Monday, 10 May 2021

AT LAST... A GOOD READ

Since Lockdown One I’ve been struggling to read properly.  

Properly  meaning reading a book from beginning to end. I’ve flipped through magazines and papers, I’ve dipped into books usually stopping out of frustration. Nothing seemed to grip me or suspend my thinking about the mechanics of reading. I was like the child in the car asking “are we nearly there yet?” 

A very clever and good friend confessed to suffering from the same affliction saying he read a book at the same pace now as he used to read Latin prose (mind you he got the top classics scholarship to the top college in Oxford over  half a century ago so he probably read Latin quite fast.) Now he flipped through the first few pages of a book and said he knew pretty well what the author was going to say and he couldn’t be bothered with fiction.

I got paranoid and went to the optician for a test expecting to be told I was going blind. Instead he prescribed reading glasses. I’ve taken a while to get used to them as when I have them on I can see the printed page clearly but the rest of the room is a blur and a glass of wine even before I’ve started drinking it seems out of focus. 

Harper Lee cured me when I read what she’d said:

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

The clincher was to realise three books by three of my favourite writers were out at the beginning of May. Robert Harris, Malcolm Gladwell and Michael Lewis. 

I’ve finished two in three days and the third will be read and done with by tomorrow.

I can read. I can read again.

“The Bomber Mafia” by Malcolm Gladwell is a study of the psychology of war. When in the late 1930’s a Dutchman invented the bomb-aimer so sophisticated it could (theoretically) enable you to drop a bomb from six miles up into a barrel of pickles, a group of young men, self-styled the Bomber Mafia, realise this could mean being able to end war which involved large armies killing each other and focusing instead on taking out key factories. The story (a true one of course) is the debate between this vision led by an intellectual  young General Hayward Haskell and the more pragmatic ‘obliterate-them’ view of an even younger get-it-done General Curtis LeMay.

In the event Haskell gets fired in the war against the Japanese and is replaced by the dour LeMay who leads napalm raids on 67 Japanese cities. The war was over before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Millions had been burnt to death before that final hammer blow.

Unbelievably May gets a medal from the Japanese for helping stop the war quickly and letting the US in rather than a prolonged break-up of Japan by the Soviets and Chinese.

Gladwell says:

“Curtis won the battle. But Haskell won the war.”

It’s a great story but I’m not sure I agree with that after recent events in Syria.

“V2” is by Robert Harris. They’re both war books. Obviously I feel aggressive. The book describes the story of Werner Von Braun’s V2 rockets and the attempt of the British to anticipate through trigonometry how to take out their launch sites.

It’s near the end of the war, Hitler’s last gamble. And as it ends with both sides thinking they’d inflicted vast damage on the other but ends with the line “we were both misled”.

Gripping, informative, readable and …. read.

And yet to come…

Monday, 3 May 2021

FEEL BETTER (JUST LIKE THAT)

Three things really irritated me last week.

First, the sudden, unwanted e-mails lauding various brands of Bitcoin which apart from being a contributor to global warming is, as far as I can see,  the South Sea Bubble of the 21st century. Then, HSBC which is not my bank, constantly texting me to say there’s a problem on my account. When I complained to them they told me “just ignore it”. Finally both my wife and I have both been called to say “this is the HMRC; you have been named in a tax fraud; unless you return this call you will be instantly arrested.” We just ignore that too. The plan to stay off social media for a few days that celebs have advocated to protest about online racial abuse seems entirely sensible. But I have a better plan.

Change your phone as I’ve done. Everyone who has a Motorola thinks it’s wonderful. I’m an exception. I haven’t come to terms with it at all. It doesn’t seem to like me either. So it sulks in my pocket whilst I sulk outside. Now the consequence is I’m using it less and less and avoiding the stress of emails and texts I don’t want or need.

But four things pleased me last week. 

1. The continuation of Spring albeit with a nasty sneaky chill but there’s the joy of seeing brave, confident plants plumping up and thriving and this makes every morning joyful. As do the birds. I saw a goldfinch and that was magic as are the magnolia and the sound of woodpeckers.

2. A Spring dish that was a triumph. Risotto Primavera. We use orzo pasta which has something of a risotto appearance cooked in white wine and chicken stock with peas, asparagus, baby leaks and chopped broccoli heads. With a glass or two of ice cold Picpoul. Wonderful.

3. The discovery that I can actually meditate and let my mind empty of energy-sapping thoughts. I’ve spent too many years speculating about things that might happen. Now I calmly and pleasantly look at the grass, trees and horizon and lose myself like a fluffy cloud gently moving across a blue sky. 

4. Finally, we’ve been told our future lies in cyber-technology and AI. I’m rather sceptical about this. Because the art of the specialist, practical engineer is far from dead.  We have a veranda with three metal poles allegedly supporting the canopy and they were rusting at the bottom. Various people inspected them, sucked their teeth, muttered “oh dear – job for a specialist” and left. This had gone on and on with me increasingly anticipating a veranda collapse. 

Enter Dale. He arrives two days after I’d called, takes a look, suggests a pragmatic solution, sends a quote for half what I’d feared it might be and then arrives with a young man who cuts off the rusty pieces at the bottom of the poles, welds on galvanised pipe with base- plates to replace where the rusty pipe was. He then screws the base plate into the concrete veranda floor. Whoosh. All done and swept clean in less than two hours. The company has staff and a boss with refreshing can-do attitudes. If they’re an important part of our future rather than just apps and nice-to-have cyber-labour-savers, we’ll be fine.

And it’s not just climate change that’s a problem. Human beings are overheating too. We huff-puff, get querulous, quarrelsome and peevish. No need. Just watch a specialist at work or a blackbird building a nest. They really know what they’re doing and that’s so comforting.