autobiography

Six Books for a Desert Island #2

I don’t know if I’m going to make a series of these but a second book was already in my mind.

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner (Daniel Defoe)

It may seem odd to chose this title for a desert island, or it might be seen as practical. Having read it a few times, I don’t think it would be of much practical resource other than to kindle a distress-call bonfire in the event of a passing ship. This is not to say it isn’t a great read; I find it very entertaining in a “ripping yarn” sort of way.

Some have it as the original novel, where novels all began; I can’t quite see that but it might explain the enormous title. Of course, being fiction, though possibly based on the real life castaway, Alexander Selkirk, it’s all made up but two things about the account are more implausible then the rest; after 28 years, mostly alone – the native he names “Friday” only turns up towards the end – he doesn’t go completely insane, and some time after his eventual rescue, the fool decides to go back!

I picked my old copy up many moons ago, together with Gulliver’s Travels – which also has a ridiculously long title (see below) – in nice, mock antique cover, pocket-sized editions, though the font size is so small it would probably give me a headache now. But you can pick it up on ebook for nothing as it’s so old there’s no copyright. Not much good for a desert island, perhaps.

excellent related reads;

Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, In Four Parts, By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, by Jonathan Swift

This quite timeless satirical look at mankind and its peculiarities needs no more elaboration from me. I haven’t read it for a while but I expect there’s a relevant piece comparable to our dear “Brexit” and “Will-of-the-people” referendums in there somewhere. If not, we can revisit the controversy surrounding the little-endians and the big-endians instead.

An Island To Oneself by Tom Neale

Growing up in our house, we weren’t a bookish family. There was a shelf of books which mainly held a Pears Encyclopaedia, The Guinness Book of Records, The AA Book of the Road, a few recipe books, and several of my Beano and Dandy annuals. I did have regular subscriptions to several children’s encyclopaedic magazines, paid for by my grandfather, and very occasionally “found” books made their way into our home.

My mum was given this one at work and passed it straight on to me. It is a fascinating account of a man volunteering to spend six years on a desert island, living by his wits. Now, this would be of immense practical use if this exercise wasn’t actually hypothetical. Having said that, I remember he once repaired a leaky boat by pouring paint into the cracks. Hmm, it sounded convincing at the time…

I don’t know what happened to my copy but I don’t have it, and as if to rub salt in the wound, it is out-of-print and I’ve seen copies on sale at prices as high as £160. This kind of thing just makes me want to read it more.

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

How I forgot this one, I don’t know but it came to me several weeks after I published this post. It doesn’t matter but I have decided to include it in an edit as Golding is one of my favourite authors.

I was introduced to this, his debut novel, as part of our Eng. Lit. syllabus at school. Of course, you’re never required to read any Eng. Lit. book as it was created to be read, rather we’d pick over passages like roadside crows at carrion. I chose to read it properly after I’d finished with school; it’s much better that way.

A group of schoolboys become stranded on an island and go tribal under the leadership of the dominant and ruthless Jack, despite the reasonable challenges from rival, Ralph, supported only by his friend, Piggy. We mustn’t forget Simon, solo and on the fringes. I think I always related to Simon.

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Capsulized Wardrobe, Sir?

As a fish of the species Carpio Minimalis, I’m a sure sucker for articles on streamlining life. This one on “capsule wardrobes” drew my attention. (I didn’t read it thoroughly, the site is one of those interrupted with irritating pop-pops which cut across my grain; I just read enough to grab the idea and run.)

I think it’s a great idea though not a novel one. Many of the good and great, and I dare say a few bad ones, have adopted an efficient wardrobe method, reducing the time wasted in choosing what to wear on any ordinary day and avoiding the meltdown when it comes to the special occasion.

In a nutshell, the concept with the capsule wardrobe is to throw out the crap and leave only that which is deemed beforehand to be desirable and wearable. In other words, a reasonable system of dressing.

I have made inroads to this core for several years now and for me it works. Let us have a peek into my wardrobe. Note, it is a man’s perspective only…

Socks. Some people, I know, don’t wear them and I’m a little envious, however, in England, I feel these are essential items, for general comfort and against the cold. Can I, though, be forgiven for regarding those who wear colourful and comical socks with a bit of derision? What are they trying to do?

My choice is to settle on a plain sock of a particular colour and wear only those. Honestly, nobody is watching your socks and nobody cares. Though black isn’t the perfect colour, I have chosen it because it is pretty ubiquitous in the socks department. Grey may be better but black is absolute and more available. The extra advantage is you’ll never have more than one odd sock.

Shoes. Honestly, if shoes were indestructible, I’d probably be happy with one pair. As they’re patently not, it’s prudent to have a reserve pair for when things go wrong. Three pairs is an extravagance but acceptable. Four or more is utterly insane. Normally, I reach for my favourite pair, always.

I am just talking about everyday shoes. Obviously, other footwear is necessary for different purposes like hiking, exercising, rough work and indoor wear.

Shirts. There is something simple which sets the polo shirt high above its poor relation, the common t-shirt: its collar. Yet it is equally as comfortable. I think the collar gives it more versatility. Subtle patterns or weaves are okay but I tend to avoid stripes. Stripes tend to suggest something which may be unintended; they can also play havoc with body shape. Again, when opting for plain shirts, nobody’s watching, nobody cares.

Polo shirts are so plentiful, you can pick them up in the sales. I tend to buy several colours at a time, which does cause a modicum of angst when choosing which to put on in the morning, but I usually go with the mood of the day or what I intend to get up to. Like, if I’m thinking of cooking a tomato ragu or a curry sauce, I’m not going to pick out the white shirt.

Navy and black are good colours for sombre and sober events, like funerals or interviews, worn under a suitable jacket or sweater. White carries off pretty well too, under the same outer clothes, for slightly less serious occasions, or on its own in hotter weather. I steer clear of colours under the jacket to avoid the holiday camp entertainments representative, or the slightly dodgy secondhand car salesman look. Consideration applies to suitability of colours to the complexion: I couldn’t pull off wearing yellow, for instance. Reds just about work but any shades of grey, brown, blue or green suit me like leaves on a tree, so I tend to go for those.

Trousers. Everyone lives in jeans, why fight it? A pair of smart trousers in reserve is all I need.

Underpants. Ha ha. Who cares? Who sees? Why should you care who sees? Pick a comfortable brand, pick a readily available colour, buy in bulk. Nobody cares!

Now the things I’ve decided I don’t want are suits and ties. Ties are utterly too useless and if I ever find I need a suit – probably by an invitation I can’t refuse – I will cross that bridge when I come to it, possibly by hiring an extremely decent suit rather than keeping a cheap chain store one in the cupboard. I don’t see it happening to be honest.

I hope that was a fun peek. Here’s that article I mentioned above, if you can stand the pop-ups,


How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe

image by Andrej Lišakov via Unsplash.com

Smorgasbord Me

Blogger BeetleyPete is currently showcasing some of his favourite followed blogs. It’s interesting to see what ideas bloggers have and I am inspired to give this one a go as it could be fun. (As I think it may be to promote authors, and as I am not one, I will just keep it to this place.)

The request is to write 100+ word responses to five of the 52 prompts listed. For an extra challenge, I dialled the Random Number Generator 1-52 to select the five questions from the list.

12. What is the one ambition that you still have not achieved?

I know the permanent answer to this is a peaceful departure. The old joke which tickled me on hearing went,

“When I die, I want to go like Grandfather, dying quietly in his sleep – and not like his passengers, terrified and screaming behind him on the bus.”

I wonder how we would be if we all knew precisely how and when we would die, whether it would be worse or better, psychologically. Of course, we don’t until near the very end and so we convince ourselves it’s best not to know, and so there’s hope. It’s difficult to view it any other way.

45. What is your favourite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?

I love veggies, and don’t really go in for favourites, but I will say Asparagus. They have to be fresh, and they cannot possibly be too fresh, which means growing your own. Once they’re cut, the sugars begin to starch up and they lose that desired sweetness. The season is quite short in England though, about six weeks, and then the plants need to revive and replenish. Fortunately, we used to grow them and will try to do so again soon.

We’ve tried all kinds of ways to prepare asparagus, and all sorts of dressings, but we always liked simple steaming, and a dollop of yellow butter and freshly ground black pepper over to serve.

They make your pee smell funny, that’s about the only downside.

3. Tell us about your craziest experience.

Looking down the list of prompts, I see this could also be the answer to question 14 because my craziest experience has to be a recurring dream. We all dream but the idea is that we shouldn’t remember them upon waking; this, I’m told, is the healthy option. As a rule, I can’t recall my dreams but during two, separate periods of my life, I have experienced troubling recurring dreams. The latter one in adult life, I can probably explain was triggered by stress. It’s the earlier one that’s a puzzle.

I had it from before I can properly remember much else of my life and came often up until the age of about seven when it completely disappeared. It was a very intense and abstract dream, beginning with just a long sensation of passing blindly along a passage or tunnel. Then suddenly, I’m aware of being in a room full of regular geometric shapes: pyramids, cuboids, cones and cylinders. I am perfectly still in this space though not calm. Then the dream ends. That I can remember this vividly after so many years adds to the mystery. I wonder if it has anything to do with the naturally forgotten experience of being born.

42. What is your favourite music genre and why?

I’ve had so many, I might have had them all. My most recent habit is Jazz though it’s a big field and I can’t say I love all Jazz. The thing I like most about it isn’t so much the composition as the instrumentation. I got into Jazz as an antidote to electric guitar bands, in particular Indie rock/pop which was indistinguishable from any other rock/pop to me. The sound of Miles Davis exquisitely soloing a muted horn was instantly attractive, as was a Joe Morello drum solo, an Oscar Peterson-Count Basie piano duet, and a Dan Berglund augmented double bass intro.

I’ve always loved Jazz, to be fair. I was brought up in the period when Jazz was the go to sound for incidental music on movies and dramas. It was in the air, as much as pop music is now – but it had no longer been youth music and so I had to get youth out of the way first and become educated. Now I like to hear lots of different music but I’d probably put Jazz top of the list.

5. If you were to become invisible for a day what is the one thing you would do?

I have a mischievous character and a healthy amount of curiosity – and I also live in a town which boasts about the excellence of its cctv security below its welcome signs – so such a thing could be like all the Christmases and birthdays happening at once. My immediate thoughts, however, are overwhelmed as to what I could do.

As a foodie, I may find myself in some unaffordable restaurant – unaffordable to me but not them – sampling my way through the menu. Maybe get into a West End show gratis.

I feel a lot of obvious things might actually be disappointing. Peeping into any person’s private life, for instance. I’ll probably stick with a bit of free grub.


inspired by and borrowed from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Islands & Larks

Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4) is a nice concept but I don’t listen. The concept is this: a celebrity is invited to choose eight significant pieces of music, a favourite book and a luxury item. All these would be the only cultural things allowed them on a desert island. (I think there was also The Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare at one time, just to eliminate those from the lists of less imaginative guests, but I’m not sure if either is still included. Never mind.)

The reason I don’t listen is simply because I don’t like celebrity interviews; I prefer musicians to play, actors to perform and politicians to talk politics. But I do have a curiosity about what these people listen to and what it says about their knowledge and tastes in music. So the good thing about the Beeb and this show is they bung up their guests’ music choices on the website so you can find out their musical tastes without having to endure twenty minutes or more of them babbling about themselves.

I’m telling you this because the Beeb has sent me an email notification about their current programming and it included a link for Desert Island Discs – and I had almost forgotten about it.

Anyway, I clicked on the emailed link out of curiosity and soon found out that the listeners’ most popular piece of music is Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Brilliant!

I think in the unlikely event of being invited on DID myself, one of my choices would be The Lark Ascending. (I haven’t a Scooby what my other seven choices would be – far too difficult, far too many contenders.)

I read a biography on the late BBC disc jockey, John Peel, and he claims to have first heard Teenage Kicks, by The Undertones, whilst driving. So overcome with emotion was he that he stopped the car and wept. Well, I didn’t weep when I heard The Lark Ascending in my car one time, but I did have an urge to pull over.

Hmm, now what about those other seven pieces? It’s bad enough shortlisting seven artists’ or composers’ names without going further and selecting individual songs!


Thinking about island castaways reminded me of a book I read years ago – An Island To Oneself, by Tom Neale, a survivalist. I must have been still in school and the book came into my possession through my mum who found it at work. It was a real, life Robinson Crusoe tale although Neale chose to live alone on his island. It fascinated me at the time and now I feel like reading it again.

But it’s a book which is out of print and Amazon marketplace are offering copies for over thirty quid! I think I must have given mine to a charity shop. There isn’t even an ebook option. Hopefully, in time, in this century, all books, whether in or out of print, will have an ebook option, inexpensive and accessible.

In the meantime, I’ll have to keep my peepers open around the charity shops.


The People’s DID – The Lark Ascending (BBC)

Wheat Field With A Lark by Vincent van Gogh, 1887

A Headclearing Stroll

Grange Farm, Stratton, The Polo Fields and Cirencester Park; Circular walk 5.5miles

I woke today with a thick head. Not a hangover, mind you. I can’t say what the cause was.

Throughout my 20s and 30s, I suffered frequently with sinusitis. During such an infliction there was nothing for it but tough drugs and a prolonged supine posture. I reached a point when I sought the advice of a physician. I wasn’t much in the habit of bothering the quacks and this was the first time I’d set eyes on the one I was “under”. It was very disappointing: she asked me to keep a diary, and sent me away. A diary? I was complaining about chronic sinusitis, not memory loss. It was back to self prescribing medication, the strongest money could buy – legally, of course.

The pill of choice was called Sine Off (geddit? – it’s a fact). It was dayglo yellow, about the size of a petit-pois. The advice contained in the packet was not to exceed the stated dose, one, and not to drive, or operate machinery. There was no mention of keeping a diary, which is my kind of over the counter medicine. It worked when nothing else came close.

The miracle cure which eventually stopped the condition dead in its tracks was exercise. Good old sweat and heavy breathing regular exercise. I joined a gym, not because of that but to get fitter generally. Three sessions a week, religiously, I became a demon on the Concept II rower. I also took up running every Sunday morning, and got myself a mountain bike.

The sinusitis just slipped out of my life quietly. From banking on it at least once a month in the past, it occurred to me one day that I hadn’t had an episode for over three years and I had a medicine cupboard of remedies well past their sell by dates. 

Of course, we all get a thick head once in a while and sometimes all that’s needed is a gentle stroll in the fresh air. I thought I’d walk up to the Polo Fields via the fields at the back of Grange Farm, past Stratton Church (St. Peter’s), the church with two bells – clang and clunk. It’s a regular dog walk and there’s a fair chance of seeing roe deer, a fox, even a sprinting hare. In the warmer months, you can hear skylarks ascending aplenty but it’s November and all I saw were two circling buzzards calling to each other over and over. 

Pope’s Seat

Half way up the track I thought I’d make a proper walk of it and head down into Cirencester Park by way of the beech wooded Shepherd’s Ride. Shepherds rode, who knew? This path passes by Pope’s Seat, after Alexander Pope, the poet and park design consultant. It’s just an arch which contains two wooden park benches set in opposing alcoves, one facing the another about a leg’s stretch apart. This can’t have been the original concept as the arch itself faces a long drive, or ride, towards Kemble, a view which must surely have been its focus and subject of contemplation. It’s not a grand structure, or particularly pretty. I think he was better known for his poetry.

Broad Ride

It’s not long before the path comes out of the trees and faces down Broad Ride where the parish church of Cirencester, St. John the Baptist, is the definite focus, with its stocky buttressed tower slap bang in the centre of the drive. It’s down almost all the way to the main gate but a little before it I turn off and leave the park by a side lane past the old orchard and apple store. 

Then it’s along Barton Lane, around the Nelson Inn, crossing the old Gloucester Road, carrying on over the little bollarded road bridge across the Churn, crossing over the A435 and up Bowling Green Lane. At the end of the vehicle accessible part of the road, I cut through a hedge and head across the meadow, cross the Churn again, and the A435, and I’m more or less home. My head is clear.

Thinking about…

Autobiography

A great part of the purpose of my blogging is to tell myself the story of my life. Who am I?, kind of thing, and to “know thyself”, as Socrates, through Plato, would have it.

The Brain Pickings‘ mailshot this week offers some thoughts on personal storytelling beginning with “famous” quotes,

“Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” 

This according to writer, Gabriel García Márquez. I think the second half of the sentence is an addition too much, it kinds of weighs the sentiment down. This one, amongst advice to writers, from Susan Sontag,

“To tell a story is to reduce the spread and simultaneity of everything to something linear, a path.”

It’s funny this life recalled as a linear path business. I suppose in a book, or a film, of a life it can’t be helped. The medium of the storytelling is offered as linear else it be too confusing. Real life is not like that. It is a confusion of events. In imposing a linearity on memory makes it a lie; autobiographies are works of fiction based on true events. Whatever those were.

Know Thyself