What I’m Reading This Week (5/11/16)

Another week of flitting between books trying to find something to hold me.

coverI finished reading The Ginger Man and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Oh it’s very well written and gives an evocative sense of Dublin at the time (the late 1940s), but I had a real problem with the hero, Sebastian Dangerfield. Although he is an American he comes across as very Irish. I had to keep reminding myself of his nationality. Then there is his behaviour and attitudes. I know he’s a fictional character and that even unpleasant characters can be likeable. But, in the end, I just found him to be someone I didn’t want to spend any more time with. I finished the book, but I had to push myself to do so.

So then I was looking for something else to read. I was browsing one or two blogs when I came across a review of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, which you can read here. coverThis was another book I had read many years before and had thought about starting again. So after reading the review I started reading it. I had forgotten what a great stylist Bradbury was. Like The Ginger Man it’s very evocative of time and place, this time (I think) 1950s small town America. Anyway, I’ve read about a quarter of the book, am enjoying it and will be reading the rest over the next few days.

I started several other books this week (as usual) but haven’t stuck with any of them except the one I’ve just almost finished, Late Call by Angus Wilson. coverThis is set in an English new town in the early 1960s and is the story of a retired hotel manager, Sylvia Calvert who, with her husband, goes to live with their son, a headmaster, in Carshall New Town. What’s interesting, apart from Sylvia’s internal life, are the undercurrents and tensions running between all the main characters – Sylvia and her husband and son, her husband and various people, her son and his children – and the various problems and challenges of living in a new town. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be reading more of Wilson’s books.

 

 

After I’ve finished Late Call, and have read the rest of the Bradbury, I’m tempted to reread another book I haven’t read for many years, Dune by Frank Herbert. I’ll let you know how that goes next week, same time, same station.cover

Harm Reduction – A Seatbelt for a Reckless Soul?

Okay, the heading doesn’t make much sense. I was looking for something catchy and this was the best I could come up with. Don’t be too hard on me, I’m an old man.

What is Harm Reduction?

When I was sixteen I had a moped, which was a bit like a motorised bicycle with a top speed of about 30 miles an hour (with the wind behind you). Anyway, I was working at a local co-op, either Strawberry Gardens or Fairfield Road, and I was using the moped to go backwards and forwards to work. One day when I was riding home a dog ran out in front of me near the bottom of Smithy Lane in Heysham (I was told this afterwards as the incident is a total blank). I came to in the Queen Victoria Hospital in Morecambe and was allowed back home after, I think, a couple of days, with no after effects as far as I can tell. Had I been wearing a crash helmet, which was voluntary in those days, perhaps I would have escaped without injury. I’ve mentioned this incident because it seems to me to be a good example of where harm reduction (the wearing of a crash helmet), would have made a difference.

If people are going to use drugs (and it seems that, whatever laws we have in place and whatever drugs education we provide), they are, then making that drug use as safe for them and for the wider society seems to me to be eminently sensible.

I know the arguments against harm reduction – “It just encourages them to take drugs”, “drugs are dangerous, why are we helping them to take them?” etc. Well, riding a moped is dangerous so should we just ban the riding of them? Or provide harm reduction in the form of crash helmets, road signs etc.? As far as drugs are concerned it seems that people are going to use them whatever we do. Our laws on drug use are pretty tough but more people are using more drugs and the legality or otherwise of those drugs doesn’t, for most drug users, seem to make much difference. And if we’re going to ban drugs because they’re harmful then alcohol and tobacco are long overdue for being made illegal. On nearly any measure you choose to look at alcohol is the most harmful drug in our society.

I got sober in AA, which is very much focused on abstinence, and I have to say that, for me, abstinence is the only way. For a number of years I thought that abstinence was the only way for anybody who has a problem with alcohol or other drugs. But over time, and especially when I started working as a trainer/educator around drugs and alcohol for the NHS, I started to see that there were other ways of dealing with drug problems. Firstly, not everyone who has a problem with drugs is an addict. Some people seem to just use too much too often and it ends up causing difficulties – for them (health, money, crime) and for the people around them. Or they turn to drugs as a way of dealing with some particular difficulty and, when the difficulty is dealt with, the drug problem goes away. Secondly, addiction isn’t just one thing, it’s a continuum and individuals need different things in order to recover (whatever we mean by ‘recover’; I’ve already written about this here).

This became clearest to me in the last few years of my working life, up until I retired two-and-a-half years ago. In that period I worked as part of a drug training team at a place called The Jarman Centre in Blackburn

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The Jarman Centre. That’s the door I used to walk through each day

Our team – John, Hasan, Claire and me – were in the room above the window on the right. Downstairs to the left of the door was the needle exchange with the training room on the right. Behind our room was the sexual health team and, on the second floor was the sex education team, our manager Angela, Tony, the manager of the harm reduction service and, at the back, our library.

This was, without doubt, the happiest place I have worked. We all worked as a team, supporting each other and sharing knowledge, skills and experience, and there was a wealth of all those things to share. The Needle Exchange was a classic example of harm reduction in action. It was anonymous, friendly and people could come in and get what they needed without any hassle. There was also the opportunity to chat with a nurse or volunteer (these were often people who were in recovery), and get help around blood borne viruses or other health problems. As a training team we delivered training about all aspects of drug and alcohol use – the new drugs, working with drug users, recovery, alcohol use, harm reduction, young people’s drug use, blood borne viruses and so on. At the heart of all the training we did was harm reduction.

Sadly the Jarman Centre is no more, a victim of the obsession with recommissioning services every few years. This seems to be a way, not to get better services, but to save money while at the same time keeping staff and the people who use the services in a constant state of uncertainty.

I think I retired at the right time. There was already a move towards what is called ‘The Recovery Agenda’ while I was still working and, as far as I can see, it goes on. This seems to be a move away from harm reduction and towards abstinence as the only goal of drug treatment.

I’m sure I’ve more to say on this subject but I think that’s enough for now. I’m sure there will be some disagreement with what I have written but all I can say is that these views are based on my knowledge and experience.

Take care.

 

What I’m Reading This Week (29/10/16)

Another week, another batch of books (although most have only been part read).

Last week I wrote a bit about Flann O’Brien; I had started rereading The Hard Life and was reminiscing about a long-ago holiday in Ireland. Well, I finished the book, enjoyed it and, as is my wont, immediately looked for something else to read. I did what I generally tend to do when looking for something to read – scroll through the books on my Kobo to see what strikes my fancy.

I started several books but, at first, couldn’t find anything that I wanted to spend a day or two reading; My Booky Wook by  Russell Brand (might be fun but not what I was looking for), Wounds to Bind by Jerry Burgan (about the birth of folk-rock in the US, focusing on the group that Burgan was in, We Five, who I’ve never heard of. Interesting but, again, not quite what was needed), The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri (the first novel about Inspector Montalbano. My wife and I enjoyed watching these on TV and the novel seems promising but, again, not just now).

Then I came across a book that seemed as though it would satisfy my needs, Selling the Sixties: the pirates and pop music radio by Robert Chapman. 

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I remember the pirates. When I was at school, Morecambe Grammar in the early to mid-sixties, I used to listen to Radio Caroline on a transistor radio while on my way to school on the bus. There was little else to listen to, the BBC was rubbish if you wanted to hear pop music, and Radio Luxembourg was better but the reception was lousy. So Radio Caroline was the answer to a prayer. It started broadcasting from Ramsey Bay in the Isle of Man on 6th July 1964, a year before I finished school.

I can remember some of the music that was played; Tobacco Road by The Nashville Teens was definitely one, and a song I still think is fantastic, The Days of Pearly Spencer by David McWilliams, an Irish singer-songwriter who, I believe, should have been better known.

All in all an fascinating book, but probably only to those who have an interest in the pirates. Continue reading

Books! Books! So Many Books! (even more)

Continuing the list of books which have made an impression over the last ten years(ish).

Until I Find You by John Irving

coverI’m not sure if this was the first book by Irving I had read and I’m not sure if it’s my very favourite as I have read all of them over the last few years and enjoyed them all. I suppose it was a toss-up between this, The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp.

Until I Find You is a book about memory, the memories of the adult Jack of his childhood. The novel follows Jack from childhood, as the son of a tattoo-artist mother in Toronto, through to adulthood, taking in themes of abandonment by his father, abuse and the search for a family. Geographically it moves from Canada through parts of Europe to the United States. I found it rich and evocative with memorable characters and an engaging storyline.

If you like a good story well written I would recommend any of Irving’s novels.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

wehavealwayslivedinthecastleThis is the story of the Blackwood sisters, Mary Katherine (‘Merricat’) and Constance, who live with their uncle, Julian, in a rambling house with extensive grounds near a village. The rest of the family died six years earlier, poisoned at dinner and, since then, Constance has not left the house. Constance was charged with the murder as she was the only one at the meal who wasn’t poisoned (the poison was in the sugar and she didn’t have sugar on her blackberries), but was acquitted at trial. Uncle Julian was poisoned though he survived, although his wife was one of the victims. Merricat wasn’t at the dinner as she had been sent to bed as a punishment.

Bit by bit the story comes out, partly through the notes uncle Julian is constantly making for his proposed autobiography. A cousin, Charles, arrives and begins to get close to Constance, although Merricat is suspicious of him. I won’t say any more about the plot as I don’t want to spoil it. It’s a strongly atmospheric story giving a strong and sinister sense of the house, the grounds and the two sisters. Jackson is a terrific writer and deserves to be much better known. She was an influence on, among others, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.

I would also recommend her novel The Haunting of Hill House and short story The Lottery. Continue reading

Books! Books! So Many Books! (continued)

Following on from my last post (which you can read here), in which I started listing the books that had made the most impression on me over about the last 10 years, here are a few more.

The Winshaw Legacy: Or, What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe (1994)

coverThis novel is the story of the Winshaws, a nasty, disfunctional, aristocratic family, and takes place in the 1980s. It’s a book about Thatcherism and the greed that went along with it. And it’s very funny.

It’s a bit like a cross between Dickens and Wodehouse and centres on a writer, Michael Owen, who is hired to write the history of the Winshaws. In undertaking this he uncovers lots of skeletons in lots of cupboards.

Coe is a terrific writer and I’ve also read some of his other books which I can also recommend: The House of Sleep and The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim.

Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes (1959)

coverThe book is set near the end of the 1950s (as I’ve said before, a decade I love reading about), and is about the birth of teen culture as a distinct thing. It’s set in London and is about a group of teenagers as they discover sex, drugs and music. There’s a sort of innocence about it, probably caused by knowing what came after. But it’s very evocative of the time and place, a few years before youth culture really took off.

It’s the second book in The London Trilogy and follows on from City of Spades, about the emergent black culture in London. It is followed by Mr. Love and Justice, which focuses on prostitution and was published the year after Absolute Beginners.
I haven’t read either of these but intend to eventually. Continue reading

Books! Books! So Many Books!

I was trawling through my Calibre book catalogue earlier today (and if you have an ebook reader then you really should check out Calibre – it’s free, it’s fabulous and it’s fun, and that’s enough fs for now), looking through the books read column. This started me thinking about which books, out of the who-knows-how-many-thousand I’ve read, had either given me the most pleasure and/or had made the biggest impression.

That’s a difficult one; there’s something about books you read when you are young, the vividness, the intensity, that no book read today can match (at least that’s how it is for me, but perhaps that’s just because I am a stilted, diminished old man). So, to remove that problem, and to make the list more contemporary, I’ll keep it to books and authors I have encountered in, say, the last ten years. Of course, being the untogether, disorganised person I am, that ten years is a fairly flexible period. Much as I try to keep lists of books I have read, together with the dates I finished them, plus a short review, I never manage to keep it up. I did buy a reading journal a couple of years ago, wrote lots in it for a couple of weeks, and now can’t even find it. Recently I decided to have another go, so looked on Amazon and saw that they were selling an A4 Moleskine© A-Z book for £6 (reduced from £24.38, and who can resist a bargain!) The book came and it’s now sitting on top of a cupboard, unused.

Anyway, here goes. I don’t know how many there are, but if there are too many for one post I’ll do more.

Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss  (1958)

coverI think this was published in the U.S. as Starship, which is a bit of a cheat as it gives away an important element of the book.

It’s Science Fiction, which is probably the genre I’ve read most in. It’s also a book I had read before, more than once. But it’s a great story, atmospheric, claustrophobic and, ultimately, a book about the indomitable nature of the human spirit. And Aldiss is a terrific writer.

I read it again, a couple of years ago, to see if it was as good as I had thought it was in my late teens. It was; I loved it.

At some point I will reread other books by him that I really enjoyed all those years ago; Hothouse, Greybeard, The Saliva Tree. Continue reading

What I’m Reading This Week (22/10/16)

K has been given a short sabbatical to ponder the error of his ways. That gives me a chance to write about some of the things I have been reading over the past week. In fact I’ll try to make this a weekly entry.

I finished reading Harriet Says by Beryl Bainbridge a few days ago and, as is my wont, I then started scrolling through the titles on my Kobo to see what struck my fancy (a fancy which is sometimes difficult to strike). I spent a few minutes reading the first few pages of The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter Thompson but, no, it was fiction I wanted.

A bit more scrolling and I came across a book by Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. I’ve read one novel by Tartt, The Little Friend, which I loved. It’s the story of a murder, of a little boy found hanging in a tree, and of his sister’s efforts to unmask the murderer. Now it’s a few years since I read it but I remember being struck by its richness and depth and, like many of the books I love, I’ll read it again at some point. I did start one of her other books, The Secret History, but struggled to get into it. That doesn’t mean I won’t read it eventually; I remember starting Catch 22 a number of times before it clicked. So, The Goldfinch? I’ve read about 50 pages (it’s a longish book), and it’s gripping. But I realised that, after Beryl Bainbridge, I wanted something more familiar, something nearer to home.

So I’m rereading The Hard Life by Flann O’Brien. If you’ve never heard of him, he was an Irish author who wrote some of the strangest, funniest, most post-modern novels you could wish to read. The Hard Life is funny, but it’s more conventional; it’s the story of two boys growing up in Dublin at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s very Irish and very funny and pokes fun at the Irish society of the time. Influenced by James Joyce, it is semi-autobiographical, taking place in parts of Dublin which O’Brien (or to give him his real name Brian O’Nolan) , knew well, with characters in the book based on real people (Mr. Collopy, for example, is based on his former master in the civil service, Sean MacEntee). O’Brien himself believed that The Hard Life was “a very important book and very funny. Its apparently pedestrian style is delusive”. It’s many years since I last read any of his books and I think, now that I’ve started, I’ll reread the rest.

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Google Doodle for 5th October 2012 celebrating what would have been O’Brien’s 101st birthday

Thinking about O’Brien, about thirty years ago my wife and I were on a camping holiday in Ireland and, one day, we decided to drive up into the hills somewhere between Dublin and the West Coast (I can’t be any more precise because it’s a long time ago and my memory only holds shadows and glimpses before about Thursday last). We were in a borrowed minivan and broke down at the top of a hill near a café and gift shop. Stranded there, waiting for a breakdown lorry, we went to look round the gift shop. They had some books, and in amongst them I found Flann O’Brien: an illustrated biography by Peter Costello and Peter van de Kamp (I just looked on Amazon and you can get a copy for 1p).

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Its well worth getting hold of if you are interested in O’Brien, especially because of the many photos, drawings etc. (there’s even a copy of his application for a place at University College, Dublin in 1929).

James Joyce said of O’Brien, with reference to At Swim Two Birds, “That’s a real writer with a true comic spirit,” and who could argue with that?

Rules of the Blog

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His blogness (the administrator) posted (as in stuck through the letterbox) the following document earlier today. It was discovered by our hero (look, we all know that when it says ‘our hero’ or ‘the blogger’, we’re talking about the same person. So from now on he will be referred to as ‘K’ – not to be confused with Kafka’s ‘K’ – OK?) when he stumbled downstairs to make his first mug of coffee of the day, and to see if anyone had sent him anything interesting – Lakeland catalogue, party invitation, OBE. This document was not what he expected and quite put him off his morning exercise routine (bend down, pat dog, look at exercise bike, drink coffee), leaving him feeling somewhat irritable and out-of-sorts.

Here is reproduced faithfully the text of the document.

Rules and Regulations of the Blog Commonly Known As ‘Dive for your Memory’

To be read and agreed to by all those who contribute to the aforementioned blog

  1. All posts shall abide by the blog remit inasmuch as the topics discussed shall fall under one (or more) of the following headings: Books, Music, Addiction and Recovery.
  2. Any posts which do not abide by the above remit, insofar as it refers to the permitted headings, will be adjudged by the blog administrator (hereinafter referred to as the blog admin), to be outside the terms of these rules and regulations and will be dealt with appropriately.
  3. In the event of any dispute, contretemps or disagreement the blog admin’s decision will be final.
  4. There will be no exemptions for bloggers who believe they are above the law.
  5. These rules to take effect immediately.

Continue reading

A Chat With the Administrator

Our hero (We call him that not because he is particularly heroic, but rather due to him being the focus of these posts – I think there’s some vanity in there as well, after all he is the one writing this), has been called in by the Blog Administrator to deal with problems raised by his last post (which you can read here), where he went completely outside the remit of the blog. The meeting is taking place in the Blog Administrator’s office, which is not as luxurious as you might think, and does smell slightly of old blankets.

Blog Administrator: I take it you know why I’ve called you in?

Blogger: Something to do with your rules, wasn’t it?

Blog Administrator: Not my rules, the rules of the blog. If you look at the masthead it states quite clearly, ‘A lifetime of music, books, addiction and recovery’. Agreed?

Blogger: I suppose so. But I was ……

Blog Administrator: You suppose so! Does it, or does it not, state at the top of the blog what the blog is about?

Blogger: Yes. But ….

Blog Administrator: And does it say anything about cars and parking?

Blogger: No, but it was just something I ….. Continue reading

Parking on Pavement (Rant)

Blogger: My street is reasonably wide, at least wide enough for cars to park on both sides of the road leaving enough room for other vehicles to get through. So why do some of the drivers insist on parking partly on the pavement?

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Blog Moderator: Can I just stop you there. This blog is supposed to be about music, books, addiction and recovery, so why are you writing about cars?

Blogger: Because it’s important! What if I decided I wanted to put my chair in the road because I thought it was a nicer place to sit?

Blog Moderator: You’d probably get run over.

Blogger: Well, yes, I see what you mean. But it’s the principle of the thing. Don’t cars take up enough space in our world already? Aren’t pavements meant for pedestrians? Continue reading