{31/05/2012}   Sandwich fillings

I don’t particularly like sandwiches and I hate butter in sandwiches so if I’m going to have sandwiches they are made at home with fillings as exciting as I can possibly concoct.  I thought today that I’d share my sandwich thoughts.

Nowadays, “the soggy” is less of an issue, though they most certainly can still be found.  Likewise, “the dry crust”, whereby the filling is only smeared in the centre and you are almost forced to leave the dry, sorry crust.  “The butter clod” is probably my least favourite as I can’t abide the taste of cold butter and this is a sandwich with more butter than filling; it’s like adding salt or MSG to excite things a bit and con you into thinking you have a sandwich.  These days, you’re more likely to come across “the packaged ponce”, a sandwich of luxury proportions, possibly with a fancy bread, maybe even organic, and with ingredients too good to be shoved into a poncy sandwich encased in packaging worthy of being classed as art.  And then there’s the price.  I have no figures to hand but I have seen a £5 label before, which has provoked a rant outburst rather than closer inspection.  I may be wrong (maybe it was a pack of four sandwiches with gold dust bread?) but I wouldn’t be surprised.

My view of sandwiches may have been slightly marred by the occasional “the paste” whereby sandwich spread was wiped across a piece of chemical contaminated “bread” and presented as lunch.  I am now sidetracked by visions of limp white bread sandwiches with meagre fillings.  It surprises me to think that my mum packed me off with such sandwich horrors but I suppose they made appearances in my childhood lunch boxes otherwise I wouldn’t fear “the paste”.  However, my mum used to make what is arguably the best sandwich filling in the world and one which, though I rarely make, always makes me feel good; I think it can be classified as high as “the food envy”, although to try it is what creates the envy rather than the knowledge of what it is.  Trust me, this is a treat far beyond expectations.

For a double round, or a greedy “the excess”: one large tomato, one large egg, a load of grated cheddar, maybe a bit of salt and pepper.  Boil the egg and the tomato until the former is hard boiled and the latter’s skin looks set to come off.  Being aware that a hot tomato is hotter than you’d expect a hot tomato to be, remove the skin and the tough centre.  Drop in a bowl.  De-shell the egg and drop into the tomato bowl.  Chop the egg and the tomato together, then add the cheese.  There will be melting, obviously.  Then either dollop it warm onto, ideally, a piece of thick crusty white bread and consume immediately or let it cool for a bit before converting it into sandwich filling.  It all kind of sticks together when it cools … yummety yum.

As for other sandwiches, tinned tuna with one third salad cream and two thirds mayonnaise, some black olives and lemon zest with black pepper is another “the food envy”.  I am also rather partial to egg mayonnaise with either cress or cucumber.  Perhaps the most innovative sandwich I have had out was from Gruel in Dublin.  They have a daily roast dinner menu and the next day they do a leftovers sandwich which is a veritable feast.  Genius.  There are not many (I can’t think of any except that place – assuming it’s still there, it was about six years ago that I went there on an almost daily basis, except that they were often sold out!) places that readily advertise leftovers, usually you get a meal that just so happens to be, say, yesterday’s leftovers.  Leftovers sandwiches are underrated.

Oddly, writing about food I usually want to eat whatever it is I’ve been writing about, now I am left not wanting sandwiches.  But by lunchtime I will be shoveling down today’s egg mayo roll and being thankful not to have “the soggy” or “the butter clod”.


{30/05/2012}   Being late

I have very limited patience for social lateness, my own and that of others.  Everyone’s time is precious to them and no one should have the arrogance to think their time is worth more.  I get increasingly enraged by lateness, particularly with the advent of mobile phones.  It is not ok to be late just because you’ve texted or called to say you’re going to be late.
There are of course exceptions, things way out of your control, that render you late.  I have a friend who was stuck in miles of traffic for a few hours on a bus on the M40 yesterday due to two major accidents; she was late for work, someone who I would not think of as generally, in fact ever, late.  I consider myself to be a punctual person and most of my lateness has been as a result of transport.  It makes me feel horrible, partly because of the lack of control but I think largely because I pride myself on not being late because of how much I hate others being late.  Plus the annoyance factor of leaving home with time to spare but still not arriving on time.
I think the longest I have waited for a friend was about an hour, by which time I was in a bad mood and should have cut my losses and left.  It didn’t help that I got regular text updates announcing she was almost there, thus obliging me to stay.  Had I not had a mobile phone with me, I would have left after half an hour.
There are some people who are always late, something I feel I can say is the opposite to me.  I did once give such a friend a time to meet which was 30 minutes earlier than I’d meant.  I was so paranoid and twitchy about being “late” that I arrived ten minutes earlier (ie 20 minutes late by the time I had given her).  She arrived fifteen minutes later.  I found that whole scenario almost as stressful as it meant I was upset about technically being late as well as that she was late.
I know I can be a festerer about such things, I really should let go, but maybe why should I?  If you make a plan, agree a time, why shouldn’t all parties expect to be meeting at that time?  There are some countries I could never survive in, where lateness is the norm.  I had invited some visiting overseas friends round for a picnic and a day out.  They were (I was warned it was in their culture to be late, but it still didn’t make it remotely ok even though I was waiting to meet them in my flat) more than two hours late.  I couldn’t work or socialise like that normally.
Knowing you are planning to meet a punctuality offender, I guess you can arrange to meet somewhere that you can happily and easily while away time.  I am increasingly considering telling people I won’t have my mobile with me in the hope that will eliminate the, “Oh it’s ok if we’re late, I can call her”.  I do find it kind of fascinating that we are all fairly consistent in our time keeping.  I pretty much know who of my friends will be late and I have long since learnt never to say, “Oh, any time after 7 is good”, because that makes a 9pm arrival not late whereas I had in mind between about 7 and 7.15!
I do not for a minute profess to be a perfect time keeper, I know I have kept people waiting, but in so doing I have felt really bad and I am pretty confident I have always had good reason if I’ve been late.  I guess we all expect everyone to keep to our standards, in all walks of life, but in reality we are very different, so I suppose I should just accept that and make sure I can keep myself entertained while waiting for certain people!

Between April and December I regularly think about doing my tax return, it is a burdonsome niggle.  Last year I sent my tax return off in May, but still had jolts of, “Agh, I’ve got to do my tax … oh, I’ve done it” for the rest of the year.  I hate sorting receipts and paperwork, I mean really, really hate doing it.  I also don’t enjoy discovering that my annual earnings have been going down each year for the past few years.  Can someone (me) learn to be organised with money and financial paperwork, having displayed no obvious signs of having such tendencies?
I have a pile of receipts from the past year, relevant paperwork largely in the same area and a “special” book for writing receipt info in (I tried Excel but it wasn’t without issues and I’m sure it took a lot longer than my pen and paper approach).  As I think about it, I feel quite stressed.  Every year, after spending either a day (if I have a whole free day ahead of me, littered with tea breaks and all diversions that present themselves) or a series of days surrounded by papers and an air of chaos, I get it all sent out (I have an accountant to make it easier for me, but it’s this stage that I find the worst, but being self-employed and renting accommodation having an accountant is almost necessary – does that sound like an excuse?!).  I then create a system for receipts, bank statements, etc, and for up to three months I am organised.  Then suddenly it stops, well I stop.  Oh, I’m getting myself all wound up now just thinking about it.
Believe it or not, with my trusty “To Do List notebook” filling fast, I am very organised.  It’s just over my own finances that I am a disaster.  I used to be a credit controller and took unexpected delight in sorting out other people’s finances, it’s just my own I can’t deal with.  It often niggles me that I suspect my financial paperwork carnage is a reflection of my irresponsible attitude towards money.  I don’t have debts, not even a mortgage, but earning potentially vastly different amounts each month means I spend what I earn, but it takes me a few months to adjust to meagre or non-existent salary months.  Sometimes, the thought of addressing my spending and seeing outgoings v incomings, horrifies me.  I like to know enough not to go overdrawn, but no more.  How, how, how do you change the financial habits of a lifetime?  All this came to a head when I thought about buying a car that would render me £450 a month worse off for four years.  No, no, no.  Big no.
I have never had a regular monthly salary and I am wondering if this would be key to saving and being a more responsible spender.  My first jobs were temp jobs, then EFL teaching (paid per day’s work but with overtime, unpaid days off, etc, etc, that wasn’t regular) and then this crazily paid job.  Turning 37 I have had a vague acknowledgment that I am nearer 40 than 30.  By the time I’m 40 I want to have savings and be more in touch with my spending.  I might even think about getting a pension!
A month today will be the last blog entry for me in my six-month challenge.  I should make that last post a recap of things I’ve said I’ll do, etc, over the previous six months.  My tax return WILL be done and sent by then and a new, effective system of financial organisation will be in place.  Yikes!  That scares me almost as much as the day of impending horror, of being surrounded by receipts and invoices and bank statements …

Yesterday I donned a Primark-from-three-years-ago boob tube, knee-length shorts and a slightly-too-safari hat for my beach sunbathing session.  I looked dreadful.  It is a relief I am not famous and hunted by paparazzi, I would be mocked in a most cruel way.  While I freely acknowledge my sunbathing attire is not for the pages of the glossies, I am increasingly horrified by beach, indeed summer, fashion.  I hasten to add that I changed out of my boob tube to leave the beach.

Why do people with naturally pale, delicate skin insist on not wearing enough or any sun protection?  I saw a teenager with cheap-sausage pink thighs and shins wearing an inappropriately short pair of shorts, a skinny, previously pasty, topless bloke with a painfully pink chest and face … oh, the list goes on, so much burning on display courtesy of inadequate clothing.  It’s not pretty or pleasant to see.  But maybe worst of all is that we are increasingly becoming a nation of fatties.  I believe it’s largely a recent epidemic caused by fast food/junk food/ready meals and that I suspect they are more readily consumed than ever before.  As for me, I eat and drink too much and do limited exercise, but to my credit I do at least resist the, er, temptation to wear butt cheek skimming shorts and bikini or skimpy tops.

I don’t really care what people wear while they’re sunbathing, swimming, etc.  But walking around I am quite shocked at the amount of flesh on display, often of the pink/red hue.  I suppose it is none of my business what other people choose to wear, but I don’t want to have to look at bare chested men (the men with poster bodies seem not to display their goods other than in appropriate places), see women displaying their lower bottom and/or vast unharnessed boobs.  Sometimes I am embarrassed to be British, especially now I see so little style displayed.  I can see why and how we have a bad reputation (albeit a stereotype) for our sense of style.  Of course there are stylish people, but when they are consumed amongst Jo/e Public I feel they are in the minority.

What is to blame?  The advent of cheap throw-away clothing?  Magazines and the fashion industry?  Not understanding how to dress to your figure or age?  Or just not giving a shit?  As a slight aside, a few weeks ago a friend and I walked past a very long queue of largely teenage girls.  It was sunny and warm.  I am not kidding, I walked past them in open-mouthed horror, I swear I have never seen anything like it: most of the “teenage” girls were at least chubby, most were wearing skimpy clothing and most looked dreadfully, painfully, embarrassingly cheap.  They were queuing to see Rizzle Kicks.  I do try not to exaggerate, stereotype or offend when I write blog posts but really, that shocked and actually upset me.

I find it sad that a lot of people seem to have lost a sense of pride in their appearance and/or resort to minimal “fashion”, especially when they don’t, indeed can’t, carry it off with poise and confidence.  I’m not just talking about poor fashion sense, I am talking more about wearing clothes that suit you.  I’m not a complete prude, I don’t think people should be covered as they walk about in hot weather,  I just wish people would wear clothes in their size that cover private private bits, from bum cracks and cheeks to cleavages.  Am I being prudish?  Maybe I am, I just hate having to see people looking naked and unattractive as I go about my daily business on a warm summer day off.

Like so many others, I was glued to the TV for my annual dose of dreadful music, infuriating voting politics and whacky outfits.  What’s not to love about Eurovision?  And for those I saw on Facebook announcing they were poised to turn over, it being that awful, I bet you at least watched all the singing!

Last night I watched it with two friends.  It is impossible to watch without participating so it was a night of shouting at the TV, gazing in open-mouthed wonder and feeling slightly naughty for laughing at Graham Norton’s at times marginally un-PC commentary (I think he’s done a good job of filling Sir Terry’s popular shoes).

Possibly the most memorable entry for me from the 2012 Eurovision final was Turkey and the bat pirates.  I loved (an open-mouthed moment) the boat with the straining body of the figure head emerging from the rubbery bat wings.  Priceless.  I was in another room for one of the early entries, possibly Albania, but I could hear wailing; that was awful.  The Hump put on a good performance, but it was a pretty awful song and it was missing two key elements, of which at least one must be in abundance: novelty (think Russia) and a tight, revealing outfit adorning a lovely.  This is where the likes of Cyprus gained extra points, enhanced by a wind machine.

My favourite was Germany (no novelty and no crotch enhancing attire, hence they didn’t do well), though in part that was because I had a small crush on Roman Lob, who it transpires is a mere 21 years old.  I had a few issues with treacherous Jamie Cullum having played a part in writing the song though, where are his loyalties?!

I also rather liked Moldova’s entry.  I am totally in love with the lampshade dresses of the dancing girls (one of the turquoise ones in particular) and their legs-dipped-in-gold tights.  And then they lay on the floor and kicked their legs about, merrily flashing their pants, shortly followed by belly rocking between the legs of the singer.  Truly, I thought that was an excellent entry.  What was with the MC Hammer blacksmith look though?!

As for Jedward, well, you did Ireland proud.  Sort of.  They are two of the bounciest, sweetest people, but, seriously, get over the jumping chest-to-chest thing!  Suitable costumes and hair for Eurovision, I felt.

Oh, it’s so much fun writing about this because it makes me think about it and I have iPlayer open as well so I can refresh my memory.  I suppose I should mention Sweden.  I think she did well because she wasn’t scantily clad (I was fully expecting her excess clothes to be ripped off at some point but, no, it was a serious performance).  It was a proper dance track, though as soon as I heard it I thought it was something else.  However, it was a decent entry and was one of a few that had credibility as a winning song.

But why, oh, why, do I, does anyone, watch Eurovision?!  The votes are beyond infuriating, the people who announce the votes for their respective country usually embarrass themselves and it goes on for far too long.  Yet still I blinking well watch it!  And another thing, did anyone else notice that a lot of the performers looked similar?  I was sure that some were singing for two countries.  And lips, did you notice a lot of large, pale lips?  Oh, I’m about to get into full flow but I’m going to leave it there.  Hurrah for Eurovision and a whole evening’s entertainment!

I dislike clothes shopping, it is a chore that usually ends up making me feel fat/weird-shaped/outcast!  I am writing this looking down on a failed pyjama purchase, it’s not pretty and it’s not fair.

Being on the pudgy side is manageable, it’s having boobs over a C-cup that causes me the most problems.  The pyjama issue is that the bottoms fit fine, as does the top … except that the boob-shaped area is, to put it VERY mildly, insufficient, thus rendering the top unusable, if only for aesthetic reasons.

Everyone has a different body shape and I appreciate that’s why clothes sizes vary from shop to shop.  Zara, for example, make clothes for people who are very different in shape to me; I would need to have about three of their sizes cut and sewn to get a top of theirs to fit me.  For my emotional protection, I never go to Zara.  Bench jeans work for me – a discovery made after years and years of research – but I still have to try on pretty much every style in the size I am by their standards until I find, usually two, different styles that fit me.

I do, however, have two favourite shopping places and a third fall-back.  I get most of my clothes from TK Maxx, then McArthur Glen Designer Outlet (Ashford) and, thirdly, department stores.  The common theme is that there are a variety of brands in a relatively small area so the odds of finding something to fit are increased.

I have to be in the right mood to clothes shop in TK Maxx, it takes a lot of time and patience, but as a result I have all manner of brands, styles, etc; good for interest factor but bad if you buy a brand you don’t know, want to buy more of but can’t find elsewhere.  Also, a bonus that you can get bargains.  Likewise McArthur Glen.  I went there earlier this year.  I needed a jacket.  I had a two-hour shopping slot (I arrived after work at 6 and the shops close at 8).  The shops were quiet, I tried on loads of jackets … and ended up, unsurprisingly, with the first one I tried on.  Whenever I go there for specific things to buy, I almost always get them.  Very satisfying.

As for the trauma of finding clothes that fit, when I win the lottery I am going to have bespoke clothing.  I have to buy one to two sizes bigger in shirts so my bust doesn’t strain in a way that boob-enhanced “glamour” models think looks cool/sexy.  I have to buy trousers a size bigger to enable my bum to fit in, but to the detriment of my waist which then has a waistband too big (and belts that have to tuck in a fair bit of waistband look cumbersome, especially when you have a shirt on that is two sizes too big at the waistline, thus giving you knobbly trunk-like attributes).  I’m fine with skirts.  I can get skirts a staggering two to three sizes smaller than shirts, though I’m (a) not into straight/fitted skirts or (b) not a big fan of skirts, unfortunately, though in part that’s because (c) they often look silly with tops that are too big because of aforementioned boob issue.  Vicious circle.

Don’t stop me, I’m on a roll now.  A lot of the time I look like I’m wearing maternity tops because a lot of tops fall from boob projection terminus straight down, not even touching my mini paunch.  I am as a result dreading the day I am offered a seat on the tube.

I am also really, really fed up of having to wear belts.  Surely there are other women with curves, well I know there are.  I would love to wear trousers that fit my waist and my bottom.

And, really, can “one size fits all” be anything more than a joke?  And another thing, what’s with all trousers being “one leg length fits all”?  Trousers used to be designed for my leg length, I never had to take trousers up.  Now they are usually made in one length, quite rightly to cater for women who would have had mid-calf length trousers previously, but which means me and most others have to either pay (£9-£14 I’ve had to pay) or butcher (NEVER study the hems I’ve done!) their trousers.  It’s scandalous and a huge issue in my day to day life.  Herrumph!


{25/05/2012}   Cheating

     Through work yesterday, I learnt about performance enhancing drugs used by athletes/sports people.  I was shocked, in part at the apparent prevalence of drug use, but mainly at the amount of drugs you potentially need to take to counter side effects; side effects which include men developing breasts.  I really don’t get it beyond the obvious drive to win and excel at your sport.  Surely a chemical (often intravenous) in your blood stream counts as cheating.  Well it officially does, but people still do it.

     If I were to play word association with “cheating”, I would say “school”.  I remember playing board games at junior school, aged c11, and realising that one girl in my class in particular was blatantly cheating.  It made me angry.  It still makes me angry when people cheat.  I want it only to be children who cheat, that it’s something you realise is pathetic and spoils games and social interaction, but unfortunately it does spread into adult life.  I have, and probably still, cheated, but as far as planning to cheat goes I can only think of little things that affect me that have no bearing on other people.  Or so I perceive.

I suppose part of the issue with performance enhancing drugs is that if you know “everybody” else is doing it, you think the only way you can win is by adopting the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy.  How scary is that when you think of the ripple effect?  It’s a huge, huge disappointment when you discover athletes you admire are winning because of chemicals.  Sadly, it detracts from the fact they were good, exceptional, to have ever got to professional athlete status.

Likewise, it’s a huge disappointment to discover you have friends who cheat at games.  I am not saying this because I have any friends that I think cheat but because I remember that horrible feeling of being aware that someone you’re playing a game with is cheating.  I’m on the cusp of repeating myself but childhood memories of cheating really do linger with a bitter taste.  A few years ago, I played a board game with some children who were blatantly cheating.  I had to excuse myself because it was making me inner angry; at least children don’t try to hide it in the way an adult would, and that’s because by adulthood you should know it’s wrong and not in the spirit of games, friendship and respect.

As is often the case with my ramblings, I am failing to find a point other than emphasising that cheating is very annoying and shouldn’t be done.  If you want to recover faster, have better endurance, bigger muscles and/or more rage (seriously – boxing) so you can improve your results, is that any different to, say, secreting a winning card, taking more toy money than you should, positioning yourself so you can see your opponent’s hand …  is the victory as sweet and deserving if you get away with it?  Does it make you feel good about yourself, confident that was a deserved victory?  And all that is assuming that cheating actually means you win; it’s not a given.

{24/05/2012}   Looking after yourself

     Last night, in the queue of an over-heated Tesco Express, I shared “it’s too hot” sentiments with a woman next to me.  She looked hotter than me, very red, despite wearing a sleeveless dress.  She had massive scarring on one arm.  She told me that she had got out of hospital the day before after skin cancer treatment and had been told not to go in the sun, but being as hot as it was she couldn’t face covering up.  I wasn’t sure what to say, but it reminded me of so many people I have worried about who haven’t heeded advice about their health.

     I am guilty of this too.  I did a motorbike driving test (the CBT, one-day test) a few days after a general anaesthetic for the removal of four wisdom teeth.  Wearing a helmet wasn’t fun and general anaesthetics take a good few days to leave your system.   If a friend had told me they were going to do this, I would have been really worried and not wanted them to do it.  What is it?  Arrogance that we know our own body?  Stubbornness about not changing plans?  Worry about losing face and losing money?

The same applies to smokers or drinkers who are warned about the damage they are doing to themselves, but a lot of people don’t give up because of that advice or warning.  It’s horrible for those around them, it’s really difficult being around someone you perceive as being on a mission to self-destruct, because that’s kind of what it is.

What does it take to make people change their lifestyle or habits when they receive advice that what they are doing them is either killing them or making them more ill?  I knew a 40-year old man who was a smoker, beer drinker and long distance runner.  He had had a few heart scares and been told to give up all three.  He carried on, then one day died.  As I recall, the cause of death was unknown in that there were four heart issues that could have caused his death but it wasn’t certain which of the four got to him.  Is it about wanting to live your life as you love it, not wanting to change, or perhaps not wanting to ALLOW your ill health to make you change?

There is nothing more frustrating and upsetting than seeing people you love flaunt their unhealthy habits, not go to the doctor when there’s clearly something wrong or say they’re ok when they’re blatantly not.  Likewise, it is hard to change habits and address health problems.  But how ill do you have to be before you do make that choice to look after yourself?  How much worse does my RSI have to get before I accept that I am in the wrong job; when limited movement in my hands renders me unable to cook or type or write and basically do all the things I enjoy doing?  What will make the lady I met with skin cancer not go out in the sun unprotected, when already she has painful-looking scars from her treatment?  Prevention is better than suffering, right?

I watched a 1955 Fellini last night, Il Bidone (The Swindle).  The film centres around a 48-year old conman who’s growing increasingly disillusioned with the way he “earns” his money, swindling peasants out of all the money they can cobble together.  Despite it being set in 1955 Italy, it struck a chord, humankind’s vulnerability when it comes to making easy money.

The reason the peasants in this film hand over their money is under the influence of religion (the conmen dress as priests) and that the cash is in exchange for a box of treasures they are convinced is worth way more than the cash they need to stump up to honour the last will and testament of the deceased who left the treasure with his murdered victim (some random bones are dug up with the treasure on the peasants’ land), saying it is to be kept by the owners of the land, and wants to repent (the money to be handed over to the priests is for masses).  With a degree of uncertainty, the peasants collect together their money and are left with fake treasure.

I guess “too good to be true” should have rung bells, but if someone you trust, or someone you want to trust, offers you the opportunity to break out of your cycle of poverty, wouldn’t you do it?  Nowadays there are loads of scams, emails from people claiming to need a bank transfer for a few thousand in return for a million (see, too good to be true!), people offering you services or products that are far cheaper than they should be.  It’s human nature to be wary, but it’s also human nature to want to try or do anything to get yourself out of, in this case, poverty.

I like to think I’m really sceptical and would never fall for anything like this but I did use Groupon for a while and there was a treatment offer, a really good offer, so I followed the link to the website of the Harley Street clinic and there in front of me was an amazing website littered with endorsements from just about every fashion magazine and celebrity I knew.  But it didn’t stop me buying the £49 voucher (in exchange for c£129 worth of treatments).  Long and short of it is that the company was a scam and it was only after months and months of chasing that finally Groupon refunded me.  I don’t use Groupon anymore, I know a lot of people do (and I did, successfully, before that).  I trusted Groupon and I trusted the clinic’s website.  But how far can we let niggles and “Oh, surely that’s too good to be true” affect our decisions?  Surely there is a chance, especially in a long spell of economic uncertainty and stress, that we will all become less trusting, more cynical … or is that just being smart with your money?

It was a great film, maybe you’ll be pleased to know that the lead conman died a slow and lonely death, but his cohorts were already off planning their next scam and no doubt easily finding another “priest” to take his place, and so the cycle carries on.

{22/05/2012}   Books

I have just finished an unexpectedly good book, semi-autobiographical, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, in which a life without books forms a significant part of the story.  During the 1970s Cultural Revolution in China, educated children (I am over-simplifying) were sent to remote villages to be re-educated, ie a life without books, music and formal education.

Imagine growing up and reading and loving stories, for example, then being sent away potentially never to see or read a book again.  One of the delightful things about the Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress story is that when a book is discovered and read, it ignites genuine appreciation and love of the story and the life it evokes.  The children (older teens) are able to recreate parts of the books, imagine what life outside their village is like and to escape into a literary induced world.

I have been on train journeys without a book or anything to read and it has rendered me fidgety and desperate to have something to read.  I have even contemplated asking a fellow passenger to borrow something, anything, they have that I could read.  Books aren’t just about learning facts or reference, they are about escapism, challenging not only your mind but your imagination and creativity.

However, the books that form part of the secret reading in Balzac are classics, books written in days when by and large the quality of writing was exemplary.  Nowadays, picking up a random book in a shop because it looks interesting isn’t going to guarantee you a good read because it is increasingly apparent to me that a lot of dreadfully written books are published and you have no way of knowing which are the ones to avoid until you start reading.

Chick lit is one thing, it’s easy reading, but it can at least be well written.  I am not talking about the content so much; there are books that are just poorly edited, badly written and which are too awful to read.  I would far rather have fewer choices but know that each book available to buy were a classic in waiting.  There are very few books I have read of late that could or should stand the test of time.  And I’m not even going to dip into the trash that is biographies of wannabes.  I can’t cope with the crap-celebrity-biography genre, it pains me and they are a disgrace to publishing and proper writers.

I keep wanting to write about Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress but I don’t want to give it away, it’s well worth reading.  The book ends with the most powerful line I have possibly ever read.  It’s an extremely interesting take on the influence of literature.  If I were to have a stash of, let’s say, the front table of Waterstone’s, newly published books as the only books I could read and re-read, I fear that over years any writing I did would degenerate, I would long for an unattainable and unnatural perception of perfection, my imagination would be left stunted and I wouldn’t be too sure that I was missing out by not having more books.  Ok, so that’s (hopefully) an exaggeration but loving and being influenced by literature is almost equally as worrying to me as it was to Maoist China, albeit for very different reasons.  For me the joy of reading now is more about the rare treats of discovering a book that’s well written, is of enduring relevance and interest and which transports me into another world.

et cetera