition to going to work, then retirement would simply allow these other interests to expand to fill the time newly available.

It is all too clear that not everyone has what I would consider to be a good work-life balance, but perhaps now - or perhaps it's simply in this village - there is more opportunity to have other interests, helping people to keep that youthful attitude. Age, more than ever, is a state of mind and retirement is something that appeals once financial commitments have diminished.

I certainly wonder now how on earth I held down a full-time job, I am so busy with other things. Though I still haven't retired. I'm just doing different things, some of which earn me some money.

Speaking of which, have you got your tickets yet for the BCOS production of Chess? Friday is already sold out.... More info here.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

A worthwhile pride

I'm just back from a long weekend in Madrid. After the initial metro journey from the airport to the hotel, we resorted to Shanks's Pony for the rest of the trip, even walking back from the concert that finished at 11.45pm. (It was warm, it would only take 40 minutes, why not?)

Madrid is not the largest of cities, but it is a capital, and it does attract tourists. Standing in line for the free entry to the Thyssen Museum, several languages and accents could be heard. So it is perhaps not surprising that they want to keep the city looking good.

How does one achieve that? Sunshine certainly helped, but there were other measures taken by the city council and planners.

Several of the buildings that were undergoing renovation had scaffolding on, but a wraparound facade was then attached so that from a distance, the building looked unaffected. Immediately the city looked neater and less like a building site.

But also, on many of our café stops, we watched council employees in hi-vis jackets working at keeping the city clean and free of litter.

I know that employing such people costs money, but they perform a greater service than simply sweeping the road and/or pavement. They are highly visible, thus providing a deterrent to petty crime, and they know the area, so that tourists can - and do - ask for directions. They are also in a position to report on damage to street signs etc.

I do acknowledge that there are other things councils could be spending money on - filling in the potholes so that the road surfaces are less hazardous for cars and cyclists would be high on the list - but demonstrating a little pride in our surroundings, and making the urban environment better for its users, in addition to provide work for unskilled labourers, has to be worth considering.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Flash from the past!

I've been attempting to take part in a poetry-writing marathon this month, in which prompts have been given every day and in theory a poem is written every day and then posted for comment. I've managed a couple of posts, and a handful more poems, but finding the time to write seems to be getting increasingly difficult.

The good news there is that I am finding time to read (thank you, Stephen King!). I'm flitting between physical books and e-books, and am enjoying a wide variety of genres that way. But, with everything else that I'm trying to accomplish, it has made it harder to write anything new.

So, since 'update blog' has been on my to-do list for a while now, here is one of my early attempts at flash fiction. I was looking for something on an old laptop (which I eventually found, date last modified 2012...) and found this in the process. Not very charming, perhaps, but then flash fiction frequently isn't. And I have been reading a lot of psychological thriller stuff lately. ;-)

The Message

The writing was still clear, even thought the tide had since come in and was already on its way out again. Slightly eroded, but legible. I wondered how deep the original lines had been drawn, the affirmative long stroke of the I, the symmetric halves of the heart and then the capital lettering of SUE with its even larger S.

Beyond the writing, shifting a little now at the persistent tug of the waves, was a small pile of clothes,  the shoes with his watch in the left one, and the lighter I'd given him for his sixteenth birthday, once he was old enough to smoke openly, just before the law changed again, in the right one, and his favourite hoodie sprawled loosely on top, as if to protect their contents from the ravages of the sea. Of him, there was as yet no sign.

"Silly bugger," Sue giggled. "What did he want to do that for? Just because I wouldn't go on a date with him!"

"I can't believe he even asked you! I mean, his best mate's girl!" and I held her tight and kissed her while the waves and the seaweed lapped around our ankles and tangled themselves in Sean's last message.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

This too shall pass...

Those who know me well know that I have struggled regularly with depression and severe anxiety. Last November, in another bout of major panic, I adopted a newly-suggested strategy of writing down all the things I was worrying about so that I could set aside some daily 'worry time' for them and try to get on with real life the rest of the time. The list was lengthy - nearly a side of A4 - and although I tried to follow the strategy, I was not entirely successful.

But last week, finally addressing the chaos that my office had become, I found the list. My initial thought on reading it was 'why was I worrying about *that*?' Many of the concerns were Christmas-related so their dates had passed, but even so, I now feel that only a couple were worth fretting over. I know I should have realised that back in November, but as the saying goes, better late than never.

Is this a sign that my anxiety is lessening? Only time will tell, but perhaps this November I will remember the things that didn't matter last year after all and factor that into my level of anxiety....