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Recommended Reading

Posted on: Monday, 26 March 2012

Ok. So I have a mountain o'things to tell y'all about. Like getting a job in Brussels (oh my life) and spending the weekend there and how the beer is ALL over 5% and inordinately cheap. And watching that documentary about Death Row and feeling a little depressed. And my sister being Quite A Bit Pregnant. And my ACTUALLY awesome interview outfit (awesome in the original, uber-religious sense of the word. Not an empty adjective. No siree.)

Did I mention I got a job in Brussels? Did I? Ah, but did I?

But shush. All this will come in good time.

Meanwhile, I've been planning on writing a more regular thang (I actively resisted the word 'feature' there on account of being far too wanky). A book review of sorts. Books you should read - at least in my humble opinion. Recommended reading.

So here goes number one. Regeneration, by Pat Barker.

Now, it was a total coincidence that I happened to be reading this in an airport on the way to Brussels. And I should probably admit at this point that WW1 literature isn't really my thing. I haven't read Birdsong; I know some people will feel I need to be crucified for that admission. I have a sketchy knowledge of the big names in war poetry from teaching it, usually to disinterested Year 9s.

The story is set largely in Craiglockart War Hospital - the actual war hospital where Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen were treated. Owen was referred for trauma and Sassoon after writing his famous letter 'Finished With the War: a Soldier's Declaration' and it was considered to be less of a threat to morale to lock him up and declare him mad than deal with his statement in any way that appeared to take him seriously.

While there, they were treated by Rivers - the enigmatic neurologist at the centre of the novel. Rivers has his own demons, though, and is constantly fighting between his sense of patriotic duty and his buried conviction that the war is responsible for untold, unjustifiable horrors. His patients arrive at Craiglockhart in many forms - paralysed, mute, plagued by insomnia - and he attempts to fix them. With some he succeeds; with others, he doesn't. Some have gone too far. And probably my favourite passages comes from Rivers' contemplation of this very fact:

...Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half-caterpillar, half-butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay. Burns was young, after all. If today really marked a change, a willingness to face his experiences in France,then his condition might improve. In a few years' time it might even be possible to think of him resuming his education, perhaps persuing that unexpected interest in theology. Though it was difficult to see him as an undergraduate. He had missed his chance of being ordinary.

And that final line - he had missed his chance of being ordinary - there it is. Hit-the-nail-on-the-head writing. For what other way is there of saying it? They missed their chance of being ordinary.

Some of it is clunky. I think the part where Sassoon casts a critical eye over Owen's early verse and comes up with the 'like cattle' simile for Anthem for Doomed Youth is a little heavy-handed - although perhaps I'm being unfair and only screaming 'This is, like, WELL obvious!' in my head because I already know the story.

And Pat Barker isn't a writer I'm much fond of. I read Blow Your House Down over the Christmas holidays and left it on the plane. It was just too hideously depressing and graphic. If you think I'm being a prude, well, go and try your luck. Reading about a war in which millions died a futile death? Sobering. Thought-provoking. Reading about a sicko killing prostitutes and then doing unmentionable things to their corpses? Gah. No ta.
But in Regeneration I discovered a different side to Barker away from all of that salty Virago 'what women read' stuff. Have a read. Recommended.

Me too.

Posted on: Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Girl With The Boring Hair

I know a girl - a friend of a friend, if you like - who has a phobia of being referred to by other people as The Girl With The Boring Hair.

Not Girl-Who-Bores-The-Arse-Off-You. Not Girl-With-A-Ferocious-Monobrow. That-Girl-With-The-Deeply-Irritating-Laugh. The tag she fears most is to be deemed to have have boring hair.

I nodded sagely when I heard that. Because, guess what? I have my own cross to bear. I, too, have always felt my barnet to be sadly lacking in the Interesting? Dept.

At school I had fair hair. It was all one length. My mother put me off having layers cut in a'la Rachel offov Friends (it was the 90s) because she said it'd look like I had "a head full of split ends'. And so it remained shoulder-length, mousey-brown with a persistent cow's lick at the front (this may have been the days of Rachel offov Friends, but it was also pre-GHDs).

At University, I got a side fringe cut in. You'd have thought I was having a lobotomy from the excruciating self-examination that went on prior to the big event. Then I went for a slightly chestnutty shade. Oh my. Teetering on the edge of anarchy. Vivienne Westwood ain't got nothing on me.

So what have I been up to recently? Well, amongst other things which I shall go into in due course, I have been HAVING MY HAIR DIP-DYED. I believe 'ombred' is the correct term. Fair play to the hairdresser who squinted at the pixelated picture of Alexa Chung on my crackberry screen and refrained from rolling her eyes when I said, "Errr, sort of like that?"

And I do rather like swishing it about.


Posted on: Monday, 5 March 2012


Posted on: Saturday, 3 March 2012

Ages ago, I wrote about having a complete existential crisis being a bit stressed out. After the wedding. Suddenly, you see, there was no longer ‘the wedding’ to consume maybe not every, but certainly lots of, my waking thoughts. 

Honeymoon in Northumberland? Bye bye. You were fun while you lasted. I've never eaten so much M&S party food in my life.

Sister Clare’s wedding? (basically, for us, an extension of our own nuptial celebrations which gave us the opportunity to bask in the glory of love and say a proper ‘how are ye?’ to everyone we managed a brief nod to on our own wedding day) Over and done with.

The Bedders descend on India for Narahari Wedding Number 2 and some Extended Honeymoon Fun? Been there, done that, didn’t buy any T-shirts (but DID purchase a range of rather nice souvenirs including a weird door handle in the shape of a hand offov a random Free Tibet market stall. Seriously, we did.)

 And then it was January. And it was terribly bleak and depressing. Everyone said that life ‘post-wedding’ would be a bit of a crash landing after riding on a morphine-like high for so long. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t ready to fling ourselves off the Tyne Bridge or anything – but we were certainly left a little bit grey after 2011: The Year of Joyousness and Fuzzy Moments.
Ah, but we know ourselves well, Bedders and I. We’d sort of anticipated our massive freak out. A storm had been a-brewing in the run-up to our wedding. We’d probably been having conversations along the following lines since this time last year.
Laura: When we’re married, what’ll we do?
Adam: Hmm?
Laura: Well, you know, like what’s our plan? Di at work has a five-year plan. I think we need a five-year plan.
Adam: Well-
Laura: But then a thought of a five-year plan totally FREAKS ME OUT because, like, what are the options? Keep going at work, maybe go for a promotion, pop out a couple of babies, job’s a good ‘un? That makes my hands go clammy. Years and years and years and years of doing the same job and...
Adam: I see-

Laura: I feel like Renton in Trainspotting. "Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a starter home and dental insurance, leisure wear and matching luggage. BUT I CHOSE NOT TO CHOOSE LIFE!"

Adam: Right.
Laura: My hands are clammy.
Adam: My hands are clammy, too.

And so we considered our options. We needed to do something different. We referred back to our list of likes and dislikes. We recalled our aversions to driving long distances (Adam's) and periodic feelings of rising panic (mine).

We bought a book called Living and Working in New Zealand. We did our 'points'. We seriously, seriously considered it. We decided it wouldn't be right for us for all sorts of reasons pertaining to distance and family and the big fat danger that we'd never come back.

So then we struck on the idea of VSO. It ticked loads of our boxes, namely:

EXPOSURE TO OTHER LANGUAGES (not going to write 'we'll become totally and utterly fluent in other languages' - maybe a bit ambitious)

And we persued it. We had an interview in London. We met Alice the 'women's campaigner', who was nice if a bit scarily earnest and Debbie, a primary school teacher with grown-up sons who wanted to 'do something different'. We did some excruciating icebreakers and teamwork activities. We had gruelling (separate) interviews where they asked us about how often we argued (NEVER!), our attitudes to and history with drugs and how we'd cope with being outsiders. Yikes.

We were accepted. We nearly asphyxiated.

We started planning where we'd like to go and when.

We started planning a 'final hurrah' of a summer, doing the Coast to Coast and having a big pub-based fundraiser.

And then, well...they got a bit rubbish.

We were a bit spooked by the fact that they couldn't guarantee Adam a placement. If I went as the 'main volunteer', we'd have had no problem. But then Adam'd be out of related employment for a year (or two years, as became more likely after the interview), and when you work in agricultural policy, that's kind of a long time.

As I said, teachers do crazy lefty things like working in the developing world for a year or two all the time and it doesn't seem to damage their employability. We didn't think it'd be the same for Adam.

After a particularly discouraging two hour conference call in which our placement advisor told us she didn't know anything about agriculture or agricultural placements, that someone else would have to ring us with information (they didn't), that a three month notice period isn't workable, that they can offer no guarantees about placements until the 11th hour and that secondary school English teachers can work in either Ethiopia or Papau New Guinea (deep breath), we decided reluctantly that we couldn't do it. We have a mortgage, man. We couldn't give up our jobs with a view to leaving in September and then have no placement and a house full of tenants. Uh uh. 

And then a job came up at Adam's work. 

A job that he'd really, really fancy.

In, err, Brussels. 

And he might just have got it. Yesterday. 

Let's just re-check the list, shall we?

TRAVEL - yup.
EXPOSURE TO OTHER LANGUAGES - time to brush up on that GCSE! In French, not Flemish. Or Dutch. Obv.
WORTHY - not so much. But there's a possibility we could ask for a sabbatical/some unpaid leave and do a short-term project somewhere. My feelers are out...

Oh God. My head is in a mess. But a good mess.


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