Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Ladybird Book Changed My Life

"Books can be dangerous.  The best ones should be labeled: 'This could change your life.'"  - Helen Exley

Did a book you read when you were young ever send you in an unlikely direction?

When I was about seven or eight I had amongst my Ladybird books a couple of slim volumes from their 'Travel Adventure' series. I think the central premise was a businessman father who took his children on some of his business trips. 

I don't know why it attracted me so much, but there was one picture in 'Flight Six - The Holy Land' that stuck in mind so strongly I can still see it. The travellers visited a kibbutz and the picture was of pretty young women wearing dirndl skirts and picking oranges. The sun shone and everybody was smiling. My imagination was seized.

So when, years later, I finally escaped from A High Street Bank, where else was I going to head? It probably would never have happened if I hadn't read the book. I wouldn't have known what a kibbutz was and it would have sounded much dodgier (this was 1990 - just before Saddam Hussein started lobbing missiles at Israel to retaliate for the first Desert Storm) if I hadn't had this mental image of sun, oranges and, yes, dirndl skirts.

I think this photo of me must have been taken at more or less the same spot as the illustration on the cover. It's the southern end of the Sea of Galilee with Jordan in the distance. No dirndl skirt or sheep, but you have to admit they're pretty whacky shorts. 

It certainly was an adventure - the rest of my which, I'll save for another time.

What books have changed your life?

"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book." - Harold Bloom

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Pools, fools and broken rules

It's been a funny old day with one thing and another. 

I got a bit wet with all that rain - which was odd because I was inside the library. I'm reliably informed this happens all the time (although presumably only when it's raining) and we're waiting to see if we can have a new roof.

Then someone was passing round a list of real questions people have asked librarians:

'Do you have books here?'

'Do you have a list of all the books I've read'?

'Do you have any books with photographs of dinosaurs?'

'Can you tell me why so many famous battles were fought on National Park sites?'

'Where in the library can I find a power socket for my hair dryer?'

'Do you have that book... it's by a local author, I don't remember the name of the author or the title of the book, but it's a big one.'

There are more of them here.

Meanwhile, there have been missives from The Powers That Be regarding money-savings, which include a biscuit embargo and severe cutbacks on 'casual photocopying'. I'm not entirely sure what 'casual photocopying' is - maybe it's when you do it in your PJs. Someone suggested they mean 'frivolous or unnecessary copying' and in an attempt to clarify this I asked whether it was when you are photocopying your own arse?

Then I remembered - I had promised myself I wouldn't say 'arse' in the library again.

Then My Favourite Artist visited and made me say 'penis' again so my copybook is well and truly blotted now. Just a fortnight away from finishing my probationary period too.

But by far my favourite line of the day was from a little old lady this afternoon. I was having trouble making out what she was saying when she announced: 'Oh, I've just realised - I've come out without me teeth!"

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

My Lake District Hell

I'm off to the Lake District for a few days tomorrow - that'll make it rain. (Have you SEEN the weather forecast?)

Having never really been there before (just a couple of days a few years ago, or driving through en route to Scotland) - which is crazy considering some of the places I have been - my impression has always been of somewhere bleak and damp, looming hills, without the easy charm and ice-cream-scoffing nuns of say, the Italian Lakes.

It will be heaving with holiday-makers, awash with torrential floods and snooing with* murderous taxi drivers.

So I was delighted to find in a guide book in the library a couple of quotes that matched my own (probably errant) expectations:

William Gilpin, on Grasmere: "The whole view is entirely of the horrid kind. Not a tree appeared to add the least chearfulness [sic] to it. With regard to the adorning of such a scene with figures, nothing could suit it better than a group of banditti. of all the scenes I ever saw this was the most adapted to the perpetration of some dreadful deed."

Daniel Defoe, from A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (English Library) on Westmorland in the 1720s: “a country eminent for being the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England, or even Wales itself.”

This quote is especially enjoyable as it manages to put the boot in about Wales in the same breath.

And was it not Wordsworth himself who wrote (in an early draft):

I wandered moaning with the crowds
That blot the highways, hills and vales
When all at once I saw some clouds
Oh bloody hell, it's grim as Wales.

Let's hope I'm wrong. It happens. After all the Lake District was voted Britain's greatest natural wonder ahead of Scottish Highlands. Of course I daren't say anything against the Highlands or The Good Doctor will bite my knees.

So I may or may not be online before Sunday depending on wifi - but feel free to agree or disagree wildly in the comments if you feel inclined.

* This is an expression my mum uses but most people claim never to have heard of such a thing - this might be one for the Inkyfool