Paterson….movie, poem, place.

At the beginning of this week I had never heard of the city, the poem, or the movie called Paterson. Nor had I heard the name William Carlos Williams. A couple of photos on a friends Facebook page changed all that.

The photos were of a building with a bridge behind it and a waterfall beyond that. The resulting river flowing toward the viewer and in the foreground a couple of green painted benches. The second photo was of rubbish bin with the words “City of Paterson” on it. And in the comments under the post it said “It was William Carlos Williams or Carlos Williams Carlos? Well it is Paterson one of the best movies from Jarmusch…”

And so a Google and a visit to the local library later finds me reading the poetry of William Carlos Williams – who was not only a poet of some renown, but also a doctor of pediatrics and general medicine. His epic poem Paterson began life as a 85 line poem but morphed over the years into 5 volumes of books.

The poem was published between 1946 and 1958 and was an account of the history, people, and the place – Paterson, New Jersey. Williams examined the role of the poet in American society and summarized his poetic method in the phrase “No ideas but in things” – originally a line from his poem “A Sort of a Song” but also used as a recurring theme in Paterson.

As I said earlier I had no idea who Williams was until this week, which is surprising as he mentored several other poets including ‘Beat’ poet Allen Ginsberg – who’s work I know well. He even wrote the forward/intro to Ginsberg’s first and probably most famous (or infamous) book “Howl and other poems” (1956).

Anyhow….back to Paterson. Now a movie, inspired by the poem. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and released at the end of December 2016. Rotten Tomatoes rates it at a staggering 96% – and frankly I must agree.

The blurb on the Rotten Tomatoes website reads ” Paterson is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey–they share the name. Every day, Paterson adheres to a simple routine: he drives his daily route, observing the city as it drifts across his windshield and overhearing fragments of conversation swirling around him; he writes poetry into a notebook; he walks his dog; he stops in a bar and drinks exactly one beer; he goes home to his wife, Laura. By contrast, Laura’s world is ever changing. New dreams come to her almost daily. Paterson loves Laura and she loves him. He supports her newfound ambitions; she champions his gift for poetry. The film quietly observes the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.

There are numerous scenes in the movie shot beside the waterfall shown in my friends photo. It’s the place that Paterson, the bus driving poet, likes to sit and contemplate life. He cares about the city and he cares about the people who live there. It’s a beautiful and a quietly inspirational movie. It moves you in a subtle way…like all good poetry and good movies should.

Paterson – official trailer

Only the Rain – A poem

8am Fine but cloudy

9am Possible shower

Says the screen on my phone

So much for meteorology

My cat looks forlornly through the cat-flap

It’s been raining for three days….solid.

Three days like a never ending firehose

In the yard

Water pools in the trailer

Water pools on the lawn

Worms, desperate refugees squirm toward high ground

As the ground squelches, sponge-like underfoot

Rain barrels overflow

Passing trucks hiss by sending washes,

Small Tsunamis down my driveway

Under lead grey skies

A bird seeks shelter under the eves

A lone walker struggles past, soaked

Wrestling his umbrella against the wind

And still it falls

Peach blossom can no longer cling to the branches

Submits to the rains power and floats

Pink, limp and exhausted

In the puddles on the lawn

Soggy leaves make fine dams

Gutters overflow, downpipes blocked

Everything feels damp

Smells damp

Tastes damp

Even the air here inside.

The rivered streets slick and shine like mirrors

In a mono-chrome world

I look out the window

For the cowardly sun

Still a no-show

The sky darkens further

Like my mood

Thunderous rain beats against the roof

And waves its opaque magicians cape

As the street disappears

Concealed from view

Only the rain

My constant companion

Only the Rain.

The dead and the living – Five books of essays – a review.

My latest selection of books from our local library. All essay collections.

I guess the main question to be asked is why choose to read 5 books of essays? The answer…my answer at any rate is….to learn. The way I write my blog, and how many other bloggers write, is in essay form. So, what is an essay?

Literary Devices.Net defines it as – Essay is derived from the French word essayer, which means “to attempt,” or “to try.” An essay is a short form of literary composition based on a single subject matter, and often gives the personal opinion of the author. A famous English essayist, Aldous Huxley defines essays as, “a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.” The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “a short piece of writing on a particular subject.”

The all knowing Wikipedia says – An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author’s own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by “serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length,” whereas the informal essay is characterized by “the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme,” etc. Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.

So there we have it. Looking at the writers of these 5 books, they are hailed as some of the best essayists around so hopefully I can learn from them, as well as enjoy reading them.

Just updating this post. Rather than make this one lengthy or over lengthy post I may possibly split it into two parts. The First part….this part….covering the 3 Essayists who are now deceased (the top line in the photo – of 3 books) and a second post about the two remaining live essayists will follow at a later date. OK, on with the post…..

First book out of the starting blocks, just because I liked the title, is Consider the Lobster…and other essays – by David Foster Wallace. He is obviously well respected as a writer if the blurb on the back of the book is to be believed. Comments such as the following praise him to the sky.

Long renowned as one of the smartest writers on the loose, in Consider the Lobster David Foster Wallace also reveals himself to be one of the funniest……Wallace delights and confirms that he is a ‘writer of virtuosic talents’ (New York Times)

‘…a superb comedian of culture….his exuberance and intellectual impishness are a delight’ James Woods, Guardian

‘He induces the kind of laughter which, when read in bed with a sleeping partner, wakes said sleeping partner up……He’s damn good’ Nicholas Lezard, Guardian

There are a collection of 10 rather lengthy essays in this book, and I know from the comments about the book that I should be swept away by Mr Wallace’s brilliance, but….(pause while I attempt to think of something tactful to say)….to paraphrase Obi wan Kenobi – ‘This is not the essayist you are looking for’. I have struggled to maintain consciousness through the first four essays and haven’t yet arrived at the start of the actual Consider the Lobster essay. The first essay titled Big Red Son – about the porn industry awards night – appeared to have been written by an adolescent schoolboy with a fetish for large breasts, who is obsessed by the size of the male porn stars er…package and makes constant comments about the amount and regularity of their ejaculations. I have to ask myself, do I want to invest more of my time in trying to understand why so many people rate Mr Wallace so highly? I find myself agreeing with the host of TV’s The Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi when offered instant coffee to drink instead of her usual espresso, her response of…’I’d rather drink my own urine’….mirrors my reluctance to read any more of Wallace’s drivel. Needless to say that I, for one, was not swept away by his impish delight…..more a case of being dragged away kicking and screaming!

In a bid to not judge Mr Wallace too harshly (oops…too late for that), as I hate to speak ill of the dead, I decided to sleep on it, give the Lobster due consideration and give it another try. I don’t suppose David Foster Wallace would lose any sleep over my less than flattering review anyway, and since he is dead, that is of course, neither here nor there. So, 24 hours or so later, I have read the feature article about the Maine Lobster Festival and it was actually quite good. It informed and educated me about lobsters in general and about the MLF. He didn’t however entertain me with his writing. I have yet to discover the humour in his writing that some critics bang on about, and the article tended to be repetitive in parts….he could have cut it by a couple of pages or more and actually improved it (IMHO). As you may or may not be aware Wallace took his own life at the age of 46 and had been consumed by depression for over 20 years. Having now read 5 of his essays I can see why. You may think that my last sentence was uncalled for. All I can say is please read some of Mr Wallace’s work and draw your own conclusions…but first hide all the kitchen knives. Best to keep temptation at arms length.

Of the remaining 4 books of essays two more are also by writers who have passed on to that great typewriter in the sky and thankfully the final two are still very much alive and kicking. I’ll carry on now with two times Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer’s book Mind of an Outlaw, and pray that it’s an improvement on Consider the Lobster.

Even before I open Mailer’s book I am hopeful. He was married 6 times, which would indicate that he had a sense of humour. However he stabbed one wife with a penknife almost killing her…so maybe a sick sense of humour should be expected. Woody Allen once quipped that when Mailer dies, his ego would be donated to Harvard Medical School for research.

Mailer died in 2007, aged 84, (I have no idea what happened to his Ego…) and this collection of essays was published posthumously in 2013, said to contain many of his best works, (scoring 5 out of 5 on Amazon and 4 out of 5 on Goodreads) I remain hopeful as I scan the list of essays.

Unlike Wallace’s essays that run on almost endlessly, page after page, mile after ponderous mile… and bored me silly, Mailer’s run for just a few pages each and so we have around 50 to cherry pick from six decades of writing. Having read the first seven essays, so far, I believe without a doubt that he is, as mentioned by Woody Allen, egotistical. He is one of those writers who is very good at his craft – and knows it – and likes to tell everyone exactly how good he is…..or rather how lucky the reader is that he’s allowing us into his world. This being said, he is (or I should say was) a gifted writer and I am enjoying his somewhat self indulgent essays.

In one essay written in the 1950’s and titled The Homosexual Villain, he writes about what it is to be a writer, how important it is to nurture and grow that inner writer, and why we must not let our uninformed prejudices stunt our growth. I think he absolutely nails it….A writer has his talent, and for all one knows, he is born with it, but whether his talent develops is to some degree responsive to his use of it. He can grow as a person or he can shrink, and by this I don’t intend any facile parallels between moral and artistic growth. The writer can become a bigger hoodlum if need be, but his alertness, his curiosity, his reaction to life must not diminish. The fatal thing is to shrink, to be interested in less, sympathetic to less, desiccating to the point where life itself loses its flavor, and one’s passion for human understanding changes to weariness and distaste.

My plan was to select a couple of essays from each decade to read, but I am enjoying them so much that I’m probably going to read the entire 50. This review could therefore take somewhat longer than I had anticipated.

His essay in 1956 endorsing Ernest Hemingway for political office, although written slightly tongue in cheek, makes a good argument for why the American public would choose Hemingway over Eisenhower. Of course since Hemingway had no political aspirations it becomes a moot point. An interesting piece all the same. Just as a matter of interest, Mailer wrote that in his opinion, the two writers to have had the most influence on the American public were Hemingway and Faulkner – which is quite an interesting choice when Mailer himself admits that he is not overall a fan of Hemingway’s writing. In fact in a later essay in the book he actually says that he got to the point early on in his writing career that he was sick and tired of hearing about both Hemingway and Faulkner.

Modern writers fare no better. Jonathan Franzen’s book – The Corrections was lauded by his contemporaries as an outstanding piece of literature and attracted high praise all around. Mailer’s opinion was that The Corrections is “the book of a generation that wants to wipe the slate clean and offer a new literary movement”, and that “todays writers are sick of Roth, Bellow, Updike and myself.” He then goes on to say that the book is “very good indeed, and yet most unpleasant now that it sits in memory, as if one has been wearing the same clothes for too many days.” He then goes on talking about Franzen’s intelligence. “He may have the highest IQ of any American novelist writing today, but unhappily, he rewards us with more work than exhilaration, since rare is any page in The Corrections that could not be five to ten lines shorter.” Mailer obviously hates to give any other writer any credit at all.

As far as his contemporaries are concerned, Mailer tells us in no uncertain terms that there are barely any of his fellow writers who he feels are as good as, if not better than himself. The one exception being James Jones, who won the 1952 National Book Award for his first published novel, From Here to Eternity. This of course was made into a movie and later into a TV series. Mailer says in his essay Quick Evaluations on the Talent in the Room that James Jones had more talent than he did, and waxes lyrical about him for the best part of a paragraph, before pulling him apart and accusing him of selling out over the years since the publication of his first book. He then goes on to run his sword through a number of other distinguished writers including William Styron, Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac and Saul Bellow, dismissing them all as inferior to him.

I suspected that it was too good to be true that Mailer actually felt inferior to another writer. He has such a huge ego that he needed two houses to live in – one of standard size for his physical being and a hundred room mansion for his ego. I’m not sure if Mailer owned a car or not, but if he did, I have no doubt that his number plate/licence plate would be FIGJAM – as in Fuck I‘m Great Just Ask Me.

Although he was undoubtedly a huge narcissist, an egotistic megalomaniac, there is no escaping the fact that he was a brilliant writer and I can’t help but admire his work. He could look at both sides of an argument and make compelling points in support of one side, only to then give equal merit to the opposing side. I must admit to being totally flummoxed in trying to follow his take on existentialism though.

I’ll finish with a quote from the Amazon books website about the book…. Incendiary, erudite, and unrepentantly outrageous, Norman Mailer was a dominating force on the battlefield of ideas. Featuring an incisive Introduction by Jonathan Lethem, Mind of an Outlaw forms a fascinating portrait of Mailer’s intellectual development across the span of his career as well as the preoccupations of a nation in the last half of the American century.

And we move on to our 3rd deceased Essayist – Christopher Hitchens. Christopher Eric Hitchens was an English-American author, columnist, essayist, orator, journalist, and social critic. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of over 30 books, including five collections of essays on culture, politics, and literature. Hitchens, who died of cancer aged 62, in 2011, was a huge critic of organized religion and I have seen videos of him, on many occasions, having a good old rant against the many religions including, and in particular, Christianity. He enjoyed a smoke and a fine malt whisky, and fully admits that this contributed to his cancer diagnosis. He could be caustic and sarcastic but also witty and humorous and always put forward a good, intelligent argument. A public intellectual and a controversial public figure – and I looked forward to reading his collection of essays titled …And Yet.

And yet….before I start his book I must, just quickly, bring to your attention one of Hitchens’ typical quotes that I wish I had said myself.

“My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can’t prove it, but you can’t disprove it either.”

OK…that’s out of the way, let’s get on with the review.

And Yet….and other essays was published in 2015 – 4 years after Hitchens death, but is like a breath of fresh air – a last blast from this devout non-conformist – and lifelong atheist. Indeed he takes a swipe at the very idea of Christmas in his essay Bah Humbug which features an account of being physically barred from a ‘Bible Belt’ talk show, even though he’d been invited on it, for observing that “Christmas trees, Yule logs, and the rest were symbols of the winter solstice holidays before any birth had been registered in the greater Bethlehem area.” Therefore pagan rather than Christian iconic items. His host took exception to this.

Born and raised in Britain and later becoming an American citizen gave Hitchens two political systems to pull apart with equal ferocity. It’s a pity that he died before Donald Trump entered the political arena – I would have loved to have heard his opinion of The Don. In this series of essays he takes several swipes at Hillary Clinton. In one essay he characterises her as being “indifferent to truth, willing to use police state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on healthcare and flippant and fast and loose with national security.”

Her ex president husband Bill fares no better. In his essay titled The Case Against Hillary Clinton, Hitchens not only accuses both Hillary and him of being self serving liars…several times over, but also makes strong suggestions that Bill was also a rapist. Many women accused Bill of improper sexual behaviour including Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick…..and who can forget the infamous incident with Monica Lewinsky – I did not have sexual relations with that woman – yeah right! Indeed in an earlier book, No One Left To Lie To, Hitchens penned an essay by the title of Is there a Rapist in the Oval Office?

But it’s not only American politicians who come under fire. No politician anywhere in the world who lies or goes back on promises were safe from Hitchens’ barbed tongue. He even had a go, and quite rightly so, at the Dutch government – who have long enjoyed the reputation for peaceful and democratic consensus – on two counts. The first being in July 1995 when Dutch forces in Bosnia abandoned the population of the UN-protected “safe haven” at Srebrenica enabling the worst massacre of civilians on European soil since WW2. He says Dutch officers were photographed hoisting champagne glasses with the sadistic goons of Ratko Mladic’s militia before leaving the helpless Muslim population to a fate that anyone could have predicted.

The second issue was when the Dutch withdrew their protection of former member of the Dutch Parliament – Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a refugee from genital mutilation, forced marriage, and civil war in her native Somalia, who collaborated with Theo van Gogh on the film Submission that highlighted the maltreatment of Muslim immigrant women living in Holland. Van Gogh was murdered on an Amsterdam street in 2004 with a note pinned to his body promising that the next victim would be Hirsi Ali. Initially the Dutch vowed to give security protection to her, but after a while decided it was costing them too much so they announced in the press that after a certain date had been reached, Hirsi Ali would be unprotected, in effect tipping off the Islamist death squads responsible for the death of van Gogh earlier.

Hitchens was without doubt an exceptional writer with a strong sense of justice. Highly opinionated maybe, highly critical of those in positions of power (be it religious power or political power) – absolutely, but a damn good writer and generally well respected. His book AND YET… with its collection of almost 50 essays is an entertaining and interesting read. If you’ve never read anything by Hitchens, and you are not offended by his stance on religion, his writing offers some real gems.

On the back of the book – “Few writers can match his cerebral pyrotechnics. Fewer still can emulate his punch as an intellectual character assassin. It is hard not to admire the sheer virtuosity of his prose” – Edward Luce, Financial Times. AND “If Hitchens didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be able to invent him” – Ian McEwan.

I’ll leave you with a couple more quotes from Hitchens about himself, in closing.

I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn’t ever have to rely on the press for my information. AND
I don’t have any terrific self-esteem issues but I do sometimes realise I’ve been too lucky and that I’m over-praised. It makes me nervous. I have this sense of being overrated.

This brings a close to the first, of my two part, review of the five books of essays. Three deceased writers down, two live ones yet to come. Thank you as usual for reading. Your comments etc., are much appreciated.

The sum of all things.

As I lay in bed early this morning, having been waken by a combination of our cat Hector demanding attention by mewing by the bedroom door, and the first notes of the dawn chorus of birdsong, all manner of things flood my mind.

My head is literally awash with thoughts all tumbling through with little forethought. Memories, ideas, wishes, and a few regrets, all pile on top of one another in utter chaos that I’m meant to sift and sort through if I’m going to make the slightest sense of them. Are they meant to be made sense of though? Should I simply get a big broom and sweep them all into a corner for Ron….you know, I’ll sort it out lateR on. Or I could sweep them under the rug and forget about them….leave them for Al – zheimers to claim.

But no. What ever these things are – rushing hell for leather through the sometimes dim, sometimes illuminated, corridors of my mind – they are demanding attention…much like my cat Hector is demanding to be fed.

Everyone I’ve ever met, everything I’ve ever done, every smell, every taste, every touch, every sight and sound, every experience – good or bad – every thought, spinning around in a huge tumble dryer falling over and over one another. These are the sum of my life. The sum of all things that equal me.

Another louder, more insistent MEEEEOOOW! And Hector leaping onto the bed and onto my chest mean that my mental mathematics will have to wait for later. The sum of all things that equal me have just been put in their place…..his majesty wants his breakfast.

The Curse of Writer’s Block.

Writer’s block can be a terrible thing. Thankfully it’s not something that I am suffering from these days. These days, I’m pleased to report, ideas come flowing through my mind like water from the tap. Admittedly some of my ideas, just like water from the tap, can be lukewarm and insipid – but at least they’re flowing.

This morning after my early morning coffee….(so it could be, or probably is, supercharged by caffeine)…my mind was brimming with ideas for blog posts and other articles. And I jotted down fifteen ideas straight off. BUT it wasn’t always that easy and even the greatest writers have at times suffered from the dreaded writer’s block. Here are a few quotes about that awful affliction.

“writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”
Charles Bukowski

“One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, ‘It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do– you can either type or kill yourself.”
Anne Lamott

“You could see writer’s block as mental constipation but I like to think of it as cultural anaemia.”
Stewart Stafford

“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.
The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” ― J.K. Rowling

“Writer’s block is only a failure of the ego.” — Norman Mailer

And believe me, if anyone knows about the Ego it’s Mailer. I have never read any writer who’s ego is bigger or more perfect (at least in his own mind) than Mailer.

And finally…..

“When I got Writer’s Block, I masturbated.”
Takako Shimura

Well….I guess if it worked for her….who am I to judge. If you’ve already tried massaging your mind to stimulate it…. Before I get myself in any deeper (Oh Dear…) I think that I should probably finish right there….make it the climax of my blog post (pun intended).

Autism as a gift….the life of Temple Grandin.

Yet again I have to credit my wife in introducing me firstly to a documentary and secondly to a movie about a brilliant lady, Temple Grandin, who just happens to be autistic. She, my wife, had been reading a book called On Eating Meat – by Matthew Evans. It’s a book about the production of meat and the ethics involved in eating it. Sounds like a real page-turner doesn’t it (said sarcastically). Strangely enough it IS. It really is a book for everyone to read – meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans. It looks into all aspects of raising animals for meat and also looks into the ethics of veggie and vegan food production. You’d be amazed at how many animals get killed in the process of growing vegetables and fruit. So, like it or not, no food can be eaten totally guilt free. Evans is both a farmer and a chef, and is known as the Gourmet Farmer.

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In the book Evans refers to a BBC documentary about Temple Grandin titled The Woman Who Thinks Like A Cow. My wife, being my wife, did what she always does and looked up the documentary on line. Of course she insisted I watch it with her. What an eye opener into the world of Autism. AND what an amazing person Doctor Temple Grandin turns out to be. Look up the documentary on line.

This of course led my wife to one of several of Temple Grandin’s books – The Autistic Brain…..in which, Grandin, who is one of the most accomplished adults with autism in the world, reports from the forefront of Autism Science including remarkable discoveries about the brain and the latest genetic research.

See the source image

Her view is that we need to treat autism symptom by symptom rather than with an umbrella diagnosis. She also argues that raising autistic children needs to be less about focussing on their weaknesses and more about fostering their unique contributions, saying autism can be turned into a gift, not a disability.

And onward to a movie about her life, an HBO Original Film starring Claire Danes in the title role. We borrowed a copy of the DVD from our local library and watched it last night. It’s a most excellent and interesting movie – very much worth watching. Temple Grandin’s mother was told, when she was only a very young girl, that she should be placed in an institution and given electro-therapy. Thankfully her mother declined and looked into other methods of helping her daughter become what she wanted to be, including getting her a speech therapist, and sending her to specialist schools. It sheds a light on autism that I, for one, knew nothing about. The link to the official trailer is below. Claire Danes does an amazing job in portraying Dr Grandin in both her voice and her mannerisms. We follow her trials and tribulations, facing not only autism head on, but also the cruelty of others towards her, on her way to becoming a PhD and a legend in both the business and the welfare of cattle.

And if anyone would like to delve further into Temple Grandin’s life and works, her own websites are available on line. Links are below

https://www.grandin.com/

and https://templegrandin.com/

Enjoy…and prepared to be amazed.

A year of blogging and several thank-you’s.

I can’t believe it, but this weekend brings up one year of blogging on WordPress. Thank you so much for the “like’s, comments and follows”. It’s especially nice when people take time out of their full and busy lives to comment on something as trivial as my blog posts and I honestly am most appreciative. This first year on WordPress has been an interesting experience, and something that I am growing into. Yes, even at almost 60 years of age I am still learning and growing….even if my hair isn’t. The most important thing is that I am enjoying the writing experience even more than I hoped I would. Being able to read and comment on other peoples blogs has also been a new and rewarding experience, and I’d like to say thank you to all the bloggers out there who’s articles I have read, liked, or commented on. I’ve been entertained, educated and in some cases amazed.

A very quick recap of the last year of blogging shows that my first ever blog post attracted a grand total of 1 like – thank you Chris from https://gnashingblog.com/ – (If anyone hasn’t come across Chris’s blog, please take a look. He has some great book and movie reviews and the occasional spectacular rant).

So you’d think from only 1 like, things could only improve. Right?…..sadly no. My 5th, 6th and 7th posts received no response at all….not even a”is that all you’ve got?” comment, only the buzz…(or is it chirp?) of crickets. BUT, I didn’t start off writing my blog in search of likes, comments or followers – I was writing because I wanted to, and I wanted to know if I had the ability to string more than a couple of sentences together in a coherent manner…..and most importantly I was doing it for the pleasure of writing. Likes, comments and followers are a wonderful by-product.

I was inspired enough by reading other bloggers poetry to have a go myself and have been pleasantly surprised at the response. A very surprised “thank you” from me for all the nice comments. However, the down side – for you – is that I will be inflicting more of said poetry on you in up coming posts. I’m enjoying the process and the peace that writing poetry brings to the soul. You have been warned!

Other well received subjects have been some, but not all, book reviews, most of my travel/photography pieces especially the ones on Paris seem to go down well, but politics and environmentalism don’t receive the same response. Perhaps the reality of the mess we find ourselves in both politically and more importantly environmentally is too distressing for many of you. I totally get that. Sometimes I’d rather hide away and hope that it’s all been a bad dream. Sadly neither problem will go away. I don’t mean to cause distress in pointing out how sadly we’ve lost our way as a species, or how bad we’ve screwed up, but sometimes I feel compelled to let it all out in a jumble of words on paper…otherwise my head may well explode.

My most successful piece so far, with regard to likes and comments, was my post about children’s writer Enid Blyton – which is kind of fitting as it was dear old Enid’s books that opened up a world of reading and wonder for me when I was about 7 or 8 years old….and I’ve been addicted to books ever since. Thank you Enid – I am for ever in your debt.

So, one year passes….101 blog posts published (this will be 102), so that’s one post on average every 3.5 days….126 followers – I know that some bloggers have thousands of followers, but frankly, hitting that hundred follower mark felt great, so thank you guys and girls. I value every one of you and I’ll do my best to keep you entertained for another year….and to keep up with reading and commenting on your blogs too.

As Woody Allen once said “70 percent of success in life is in just turning up”….so for now I’ll keep turning up approximately every 3.5 days.

Book reviews and disaster preparedness.

In these uncertain times there are a fallout shelter load of books by any number of writers, who’s aim is to help us to survive various disaster scenarios. A survivalist by the name of Creek Stewart has put out several books – aimed at educating us to survive through a variety of disaster scenarios – 3 of which are under the “Build the Perfect” banner, as in Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag (2012), Build the Perfect Bug Out Vehicle (2014), and Build the Perfect Bug Out Survival Skills (2015).

I haven’t seen the Survival Skills book yet, but I have recently read the other two….and I’ll give you my take on them shortly. The idea of “Bugging Out” or “Bugging In” is about making the decision to either stay in place, at home (Bugging In), in the aftermath of a disaster, or before the disaster hits, with prior warning – be it a natural disaster such as a damaging storm, earth quake or volcanic eruption, or a man made disaster such as a terrorist event, warfare, EMP etc – OR the other option is to leave home and move to a pre-planned safe zone (Bugging Out).

Creek Stewart – who not only writes about survival skills, but also teaches and lives the survival lifestyle, is based in Central Indiana in the U S A, where he owns and runs a survival school. In his first book in the Bug Out series he discusses the best options for putting together your Bug Out Bag.

Some preppers and survivalists love their bags and their emergency survival equipment and can’t have enough of both. Others rely more on skills and therefore require less emergency equipment. Bags for carrying your emergency preparedness equipment come in ever increasing sizes. For example, the smallest collection would come under the title of your EDC – meaning Every Day Carry. This is the absolute base line equipment that you have on you daily, where ever you may be – just in case of an emergency / disaster. Your EDC could be carried only in your pockets, or it could be in a pouch on your belt, or a small bag, for example a messenger bag or similar. My own EDC consists of my wallet (with the usual cards and money – plus a credit card size multitool), my small, tactical torch, a Truper folding knife (with built in seatbelt cutter and window breaking tool), and a fire steel. These items make up my minimum EDC – along with my cell phone. I realize that a few tools are going to solve the problem of our possible forthcoming extinction, but they could come in handy in any number of emergency situations.

The next size up from the EDC is the GHB (Get Home Bag) – basically gear that will help you to get home in once piece from where ever you may be. The items for this Bag would depend on how far away from your home base your journey took you. Obviously you’d need more equipment if you were going to take several days to get home (such as a shelter of some sort, water/food, possibly wet weather gear etc), than if you were only an hour or so’s walk from home.

Next comes your BOB (Bug Out Bag) – yes, another thing that Survivalists and Preppers love is acronyms. It’s what goes into your BOB and the design of the bag itself that Creek’s book is all about. The Bug Out Bag (your 72 hour disaster survival kit) needs to be big enough to get you through 72 hours of “bugging out” – getting you from point A to point B safely – from your home to your Bug Out Location or safe point – whether it may be the home of a friend or relative, or a remote wilderness area where you plan to tough things out. BUT it also has to be light enough for you to carry comfortably over long distances. Creek suggests no heavier than 25% of your body weight. This I would suggest is OK if you are young and fit and used to taking long hikes. However, if you’re getting on in age, or are not used to extreme physical activity I would say 15% of body weight would be the maximum you’d want to get up to.

Your bag needs to be rugged enough to take the rigors of your journey, have comfortable straps and preferably a waist belt to help distribute the weight on the hips as well as on your back and shoulders. Inside your bag you need the following – assuming that some or all of your bug out route will be on foot – 1. Some form of shelter (this could be a light weight tent, or a tarpaulin, or a full body emergency bivy bag/bivouac sack) something to keep you out of the weather so you can get a good nights rest. 2. Something to start a fire with – for warmth and/or for boiling water, or cooking on. (This could be matches, a lighter, a fire steel and striker). 3. Water (the average adult needs 3 litres of water per day – possibly more if hiking, in order to stay hydrated). You don’t want to be carting around 9 litres of water to last you the entire 72 hour journey, but take 3 litres if you can for the first 24 hours and you’ll also need the ability to collect and purify any water that you come across on your journey. A metal water bottle would give you the opportunity of placing it on your fire to boil water in to sterilize it, or to make a hot drink. 4. Tools – at a minimum I’d suggest a knife and a torch (with spare batteries) – I also have a quantity of paracord and a Leatherman multitool. 5. A first aid kit – a basic kit with adhesive plasters, a couple of bandages and gauze pads, antiseptic cream, pain killers and Imodium – plus any prescription meds you are currently taking – should see you through the 72 hour trip. 6. Although you can easily get through 3 days of travel without food, something to eat to keep up the spirits, even if only trail food like beef jerky, trail mix, cereal bars or chocolate wouldn’t take up too much room in your bag. Something else that you may want to take into consideration particularly if the event/disaster has lead to civil disorder, rioting, looting, is 7. Something for self defence. Creek, being American, suggests a hand gun. All well and good if you’re in the USA and have a concealed carry permit, but if you’re in the UK or New Zealand for instance, this would be illegal.

Here in New Zealand, I live on a fault line, close to the coast, so also have the threat of Tsunami as well as Earth Quake and Volcanic activity. We are advised by Civil Defence to have a “Go Bag”. On my BOB/Go Bag, I carry a brush cutter/machete – which should help to deter any would be robber…unless of course they have a gun. AND it’s also useful for blazing a trail through the bush and for cutting up firewood. I also have a small wrecking bar attached to the outside of my bag which doubles as both a deterrent for would be robbers and a means of access to locked gates or doors – in extreme conditions – and can also be used as a digging tool. It would also come in handy, to force doors, if you were inside a building at the time of a quake and the movement of the ground shifted the frame of the building so that doors became jammed preventing a safe exit.

And finally sanitation – some people wouldn’t bother about personal hygiene and don’t mind wiping their behind on leaves during a few days discomfort on the road. But for the rest of us – pack soap, a toothbrush and toilet paper. You should also pack some extra pairs of socks – your feet need to be looked after if you are hiking – plus clothing suitable for your journey and strong footwear suitable for the task. Common sense and climate will dictate what clothing is suitable for your part of the world and whether heat or cold is the main consideration.

Bigger than the BOB is the INCH bag (although INCH may be a small measurement) – as in “I‘m Not Coming Home” bag – don’t you love these acronyms? This is going to be the biggest that you can carry and will have whatever is essential for you personally. This is used in situations where the home has to be abandoned for example due to flooding, bush fire, or extreme civil unrest emergencies.

When leaving home and bugging out it would also be wise to take with you copies of essential documents such as driver licence, passport, birth and marriage certificates, insurance certificates etc. and copies of any personal photos that you can’t bear to lose. To save space, copy all these onto a flash drive in digital format. They can always be printed out later.

Creek’s book also details a check list that tells you exactly what to pack based on your survival skill level (logic says that the more knowledge of survival you have, the more improvisational skills, the less equipment you will need). Photos and explanations of every item in your bug out bag, resource lists to help you purchase gear (USA retailers), suggestions for practice exercises to teach you how to use almost everything in your bag, demonstrations for multi-use items that save on pack space and weight…and specific gear recommendations for specific disaster scenarios are all covered in this book.

The readers on Amazon.com rate Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag at 4.5 stars out of 5. Although aimed at the American market, most information is useful and can be applied to most countries.

The second book in the series is Build the Perfect Bug Out Vehicle.

As you’d expect, this book follows the same lay out as the earlier Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag book. Creek looks at what makes the perfect Bug Out or “Get Out Of Dodge” vehicle and gives you the pro’s and cons of several options. Again, the people at Amazon rate it highly at almost 4.5 out of 5. And since I rambled on quite a lot about the Bug Out Bag book I’ll cut straight to Amazon’s round up of the book….which is…

Outfit a Disaster-Escape Vehicle!

If an unexpected disaster forces you to suddenly evacuate from your home, is your vehicle equipped to drive you to safety? It will be if you follow the advice in this book.

Build the Perfect Bug Out Vehicle shows you how to outfit any vehicle with equipment and survival gear that will help you quickly drive from ground zero to a safer location. Survival expert Creek Stewart, author of the best-selling Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag, details from start to finish everything you need to equip an everyday vehicle for a drive through and away from disaster-stricken areas―from survival supplies and storage solutions to off-road travel, communication, navigation, and security considerations.

You’ll find:

  • Practical and affordable Bug Out Vehicle equipment and principles that can be applied to any vehicle, even your everyday family car
  • Photos and explanations of every item you need for your vehicle
  • Resource lists to help you find and purchase gear

You’ll also find special considerations for bugging out using alternative modes of transportation including bicycles, boats, ATVS, motorcycles, horses, carts, aircraft and more.

A disaster could strike your home at any moment. Don’t be trapped in the devastating aftermath. Quickly transport yourself and your family to safety by building a Bug Out Vehicle today!

Of course for many of us, finances and convenience dictates our choice of bug out vehicle. In my case it’s my regular every day Ford Ute (pick up truck), which sadly is only 2 wheel drive rather than the ideal 4 x 4 selected by Creek in his book. Neither do I have all the survival whistles and bells fitted as standard such as a winch, nudge bars, snorkel exhaust, roof rack or exterior brackets for jerry cans.

Personally speaking, I would only bug out as a last resort in extreme circumstances. I would much rather elect to stay home and Bug In, as home is where I have everything I need to survive. Shelter, food supplies (stored food – frozen, dried, canned and growing in the gardens), water (tap water supply, bottled stored drinking water and rainwater collection system/storage), means to cook, wash, clean etc.

Both these books are worth reading to ready yourself in the event of a disaster. Forewarned is forearmed. As writer of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, once said “Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory”.

Creek Stewart’s website link is – http://www.creekstewart.com/

What I’m reading/have been reading.

I’ve not had much spare cash recently….that’s nothing new….so I’ve been borrowing quite a lot more – from my local library – than usual.

Picture below shows the latest batch of library books that have been keeping me entertained.

The Way Home and The Moneyless Man – both by Irish writer and Freeconomist Mark Boyle, I have written about in my recent post titled “After we stop pretending”.

The two books about building the perfect BUG OUT Bag and BUG OUT Vehicle I have written about in an upcoming blog post, still to be published. The remainder I’ll give a brief outline about here. 

The Natural Disaster Survival Handbook is a simple to follow book with lots of pictures and text in straight forward English giving lots of helpful advice about what to do in various natural disaster scenarios – Earthquakes, storms, floods, volcanic eruption  etc.

Hazards In Hawke’s Bay is about the natural hazards of concern in my immediate locality and is more in the format of a magazine than a book. The town that I live on the outskirts of is only a few kilometres from the ocean, on the southern edge of Hawke’s Bay. Just off the coast we have the Hikurangi subduction zone – a fault line where two tectonic plates meet…one dips down under the other producing what is known as a “slow slip fault”. These faults move almost imperceptibly until they stick for a time and then move suddenly in a jarring motion producing a large and potentially devastating quake of between 8 and 9 on the Richter scale, similar to the one that produced the disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. The book covers other hazards, but understandably concentrates on earthquakes since this area was hit by a devastating quake in 1931 flattening both cities of Hastings (where I live) and Napier.

Building Small is a nice little picture and plan book about building tiny houses. Some of these are smallish houses, others really are tiny – a little larger than a garden shed – all are cleverly designed to optimise both living  space and storage areas. It’s a nice book with some good designs for tiny houses. On a personal note, my wife and I are considering downsizing our home size, but increasing our land size….moving away from the town into the countryside and living as self sufficiently as possible on a small-holding (small farm), so this book was of particular interest.

The two remaining books My Year Without Matches and Londonistan I started but didn’t finish as they just didn’t do it for me. Didn’t hold my interest at all. My Year Without Matches is about living in the bush for a year without any sort of technology, making your own shelter and surviving in the wild. There were a few interesting aspects to the book, but nothing that made me want to get from cover to cover. Londonistan was too much of a divisive racist rant about how Muslims are taking over the UK. I understand how some Brits may feel – that their way of life, British customs and traditions are under threat from immigration and multicultural society….and to be honest, I do share those concerns to a certain extent. BUT I think that this book pushes the boundaries a little too much and it becomes more of a rant rather than a balanced look at immigration versus the traditional British way of life.

Although I have not had any extra cash available to buy books, last month it was Father’s Day and my youngest son sent me a card with a book voucher inside, so I happily toddled off to Unity Books in Wellington (the NZ Capital) and purchased Shaun Bythell’s second book Confessions of a Bookseller, in hardback. In an earlier post I covered meeting Shaun, who lives in Scotland’s Booktown, Wigtown – where he owns the largest second hand bookshop in Scotland – when he was in New Zealand promoting the release of his first book Diary of a Bookseller, which was frankly hilarious. The second book follows on where the first left off, telling us in diary form about Shaun’s life in the book trade and the ups and downs of owning the bookshop….the insanity of some of his customers, the sometimes bizarre behaviour of his staff….and the trials and tribulations of his own personal life. Shaun’s humour can be rather sarcastic and caustic at times, but having met the guy I can tell you that he is a very nice person, despite his quest to prove otherwise in his books. 

The second book, I bought with the remainder of my voucher, was a paperback by Wendell Berry titled The World-Ending Fire – and features a number of his essays dating from 1968 up until 2011. I happened upon Wendell Berry after reading about him in one of Mark Boyle’s books and from a reference in a video by former environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth…who just happens to be one of Boyle’s neighbours. It’s funny how one book leads to another and then another. Berry is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. Wikipedia tells us – “He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.” It’s probably his absolute love of the natural world that attracted Boyle, Kingsnorth and now myself to his writings.The back of the book says – Wendell Berry lives and works in the old ways on his farm in rural Kentucky. He is also one of America’s most powerful radical voices. In the pieces collected here he writes about the peace of nature, the food we eat, and, above all, why we must care for the land we live on.

I look forward to reading Berry’s book after I finish Bythell’s. 

Earths Clock – A poem

Nature is Earth’s clock

The breeze in the trees its reassuring tick

Its changes mark the seasons

The horizon dips and rises

To greet and then farewell the sun

And mark each passing day

Its regularity is perfection

Its cycles keep us safe

Its predictability and stability is our truth

And its complexity a mystery

A wonder to be worshipped.

But WE know best

From air-conditioned corner offices

And laboratories under fluorescent lights

WE know best

We meddle and we tamper

We set ourselves apart from

And above nature

We play god with nature

Our experiment, life itself

We don’t KNOW natures complexity

Nor its inter-dependent layers

But WE know best

Can WE be gods?

We splice genes, change dna, IMPROVE on nature

HA! The vanity of our insanity!

We create or destroy at will

Burn fossil fuel, tear down trees

Do whatever the hell we please

WE want to be god, in our own image

We pollute, wipe out other species

They don’t matter and we don’t care

We clothe the globe in plastic

We change natures balance

In our ignorance

But WE know best

We crave our excesses

A need for greed

All balance gone

Water undrinkable

Air we can’t breathe

Food that won’t nourish

Our “intelligent” creation – more greed

We use people, and we love things

We ARE our own gods

And WE absolutely without a shadow of doubt

Know best

But we can’t save ourselves

When we’re put to the test.

After we are no more

And millennia pass

And nature once more becomes

The timepiece of the Earth

Will we again slither

From primordial ooze

To wreak havoc on earth

Or will we be wise enough

To know our place

And be one with nature

Because NATURE knows best.