Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Coming up for air

It’s funny how life just seems to pass you by. I hadn’t realised that it’s been quite a while since I last posted, and yet I don’t seem to have done anything ‘significant’ of late. I’m as equally unprepared for the ‘Hitchin Hard Half’ which I’m running with my mate Kev on Sunday. I’ll settle for about a 1:45 as it is going to be hot and there is one hell of a hill at about mile three which is why I suppose it’s called ‘The Hard half’

Anyway, although I love my running, I prefer writing about books which I have read, and I’m one and a half books on from DH Lawrence’s sexually supressed ‘The Trespassers’ The half is a devil of a book called ‘How Novels Work’ by John Mullan which I bought at what I consider to be the best bookshop this side of the Atlantic: If ever you are in Ely or Bath, visit Topping & Co, sip green tea or coffee, pick up a novel, listen to a bit of classical, pretend you’re well read and enjoy the ambience. It’s a booklovers bookshop. Case in point: Dickens classics, all of them by Penquin, next to all of them by Vintage, next to all of them by Oxford Press. They know how us book snobs like to collect sets all with the same coloured spines and all by the same publisher. You’ll end up buying something.

What's not to like!

Anyway, I’m well on the way to finishing ‘How Novels work’, and it’s certainly putting a dampener on my ardour to write a novel! I mean, I would never knowingly include a metanarrative, or for that matter be able to distinguish between plot, narrative and story! But there you are, I’m just a humble pleb who loves a good book!

I sometimes worry that I’m as shallow as the Nick Hornby character Will Freeman in ‘About a Boy.’ It’s like football, I hate talking football with my mates after the game and they are saying things like ‘why didn’t so & so drop into the hole’ or ‘why do we persist with a 5-4-1 and let whatshisface play a little deeper’ and I’m thinking ‘I thought the kit looked nice and shiny today’

Fond memories of this kit!

It’s the same with books. I remember my O Level English teacher Miss Fraser (a very stunning ginger haired lady who helped me get a grade A!!) telling me that during her degree she met a famous author who she was studying and asked him lots of deep questions about the interpretation of his books. Half the time the author would say ‘gosh, that’s brilliant, I never thought of that!’

Sometimes we can over analyse literature, art and football. 

When you think of George Orwell you’ll typically think of Animal Farm (four legs good, two legs bad) and, of course 1984, (no, not the Bowie song!)

But that’s only touching the surface with this author and the other book I have recently finished is a delightful read called ‘Coming up for air’ which although beginning to appear a little dated is a wistful reminder of a childhood long since forgotten and never to reoccur.

The central character, George Bowling is an insurance salesman who is putting on a bit of weight and approaching that mid-life crisis. The book is essentially split into two parts: His reminiscing of the village that he grew up in and the experience he has when he decides to return. It’s the first half that really resonates and will take you back to a childhood of innocence where it never seemed to rain and summer holidays were endless. This is perhaps a book to take to read on a British summer holiday where the fragrance of sweet peas and freshly cut grass in pungent. 

Perhaps this book will resonate most if you are a fisherman. The memory of finding a hidden lake filled with monster carp took me back to holiday I don’t know where or when, but I spent hours sitting on a high ledge overlooking a deep brook, watching inquisitive small roach and perch surface as I dropped small pieces of soil into the water. Then, out of the corner of my eye I became aware that I was being watched. In the shallows, among the reeds lay a massive predatory pike which, with malevolent stare, appeared to be stalking me! I remember the frustration at not having my fishing tackle with me, but back then, I would have only succeeded in hooking the far bank, the bush behind me or my right ear lobe. 


Perhaps after all, some things don’t change!

I don’t remember a time when sewing needles were burned over a candle & bent into a hook, and catgut sounds more like slang for a fur ball, but there certainly was something more innocent, optimistic, even obsessive about fishing as a youngster. I can hardly believe that I used to catch grayling on the river Lea at Marford farm in Wheathampstead. When I’m out running along that way, I still see anglers, but fishing for what? Considering the state of the river in Luton, in which to fall in would result in drowning as a blessing, I struggle to imagine anything living for quite a distance on from that point. Perhaps these anglers are looking to re-connect to their childhoods? Perhaps there has been a run on a certain George Orwell novel? 

But this book has certainly inspired me to get the old tackle out of the shed. Watch out fish, Mr Crabtree’s coming after you! I’ll let you know how I get on.

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