I love the public library. Ours in Hastings, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand has a diverse stock of old and new, fiction and non-fiction books that keep me visiting time and again. My last visit I was looking for something to refer to to check my readiness for emergency/disaster situations.
The two books I picked up were Build the Perfect Survival Kit – 2nd Edition – by John D. McCann and The Ultimate Prepper’s Survival Guide by James Wesley Rawles…..subtitled Survive the End of the World as We Know It.
Both books were full of helpful information but I’ll start with the Prepper’s Survival Guide. It’s a very useful and easy to follow guide for beginner Preppers, but is also useful for people like myself, who have been prepping for a while, as a kind of check list to make sure we have all our ducks in a row. It’s a hard cover book with easy to follow chapters with bullet points about the risks we face and how to combat those risks. To quote a few lines from the introduction of the book….”We live in a fragile world. Modern societies are complex and surprisingly dependent on liquid fuels, power grids, telecommunications, and electronic funds transfers. Globe spanning supply chains provide our necessities of life. It doesn’t take much to disrupt any of those. If several of them went missing for an extended period, then the world would be plunged into a deep economic depression, and it is easy to see how it could descend into a full-scale collapse. Preparedness for disasters is not alarmist. Rather, given the many existential threats we face, it is wise and prudent.“
Preppers used to be very much looked upon as gun loving red-necks with an arsenal of weapons, a fall-out shelter and a bunker full of freeze dried food to last them 20 years – as portrayed on the Nat. Geo. channel’s Doomsday Preppers programme. BUT, most Preppers are not like that. They are, for the most part, just ordinary people who have decided to take out some extra “insurance” against future dark days. I also believe that, since we have now been subject to around 20 months of Covid rules and regulations, the number of Preppers among us has grown considerably.
Of course being an American, the book is mainly written with Americans in mind and takes into consideration rules and regulations in force in the states, what is allowed there by right, and protected thanks to the US Constitution.
He begins by running through the many potential risks that affect us as humans – be they natural disasters like earthquakes or extreme weather, the logistical problems of feeding an ever growing world population with finite resources, possible economic/financial problems and of course political discourse, war (including biological warfare and pandemics) and climate change. It’s all written in easy to follow, straight forward language accompanied by colour and black and white illustrations, photos and maps.
Once he has explained how fragile our existence is and the hazards we face, he then goes about showing us how to prepare sufficiently to get through by not only having the right supplies and tools to cope with each potential disaster but also by preparing our minds (by having a “can do” attitude) and our bodies (health and fitness)…..because survival isn’t just about having stuff, it’s about being able to use that stuff, it’s about having a plan B and a plan C, thinking on your feet and solving problems, and it’s about eating a diet to provide you with everything your body needs to thrive in adversity.
The chapter on Self-Defense (American spelling) – is angled towards the 2nd amendment rights to have firearms (and lots of them), so is not applicable in some other countries – but he also covers Improvised Weapons, Intrusion Detection and how to Harden your House against potential marauders or robbers, by not only having affective perimeter fencing and gates and using thorny shrubs to funnel potential attackers into areas where they can be easily seen and “dealt with”, but he also discusses home improvements that can make your home much more secure. Some of his ideas seem to assume unlimited finances are available with things like security lighting, cameras, sensors, night vision and panic rooms…..things that are mostly not on my affordable things to do list. But that is the only downfall in an otherwise excellent guide book.
Other chapters deal with – The Prepared Mind – Water – Eating – Communications – Your Neighbors (American spelling) – Bugging Out or Staying Put – Plan A or Plan B – The Year After…. and finally a List of Lists (useful lists covering everything from Barter and Charity, Books, Bug-Out Bags, Vehicle Kits, Food and Water, Financial Preparation, Gardening and Outdoors, House and Home, Hygiene and Sanitation, Personal Preparations and Security).
There are notes in the book to encourage you to formulate plans tailored to your own circumstances. I enjoyed this book very much, learned a few things and had other ideas about disaster preparation confirmed.
Moving on to the 2nd book Build the Perfect Survival Kit by John D McCann…..and this will be brief.
The forward of the book says “The concept of survival can be reduced to two basic aspects: your experience and practical knowledge, and the gear you carry.”
I’ve read some very glowing reviews of this book…such as…. “This book does its job well, as it focuses on one aspect of emergency preparedness: the work you must do before the emergency itself. By focusing on the tools needed for survival, it manages to cover all the scenarios that may occur in different geographical locales, as well as what solutions must be in place (or in your pocket) before you even decide to venture outside the safety of civilization.”
And yes, it does do it’s job well, is very thorough, but is also very repetitive in places and compered to the earlier book – reviewed above – is quite a dry read. It’s more text book and less entertainment. It is thorough, but it also sent me to sleep.
The best piece of advice it gives though, as far as building your own emergency/survival kit, is to put together something that you will always have with you. Keep it small, keep it simple, keep it accessible. The most elaborate and complete Survival Kit will do you no good if its sitting on a shelf somewhere and not with you when you need it.
My wife detests Zombie movies. I find it very difficult to get her to watch one with me, unless it’s a Zombie comedy movie that is. She LOVED Shaun of the Dead, so when she was scrolling through Netflix for a movie to watch and came across this one….a Zombie Comedy – The Dead Don’t Die – by Jim Yarmusch, who is himself becoming quite a cult figure for the quality of his movies, it was she who actually suggested we watch it. After I had recovered consciousness and peeled myself off the carpet, I readily agreed and after a quick viewing of the movie trailer – which looked extremely good – we settled down to be entertained by maestro Yarmusch and his all star cast. Sharing the lead were Bill Murray and Adam Driver – two actors who can really put the dead into dead-pan. Assisted by other names such as Tilda Swinton as a rather unconventional samurai sword swinging funeral director, Selena Gomez as a “hipster probably from Pittsburgh”, Danny Glover is the owner of a hardware store that sells everything you could possibly need to kill zombies with and Steve Buscemi as a red-neck Trump supporting farmer who wears a red baseball cap with Make America White Again as its slogan.
Iggy Pop makes an appearance as a coffee loving zombie, Tom Waits plays Hermit Bob – a bearded backwoodsman hermit initially accused of stealing Steve Buscemi’s chickens – who watches the whole zombie apocalypse unfold from the fringes of his wooded encampment and rapper RZA brings up this trifecta of muso’s….and there are still more musicians who make a cameo appearance. One of these is the Sturgill Simpson who as well as briefly playing a character known as “guitar zombie” also sings the movie theme song “The Dead Don’t Die”……which is plugged several times throughout the movie (whenever a radio is switched on), including one scene where Bill Murray – who plays Police chief Cliff Robertson asks fellow officer Ronnie Peterson, played by Driver “How do I know this song?” – Driver absolutely deadpan replies “It’s the theme song” (of the movie).
Several times in the movie Driver’s character says “This is all gonna end badly”…..eventually Murray’s character asks him why he keeps saying this, like he knows something bad is going to happen. Driver replies “Jim showed me the script” – referring to director Jim Yarmusch.
All this happens in a small sleepy town in middle America with a lot of cliche characters. The basic premise of the movie is that somehow (possibly something to do with fracking at the earths poles) the rotational spin of the earth goes off kilter resulting in watches stopping, weird animal behaviour, it still being daylight late into the evening….oh yes, and zombies reanimating from corpses.
You’ll get the general idea from the trailer – I’ll provide the link at the end of this post. Actually the trailer is so much better than the movie. Save yourselves a lot of time and effort and watch the trailer instead of sitting through the movie.
There are characters in the movie who just seem to be there as a fill in, or as a favour to a mate or something….can I be in your movie…..yes sure I’ll make up a character for you who appears a couple of times but we never know why they are in the movie, or what happens to them during the zombie apocalypse. An example being a group of 3 kids in juvenile detention, who appear in a few scenes. They manage to escape the detention centre when it becomes over run with zombies but then go out onto streets overflowing with zombies but we never find out if they are eaten or survive. There just doesn’t appear to be a reason for including them in the movie at all. There’s no back story and they just go out into the night. AND, when a heavily Scottish accented Swinton is slashing her way through a crowd of zombies and a UFO appears overhead, I almost hit the off button. My wife and I looked at one another in disbelief and remarked “WHAT??!!”
The movie got mixed reviews from critics, most giving it mid range marks….not a great movie but not terrible either. There were snippets of brilliance but not enough to save it from mediocrity. And I must say I haven’t fully made my mind up. My initial reaction is it failed to live up to expectations….was too cliched…too laid back…too deadpan…..but maybe that’s what Yarmusch was going for…in which case it’s genius!. Perhaps I should give it another viewing in a year, or five….when very drunk. Either way, not quite the homage to zombies I was hoping for. I’ll give it a mid range 5.5 out of 10….and put it down to Yarmusch having an off day.
Is it just me or has anyone else found these times of “Corona” to be mentally draining? I’ve been neglecting my WordPress blog and the blogs of those I follow due to feeling so drained, lethargic, mentally exhausted. Anything that needed thinking about was pushed aside in favour of mindless pursuits such as Facebook or watching YouTube videos. Writing or even reading books was a task rather than the usual joy I experience. Add to this the unusually grey, cold, rainy and overcast weather we’ve been experiencing here in New Zealand through our first month of winter and the result is a wish to hibernate until it’s all over and springtime, sunshine and blue skies mean that normal service has once again resumed.
BUT, I’m back…..maybe not 100% back, but at least I’m reading again and have finally posted a short but hopeful post here. Sorry to all those I follow, for not actively following and commenting on your posts recently. I’m sure that there have been many good ones and I will be attempting to catch up on what I’ve missed over the last couple of months. Also apologies for those who have been following me for several months and have started to wonder if I’d fallen off the planet.
I’ll be doing a review of a trilogy of Margaret Atwood books – Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. Thankyou Margaret for rescuing me from the brain fog I’ve been lost in for several weeks. For anyone who hasn’t read any of her books yet, you’re missing a treat. She has a very imaginative mind.
I may even review some of the mindless but oh so addictive Zombie movies I’ve been watching on YouTube. There have been many over the weeks – some good, some bad and some really terrible.
This time of year the garden gets a good tidy up and I’ve already got seedlings coming up in my seed trays in the relative warmth of my shed window. Another week or so and they will be ready to plant out, under cover of plastic tunnels, so the frost doesn’t kill them. Life goes on.
I hope that you’re all well, have avoided the dreaded virus, and are thriving – physically and mentally.
Until the next post. Thank you for reading. And to borrow a phrase from our Prime Minister “be kind to one another”.
Eric Arthur Blair – better known by his pen name George Orwell – was a man very much ahead of his time. The novel 1984 was written in 1948 and published in 1949 – a year before Orwell’s death in 1950 (at the relatively young age of 47), and yet so much of what he wrote about in his novel has been mirrored in todays society. Here we are 70 years after his death and 36 years after the dreaded year – 1984 – and so much that Orwell wrote about is happening today.
For example, in the book, the world has been divided into 3 almost equal super powers. We have Oceania which is comprised of much of the English speaking world – The UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Naturally the USA are the leaders. We have EastAsia which is lead by China and we have EurAsia – mainly the European mainland countries lead by Russia. Then there is a mishmash of countries around the equator – many of the African countries, middle eastern countries and Indonesia. These don’t fall into any specific “Super Power region” but are in a constant state of being fought over, won or lost by the 3 super powers. Pretty much like the reality of today with three super powers the USA, Russia and China bossing the rest of the world around, particularly the USA who seem hell bent on extracting “their oil” from underneath the foreign sands of various middle eastern nations, gold and diamonds, precious metals and uranium from under African soil.
The super power countries (in the book) are constantly at war with one another, with little or no territory lost or gained except for the aforementioned equatorial nations. We come to learn from the book, that this constant war footing is what helps to keep the existing gap between the rich and the poor members of society. If spending on war was not necessary, the general standard of living could be lifted giving everyone access to running water, electricity, food, modern appliances, a car and more. And indeed is one of the 3 principles of “Big Brother and The Party” – War is Peace. The other 2 being Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength. Add to this a lot of little rules and the fact that everyone is spying on everyone else and of course Big Brother is watching, listening to and monitoring every move that everyone makes. This is made possible in the book by the Tele-screens in every home and every public building that both serve to broadcast news (propaganda) and are a means to watch – to see into every home and public building.
Back when Orwell wrote 1984, in 1948 or even in 1984 itself, the idea that the government was watching and listening to us all the time would appear to be very far fetched, but of course these days we have personal mobile phones (smart phones), laptops, iPads, smart watches, Fitbits, smart TV’s – even smart appliances – that are capable of transmitting pictures and sound to anyone who knows how to write a computer program. Every word, every deed, every text, every email, every photo or video we take on our smart phones can all be accessed by the government or other powers that be. It may not be Big Brother who is watching us, but it is big government or big business or big military…..the Secret Service, CIA, SIS, Five-Eyes….you name it.
Now the thing is, in the book, all this is controlled by a few people in the inner circle of the Party, with other lesser important party business being conducted by the outer circle of Party members. These two sets of people make up only 15% of the overall population. The general laborious jobs are done by the Proles – people like you and me – who make up the other 85% of the population. The Proles are kept in check by the Party faithful who make sure that the Proles are kept in a cycle of breeding, caring for children, working and being kept busy by trivia – such as arguing with their neighbours, drinking beer, watching football, movies and gambling. Throw into the mix the internet and on-line gaming (something that Orwell didn’t specifically name) and we pretty much have todays society. Kids are indoctrinated at an early age with information/misinformation that they devour and regurgitate as fact – never really thinking for themselves (because ignorance is strength) – the Proles ignorance as to how the world really operates is the Party’s strength. “We pledge allegiance to the flag….” – history is written by the victors and is not allowed to be questioned. Anyone who shows any inkling of being capable of intelligent thought is considered dangerous and is removed – they disappear – are vaporized. A few agents of the Thought Police spread false rumours and mark down and eliminate the few individuals considered by the Party inner circle to be a danger to the status quo. Much like the Patriot Act allows the US Government to disappear anyone who is considered a threat. To take people from their homes, places of work or simply off the street and hold them without charge, indefinitely, in a secret location or to execute them and get rid of the bodies without recourse. You don’t even have to have committed a crime – just appear as a potential threat. It may seem that I am singling out the USA as the main perpetrators of these Orwellian excesses, but most countries have a similar law allowing the government of the day to keep the people downtrodden and obedient. This is the job, in the book, of the Thought Police. Like I said in the opening paragraph, Orwell was a man very much ahead of his time.
The main character in the book is a man called Winston who is part of the outer Party and is employed re-writing newspaper articles, books, records – anything that is contra to the Party line. The problem is that the Party line changes constantly so history is being constantly rewritten. If the Party say that 2 plus 2 equals 5…..then this is fact and anyone who insists that 2 plus 2 equals 4 is a menace to society and has to be dealt with. The problem is that Winston is capable of logical thought and seeks out others who he believes have ideas in opposition to the Party line. One such person, Julia, even suggests that the rocket bombs constantly bombarding the area that the Proles live do not come from outside Oceania and are not fired by the enemy, as stated by the Party officials in the guise of Big Brother, but are in fact a product of the Party’s actions to keep the public feeling under constant threat and to bring out the most very basic patriotic feelings to unite the 85% with the party faithful against the common enemy of EastAsia or EurAsia – who ever the Party says that they are at war with at that particular time. In our society Julia would be called a conspiracy theorist. Again….does this sound familiar? How often, when a distraction is needed for the government to introduce stricter/tighter “security” – meaning removing certain public rights or freedoms – do we suddenly have a Terrorist attack or a threat of war from a Rogue Nation who have broken this or that rule….although exactly what rule is broken and the evidence of such rule breaking is never exposed to the light of day, or the public gaze.
How often have Terrorist plots been thwarted by the CIA and been given major media time? The answer is quite a lot. How many of the Terrorist plots thwarted by the CIA were actually masterminded by, funded by, armed by, or corrupted by the CIA? The answer is every single time. The only plots exposed by the CIA, over the years, have been the plots that the CIA operatives have had a hand in creating. Thus justifying their own jobs.
One also has to wonder how many of the terrorist events that have happened and were not thwarted by the CIA, or other nations equivalent department, were also a product of government or powers behind the government, rather than genuine terrorists. The conspiracy theorists are given that title by the state owned media in order to discredit them. If they were called “truth seekers” rather than “conspiracy theorists” maybe more people would listen to them?
How often have terrorist events happened the very day, or the next day, that the exact event was being trained for by special forces or the armed offender squad? The answer is too often. Take the 7/7 bombings in London – not only was the exact scenario being practiced – the bombing of buses and trains – but the exact same train stations were targeted in the event as in the training scenario. Even by a long stretch of the imagination, this is too coincidental. Similarly the Christchurch mosque shooting – police were two blocks away training for the exact same event. There is no smoke without fire and it seems to be the authorities who are fanning the flames. As a result we have armed police on the streets of Britain with stop and search rights, CCTV cameras on every street corner and in and outside every public building, on trains, on buses, in taxies, cameras on the major roads and motorway bridges monitoring the movement of the public. In New Zealand after the shooting the government moved swiftly to bring in new and very restrictive gun laws. Something that the American people can at least argue against with their constitutions second amendment.
Speaking of the USA – they have been constantly at war either with another country or fighting the war on terrorism or the war on drugs or the war on….whatever, since their independence. The problem in 1984 was how to keep the Proles working, the wheels of industry turning, the profits swelling the accounts of the rich, without increasing the real wealth of the world as a whole. As per the book, War is Peace – meaning – as mentioned earlier – that constant war footing and financing keeps the general population controlled and poor and unable to make the advances needed to improve their lot in life. Life is a struggle and they are kept in a constant cycle of work, eat, sleep, work – breed, to provide the next generation of drones that keep the system operating and the elites at the top of the food chain and getting richer. Orwell knew his stuff alright.
The only way that the Proles see of bettering their lot is by winning the lottery, which the Party rigs so that only small denomination prizes are actually paid out. The top prize rolls over and rolls over and finally jackpots and is “won” by a faceless, nameless person who may not even exist. Thus swelling the coffers of the Party faithful. Again….does this sound familiar?
In the novel 1984 we have a department which deals with “newspeak” – they whittle away at old words and phrases and bring in simpler, more suitable words that are acceptable to the Party – a kind of dumbing down – a reduction of peoples vocabulary. Similar things have happened in reality, but its not only a dumbing down of vocabulary but a general lowering of standards. This is reflected in our education system, where we change the exam system to make it easier to pass – in the media by the dumbing down of TV programs – we have fewer real news programs or documentaries and more “reality tv” or cooking programs or celebrity this or celebrity that. Its entertainment for the lobotomised. It keeps us controllable and suggestible to whatever the powers that be want us to believe – just like Big Brother and the Party control the Proles.
In the book the Proles and the outer party members are all controlled by the inner party and Big Brother (who himself may or may not exist). They are expected to tow the, every more stringent, Party line, and to conform in word, thought and deed. Anyone who does not conform is considered a pariah and suffers the wrath of the Party and also the general population who spy on and report one another to the authorities. Even family members report on one another, with children attending a sort of spy camp and given instructions to spy on and report on their own parents. It’s a constant threat. Does this sound familiar? Do I even dare to mention the PC society and the me too movement? So many things that were acceptable a generation ago are now frowned upon. Even humour is affected. Comedians dare hardly crack a joke for fear of being branded racist, sexist, ageist, anti-sematic, sizeist, homophobic, disrespectful of this or that person or group or religion or region or someone’s gender fluidity…or…or. Jobs can no longer be offered to the most qualified person – we have to get the right balance of gender, sexuality, race, religion….Any business or organization that does not have a 50-50 balance of males Vs females, particular in upper management, is considered sexist. Where does it stop? We’re constantly pointing the finger at non-conformists – just like the children in 1984 are exposing their parents as traitors. With all these divisions and distractions the elites will always be able to pull the wool over the eyes of the Proles. Divide and conquer has always and will always be the rule. Whether it be in 1984 or in real life….the lines are blurring more every day.
As a novel 1984 is an interesting story. Orwell was not just a writer, but a visionary. It’s a book that everyone should read for so many reasons. Just like one of his other books “Animal Farm” was a commentary on the Russian revolution – 1984 is a comment on the direction we are allowing our lives to be manipulated today, as we continue to trade freedom for “security”. It’s a thought provoking book. Definitely worth reading and discussing with family and friends.
I’ll just leave you with a couple of quotes from the book and ask you to think if it applies to how we are being manipulated in reality.
“know that this or that item of war news is untruthful and often the entire war is spurious and either not happening or being waged for purposes other than the declared one…….with Oceania (read USA) the undisputed master of the entire world”.
“The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought…..how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand”.
Regarding the morale of the masses “whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work”.
My next book is Daphne Du Maurier’s Rule Britannia – another dystopian novel. Nowhere near as extreme as 1984, it takes place in the 1970’s and concerns the take over of the UK by United States military. I’m already well into the book and will post a review once finished.
Once again, if you’ve stuck with me this far….thank you for reading….and your comments, likes, shares etc are most appreciated. What are you reading? Can anyone recommend any other dystopian novels?
This was one of the books that I recently bought at the annual Hastings Lions Book Sale and the first one that I’ve decided to read. It’s a biographical memoir and follows on where his first book Tales of the Country, which I still have to read, left off. As mentioned in my post about the book sale, I’d already started the book more or less as soon as I got home and it only took three sessions of reading to get through it. His writing flows very easily and you find you’re unable to stop yourself speeding through the stories. Although each chapter is a stand alone story of his family and their life in the British countryside, they are in chronological order so it still, in a way, reads like it’s one story.
It’s not a new book, the ones at the book sale seldom are, and was published in 2007. But from my own experience, although cities change rather quickly, life in the countryside is much slower paced so the stories in this book will ring as true today as when first published.
Although he’s not quite in Bill Bryson’s league as far as one liners go, Viner can still throw in one or two lines to make the reader chuckle along the way, for example – “Applying a razor blade to one’s scrotum is not a job anyone should do in a hurry.” – this from a story relating to his preparation for a vasectomy operation. It’s certainly an attention grabber. Actually, on reflection, he and Bryson do have a lot in common as far as their writing styles are concerned. Both write in the same way that a favourite long-lived uncle would bumble his way through stories of his dim and distant past. Getting lost on the way and taking several side paths before getting back on track to finish the story….and on occasion just getting totally lost.
He’s moved his wife and three children from the city to an old manor house in the Hereford countryside to “live the country life”, but he’s totally inept at country living. His idea of success is being able to walk across a cow paddock without standing in a cow pat, however he does learn how to turn a sheep up the right way…..please don’t ask – read the book.
His predominantly self-depreciating stories cover everything from – being a Beater during Grouse shooting season… the first day known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’, and to grouse as ‘Bollocks, Is It Already That Time of Year Again?’ – coming home to find that the builders who have come to repair his house have spent a whole day putting up scaffolding against the wrong wall – the disaster faced when finding his two dogs had been out savaging sheep – discussing the delights and the downfalls of country dining – the right and wrong way, from experience, to raise chickens – his experiences of being a very minor celebrity – his discovery that one of his neighbours is, or I should say was, a notorious Madame (Madame Whiplash no less) and more.
It’s a very entertaining read and I will certainly make an effort to track down both his earlier book Tales of The Country, and a later one called Cream Teas, Traffic Jams and Sunburn, about the British on holiday. If they are anything like The Pheasants’ Revolt they will be witty and entertaining reads.
As I may have mentioned once or twice on past posts on this blog, I enjoy reading travel books and one of my favourite authors (along with Bill Bryson) is Michael Palin. His travel books usually accompany a TV series of the same name as his books. Since 1989, starting with his first ever travel book and accompanying TV show, Around the World In 80 Days, he was connected, almost at the hip it would seem, to the BBC. Usually, his travel series have multiple episodes. This latest book however, is presented alongside a TV show in only 2 parts, which has already been shown on British TV Chanel Five / ITV productions.
The last time Palin was anywhere near North Korea was back in 1997 for yet another travel book and show Full Circle, but he only got a glimpse of North Korea from the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone. This time he gets a tour of the demilitarized zone from the other side and a frank discussion with the officer in charge. North Korea or we should call it the DPRK – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – lays out the welcome mat and Palin, now in his 75th year, gets to see one of the most secret and mysterious countries on the planet.
Of course he doesn’t get free reign to go where he wants. He has two official guides who go everywhere with him plus other “ministry officials” who make sure that his guides don’t allow Palin to wander too far off the official track.
He gets to see pristine cities where the streets are almost empty of traffic, giant statues of past “Great Leaders”, and symbols and buildings commemorating the “Great Leaders”. He also visits a state of the art airport – with no planes and no flights, a street of tower blocks built within a year, that seem to house very few people and a massive, symbolic hotel with no guests what so ever. The DPRK seems to be as a country, much like a show home is to a yet to be built housing estate. Everything is there, it appears, as a front, but there is little substance and in some cases no actual function for the building/hotel/airport. As my grandmother used to say – “All fur coat and no knickers”. This was evident in the state of the roads. Within the capital city, the streets were first class, pristine if somewhat devoid of traffic. Once outside city limits though the highways were cracked and uneven – so that every journey felt like a ride inside a tumble dryer.
The first three days – which according to Palin felt like three weeks as it was such hard work to be able to achieve what they wanted and every step had to be negotiated – Palin, his director and film crew are under strict observation and are quickly shut down and moved to another location if anything occurs that may show the DPRK in a bad light. The people he gets to meet are, to begin with, all prearranged, preapproved and very much pro the ruling regime. After a while though, once Palin and company have proved themselves as willing to follow their minders guidelines, they are given a little more rope and get to interact with the general public – some of them rather the worse for drink – at a party in a park and also to enjoy the scenery of the hills and valleys on a hike in the countryside alone when their minders, not dressed suitably for the hike, leave them to it.
At one point they visit a farm – where the workers are in military uniform – and Palin “helps” a female farm worker with some weeding. The shoot couldn’t begin however until a tractor had been moved into the background – to prove that farms are not all manual labour in North Korea and that machinery is available (even if the tractor in question was around fifty years old). When Palin asked the female farm worker how he faired as a farmhand, she quite straight forwardly told him that he was “unnecessary”.
Even with the loosening of some of the rules, Palin only had to hint at a question critical of the regime or of the history of North Korea and he was pulled up short and sharp. He told one of his guides that in the UK “we are able to be quite rude about our political leaders”. But, not wanting to get drawn in to this sort of discussion she countered with “That’s what makes us so different. Our leaders are very great. They are not individuals, but represent the masses, so we cannot criticise ourselves, can we?” One wonders at what he and his guides discussed off camera that didn’t get put into the book – for the safety of the guides themselves.
There are a few extra pages at the end of the book, written by director Neil Fergusson, which covers his own earlier visit to North Korea to meet with officials and to discuss their filming schedule, rules and regulations. He had sent the North Koreans a wish list of places and people he would like to film, but on his arrival the “official schedule” looked absolutely nothing like what he’s asked for. Several days of negotiations followed before a schedule that was acceptable to both sides was reached. Despite promises and signed contracts it wasn’t until Palin and the film crew actually stepped on to North Korean soil that they realised that the shooting or the North Korea Journal was good to go.
In summarising the 15 day whirlwind trip, Palin says that although there are certainly some differences between how North Korea and for example Britain function as far as regulations and freedoms are concerned, there were far more similarities than he expected.
North Korea feels that it can’t let its guard down even slightly due to the ever present American military threat – no wonder it has the 4th largest army in the world. Almost a quarter of the entire North Korean population are members of the armed forces. These military personnel however also man the farms, the factories and the building sites, so you don’t see them all wandering around the towns and cities carrying weapons.
To directly quote a section of the final paragraph of the book, Palin says “…the trip has been an eye-opener, a chance to look behind the headlines and see this secretive country as few other westerners ever will. As Pyongyang recedes into the distance, we turn and exchange smiles. Of relief, but also of regret. One thing we all agreed on at our farewell meal last night is that none of us would mind coming back.”
All of the travel books by Michael Palin are of good quality and this one is no exception, except for being of smaller format than usual, as you can see from the photo below. It’s an easy and enjoyable read, witty and informative – filling in some of the unknowns about North Korea without being in any way controversial or overly critical. Palin is too nice a guy to stir things up just for viewing figures, or book sales. He was Knighted earlier this year (2019) for services to travel, culture and geography following his career as a writer and presenter of documentaries that have taken him all over the world. I do fear, having reached the age of 75, that this could be Palin’s last travel adventure. I hope not, but time will tell.
As usual thank you for reading this blog…comments, questions, likes and follows are all very much appreciated.
When I was a child living in Yorkshire I owned a mug, for drinking tea, with a little picture on the front of a child with its father watering flowers in a garden, using watering cans. A big watering can for the Dad and a small one for the son. Under the picture was the phrase “Helping Daddy”. It’s funny what we remember from our childhood isn’t it? But, like the child on the front of that mug, I used to help my dad in his garden once I was big enough to be of help.
As well as our gardens at home, front and back of the house, which were always a riot of colour, full of flowers and small shrubs, dad also had a huge vegetable garden just a few minute walk away….through the edge of the woods and down a back lane….where his widowed cousin Dora lived. Dora lost her husband in WW2 and lived alone in a house with a huge garden that she couldn’t manage on her own. The garden was divided in two by a path that ran from the front door down to the front gate. The old stone house stood at the very back of the section so all the gardens were visible to the front of the house. The path was the dividing line between Dora’s flower garden – mainly roses – and dad’s veggie garden.
So, from being about 8 or 9 years old I was kind of “volunteered” to help dad in the veggie garden. To begin with this mainly involved tedious things such as weeding, tidying, or fetching and carrying things for dad. As I got bigger I was given heavier work such as digging trenches for manuring/composting and using the wheelbarrow to fetch leaf mold from the woods to add to our compost pile, or other such barrow duties. I wasn’t particularly keen on the tasks, but enjoyed spending time with my dad. It amazed me how much he could grow in his garden and how well he (and I) kept it. Row after straight row of vegetables – Tomatoes, Beans, Peas, Carrots, Onions, Cabbage, Turnips, Spring Onions, Cauliflower, Beetroot, Potatoes, Lettuce and best of all, in a small garden to the side of the house was a very crowded strawberry bed. This garden was sheltered by the house on one side and walls on two other sides, providing a sunny warm area for the strawberries to thrive. Oh how I remember the taste of those succulent deep red strawberries – juicy and sweet.
At the time, I didn’t really appreciate the cycle of creation in front of me in that garden. Or of the life within the soil and how we helped to keep that cycle of healthy soil, healthy food going. The preparing and manuring of the soil in readiness for the planting of the seeds, the emergence of the first shoots of the plants, their continued growth to maturity and their ultimate harvest….interspersed with lots and lots of weeding and watering. Food on our table, and food for the family, friends and neighbours.
What I also remember is Dora bringing out sweet cups of tea for dad and I to drink and take a break from our toils, along with a plate of slices of cake or iced (frosted) buns – which always seemed to be slightly stale, but not so far gone that we wouldn’t risk eating them. You know, as a child I had no idea of the age of adults. Everyone who had finished school and started work seemed ancient to me, so one day when Dora asked me how old I thought she was I took a stab at 60….Oops. She was in her mid 40’s at the time so for a while after that she refused to talk to me.
I was fascinated by the worms in the soil – my main concern was how on earth they could breath underground. But I learned how vital they were to the health of the soil, just as I learned how vital bees were (and still are) to the wellbeing of the strawberries. I would sit and watch for ages as the bees went around their business of calling on each strawberry flower before moving on to the next, pollinating as they buzzed here and there. Not that nature asked for our help, but we did what we could as we added compost and mulch to help keep the soil protected and healthy.
One of the worse most odious and rank tasks (literally), that dad gave me was taking a wheelbarrow up the hill to the butchers yards to collect fresh animal manure. The butcher, Clifford, slaughtered animals on the premises in a yard at the back of the shop. Animals, I guess, are like humans in respect of their reaction to their forthcoming slaughter – shit scared doesn’t even begin to describe it. Let’s just say that there was always lots of manure and straw to transport from the butcher’s yard back down the hill to the garden. A funny thing about my journey’s up and down the hill to the yard and back. On the way up the hill, with a clean wheelbarrow, I would not see anyone I knew on the streets. On the way back, wheelbarrow full of stinking shit, a liberal amount of which I always seemed to manage to get over myself, (the smell of which seemed to linger for days regardless of how much soap I used, or how raw I scrubbed my hands and arms), surrounded by flies, and I would see lots of people who knew me, including at least one pretty girl from school. The manure patrol did little to enhance my reputation with the opposite sex, but worked wonders in the garden.
I write this, some fifty years later after moving to the opposite side of the world and have now become the keen gardener that my dad once was. I am sitting on my terrace, overlooking the garden at the front of my own home. Poppies swaying in the breeze, next to one of a half dozen stands of raspberry canes. The bees from our own hive, buzzing among the plants, work their magic. The canes heavy in both flowers and fruit, some fruit still green, but others turning a pale pink on their way to succulent scarlet ripeness. Another week should do it. In the garden to my left tomato plants are thriving and already bearing small green tomatoes. I was just having a wander around the garden – gin and tonic in hand – counting up the tomato plants. Last year we had around 70. This year we’re up to 80 at current count, with more (perhaps another 50) in seed trays and plant pots to be planted out in the coming days. Everything that we don’t either eat or give away to family and neighbours will be preserved either as tomato sauce or whole, in jars, for later use.
Oh well, it’s been another hot, late spring, day here in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand – my home for the last 30 years. Time to end this post and give my plants a good watering.
As usual thank you for reading this. Any comments or questions will be responded to as soon as possible. Likes and shares most appreciated.
Just over three years ago both me and my wife were working full time. I worked 40 hours per week, and she was working 37.5 hours per week. We were not in high paying jobs, but the money was good, and payment was regular and reliable. Then in mid 2016 we both quit our jobs and fulfilled a long term dream of travelling around the UK and Europe for 6 months, on a strictly limited budget. It meant that we couldn’t do everything that tourists usually do, but there was always something either free, or reasonably priced to do where ever we went. We had a wonderful time, met lots of interesting people, saw some of the sights, experienced a lot.
Some of the people we met lived – I don’t want to use the word unusual or strange, because they weren’t, but shall we just say – lived in ways that are not these days considered to be mainstream. Some had pretty much turned their backs on modern gadgets. Others were very much into self sufficiency and making things rather than relying on the stores and supermarkets. There seemed to be a connection with nature and more sense of community, just like when it was when I was growing up in Yorkshire in the 1960’s. Back in the 60’s, I not only knew my neighbours, but also knew by name everyone in our street – men, women and children. I even knew a lot of people in other streets nearby. If anyone had a problem or a task that they needed help with, someone on the street would be there to help out.
Kids played in the street together, and in the local woods and parks – without adult supervision, without rubberised mats to fall down onto, without having to phone or text home every 10 minutes to report where they were, who they were with and what they were doing. When we went out to play our mothers would say “be home before dark”. That was the only stipulation. We were kids and loved to play, but we also had common sense and strength in numbers. If anyone was stupid enough to try to do anything illegal or immoral with one of us, the rest were there as back up. Never any problems.
Mothers used to stand at the gates of the houses and chat over a cup of tea (and in many cases, a cigarette). But of course that was then…..and now we are so much “better connected” with the internet, twitter, Facebook, Instagram, on line games, virtual reality communities and so much more to waste our time and isolate us from the real world. We can blob out on our couches and never move all day as we watch and “like” other peoples lives….see what they had for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Isn’t modern technology wonderful? Where ever we go we can have internet access. We can be contacted by smart phone…or smart watches even in some of the more remote places. Isn’t it marvelous to be at everyone’s beck and call every minute of every day? Things like peace, isolation, quiet, are a thing of the past…as is going for a brisk walk over the moors or through the woods… as we become addicted to our digital devices.
But I’m getting carried away, my apologies. What I am trying to say is, that by living with limited things and on a tight budget for 6 months, and managing to live very comfortably, we wondered what we could do when we returned home to simplify our lives, work less hours and have more time for us – to do what we enjoy. We had already decided that we didn’t want to work full time jobs any more and would only be looking for part time work when we returned home.
The answer was to dig up our useless lawns and turn them into vegetable gardens, with fruit and nut trees planted here and there. In the end we have over 20 trees and lots of small gardens covering what was our lawn. Except for the middle of winter, we are pretty much self sufficient in fruit and veg. We had increased our mortgage payments before quitting our jobs and had managed to pay it off, so that left the usual expenses to pay for things like the rest of our food bill, electricity, insurance, local council rates and taxes, internet, and all that is involved in keeping a vehicle on the road. In the end, we are getting by on only my wife working part time, while I look after the house and gardens and to help make ends meet we have rented out a spare bedroom through Airbnb. It is not occupied all that often, but the money it brings in pays for our little luxuries. We have more time….some of it is spent keeping the garden up and running, but since I enjoy doing that, it’s not really a hardship. We can take up hobbies, go out for the day, enjoy walks and bike rides, commune with nature, write a blog (this one) or nestle into a comfortable chair with a good book….and coffee (or wine). Oh yes I also make my own wine, jams and chutneys. We preserve any extra fruit, tomatoes, peppers etc to help to see us through the leaner months. And after 3 years – almost – things are working well. We’re living the good life.
Last year we planted around 70 tomato plants and we preserved lots of them and made sauces with others. We still have jars of tomatoes and bottles of sauce stacked on our storage shelves. This year, so far I have planted around 50 tomato plants, but have seed trays with another 40 or 50 that I am still waiting to grow big enough to plant out. And that’s only a start. Encouraged by what we have read by several authors who have simplified their lives even more than we have and gone completely off grid, we have decided that in the new year, 2020, we will start looking seriously into selling our home here on the edge of the city and buying a smaller house, but with more land out in the countryside. This will allow us to expand our gardens, raise chickens for eggs (and possibly for meat), maybe we’ll also have a couple of goats for milking to make cheese. We’ll also put in a wood lot for continuous firewood supplies, harvest rain water, put in solar panels to provide us with electricity for lights at night and other basics, but mostly we’ll be going “old school” with hand operated appliances, a root cellar to keep food fresh and attempt to be off grid and as free of “the system” as possible. It could also mean that my wife can cut back on her working hours even further….or completely if we can make our self sufficiency profitable.
Time will tell. Meantime we have renovations to do on our existing home to ready it for sale. I’ve just replaced the hallway ceiling, so still have to plaster and paint that. And we’ve had a couple of weeks now of very dry, hot weather (we’re coming into New Zealand’s late spring/early summer and it’s already hit 31C/88F) so I have to keep up on the watering. Our strawberries are producing well – we have around 200 plants, and our 200 or more raspberry canes have lots of flowers, buds and unripe green fruit forming. It looks like being a wonderful season for berry fruit. After they finish fruiting it will be time for the peaches to be harvested. I love summer fruit!
Please note…I have put a link below to the blog I used to write last year (that I should probably update) about gardening and self sufficiency. Lots of photos there of the garden and produce. Meantime, many thanks for reading the blog. Comments, likes and shares are most appreciated and if you have any questions please do ask.
That phrase “Variety is the spice of life“, is something that I’ve heard many times during my lifetime, but I’ve never really thought about what it means. Recently I came across Mark Boyle’s book – Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi and he pretty much explained it in a simple paragraph….but since I don’t want to get stung for copyright infringement I’ll try to paraphrase him.
He was talking about how the industrial age, or as he calls it The Machine, has taken us over, making specialists of us, pigeon-holing us into strictly limited roles, making us no more than a cog in the machine. There’s no diversity. Meantime we play our part, as a part of the system, by consuming products and services. He reminds us that it didn’t used to be that way. We used to fully participate in life, in community – rather than distancing ourselves from it. We foraged, grew, produced and cooked our own food. Made our own entertainment, played music, made up songs, poems and stories to share around a communal fire. We made the things we needed, be it a wooden spoon or a woven fabric. Made our own wines, beers, mead, cheeses, butter, jam and preserves to share with our family and neighbours, as part of a living, breathing village. Our lives were rich with diversity with the freedom to express ourselves in a variety of ways. We could be a hunter one day, a farmer the next, a furniture maker, artist, poet. Life was interesting and fluid. Variety was the spice of life. These days for the sake of “maximum efficiency” we are reduced to rigid conformity, a cog in the wheel of industry, doing the same repetitive thing over and over again.
Don’t you think it’s time to take back our lives? To make them varied and interesting again?
We have come to rely too much on the system, on the Machine and what it delivers. Sooner or later, (I fear it will be sooner rather than later, the way that the world is heading) the system will break down and our specialist pigeon-holed existence will be our downfall. We won’t have the individual skills to survive, because we’ve lost that variety in our lives. We tend to know how to do one thing, a narrow field of view. We’ve become an expert, skilled in one thing and lost the ability to perform a hundred other tasks. We will not be prepared….thanks in the most part to what we have viewed as “progress”.
For anyone interested in Mark’s book, I’ve pasted the link to the goodread’s page for the book Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi below. I will probably be making further posts about the contents of this and others of Boyles books later on. I’m less than half way through the book and have learned so much already. As usual many thanks for reading and your comments etc are most appreciated.
This is the second part of my (former) post of reviews of what was to be 5 books of essays….3 by writers now dead (already covered in an earlier post) and this is a review of the remaining 2 books by writers still very much alive – plus another live writer thrown in for good measure.
OK, so now I have managed to confuse you….the books being covered are TEJU COLE – Known and Strange Things, PAUL KINGSNORTH – Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and other essays, and REBECCA SOLNIT – The Faraway Nearby. I’ll work my way from left to right on the photo.
Teju Cole’s book Known and Strange Things….To be perfectly honest with you, despite the endorsement on the cover of this book, by fellow essayist Rebecca Solnit, I struggled initially to connect with Teju Cole’s writing. That was until I found the essay titled Shadows in Sao Paulo, which is about the writers attempt to locate the exact spot that Magnum photographer Rene Burri took his famous photo of “Men on a Rooftop”.
It’s a black and white photo of 4 men on a rooftop of one of the many skyscrapers in Sao Paulo, casting long shadows as they walk toward the camera. To the left of them and far down below the street scene unfolds….the cars and trams also throwing long shadows down the street. The tram lines adding to the series of straight lines provided by the street, the walls of the buildings, the lines created by the many windows, and the edges of the rooftop. The photo taken in 1960 is from a higher vantage point and it’s this building that Teju Cole tries to locate. Being as I am, a huge fan of most, if not all, of the photographers who have worked for the Magnum Photo Agency – this essay is the one in which Cole and I hit on common ground, a common interest. From here on in I was able to enjoy his writing more (strange as it may seem).
The essays in this book were originally published mainly in the New Yorker, and elsewhere and, once I got connected with Cole via the Rene Burri essay I quite enjoyed the majority of his essays. However the “white saviour industrial complex” essay left a kind of nasty taste in my mouth….if that’s possible from reading something? It just seemed to be much of a rant rather than a serious piece of writing. I guess reading essays, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder…..what suits me may not suit you, your reaction may not be the same as mine.
Petina Gappah of the Guardian newspaper – obviously a fan of Cole’s – writes… He ranges over his interests with voracious keenness, laser-sharp prose, an open heart and a clear eye. His subjects are diverse and disparate. Readers are certain to find a personal favourite: I loved Always Returning, an affecting meditation on the death of WG Sebald in which Cole wanders through the cemetery of St Andrew’s in Framingham Earl, Norfolk, looking for Sebald’s grave and trying, at the same time, to have a coherent conversation about his pilgrimage with Jason, the taxi driver who got him there. The interplay between the externals of conversations with Jason and the deep interiority of Cole’s response to seeing Sebald’s grave is masterfully written, with Cole straining to act as a mediator between the worlds inhabited by these two very different men.
By contrast I found Paul Kingsnorth’s Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist to be a very easy, entertaining and interesting read. Kingsnorth was one of those crazy environmentalists (and I use crazy by way of admiration rather than criticism), who used to chain himself to bulldozers and other machinery to try to stop developers from levelling another of natures hilly places – to put a motorway through….or wiping out old growth forest, so that Ikea and similar businesses can make more kitset furniture. I say WAS because now he’s taken a step back physically, if not spiritually from the “war against environmental destruction”. He sees the entire environmental movement as having been hijacked and watered down by factions of the Green movement, who in a bid to communicate natures value to society have now put a dollar value on it. Of course the problem with that, as Kingsnorth points out, is that once nature is given a dollar value, a businessman will justify buying and destroying it based on that valuation.
The essays in this book first appeared in various newspapers and on the website co-founded by Kingsnorth, called The Dark Mountain Project. Each one will provide an insight to the problems the world faces daily as our natural world shrinks past crisis point and consumerist growth economies grow and grow to unsustainable size, until their inevitable collapse and chaos that are surely just around the corner.
Although Kingsnorth has pulled back from being a placard waving demonstrator, his passion for nature and his attempts to convince us, the readers, that nature is worth fighting for…..even if we may be already too late to save it….is as strong as ever. He and his family have retreated to a smallholding in the west of Ireland where they practice what they preach and are as gentle with nature as possible in an attempt to become part of nature again…as mankind used to be….and to help the natural world regenerate. It’s a book that I believe should be mandatory reading in all schools AND for all politicians.
In the book Kingsnorth rejoices in the small wins that the family achieve in their bid to help nature fight back….and in helping his children to understand the magical natural world….how everything is inter-dependent, so that he knows that the next generation will be there on natures side.
In the essay A Short History of Loss, Kingsnorth looks at the problem that beekeepers are having with colony collapse and how a Harvard study linked the death of bees to certain insecticides used on farms – then continues to say that another Harvard group of scientists are working on designing robotic bees. A typical science response – rather than stop using insecticide and saving the lives of real bees, we’ll just make artificial bees and try to program them to act like real bees. It’s like the idea of colonising Mars because we’re destroying the environment here on Earth. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to stop the destruction here?
Kingsnorth then goes on to say that mankind…(or is it more PC these days to call it Humankind?) has experienced a Fall – just like the Bible story of Adam and Eve’s experience of a fall in their eviction from the Garden of Eden. He then tries to identify where the Fall happened….where and when… giving several possible examples. It makes interesting and thought provoking reading.
Another very down to earth and slightly stinky essay about composting human manure in Learning What to Make of It – is a more hands on approach to conserving the environment. It’s a fact that we, as humans, produce waste….so what’s the best way of dealing with it? We can’t continue to pour raw sewage into the rivers, lakes and oceans. So what’s the answer? Read this essay to find out.
Another essay The Barcode Moment – touches on conspiracy theory and the possible future of the monetary system. That at some point we may end up wearing a barcode on the skin, (or possibly a chip under the skin…in my own opinion), to use when making purchases, rather than a bank card or actual money. Thought provoking again.
In other essays he tells us about writers who’s works have formed him as a writer, revolutionaries and the ethics involved in fighting for what we believe in.
I’ll finish with a couple of quotes from the back cover of the book, and to urge you all to please read this book and try to understand where we are in the race against time.
Paul Kingsnorth reads carefully from the book of nature, and also from the great literature of the natural world; they give him, and the reader, one path out of the despair that comes from knowing a bit too much about our condition. – Bill McKibben
…as the environmental movement began to focus on “sustainability” rather than the defence of wild places for their own sake, and as global conditions worsened, he grew disenchanted with the movement that he once embraced. He gave up what he saw as false hope that the residents of the first world would ever make the kind of sacrifices that might avert the severe consequences of climate change…..Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist gathers the wave-making essays that have charted the change in Kingsnorth’s thinking. In them he articulates a new vision, one that stands firmly in opposition to the belief that technology can save us, and he argues for a renewed balance between the human and the non-human worlds.
And so to the final of the three books – Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby – published in 2013.
I’ll jump straight to the back cover blurb to begin with….Gifts come in many guises. One summer Rebecca Solnit was given a box of ripening apricots, fruit from a neglected tree that her mother, gradually succumbing to memory loss, could no longer tend to. From this unexpected inheritance Solnit weaves together memoir, fairytales and the lives of others into a meditation of the art of storytelling. Encompassing explorers and monsters, the Marquis de Sade and Mary Shelley, a library of water in Iceland and the depths of the Grand Canyon, the result is a literary treasure trove from a writer of limitless talent and imagination.
Wow….some build up. Lets hope the book lives up to it. Back soon….
I may end up writing this piecemeal – as I find essays that I connect with, that resonate with me. The first of which is the first essay in the book…essay 1 titled Apricots. In this essay Solnit becomes the owner of a huge box of apricots….from her mothers tree, after her mother who is suffering from dementia, can’t cope with them. She writes about the trials and tribulations, sadness and confusion of having a parent who is losing their faculties. It’s a heartfelt piece and something that I am more than familiar with having lost my own mother to Alzheimer’s over 4 years ago and my dad 6 months earlier who had another dementia related illness. She writes very well about the various stages of confusion and frustration that her mother went through as she slowly but surely lost her mind and her identity. In reading Apricots, it opened up some old wounds that I thought were forgotten. Which I guess shows what a good writer Solnit is. I’m now wondering if writing my own essay as another blog post about my experience with my own parents would help to heal those freshly opened wounds? I’ll think on it. If I do, I’ll call it “An evil Bastard called Al” (as in AL-zheimers), as it is an evil and vicious illness. Meantime, back to the next essay from the book.
In my younger years I used to love watching the old black and white “Hammer House of Horror” movies on TV. The classic stories were the best….the ones about the Wolf-man, or Dracula…or Frankenstein. So Solnit’s 3rd essay in the book, entitled simplyIceis my next port of call. This essay is for the most part about Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, the writing of the book, and her life and marriage to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley….Solnit also touches on the life of Mary Shelley’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to her daughter. As one would expect of Solnit’s writing, it’s a well researched and well crafted piece. Quite fascinating to read. I don’t want to say anymore…please read it yourself.
The 5th Essay titled Breath begins briefly about the Marquis de Sade, but is about life and death, degeneration and regeneration and how everything is in a constant state of change. It brings together The Marquis de Sade, Zen Buddhism, the god Apollo and even the joys of cooking. Art as life, life as art, artists and philosophers, travel and cancer detection…and of course life as a journey from birth to death and everything in between.. are all woven into an intricate, almost spellbinding essay.
I could summarise every essay, as they are all well worth reading, but we’d be here all day so I’ll slide along to the end of the book instead. The final, and 13th essay of the book is titled Apricots (as was essay number 1) and we come full circle as Solnit compares the apricots and the things she made from them, thus preserving them, to life and a number of incidents either in her life or the lives of others. She includes many stories – one particular story about a young girl who fell into and became trapped down a well, deep underground, and had to be rescued by drilling a parallel tunnel and lowering a man, face down, down the tunnel to free the girl. It was a long and dangerous mission. Happily she lived and the publicity her rescue generated brought in donations of over a million dollars to give her and her parents an easier life than they would have otherwise had. Her rescuer became famous. BUT there are two sides to every coin and where a story brings good news, it can also bring bad. The man who rescued her, was so traumatised by the experience that he later took his own life. In effect trading his life for hers. The Grim Reaper’s way of balancing the books perhaps? Thus emphasizing how both fame and life are transitory. Life is an adventure and an unpredictable adventure at that. It tosses you a ball to hit out of the park one day and throws you a curve ball, that hit’s you right on the bridge of the nose, the next. One of Solnit’s mantras is “Never turn down an adventure without a really good reason”. If you have to have a mantra I reckon that’s a pretty good one to have.
I have said in an earlier post that I am an admirer of Solnit’s work, having bought one of her books on a visit to San Francisco earlier this year. This book of essays goes a long way in confirming my earlier opinion.
And that brings to an end my round up of books by three living essayists to counter balance my earlier post about the three dead ones. Again, thank you for reading and I am always grateful for any likes, shares, comments, or recommendations of other essayists worth reading.