All of us readers are on the look-out for that perfect comfy chair where you can have plenty of books within easy reach, and perhaps a place to put a snack, a coffee, a glass of wine, a bookmark or notebook. None of the ones I’ve found so far quite answer all of my needs.
So, in the end, the best solution is clearly a window seat which combines comfort with storage and pretty views.
Yes, I know I said there were some beautiful palaces all over Europe (and I haven’t even gone to other continents – that’s a thought for future posts!). But I still dream of that perfect little chateau somewhere in France… Perhaps because there are so many of them to choose from, something for every taste.
This was a very good companion on a sleepless night. It’s a police procedural (a nice change to psychological thrillers, which seem to be mushrooming all over the crime fiction landscape at the moment). Yet it also introduces readers to the lesser known world of K&R (kidnap and ransom) specialists, a growth industry in various parts of the world. People are kidnapped for profit, the insurance brokers and corporates step in and hire experts who will negotiate a good price and a speedy (sometimes not all that speedy) release.
Selena Cole and her husband own such a boutique business, but after her husband’s death in a bomb blast in Brazil a year ago, she has stepped back a little from the helm, leaving her sister-in-law and her husband to take care of affairs. But then one day she simply disappears from the playground, leaving her young daughters to fend for themselves. Very uncharacteristic of her, so friends and family fear the worst. She is found twenty hours later, but has no memory of what happened during those ‘missing hours’. A murder occurred during this period: is it possible that Selena was involved in any way?
Another innovation in this novel is that the investigating team feature a brother and sister couple of detectives, which allows us to see events and the people involved from two distinct but sympathetic points of view. Leah Mackay, mother of twin girls, identifies almost too much with Selena and starts to see links to the case everywhere she goes. Meanwhile, her younger brother Finn is more interested in the murder case, but sometimes allows his own emotions and judgements to take over. The interaction between the two siblings was fun and realistic: it was refreshing to see two partners who are supportive rather than antagonistic, but still able to laugh at each other, without a trace of forelock-tugging.
The author is a trained psychologist, but she does not drown the reader in excessive detail. Instead, she has developed an elegant, pared down way of describing thought processes and reactions, telescoping them over a long period of time.
And then life moved on, and somehow, without me knowing it, I got whipped into pregnancy and babies and a family and home, and yet still I am held hostage, there on that cold kitchen floor, holding a bottle of Rioja, wanting to die.
Some readers have objected to the introduction of the kidnap and ransom case files which are interspersed throughout the book. They felt that they interrupted the flow of the story. I actually quite liked them, it felt a bit more experimental and a nice change from the ‘perspective of the serial killer’ chapter so prevalent in many recent books. They introduced a matter of fact, non-emotional reporting element, which upped the ante, making us aware of the globalisation of crime.
There are other countries that have beautiful chateaux, you know, even though they may call them Schloss, vár, palat, hrad and so on. Here are a few lesser-known favourites, some of which may even be for sale.
I’m still milking all those lovely pictures that I took during my five days in Provence. I was going to say that this is because ‘I don’t get out much’, but I think I may have complained in the past about my work involving too much travel, so it won’t be plausible. Also, I seem to be attending an awful lot of cultural events since moving back to the UK.
So my only excuse is: it’s the misery of November, we’ve got to compensate somehow. You can see why artists are so attracted to that region – the lights and colours are unbelievable (all are taken without any filters, simply with my phone, which sometimes suffers in poor light conditions).
I didn’t mind the gloomy weather – besides, the Luberon needed some rain after an exceptionally dry summer. I just curled up in my cosy room and read and wrote. One of the books I stumbled across was Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself.The author was a counsellor and lay minister, who wrote this slim volume of New Age/Christian wisdom, aphorisms, inspirational thoughts, which became a huge hit in the 1970s. It perfectly captured the spirit of the time.
I cannot ‘make my mark’ for all time. Nothing will have meaning ultimately. Nothing will even mean tomorrow what it did today. Meaning changes with the context. It is enough that I am of value to someone today. It is enough that I make a difference now.
Why do I judge my day by how much I have ‘accomplished’? I am holding this cat in my arms so it can sleep, and what more is there. [This consoled me as I realised that I would not finish my first draft.]
Perfectionism is slow death, If everything were to turn out just like I would want it to, just like I would plan for it to, then I would never experience anything new; my life would be an endless repetition of stale successes. When I make a mistake, I experience something unexpected.
A sure way for me to have a disastrous experience is to do something because ‘it will be good for me.’
There may be a natural, healthy kind of fear, but the fear I don’t like and want not the obey is the fear that urges me to act contrary to my own feelings or to act before I know what my feeling are. It is usually a fear of displeasing other people.
If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write. Standing before the refrigerator. If I have to ask myself if I’m hungry, I’m not. [Ouch! This one stung a little!]
If someone criticizes me I am not any less because of that. It is not a criticism of me but critical thinking from him.. He is expressing his thoughts and feelings, not my being. Before, I thought I was actually fighting for my own self-worth, that is why I so desperately wanted people to like me. I thought their liking me was a comment on me, but it was a comment on them.
‘Tis the season to hide away from reality and snuggle up in some beautiful home libraries, with a woollen blanket, a fireplace, a cup of tea or mulled wine, a cat purring and, mais bien sur! a book or two or three. Most of them feature a stair or ladder, because it really does enhance every library, don’t you think?
Some day, when I make my millions and convert my loft…
Meanwhile, a reminder that 100 years ago there were many cold and desperate soldiers huddled in the mud-filled trenches of Flanders. Happy Armistice Day, everyone!
I’ve always been a soother rather than a fighter, seeking to calm things down, to not get involved in conflict. However, in spite of yesterday’s poetic therapy, I found myself still profoundly disturbed and upset by the way things are going in the world. Because I have seen this all before. This is my attempt to grapple with my own sense of unease…
Following the surprise results of the referendum in Britain and the elections in the US, there are plenty who have come forward and said that it wasn’t that much of a surprise, that it reflects people’s despair and lack of confidence in the establishment, that it’s a moment of revolt, a wake-up call to the out-of-touch elites and hand-wringing, ineffectual liberalists.
I can understand that. I myself have been equally frustrated by the hasty return to ‘flawed business as usual’ after the collapse of 2008, instead of any government truly grappling with the reasons for it and finding new solutions and even new political and economic systems to deal with globalisation and poverty. However, ‘dissing’ experts and giving in to the nastiest, lowest common denominator of populism is not the answer.
I lived in a society which was deeply suspicious of experts, intellectuals and elites, even while seeking to emulate them. Elena Ceausescu, the dictator’s wife, did not let only four years of primary schooling get in the way of her becoming a ‘world-renowned scientist’ (savant de renume mondial was the catchphrase you had to add whenever you talked or wrote about her). She had her doctorate in chemistry written by someone else, stole other people’s research papers and collected honorific academic titles from around the world (it was a prerequisite of any planned state visit). Meanwhile, her husband vaunted himself with being the author of numerous books on a variety of subjects (his was a universal expertise). I often wondered why they were so eager to be labelled ‘intellectuals’ despite their obvious distaste for those who really were such, until I realised that it was an atheist version of ‘You shall have no other Gods but myself’. It is a cynical and contemptuous manipulation, the brainwashing techniques of ‘I will provide you with all the answers you need’, preferably as simple as possible, thus apparently meeting the needs of the masses, while in fact despising them.
History is littered with such quotes, both on the left and the right.
To read too many books is harmful. (Mao Zedong)
Why do they need any foreign languages? I became Minister of Education without any of that nonsense. (Suzana Gadea, Romanian party official in the 1970s)
Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas? (Stalin)
To rely upon conviction, devotion, and other excellent spiritual qualities – that is not to be taken seriously in politics. (Lenin)
There are no morals in politics, only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel. (Lenin)
A lie told often enough becomes the truth. (disputed source, it appears Goebbels, Hitler, Stalin and others were all prone to using a version of this)
There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted. It’s “the man in the street” we are talking to. Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth is unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology. (Goebbels)
Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will. (Goebbels)
Learning carries within itself certain dangers because out of necessity one has to learn from one’s enemies. (Trotsky)
How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think. (Hitler)
Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism ever invented for its own destruction. (Hitler)
It is not truth that matters, but victory. (Hitler)
Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice. (Hitler)
Yes, in moments of anger and crisis, it is far less reassuring to be full of questions and doubts, to take longer to come to a decision, to consult others instead of being the charismatic leader who always knows best. We are all in thrall of the lone ranger CEO who comes in, shoots from the hip, relies on gut instinct and gives a clear sense of direction. We fear ‘governance by committee and panels of experts’ (and, boy, have I sat on many pointless and silly committee meetings, am I fed up with endless government enquiries!).
Yet I fear even more the person who always knows best, who has an opinion about everything, who is unwilling to listen to others. Especially when they hold the future of a country in their hands. Like this:
The foetus is the property of the entire society. Anyone not having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity. (Nicolae Ceausescu)
The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. (Bertrand Russell)
I’ll end this long bout of hand-wringing with a song written by a Romanian rock band, Sarmalele Reci: ‘The Country Wants You Dumb’. The name of the band itself is ironic: it translates as Cold Sarmale – a kind of cabbage-wrapped meatballs which we traditionally eat for Christmas and other major celebrations – but always hot. I apologise for the video quality. It’s an old recording, from 20 years ago, which has been recently found. Sadly, the verses seem to be more relevant than ever (my translation):