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

Scenes From a Misunderstood Life (Part 1)

Scene: A 3-storey Victorian terraced house in Lancaster, in the North West of England, looking towards Lancaster Castle and with the hills of the Lake District visible in the distance to the North.

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Lancaster Castle with the Lake District behind

Our hero (why not?), balding, slim, spectacled (Aldi £2.49) sits at a pineish dining table in the living room, fingers poised over a tiny netbook. Sitting on an old Ikea bentwood chair to the side of him is the interviewer. Taking a notebook and pen from a large and serious-looking leather bag the interviewer turns towards our hero and says:

Interviewer: So, tell me Kevin, what are you reading at the moment?

Our Hero: (turning and removing spectacles) Well, Michael, I’ve just finished reading …..

Interviewer: Let me stop you there, Kevin. You just called me Michael.

OH: That’s right, Michael.

I: But my name isn’t Michael.

OH: (Puzzled) Sorry. I thought all interviewers were called Michael.

I: Not this one.

OH: So what is your name? Continue reading

Writing Songs

I wrote my first song when I was about seventeen, fifty years ago. It was called Gardens and Steve recorded it on a borrowed Revox reel-to-reel in his mother’s wool shop in Heysham Village. We recorded another song I had written called Morning Into….. We took the tape along to a local studio in Hest Bank called, I think, De Lane Lea, and asked them to make a 7″ single from the two songs. They did, but maybe because we played it too soon, or because the quality of the materials wasn’t too good, it soon got very scratchy and almost unlistenable. Anyway, for anyone who is interested, here it is.

 

And here’s the B-side (as we used to call them, back in the day).

I didn’t write anything else for years after this, mainly because I had no confidence in either my songwriting, my singing or my guitar playing. Thinking about it now I did write a couple of things while I was drinking and living in the caravan at Meadowfield (and I must write something about Meadowfield at some point. It was a very unusual caravan site!). I remember writing a song called It’s in the Wires, a sort of paranoid view of the world, unsurprisingly considering my state at the time. I think I wrote a couple of other things but I can’t remember what they are now – with all the alcohol related brain damage it’s a wonder I can remember yesterday!

I carried on playing and trying to sing, but just at home, and eventually, for some reason, I was asked to join a local band, AKA-Bats, as rhythm guitarist. I don’t remember why they asked me, I don’t even know how they knew I could play, but anyway ask me they did. Continue reading

What Is Recovery?

‘Recovery’ is the buzz-word of the moment in drug treatment in Britain. There are ‘Recovery Champions’ and ‘Recovery Access Points’ and you need ‘Recovery Capital’ to help you make it. But what do people mean – and what does the government mean – when they talk about people being in recovery?

As I mentioned in a previous post, which you can read here, when I first started my job as a drug and alcohol trainer with the NHS, attitudes to 12-step fellowships in drug and alcohol services were generally fairly negative. Over the last few years that has changed dramatically, with 12-step meetings being advertised, promoted and even hosted by drug and alcohol services.

But here we hit a problem. Recovery in 12-step terms means abstinence, yet this is not necessarily the only way that recovery can be defined. The UK Drug Policy Commission, a well respected independent, charity funded body whose aim is to stimulate informed, evidence-based debate about drug policy, got together a group of 16 people with various perspectives on recovery, to try to reach a consensus on what constitutes recovery from problematic drug and alcohol use. The ‘vision statement’ they came up with is:

The process of recovery from problematic substance use is characterised by voluntarily-sustained control over substance use which maximises health and wellbeing and participation in the rights, roles and responsibilities of society.

You can read their report here. Continue reading

The Start of NA in Lancaster

Until 1986 there were very few Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the North West. I was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous at this time but I was having some problems with individuals in the meetings who objected to my mentioning drugs in my shares (there were also objections to any mention of sex). I didn’t see, and still don’t, how I could share my experience, strength and hope without talking about the other drugs I had also had serious problems with. In this I was not alone and a group of us (seven if I remember correctly) decided to look into starting an NA group.

By the way, I’m not going to mention any names as, although I am not concerned about my own anonymity (obviously as I am writing this), other people’s anonymity is their responsibility.

Anyway, we looked at what meetings there were. As far as I remember there was a meeting in Manchester, some 60 miles away, and one in Blackpool which was much nearer. We decided to visit the Blackpool meeting to try to get a better idea of how NA meetings were run. It was an eye-opener. It was a small meeting made up, if I remember correctly, of mainly middle-aged women, and the person doing the main share (this was just after Christmas), talked about having a glass of wine with her Christmas dinner, “not that I would advise you to do that”, she made a point of saying.

So we came away with a good idea of how not to do it. Continue reading

Addiction – It’s not about the drugs

When I first went to Alcoholics Anonymous, which you can read about here, I thought that everyone was there because they had a problem with alcohol and that, having stopped drinking, they were now okay. I knew my problems were deeper than that so I soon dropped out.

Eventually the penny dropped, they weren’t there because they had a problem with alcohol, but because their lives were unbearable with or without alcohol. The same for Narcotics Anonymous and drugs (I went to lots of NA meetings as well).

What I realised over time was that alcohol and other drugs (and by the way I don’t think of alcohol separately from other drugs but, if I just write ‘drugs’, some people will think I’m not also writing about alcohol; they’re all ‘drugs’), anyway, what I realised that alcohol and drugs were what I used to try and fix what was wrong with me and, being the person I am (see herehere and here), they eventually became problems in themselves. So, in order to do anything about the underlying fears and phobias and insecurities, I needed to stop drinking and using. Continue reading