On the benefits of being incapable of following a map

I am writing this sitting in the airport at New Orleans. It is not a particularly interesting place, and the city, which I’m sure is extremely interesting, is only a short cab ride away. (NB. I am now saying “cab” rather than “taxi” as I am a seasoned traveler.) However, I have once again done a stupid thing, which I thought was extremely clever and thrifty at the time, and booked a 7am flight from New Jersey. Which entailed getting to the airport at 5am. Which entailed leaving the flat at an hour so early that there weren’t even any rappers on the street. Which entailed spending over $90 on a cab because none of the shuttle buses ran at that time and public transport would have involved leaving the flat the day before and making 3 separate changes with an hour’s wait between each.

My thinking was that an early flight would give me an extra full day in New Orleans. There were flights available at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, please note – basically, an almost staggering variety of times – which, at only $20 or so more, would have allowed me to wake up at a respectable hour, enjoy a leisurely bagel and coffee, and take just one subway then a shuttle bus at a fraction of the cost. But no, my plan was clearly much better (and I’m really looking forward to my 6am return flight in a week’s time.)

In the meantime, it is now 9.20 and unfortunately I can’t get into my accommodation until 12.30. I’m also hampered by an extremely large, unwieldy suitcase it just isn’t practicable to drag around. (No, it is not possible to simply drop it off at the place. Yes, I have explored that option, but thank you very much for the helpful suggestion.) Thus, I have been reduced to filling in time in any sedentary way I can for the next 3 hours – hence the protracted stay at the airport. Shortly I will decamp to a strategically chosen café as close to my accommodation as possible, where I will stretch out the consumption of a latte and pastry for as long as the waitstaff will tolerate without getting snooty and making me feel like an unwanted spinster aunt. But for now, I wait.

I am an eternal optimist, however, and am hoping that what seems like poor planning/rampant stupidity in my current situation (numb-fingered and shivering thanks to sub-arctic air-conditioning, haggard and bleary-eyed after 2 hours sleep, craving a bagel), might just turn out to have a positive side to it.

I think I have mentioned that I am very bad at following maps. I’ll spend a good half-hour or so assiduously unfolding the thing to its full size (roughly the dimensions of a giant’s pillow slip) then rotating it around so that the streets align with the general direction I’m facing (NB. impossible to do on Google Maps ). Then, once I’ve pondered over it furrow-browed for another hour or so till I’m satisfied that I’ve got my bearings, I’ll set out confidently towards my destination, which Google Maps assures me is only one tantalising block away – only to find myself 10 minutes later in the middle of a Kansas cornfield or staring in bafflement at the Bering Strait.

Because of a general inability to accurately locate north, I never did find Tom’s Diner in Brooklyn, the subject of the Suzanne Vega song. Or the Alice in Wonderland Statue in Central Park. And I almost missed the Chrysler Building, which, you know, is kind of hard to miss. But conversely, I have learnt that on those rare occasions when I do successfully interpret the map and arrive at the place I intend to, much of the time it turns out to be a real disappointment.

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William, the Met mascot

When I got to the Met, I made a point of seeking out William, the museum mascot, who I envisaged with a heft and stature befitting a turquoise-coloured, Ancient Egyptian god. After navigating through a bewildering succession of conjoined rooms, I finally located William, who turned out to be the size of a guinea pig and resembled a child’s money box more than a deity: sure, he was appealing and cute and I kind of wanted to pet him, but it was still a let-down. Katz’s Diner, the site of the famous “I’ll have what she’s having scene” in When Harry Met Sally, was a crowded, clamorous, neon-lit rectangle filled with formica tables, waiters with all the affability of nightclub bouncers and a crush of brassy-voiced tourists queued up for pastrami sandwiches. God knows why I thought it was a good idea to go there. I don’t even particularly like the film. Even the Taj Mahal (NB. this is not in New York) which was splendid and sublime and commendably marbly and all, carried with it a sense of deflation because I found it exactly where I expected it to be, waiting obediently, tamed and diminished. Possibly some things have more power as imaginative landmarks than they do as real locations or objects. Or maybe I’m just hard to please. Whatever the case, if I had happened across the Taj while dawdling along the banks of the Ganges one day (yes, I admit this is a somewhat unlikely scenario), then I have no doubt that it would have thoroughly blown my mind.

Clearly, then, wandering is the best approach to take when exploring a new city. It has less of a transactional nature to it; that feeling that the city owes you a particular experience because you have invested your time and money in visiting it. It also doesn’t carry with it that sense of obligation or necessity, and subsequently, that sense of failure if you don’t find the place you’ve set out for – because, let’s face it, while it’s meant to be a holiday, there is perversely an awful lot of pressure when you’re travelling. This is largely from the expectations of others, from the shame of feeling like you’ve frittered away your time when you have to confess that, no, you didn’t see A, B or C, which all the guidebooks say you should, and don’t really have an equivalent experience to put in its place.

As any good flaneur will testify, wandering is intrinsically far more pleasurable, liberating and exciting. You can go where the fancy takes you; straying down little alleyways, spying something intriguing in the distance and heading towards it, following the crowd or distant music or simply a person with an interesting face, and more often than not, chancing upon wonderful things – chocolate shops and cafes and parks like hidden ring boxes – which carry with them the genuine thrill of discovery…

20150507_152223-1[1]One day, in a quagmire of existential despair brought about by an hour of bootless searching for Tom’s Diner (NB. bootless as I was wearing sandals, which were more appropriate for the weather), I turned into Prospect Park. Freed from the burden of a destination, I strolled along whichever path appealed to me. Three young Jewish men walked ahead of me. They were orthodox, with thick black beards (the type a sparrow could comfortably nest in), sombre black coats over white shirts and broad-brimmed hats. They each carried a shopping bag with the packings of a picnic and one strummed a guitar as he walked. It was as though the Beatles had joined the cast of Fiddler on the Roof for the afternoon. I started to follow them, enchanted by the lovely, carefree spirit of it. (Stalking admittedly, though can it really be considered that, if it’s a lone woman following three grown men?) They spread out a rug on the outskirts of a busy lawn, rid themselves of their heavy coats, untucked their shirttails and sprawled out. A huge tub of bright pink gelato emerged from a plastic bag – it must have been a good 4 litres at least – and was set reverently in the centre of the rug with three silver spoons. Nearby, barelegged children called and ran in a circle, people dozed beneath trees or sun-baked and dogs flopped in the shade. Spring and greenness infused everything.

Prospect Park

Prospect Park

I left the men to their picnic and continued through the park. The trees were tall and leafy on either side and the lampposts like something from Narnia. Sunlight slanted in dappled veils through the branches. Birds twittered and flit across my path. They looked subtly different to those in Australia: neat and well-groomed and designed to an entirely different colour scheme; an autumnal palette of chestnuts, grays, moss greens and deep apricots. I passed lakes and stone bridges and wildflowers. Shy crofts of violets made me smile in delight. A whole flooded hillside of them was almost too much wonderment to take.

A trickle of music wound through the trees and I followed it, feeling like a character in a fairytale. I half expected to find Orpheus strumming a lute or an old woman with a spindle. Instead, I found myself at a carousel encased in a wooden rotunda. I couldn’t help thinking of Holden Caulfield and “old Phoebes” and smiling. A triumphant version of “Top of the World” was playing, with cymbals clashing and victorious drums. Coloured lights whirled while the painted horses slid up and down in slow ceremony. It was like a benediction…

I find, too, that often while meandering about in this way, you come upon places that you had intended to visit later. The New York Public Library. The JFK memorial. The Strand Bookstore. Strawberry Fields. All of these were places I chanced upon while seeking other destinations and appreciated all the more as a result, their unexpected discovery prompting a feeling of childlike delight – grace even – rather than the relieved, good-girl feeling you get as you dutifully cross off another item on your must-see list.

Strawberry Fields, in particular, I would not have been so struck by if I had concertedly set out to find it and done so. It’s really just another group of shaded lawns, fairly common in Central Park, a paved gray courtyard encircled with wrought iron benches and the “Imagine” mosaic so modest and unprepossessing that you would miss it if you weren’t standing on top of it. It was the way I arrived at it that again imbued it with that magical sensation of serendipity.

I was walking aimlessly through the park when I heard the nearby strains of a guitar and someone sin20150508_160522[1]ging “I’ve just seen a face”. This is a wonderful song, so I headed towards it. (NB. Contrary to the impression given in this post, I do occasionally engage in pursuits other than hunting down distant musicians.) I rounded a corner to see a sign, “Strawberry Fields”, which elicited that shivery frisson of recognition where you think, “Oh, I know this place, I meant to come here.” There was a busker in the middle of the courtyard playing Beatles songs, and people were having their photos taken on the mosaic, doing peace signs, twirling daisies plucked for that express purpose, pretending to strum guitars. A little girl in a colourful sundress was drawing flowers and rainbows with chalk on the pavement. It was a lovely scene, and while a part of me still wishes that “Strawberry Fields” was not a geographical location (because, let’s be honest, it’s more resonant as a symbol of dreamy escape from the flatness and busyness of life), if it has to exist in the world of Google and smart phones, then I’m glad I found it in this drifting, roundabout way rather than through the diligent following of a guidebook. The obvious conclusion to draw is that no matter what you do, sooner or later you will find yourself somewhere you are meant to be. And I think John Lennon would probably agree with that.

Anyway, I am now going to leave the airport. I have no doubt that my procrastination will have had some positive effect. I will stand beside a famous jazz musician at the cab rank, or possibly some dashing and rich New Orleans gentleman who will invite me out to dinner at some quaint little Creole restaurant, fall in love on the spot and propose. Or I will not get into a cab with a driver who will rob and stab me. Or I will be the millionth person to leave the terminal. A cloud of balloons will be released upon my exit. A glamorous woman in a sequined gown with teeth like gleaming refrigerators will hug me and a truck packed full of hundred dollar bills will pull up at the kerb, making me feeling slightly less embittered about the cab fare from Brooklyn. Or maybe I’ll just get a driver who’ll know a really great cafe where I can idle away the next few hours – somewhere cool and shady with a table on a cobblestone pavement and a friendly cat winding around my ankles – and by coincidence, just around the corner from where I’m staying. Who knows? But I’m sure it will all work out brilliantly.

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On Crossing Brooklyn Bridge (with considerably different sentiments to Walt Whitman)

A preface first of all: if you think you may have seen this post before, it’s because you have. It has a bit of a schizophrenic history: I posted it, then repented and deleted it, then repented deleting it, because sure, it’s snarly and angry and not particularly nice, but it also documents a legitimate stage in my journey (as pretentious as it sounds to call a holiday that). And I’ve since apologised to the person expressly named in it, who didn’t seem to particularly begrudge my having written it, so perhaps it wasn’t as excessive as I’d originally feared. And to be honest, although it’s out of character, I’m kind of happy with it as a piece of writing, dammit – and it’s not like I write so frequently that I can afford to delete perfectly decent posts willy-nilly. Anyway, it’s back. For now. With some reservation. Sorry.

***

I write this post with a warning: it contains what is for me, a copious amount of swearing. By this I mean I use the f-word once. It is also not about New York. Well, actually, it is indirectly about New York – it does mention the Brooklyn Bridge – but it’s more one of those tedious, whingey, vitriolic confessional pieces that I’ve managed to avoid writing up until now, possibly because of, I don’t know, basic human dignity or something. But all good things must come to an end.

Anyway, if you’re reading this hoping for an update on my travels or pretty pictures of tourist sites and squirrels and such, then you should probably stop now. Also if you’re an ex-boyfriend (not that there’s a horde of them out there) or a person whom I actually know in real life but would usually maintain some semblance of professionalism or habitual polite reserve with. (My boss, for instance.) Really, that would be best. So stop now, OK?

I have recently come to the realisation that the person I have been dating for the past 2 months is a coward and a f*#kwit. (NB. If you’re under the age of 12 or have a literary or moral objection to obscenities, please substitute “cad” for the last word in this sentence. This will also produce a pleasing alliterative effect. ) I could be more fulsome in my description of him, but would no doubt regret it in future, so let’s just leave it at that. (But Steve, if you’re still reading this – and your terminal self-absorption makes me suspect that you probably are – then this one’s for you, OK, from one “writer” to another 🙂 🙂 🙂 . You might want to unsubscribe now.)

I am one of those people who sorts through their feelings by walking. I had to purge myself of this admittedly brief relationship, so felt an immediate, compelling need to go for a long walk: it is no coincidence that the words “exercise” and “exorcise” are almost identical. I’ve been doing a lot of walking here, typically a good 10-12 hours a day with short breaks for the subway, coffee and food, but most of it is that meandering, exploratory style of walking, more conducive to brooding than catharsis. I needed to stride purposefully to a destination.

The Brooklyn Bridge would have been ideal – there would have been something pleasingly symbolic about crossing from one side to the other, shedding the past in runnels. It also would have been satisfying to stop halfway and toss something representative of the “relationship” into the depths of the harbour. The only problem was that my ex-boyfriend (though the noun might be an over-statement) never actually gave me anything to cast off. I guess he bought me dinner a few times and there might conceivably have been some last vestiges of those meals inside me somewhere. Perhaps I could have just vomited over the edge or something. That would have worked well on a number of levels.

Unfortunately, however, I had to abandon this idea (the whole bridge thing rather than just the vomiting, which objectively would have been disgusting) as I had already done the walk on my second day here.

For Walt Whitman, crossing the harbour was a transcendental experience which gave him a profound understanding of his place in time and the universe. My own experience was considerably different.

20150504_170717It was around 4pm on a hot Spring afternoon and the bridge was choked with people. The walkway is only around 3 metres wide and divided into halves, with one side for cyclists and one for pedestrians. New Yorkers are reputed to walk notoriously fast, which works for me, who gets easily frustrated by slow walkers, but most of this crowd were tourists. They would saunter casually along (she says disapprovingly) and every few seconds would stop to take photos of themselves against the backdrop of Manhattan and the harbour. I suppose this is excusable, but some of them also had those long, retractable “selfie” sticks which never fail to incite a sneering sort of hatred in me and an earnest desire for the deaths of the people using them.

If I could make one observation about New Yorkers, it would be that they take their cycling seriously. The bikes barrelled by at an alarming speed and these guys were intense. (NB. The bulk of them were guys rather than dolls, to throw in a gratuitous Broadway reference). Some had sirens attached to their bikes, which shrieked continuously and ear-splittingly. “Out of the way!” and “Yo, off the path dude,” they would scream with what seemed real fury, and if someone was slow in acquiescing or didn’t move far enough to the side, they would whoosh by them close enough to brush the hairs on their skin or make a pointed show of missing their foot by millimetres. One cyclist curtly clipped the bare arm of a bewildered French girl with his handlebars, grazing the skin and drawing blood. This struck me as a tad excessive, but seemed to meet with general approval from the other cyclists, so perhaps the bitch deserved to be cut.

It took about 30 minutes to cross from one side to the other, even at the enervating snail’s pace I was necessarily reduced to. I spent most of that time trying not to encroach into people’s photos, avoiding deoculation by selfie stick, and overtaking, or fuming at my inability to overtake, dawdlers. It was a horrible, claustrophobic experience. I felt like I was trapped in a queue for the Boxing Day sales and barely even glanced at the view. It was about as restful as cycling with a siren must be.

In retrospect, then, it would probably not have satisfied my cathartic needs.

And so I wrote this post instead: to adopt a dated American expression – neat, huh?

I end by wishing the previously mentioned member of the opposite sex, whom I am not going to grace with the dignity or importance of any other descriptors than that, a dismissive and infinitely serene, f#@k you.

Dammit, that was twice.

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Early observations of New York

20150505_201043I am writing this sitting on the fire escape. I have always wanted a fire escape. Something about the seedy threadbare romance of them appeals to me, conjuring up images of elegantly impecunious young women in wilted evening gowns and discarded heels, blurry-headed and smiling in the early hours of the morning after too much champagne, dancing and general gaiety. The metal handrails have been entwined with delicate strings of fairy lights which glimmer as the evening fades in. I am eating a slice of pizza and drinking a bottle of red wine while ruefully lamenting my taste in men. This seems a very New York thing to do. In the distance, the sky melts to a peach-tinged, tissue paper softness against the sharp black silhouettes of distant apartments. I feel like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Any second I expect I’ll pick up a ukele and start strumming “Moon River”.

I am staying in an apartment in Flatbush, a suburb in Brooklyn. From what I can gather, Flatbush is the equivalent of Sydney’s Marrickville – on the fringes of the gentrified suburbs, the population primarily African-American and Carribean with lots of hip young folk starting to move in because it’s affordable and close to where they want to be. I kind of like it, now that I’ve stopped worrying about being mugged.

It was all the rapping on the sidewalks that had me concerned to begin with. (NB. rapping, with a double p, not raping.) While I can appreciate that rap is essentially just a more urbanised – or perhaps ghettoised – form of contemporary poetry, it does seem to be overly reliant on a particular, very rarefied vocabulary: to whit, “nigger”, “bitch” and “mother*&ker”. (Or possibly “mothaf*&kah”. I’m not 100% certain. The professor from the Brooklyn Academy of Linguistics whom I consulted is yet to confirm which is the more politically-correct form.)

But as I said, now that I’ve adjusted to the rapping, I’m feeling quite at home. I’ve been in America for four days now, and feel I’ve done a lot already. I leave the apartment before 8 each morning and come back around 8 at night, spending pretty much the whole time in between walking. This is good, given the food that I’m eating: at some point, pastry and bagels became a staple.

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In Greenwich Village (the name appealed)

So what have I done? (And bear in mind that this is just a very brief recap.) On the first day I walked around Greenwich Village, Soho, NohoNolita, Tribeca and China Town . As I said, I walk a lot. On the second day I went to the Guggenheim. I had intended to go to the Met but this was closed for a private function. (NB. This will be a recurring theme.) I then  ate at the famed Oyster Bar  at Grand Central Station (apparently those in the know say “Grand Central Terminal” which is technically correct, but you know, it doesn’t have the same ring to it, so I’m going to stick with the plebs’ version). Then I went to the Chrysler Building, the New York Public Library (reading room closed) then walked across Brooklyn Bridge and explored Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo. On the third day I went to Prospect Park, the Frick Collection then wandered down Madison Avenue. I had a picnic lunch in Central Park, then because I can’t read a map, spent several hours walking determinedly away from the very things I wanted to see. I then went to Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (closed for a private function), then explored Park Slope. On the fourth day I wandered around the Met. And on the fifth day I created all the creatures that move upon the earth. As I said, I’ve been busy.

At this stage, I’m not going to write about the places I’ve been, because, to quote the movie Airplane (keeping with the travel theme here, people), that’s “just what they’ll be expecting us to do”. And to be honest, I’m not sure I have that much to say of any significance. (I thought I’d developed an original perspective on the Frick, but then I watched the 12 minute documentary where the staff introduces the collection, and they basically said everything I’d been thinking and had thought was so profound and insightful: it’s great to receive affirmation that you are unique.) Also, it’s too much work. I tend to get a bit overloaded with detail and if I had to write about all of those places, well, I’d have some sort of melt-down. But if you’re genuinely interested, ask me when I get back and I’m happy to tell you over coffee or something. Don’t ask to see my photos though, because they either suck or are non-existent. (Sorry.)

In the meantime, here are a few initial observations on my time in New York thus far:

  • The best thing about New York is the fires escapes. I am not being dismissive here; I am genuinely passionate about them. I may write a whole separate post on them later (look forward to that one!) and when I get back, will insist that my landlady gets one built immediately as an urgent safety measure. (Never mind that I live on the ground floor of a two storey building.)
  • There are lots of sirens. In fact, the sirens are almost constant, which could create the impression that you are in a hotbed of crime and lawlessness. This is not the case. I have not yet been shot once, which ran against all my expectations. (NB. I have been stabbed a few times, but you know, I asked for it.) The sirens sound different to ours. While ours sound frankly alarming, American sirens sound like the keening of a massive, grief-stricken dog. Possibly they changed the sound because people heard the other with such monotonous regularity that they became immune to it. Or possibly a marketing executive decided they needed something fresh and funky. I don’t know. I’m only speculating.
  • Flying once again in the face of expectations, Americans are actually really nice and friendly. I ask for directions constantly (NB. This is because I am almost always lost as a result of my phone not working and a general ineptitude when it comes to reading maps and pretty much everything else generally) and not once has anyone refused to assist or shot me. Instead, they are uniformly helpful and well-intentioned, and even if their information is totally and utterly wrong, they supply it with a smile, a “Have a good day, now” and a heartening absence of handgun activity. When I think of the occasions I’ve had to ask directions in Sydney, I can only conclude that Americans are far nicer than we are.
  • 20150503_125558New York in Spring is one giant, delightful garden. The trees in the streets are laden with pink and white blossoms – and I mean laden. If nature were capable of hyperbole, than these trees would be A-grade offenders. The blossoms are creamy and lush and dense and fulsome and while you’re looking at them, your heart swells impossibly with joy and you can forget everything else. At the gentlest breeze, clouds of filmy petals float into the air and settle on the sidewalk like snow. Colourful bulbs are everywhere as well – tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, lupins – in all the front gardens and window boxes, in planters outside hotels and in terracotta pots on the stairways of apartment blocks. Red tulips are particularly popular; impossibly big, bobbing on their stems like air balloons tethered by green ropes. It is as if Amsterdam has temporarily docked on the grey footpaths of the city.20150503_124820
  • Everyone knows about Central Park and Prospect Park, but they are just the beginning. At the cross-sections of city streets, tucked away like folded green handkerchiefs are tiny, higgledy-piggledy parks, criss-crossed by footpaths and lined with wooden benches. They are filled with people, separate but gathered together, reading the paper, drinking coffee, just enjoying the sunshine. They are immaculately tended, valued and cared for; beating green hearts of the community. I love that.
  • Bagels, pretzels and hot dogs really are available everywhere. The cinnamon and raison bagels at the café near me are excellent. I have them with cream cheese, even though it doesn’t really go, because that is a very New York thing to do.
  • The names of places are frequently absurd, but no-one seems to question it, because, I don’t know, it might make them look like a hick or something. But seriously – Noho? What sort of name is that? Flatiron? And Dumbo? (Just for your information, it stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass – but who actually knew that?) And Alphabet City? That’s like something from the Wizard of Oz. You expect a series of hamlets populated by people whose names all begin with the same letter. (“Good morning, I’m Abraham Atkins and this is my neighbour, Andrew Adams. May I also introduce my cat, Abigail?” Actually, this would explain Alan Alda. Also Buffalo Bill, though he may not have been from New York.) Why do people just take these names in their stride rather than saying, “You know what? That’s a weird thing to call a place!”
  • There are squirrels (!) That is all.
  • 20150505_161942I am in love with brownstones. They are so beautifully elegant, but homey at the same time, with their broad slopes of steps and squat comfortable curves. Sometimes when I see them, I feel almost overcome with joy and delight (NB. similar to with the blossoms). Fire escapes also elicit this response. Sometimes I wish I was younger so I could try on a different life. That life would involve living in a brownstone with a fire escape.
  • I apparently look like I have money. This is reassuring, as I don’t. I think it’s because I strike the right tone. If anyone wants some pointers on how to do this, my advice is to keep your spine absolutely rigid at all times (think an umbrella stand or a Christian 20150505_191151fundamentalist) and try to speak as if you’re Julie Andrews after a long and exhausting tea party. People will then offer you samples of extremely expensive skin care serums in Madison Avenue Boutiques. These will cost between $300 and $400 apiece. In order to avoid purchasing these products, you will have to draw on a recent shopping experience at Kiehls and explain that you only use skincare products that harness the anti-aging properties of glaciers. When the shop assistant regretfully informs you that said creams do not harness these properties, you will be able to decline purchase gracefully rather than looking like a cheapskate.
  • Dandelions look different in America. Their yellow is more intense and they’re tougher, bawdier – possibly because they’ve been reared in the ghetto.
  • Did I mention the fire escapes?
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A quick and belated update

So, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. A long time. Sorry about that. Elaborate explanations are boring, so I won’t bother with any – let’s just assume that I was holed up in a cabin in the alps writing my magnum opus, or had my right arm crushed by a piano, or was hideously savaged by a bear and have spent the last four years undergoing radical reconstructive surgery. Or something. I dunno. You decide.

I’ve started blogging again because I’m about to go on holidays to America (tomorrow) and this seemed the best way of letting people know what I’m doing while I’m there. But in the meantime, it seems necessary to update my readers on what I’ve been up to since I last posted. (I’m sure that both of them have spent the entire duration poised in anxious anticipation.) And 3.47am on a Friday morning seemed the perfect time to do it.

In a nutshell then:

  • I’m no longer a teacher. Or a bookseller. Or work in publishing. Or do whatever the hell it was I was doing the last time I wrote – god knows it seemed to change with monotonous regularity. For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been working as a children’s librarian, which means I spend my entire life clad in figure-hugging plaid skirts and cardigans, biting sexily on a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles – in fact, as you read these very words, I am trying to wrest my hair into a bun and practicing my most forbidding shush. I genuinely love my job: expect many riveting accounts of preschool storytimes and circulation desk duties in the future.
  • I’m no longer living with Richard, or “R”, which was the cunning pseudonym I chose for him back then. (Yes, I was a veritable cryptographer in those days.) I’m currently experiencing a blissful reprieve in between flatmates: I kind of hope that an unknown rich uncle dies and leaves me a fortune so I never have to find another.
  • I still read voluminously (nb. I am unfortunately unable to use the word “voraciously” else I would be viciously pilloried by a friend who objects to the word in this context on the grounds that it is shockingly over-utilised by those whose professedly ravenous reading habits should have furnished them with a more extensive vocabulary.) While fiction is still my genre of choice, I am trying to read more non-fiction this year in a futile bid to make myself less frivolous. (Yeah, good luck with that one, she says dryly…)
  • I still procrastinate constantly. I also still drink way too much coffee and red wine, though am getting better at managing the latter. (The former needs no redress – it would only rob me of me of my gay, vital edge and beguiling air of thinly reined-in hysteria.)
  • Most importantly, however, I still have Fina: to quote Basil Fawlty, “Hooray – the cat lives! Long live the cat!”
Fina on suitcase

“I claim this suitcase for the cat empire.”

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The peculiarly deceptive tendencies of ordinary household objects

The cat was strangely uncommunicative this morning. I was chattering away in my usual inane fashion (I think I was talking about apartheid, from memory) and she wasn’t saying a thing. I mean, she’s not exactly chatty most mornings, but she normally at least acknowledges my presence: heaving up her head and blinking in her slow, disdainful, lion-like way; flicking her tail in annoyance if my voice is making it particularly hard for her to sleep; charging my shins if I make a comment she vehemently disagrees with: that dogs are quite nice for instance, or that I don’t think Quentin Tarantino is a particularly good director. Today though, not a thing. I was starting to get concerned.

‘So, I noticed the mynah birds were out on the deck this morning,’ I said with deliberate casualness. (The mynah birds are her arch enemies.) ‘Must have been the seed I put out for them.’ 

Nothing. I tried again. ‘I was watching Reservoir Dogs yesterday – what a load of rubbish!’

Still nothing.  I tried once more. ‘Speaking of dogs, I saw a new Alsation has moved in next door. A big one. Vicious looking.  Ex-police I’d say. Very sharp teeth.’ (This was a lie but I was getting desperate.)

She didn’t even look up.  I could only conclude that she was dead or in a coma. I hoped she hadn’t been trying to read Umberto Eco again. I’d warned her about that. I leant over to have a closer look…

The cat chose that moment to saunter in from the back yard. And it was then I realised that I had been talking to a pair of brown shoes for the past hour.

‘Bad cat!’ I cried angrily. ‘I’ve told you before about disguising yourself as ordinary domestic objects!’ The cat said nothing. Nor did the shoes.

I phoned Richard in annoyance. ‘Will you please stop leaving your shoes all around the house?’ I snapped.

‘Can I call you back? Now’s not a good…’ he began.  I cut him off.

‘It takes ten measly seconds to pick them up and put them in the bedroom. I don’t understand why that poses such an insurmountable challenge!’

‘I’m actually in a meeting with the managing…’

 ‘It’s untidy and slovenly. What would the real estate agent think if he stopped by for a surprise inspection?’

‘I’d be more worried about him seeing the cat,’ he muttered. This was the wrong thing to say.

 ‘What are your trying to imply?!’ I exploded, ‘That the real estate agent has better eyesight than me? That I’m completely blind?

There was a long pause. ‘Oh no, you haven’t been talking to the feather duster again have you?’ he said sympathetically.

‘Of course I haven’t been talking to the feather duster – I’m not a complete idiot! I’m just very upset about this shoe thing and I don’t think you’re taking it seriously enough. It’s an occupational health and safety hazard!’

‘Look, it’s not that big an issue. Shoes can be moved.’ 

‘Exactly – they can be moved. So in future, when you take your shoes off will you please move them to the wardrobe,’ I finished triumphantly, and hung up.

Of course, it wasn’t really the shoes that were the issue. It was my eyesight, which has never been particularly good (too many evenings spent reading under the covers as a child), and lately seems to be deteriorating rapidly. I now need my glasses to see the computer at work or to read a book, the 30cm between my face and the page constituting a ‘long distance’. And Fina’s ability to blend in with the furnishings doesn’t really help things.

I’ve always loved her beautiful camouflage coat – along with her sarcastic sense of humour, it’s one of her best qualities: a dappled tawny colour with flecks of russet, gold and black, it exactly mimics the effects of sunlight on the forest floor. It would be perfect if she were hiding out in the Amazon or fighting in Nam.  But, you know, she isn’t.  In hindsight, I probably should have chosen a more conspicuous cat.

I also should have thought more carefully about how I decorated the house. The brown sofa cushions were an error, as was the fawn throw-rug. The cat-sized teracotta pot on the patio was also a mistake. And the green armchair. And the bright yellow safety vest hanging from the door.  

Because it isn’t Fina; it’s just my eyes: even if her coat was pure white like a gleaming patch of snow, or the warm glowing marmalade of sunlight caught in a jar, I’d still be mistaking scarves and shovels and pot plants and refrigerators for her.

And when I think about it, there are advantages to being a few vitreous millimetres away from legal blindness:  without my glasses, I occupy a pretty, Monet-style world of blurred pastels and gentle contours. It’s curiously restful, like looking out through a window washed with rain, or drifting about underwater: the real world seems much too harsh, angular and sharp-edged in comparison.  Mine is a magical world of metamorphosis: ‘What a gorgeous dog!’ I’ll coo, my brain mysteriously filling in the details, so that where my friend sees only a burly man with a gym bag under his arm, I’ll see him cradling a wriggling, bright-eyed puppy.  ‘Look at that beautiful white bird!’ I’ll exclaim, while others see only a plastic bag tangled in the branches of a tree.  In my world, an overflowing garbage bin is a gypsy dancer with a rose between her teeth.  An ordinary mail box a long-necked jungle creature wandering lost in the suburbs.  A child’s red balloon in the distance the most brilliant sunset ever.  And the cat my constant faithful companion…

Haiku: Looking Out of the Back Bedroom Window Without My Glasses by Wendy Cope

What’s that amazing
new lemon-yellow flower?
Oh yes, a football.

Posted in Cats | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Off the air…

This is just a very quick update dashed out on the computer at work. I have to apologise for not having posted, replied to comments or visited anyone else’s blog for so long.  I’m not dead, despite the best efforts of the cat – it’s just that with all the excitement of the holiday season, we were foolish enough to forget to pay our phone bill. It seems that once you get cut off, it’s curiously difficult for the phone company to reconnect you again unless you’re willing to grovel, commit to some type of ninety-year contract and offer up your first born as penance (difficult if you’re still childless.) For the past two weeks we’ve been phone-less and internet-less then.

I’m quite enjoying it, though. It’s just like living in the18th century – I’ve taken to wearing modest muslin frocks, riding everywhere in a barouche landau and am currently trying to procure the services of a footman. (The only candidate to present himself so far has been called Russell, which is clearly not a very footman-like name, but with the importunacy of youth, he flatly refused to be called Bert or Jenkins or even Albert. Plus, he had what looked like a sabre tooth tiger’s tooth puncturing his ear, which also was not particularly satisfactory.)

I’m getting an incredible amount of reading done without the computer to distract me. I’ve gobbled up at least a dozen YA novels for work, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series being the highlight, and am now working my way through Anna Karenina (first step to a life less shame-filled.) My crossword skills are improving by leaps and bounds – so much so that I no longer feel the need to demand libations and burnt offerings each time I complete a cryptic crossword in its entirety.  And then there’s the baking: muffins, honeycakes and what I like to modestly describe as the most delectable chocolate raspberry brownies ever conceived of by man.

We’ve also decorated the house for Christmas. The tree is up – a real tree, with that sharp, astringent, crushed pine smell that stings the back of your nostrils – a vase of glossy holly leaves sits on the dining room table, and the Christmas cards are beginning to pile up on the mantel (Ok, we’ve got two – but I’m assuming everyone else has emailed.) It’s Fina’s first Christmas with us, and with typical feline egotism, she assumes the whole thing is about her – that we’ve lugged a large, unwieldy conifer into the living room, not because it’s some type of human festive tradition dating back hundreds of years, but because she enjoys being in the garden so much that we’ve decided to vegetate the inside of the house just for her benefit too. I expect Twelfth Night will come as quite a shock for her…

Anyway, the internet should be back in action in a couple of days (unless a light shower of rain should happen to fall somewhere between Sydney and Calcutta in the meantime) and I’ll do my best to get out a new post and reply to all comments as soon as possible then (she says breezily, as if expecting hundreds of comments to have banked up rather than just two (thanks Dad.)) I also look forward to catching up on everyone else’s blogs and hearing about their Christmas plans and top reads of the year…

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

My first meme: Top 10 fictional best friends

I’ll admit it – I’m not really good with technology. I can’t turn on the TV without assistance. I’ve been known to ask four-year-old children how to use my mobile phone. Even turning on the lights poses a problem on certain days (up or down – I can never remember which it is.)

Not surprisingly, I’m also baffled by technological jargon.  I have no idea at all what Skype is. When people speak about Twitter, I assume they’ve developed a sudden interest in bird-watching. And I find references to ‘burning’ CDs frankly alarming.

I still remember my astonishment when a mild-mannered friend informed me that he had just burnt his girlfriend’s entire music collection. ‘Oh my god, why did you do that?’ I asked in concern. ‘Did you have some kind of fight?’

He looked at me blankly. ‘Um no.’

‘Well, isn’t she going to be angry when she finds them all ruined?’ He stared at me for a few more seconds then broke into gales of helpless laughter. I wondered if perhaps he’d burnt the CDs in a poorly-ventilated room and breathed in some type of noxious chemical fumes.

(There was also another upsetting incident which I try not to think about where I was asked to rip some files for an important client at work. ‘A-ha, a security threat,’ I cannily intuited. Always one for thoroughness, I decided to shred the hard copies rather than simply ripping them up (far more secure.) Then just to be extra safe, I deleted all existing versions of the soft copies. I’m still not quite sure why they fired me.)

Anyway, up until a few days ago I was completely unfamiliar with the term ‘meme’.  I’d heard the word thrown about in conversation of course, and had nodded as if I knew what it meant, then immediately gone home and looked it up. According to Wikipedia, a meme was a ‘postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.’  A postulated unit? Inimitable phenomena? What sort of vague definition was that?

The cat’s explanation was no clearer: she defined it as ‘a pervasive thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code or a virus of the mind .’ What on earth…? Perhaps I’d been inoculated against this so-called virus.

Anyway, I promptly wrote ‘meme’ off as one of those complicated terms only understood by tech-heads (like ‘modem’ or ‘photocopier’) and resumed reading my illuminated manuscript.

And then I came across a post from one of my favourite bloggers, Litlove. She was writing about her top 10 fictional best friends; I quote, ‘a fun meme that I saw at The Broke and the Bookish.’ Intrigued, I clicked on the link above and found links to dozens of other blogs where people gave their own lists of top best friends. And all of a sudden I got it. The universe cracked open before me. I understood  what a meme was.

I immediately called a friend who constantly derides me for my lack of technological skills (‘You’re not a Luddite,’ he once commented. ‘Luddites are like Bill Gates  compared to you’ .)

‘Hi,’ I said brightly.

‘Oh, hey,’ he said. ‘What’s hap –‘

‘I  can’t talk now  – I’m working on a meme,’ I snapped, then hung up before he had the opportunity to express his admiration.  

So here you have it, my first foray into the magical world of memes….

MY TOP 10 FICTIONAL BEST FRIENDS

  1. Clarissa Dalloway from Mrs Dalloway   – a charming, gracious woman – and she throws the most wonderful parties!
  2. Sherlock Holmes – It would be fantastic to visit him at his club, sipping port, eating kippers on toast and sinking into an enormous chesterfield. I’ve always been a sucker for men of intellect – and his superior deductive skills would keep me modest.
  3. Mr Bones, from Timbuktu – down-to-earth, friendly and heartbreakingly loyal, Mr Bones would be great company when you don’t feel like talking. And this little dog could do with a friend himself…
  4. Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility– Elinor seems to be one of the more popular choices for this meme – and why on earth not? Reserved, stoic, and a woman of her word, Elinor is a friend that you could really confide in.
  5. Rebecca Davitch from Back When We Were Grown-Ups – I love all of Anne Tyler’s characters – they’re warm, humane,  delightfully flawed, and good without being boring. Each of them has a type of quiet radiance, managing to infuse ordinary suburban life with the faintest touch of whimsy and magic. Rebecca, a fifty-three year-old woman who discovers she has ‘turned into the wrong person’, is one of my favourites. 
  6. Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’s Diary – a good friend for when you need a girl’s night out. Funny, self-deprecating and endearingly klutzy – but certainly not a bimbo – Bridget would be the perfect person to drink bucketloads of red wine with and commiserate with over being 30+ and still not married.
  7. Frannie from In the Cut – Frannie is a character I can identify with: a self-contained single woman who is bookish but not frumpy and loves words.  It would be a short-lived friendship, however…
  8. Janet Deakin from Drylands – Janet is an affirmed booklover, an acute observer of life, and an Australian (sometimes only a countryman – or woman – can understand…)
  9. Jack and the Cat from Milli, Jack & the Dancing Cat– bringing with them the gypsy lure of faraway places, this cheerful pair of vagabonds would be perfect for cheering you up when you’re feeling depressed (I challenge anyone not to smile at a marmalade cat doing the ‘tricky-twisting-backward-slide-four-step.’)
  10. A witty, flamboyant Oscar Wilde character to be fabulous with.
Posted in Other bookish things, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

‘How It Feels’, Brendan Cowell

I recently resolved not to write any more negative book reviews, which is why you will not be reading my thoughts on Brendan Cowell’s How it Feels. Thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

A Return to Form: Erasing the Cat

The other day a friend told me that my blog had become rather boring lately. He said all my posts seemed to be about books and crosswords and stupid things, when what everyone really wanted to know about was the cat. ‘I have no idea what’s been happening in her life,’ he complained. ‘What her current interests are – her hobbies, her passions, her pursuits.’

‘She doesn’t really have any,’ I said. ‘She just likes lizards and stuff. Oh, and leaves – she’s back into collecting leaves again.’

‘That’s exactly what I mean!’ he exploded. ‘How am I to know these things unless you write about them?’

‘Is it really necessary that you know about the cat’s -‘ I began, but he cut me off.

‘What’s wrong with you woman?! Of course it’s necessary. It’s as necessary as air – as water – as liberty.’  And he refused to let the issue rest until I promised  faithfully that my next post would be solely and exclusively about Fina. So with apologies to everyone else…

ERASING THE CAT

This morning I erase the cat. Make her disappear. Take her for ‘a ride in the car’.

First of all, I empty her litter tray into the bin, wash it, bundle it up in a big plastic bag and stow it beneath the back porch. Then I hide her kibble, food bowl and water bowl in the laundry cupboard.

The scratching post goes into the wardrobe next, along with her cat bed. Next I gather all of her toys together: balls with and without bells, her current krinkletoy, stuffed mice, and a feathery creature on the end of a string. It’s quite pitiful to see the little heap all her worldly possessions make: I have visions of knotting them up in red and white spotted handkerchief, tying it onto the end of a stick then sending her out into the world of men to seek her fortune. Instead, I stash them into the dark wardrobe as well, snatching back Mousey at the last minute.

I brush down the rug and sofas, removing every trace of cat hair. Then I artfully drape throw rugs over the parts of the couch that have been ravaged by her claws (ie. I cover it completely.) Finally, I go through the house with a stick of white sage incense to wipe out every trace of her scent. You would never know a cat had ever been there.

She’s an illegal you see. According to our lease we’re not supposed to have a cat, and today is our six monthly inspection. We debate packing all her things away, locking her outside, then if the landlord happens to see her, pretending she’s the neighbour’s extremely friendly cat. There are problems with that, though (What if he notices my mobile number around her neck? What if she mauls him for intruding in her territory?) and in the end we decide it’s safer to coincide the inspection with her first trip to the vet. We’ve had her for nearly a year now, and it’s about time for her check-up.

Fina's rather odd sleeping position (and no, her back has not been broken)

I get her cardboard cat carrier down from where it has sat on top of the wardrobe for the past 10 months, line it with a towel, then put Mousey in so she won’t be lonely. Then comes the hard part. It takes both Richard and I five minutes to get her in there and close the lid, trying to ignore the frantic little paws scrabbling about on the sides, squirming their way out through the rapidly-decreasing gaps; the mewling; the little head thrusting up against the lid; the green eyes wide and panicked. Finally she is in. It’s done. Arriverderci cat.

It’s heart-rending to hear her piteous miaowing all the way to the vet. ‘It’s alright little one,’ I reassure her, trying to go slowly over the speed bumps so she won’t be disturbed; stroking her at red lights through the air holes. Her fur feels soft as feathers and I can feel her trembling under my fingertips. Her pink felt nose is all that can be seen, pressed against the circular air vent like a traveller looking out wistfully to sea through a porthole.

I feel terrible. I wonder what she thinks is happening, if she thinks we’re taking her back to the shelter; that she’ll never see her special cat bed or eat her cat grass or fetch her favourite leaves from next door again. I almost work myself into tears. I can’t believe I have to bear all this stress by myself; that Richard isn’t here having his heart broken as well. I wonder what I’ll be like when I have to take my child to school for the first time. Probably much happier, I decide: at least there’ll be no cardboard box involved.

I get lucky with parking, finding a place almost outside the vet. I don’t bother reverse parking as the street sign instructs; just swing the car in any-which-way. ‘Nearly there, Fina,’ I assure her, cradling the carrier in my arms.

There’s a homeless man sitting on the footpath outside. He tips his hat to me as I struggle with the door. ‘Sounds like a pretty one,’ he says conversationally, in response to the plaintive cries emerging from the box.

Enjoying her cat grass (good for digestion, apparently)

‘She is’, I say fervently, wishing I could open up the box and show him just how pretty she is – her big moon-like eyes and sweet raccoon-face, the long, elegant plume-like tail. ‘It’s her first visit to the vet. She’s a bit nervous.’

‘Good luck with it!’ he grins, and gives me a thumbs up as we go in.

When you think about it, for a cat, a trip to the vet isn’t that different to being abducted by the mafia. You’re captured and confined against your will; driven to an unknown destination, not seeing where you’re going; then end up in a small brightly lit room where you’re interrogated by a stranger, usually painfully. Little wonder Fina is frightened.

She holds up bravely, however, baring her teeth and splaying her claws for inspection, flattening herself onto the scales to be weighed, allowing her stomach and glands to be prodded, even submitting to the indignity of the thermometer. She doesn’t bite the vet even once, not even when she refers to Mousey as ‘her little friend’ rather than her minion. I’m so proud of her. If gold stars held any value for her, I’d plaster her scratching post with them.

I pass the homeless man again on the way out. ‘How did she go?’ he asks.

I beam. ‘All good. Not one shot!’ He gives me another thumbs up and seems genuinely pleased things have worked out so well for the cat. I think how strange and lovely it is that this man and I from such different worlds are temporarily connected by our concern for this little creature.

Fina is recovering well from her ordeal and doesn’t seem to resent us for our role in it. She got lots of pats and attention when she got home, and had tinned cat food for dinner as a treat (‘‘Dine’ for cats who are connoisseurs’’ ) She’s sitting on the desk beside me now, a little subdued but otherwise herself. She’s been gazing up through the skylight, watching the leaves of the gum tree whip about in the wind, the sky flatten to dull white as night creeps closer. Richard’s practicing his piano nearby, and she seems happy, listening to the hesitant trails of notes of notes plopping like raindrops into a pool. She’s very sleepy, every few minutes her eyes drifting closed to form little crescent moons. I can rest my hand on her side, and feel it rising and falling with each deep breath, thrumming slightly as she purrs.

Posted in Cats, Cats, dogs & other rare beasts | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

An exchange of cross words (or, why there is no book review this week either)

I found the cat doing anagrams when I came home today. At least I assume that’s what she was doing: the scrabble tiles were scattered about her on the rug and she had a look of fierce concentration on her face. The newspaper lay strewn in pieces around the room.  Obviously she had had difficulty finding the crossword puzzle.

I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised: she’s modelling her behaviour on me. I’ve become absolutely obsessed with cryptic crosswords, you see, since going to a talk by David Astle a fortnight ago.

For those not from Sydney, David Astle, also known as ‘DA’, is the Friday crossword compiler for the Sydney Morning Herald. I hadn’t had much experience with cryptic crosswords prior to this session: I got the occasional clue, but in the main part they were just a random jumble of words featuring sinister, gangster-like figures such as ‘Mr P.’ and copious references to American states.  

They were something I always wanted to master though. I can remember watching my Grandma doing them and thinking how sophisticated and poised she seemed, methodically filling in each square with a biro (no tentative pencils for her), slicing through the quagmire of clues with the knife of her intellect.  

Crosswords are also reputed to be an excellent way of staving off Alzheimers, and  I’m paranoid about Alzheimers – so much so that I religiously eat half a cup of blueberries each morning because they’re supposed to prevent it, and panic each time I can’t perform simple memory tasks like reciting the entire Canterbury Tales by heart.

So this session was a godsend. All of a sudden my world cracked open: where previously I had seen only chaos, I now saw patterns, signposts, directions. I knew which words signalled an anagram or container; what abbreviations were commonly used in charades; which part of the clue was the definition and which was the bit to be manipulated (some of the time at least.) I was alert to the possibility of puns prowling about; saw deletions and alternations grinning at me from tantalising thickets of words; kept an ear permanently pricked for homophones and spoonerisms. I was sensibly wary of hybrids and manipulations. And when I saw a rebus, I no longer thought the compiler had got up for another cup of tea and forgotten to finish the clue. I was switched on. (Alright, I admit that I’m exaggerating, that I still haven’t got to the stage where I’m solving rebuses. But it isn’t too far off…)

It’s because of crosswords that my book reviews have been a little thin on the ground lately. While I used to read on the bus to and from work, I now spend the morning commute checking yesterday’s solutions, and the evening commute working on the day’s new puzzle.

If you ever want to be ostracised by your fellow human beings, I highly recommend doing cryptic crosswords on public transport. You should see me: face scrunched up in concentration (all my elaborate anti-wrinkle creams rendered pointless), raking fingers through my hair like a mad scientist, muttering strange incoherent phrases under my breath: ‘Georgia visits Los Angeles, dies beheaded beneath the stars’ (‘Galaxies’ in case you’re interested – I’m quite proud of myself for working that one out.)   

I’m not really one for chatting to strangers, but at times I’ve been so caught up in puzzle-solving mania –so tantalisingly close to cracking that crucial clue – that I’ve resorted to asking passengers near me for help.  Next time you’re on a bus, try asking the person sitting beside you if they can think of any small dog breeds beginning with an F, or if they’ve ever heard of a town in Switzerland called Usturta. The responses are interesting. Men invariably think you’re trying to pick them up, exchanging smug ‘she wants me’ smirks with other males nearby. (From my experience, the more unattractive and divorced-from-deodorant the man, the more inclined he is to think this.) Women on the other hand are much kinder. If you ask them whether they’re familiar with an animal called the zebu, they’ll simply assume you’re mad and move away accordingly.

This recent crossword fetish of mine has had other repurcussions  too. My relationships with friends and family have suffered.  When people speak to me, I’m no longer really listening to what they say: instead, I’m mentally counting the letters in the words they use.

I’ve also become obsessed with anagrams. Idly watching Seraphina Nightingale attacking Richard the other day, I suddenly realised that her name contained the words ‘Satan’ and ‘Hitler’. Surely this was more than mere wordplay –this was hinting at a deeper, more instrinsic understanding of her character.

I duly ran her name through an internet anagram generator just to see what it threw up:
– A seaplane hiring night
– A Shenanigan Lithe Prig
– A Shanghaiing Eel Print
– A Phalanger Nightie Sin
– A Hangnail Greenish Pit
– A Pheasant Hireling Gin

Again, astonishingly apt.

I’m embarrassed to admit what I did next: if googling your name is technological onanism, then I can’t even begin to think what running it through an anagram generator might be. But that’s what I did. And then I tried the names of every other person I could think of. And you may as well  admit that you’re curious about yours as well  (if so, just visit here, or for a quick fix, here.)

…Anyway, to cut a long story short, that’s why there’s no book review this week.  I can however tell you that the centre of gravity is ‘v’. That Justin Timberlake is an anagram of, ‘I’m a jerk but listen’.  That the thing which links friendship with mozzarella, truth, limousine, hamstrings and the imagination is that they can all be stretched.  That ‘set’ is the English word with the most meanings in the dictionary. That British politician Virginia Bottomley’s name can be rearranged to make, ‘I’m an evil Tory bigot’.

I can tell you all this because I finally picked up a book again a few days back: David Astle’s memoir, Puzzled. It’s funny and quirky and clever and sly and full of amazing bits of word trivia you want to immediately share with the person beside you (again, not recommended on public transport.) Most importantly though, it gives you all the tools you need to be a cryptic crossword queen (or ‘conscripted crows query’.) I can’t praise this book enough.

But that’s all I’m going to say for now: I’ve got a crossword to finish.  

Fina seeks solace in alcohol after encountering a particularly fiendish crossword clue.

Posted in Book reviews & other bookish things, Cats, Other bookish things | Tagged , , | 19 Comments