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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Re-reading is a way of life!


In his latest missive from the Imperial Capital of Beijing Robert wrote that he was “re-reading Arthur Ransome. Listening to Just William on the radio. Returning to a blissful childhood? If only . . .”

There is something very comforting and at the same time disturbing when you re-read your childhood favourites through the eyes of an adult. I remember going to see Disney’s Pinocchio in University and was deeply disturbed that a film which such violent and vicious sections could be shown to children – though I fail to remember my trauma when I saw it as a child.

Robert may have been a fan of Swallows and Amazons but these books never appealed to me: I was never a bucolic child; I much preferred my action in towns and cities. I did however like ‘Just William’ and saw no real dislocation between his world and my own. I was growing up in a terraced house in a suburb of Cardiff in the 1950s while William was growing up in a detached house in leafy suburbia in a household with servants in pre-war England. Just the same then!

I also liked Finn Family Moomintrol – I think the gentle irony and the comforting morality combined with the engaging drawings created a world which is very attractive to children. Re-reading them as an adult shows that there is a strength in them which is reflected in story lines which do not duck some of the pressing social and moral problems with which children (and adults) are faced.

The book which I re-read most often from my childhood is ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’. I know that some people (including myself) have seen the characters to be representative of various philosophical stances. Eyore is of course one of the great Existential characters in Literature and the rest of the books allows almost whatever philosophical reading you want to make. A wonderful book – and funny too.

As I got a little older I began to read quality books of modern literature published in the very wonderful Penguin Modern Classics Series. These books were distinguished by having fantastic modern paintings on the covers and many of them were very thin volumes. Which was just as well with some of them because I often had no idea what was going on!

To leaven the intellectual fare I was worrying my way through I used to include in my normal weekly reading a novel by PG Wodehouse and an Agatha Christie. I always made sure that the intellectual Penguin was always hiding the other two ‘easier’ books.

I realise now that the idea that a child would be reading at least three books a week and feeling ashamed of the ‘easy’ reads of Wodehouse and Christie is something which most parents these days would give their eye teeth to see their own kids achieving.

As classes were combined on Friday afternoon because one of the teachers had to go home and look after her sick child we distributed reading books for the kids to read. This was last period on a long day at the end of a long week. I had the equivalent of Year 8 and they didn’t really want to read; but generally speaking they did. I had bagged my own book, “The Hollow” by Agatha Christie. My own reversion to childhood!

What an extraordinary novel it was. Published in 1947 it shows its age. This is a ‘Country House Murder’ where the death of a doctor (Harley Street, of course and trying to find a cure for an incurable disease) in the home of Lady Angkatell. The eponymous Hollow of the title is the name of the country house and is accompanied by all the usual paraphernalia of scene setting to accommodate all the usual paper thin characters that Christie is so adept at creating. Not one of the characters was ordinary: even the solitary ‘worker’ was a member of a couturier house who could (and indeed eventually does) succumb to the lure of the easy landed life by marrying one of the other characters.

The inclusion of a dedicated sculptor allows some philosophical discussion and acts as an interesting foil to the seemingly empty lives of the vitiated members of the landed gentry who people this novel.

The story line is interesting and the puzzle enough to sustain your reading though I did weaken at one point and almost went to bed rather than finish the novel and find out who-dun-it. Needless to say that weakness was only momentary and I did not retire to my rest until the book was complete.

The whole novel is suffused with the atmosphere of a lost world and even M. Poirot seems a little influenced by the nature of the people with whom he is dealing.

Although the ending was not a surprise the detail (as always) kept me in my place. Some clues were obvious but the whole picture had to be left for the revelations at the end.

The discussion in the novel was by no means insubstantial. I am not trying to pretend that it was philosophically profound, but issues such as loyalty, artistic integrity, truth and fulfilment were an integral part of the structure of the narrative. I found the ‘padding’ much more satisfying this time round (if indeed I had read it before; I certainly had no recollection of the story line, but, alas, that means nothing!) and enjoyed the discussions that took place rather than finding them irritating and getting in the way of the narrative.

I enjoyed this book, but I will not be searching for other Christie novels in the near future. One is enough to last for some time!

The third floor of the house has come into its own today as I have managed to sunbathe. This sunbathing is not merely an indulgence but is essential in order that the new skin on my knee matches the rest of my leg. After casing me to fall in the Ebro Delta the least the powers that be can do is ensure that there is sufficient sunshine in the next couple of months to ensure colour consistency!

Next week is a three day week and list of things to do is the two non-weekend days is growing by the hour and is rapidly approaching the level of impossibility. Something will have to be ditched.

Like the visit to the dentist perhaps?

In our efforts to make our lives just that little bit more opulent we have invested in one of Lidl’s finest and bought a machine for creating bubbles in the bath. The loss of the Jacuzzi bath in Cardiff is keenly felt and while it is absurd to replace a bath in a rented house Lidl produce a more reasonably priced alternative. Although fussy to install at first, it is a simple system and produces a satisfyingly robust stream of bubbles, so another little touch of luxury can be added to our opulent pile!

I must now go and choose my ties for next week. These have now become a school institution so I cannot let my appreciative pupils down!
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