Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Book Thief

... an extraordinary novel about the redemptive power of words and reading.

Last night I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Without doubt, it is one of the best novels I’ve read in my life -- yet I almost passed it by. For three reasons:

It is a whopping 584 pages.

It is set in Nazi Germany during WW2. And the Nazi regime is a subject I can barely stomach. The persecution and slaughter of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Poles...

It is narrated by Death, and the atmosphere is grey and gloomy right from start -- when a ten-year-old girl named Liesel Meminger witnesses the death of her little brother on a freezing cold train.

But it is brilliantly told and BEAUTIFULLY written. And even though it is such a fat book, I slowed down, savouring it more and more.

I prefer a linear narrative, not to know what will happen in the story until reaching that point. But in the case of The Book Thief, I think the use of foreshadowing was essential. Without it, some of the blows might have been too hard.

Even so, it was difficult to read through my tears during a couple of the final chapters.

And I don’t want to ruin the story (it is a great story, with an element of consoling humour), but by the time Liesel Meminger is fourteen, she has experienced more horror and loss than most of us will see in a lifetime.

A truly unforgettable book. I am astonished at what Markus Zusak achieved...

And reminded of a real-life story:

The elderly father of one of my friends was a teenager in Poland during WW2. The Nazis murdered his whole family; his mother and one of his brothers were shot right in front of him. (I don’t know the reason he was spared.) He had no one and nowhere to go, so he started walking. Somewhere along the way he found a gun -- and decided to keep on walking. He reached England a few months before the end of the War, by which time he was seventeen-years-old.

He got a job in the building trade. He worked hard and eventually built his own successful business.

It wasn’t until he retired that he began to have terrible nightmares and to struggle to cope with his past.

War is never over.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Curse of the Cracked Toilet Seat

What is this blog coming to? I never thought I would stoop so low as to blog about toilets. One toilet in particular, to be more precise -- and that would be the toilet in my bathroom. But, although I am writing about my toilet, I’ll excuse myself by telling you that’s not entirely the point of this post.

In the meantime, back to the toilet seat, which, as you can see from these photos, has a lovely big crack in the lid...

Just as it did when I viewed the apartment in April. That seat was replaced. And I moved in at the beginning of June to enjoy a pristine and un-cracked loo seat ... for all of six weeks, because that seat then cracked in exactly the same place as the first one.

A couple of weeks later, the plumber replaced that seat. And all was well in the bathroom ... for about six weeks, because on Saturday evening, when no one was here, that seat then cracked in exactly the same place as the first and second one! Making this the third toilet seat to have cracked in less than six months.

Weird! Bizarre!

I thought I’d left the ghosts and ghouls behind when I moved out of my haunted house. But perhaps the little poltergeist jumped in with the pots and pans.

Or, was it a mistake to write a story about a woman who is haunted by a ghost that hangs out in her bathroom? That story is currently on submission. If it’s accepted for publication, will my toilet seat woes be over, or *shiver* have my problems only just begun...?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Tag Time!

Tags have a habit of cropping up whenever I’ve sworn on the bible, written in blood, and promised my imaginary friend I’ll be writing my socks off all evening.

But, the amazing Catherine J. Gardner has tagged me, twice!!

First by awarding Overnight at Thistletonthwaite Castle an I Love Your Blog award.

Why, thank you so much! :)

The rules state that I must nominate at least 7 other blogs. So, technically, I should nominate all 25 blogs from my sidebar as I LOVE THEM ALL DEARLY. But I’m a rule breaker (can I still have the award?) so I’ll pass on passing this on.

Tag Number Two: The Interview

What are your nicknames? At school I was sometimes called Gogs because of my swimming goggles. More recently, a couple of friends liked to call me M. One of my sisters has called me Horsey, or Horse, for as long as I can remember, and I’m Aunty Horsey to my 9-year-old niece.

What game show and/or reality show would you like to be on? I don’t watch any, so that’s a very tough question.

What was the first movie you bought on VHS or DVD? Scarface. I was obsessed with it, and embarrassingly, I had a crush on Tony Montana. WHAT was I thinking?

What is your favourite scent? I have several: the countryside, wet silk, verbena, and L’eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake.

If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it? Employ a cleaner, take a long trip to Romania and Macedonia, buy some time, and then invest the rest in gold.

What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to? The tiny island of Anguilla.

Do you trust easily? Yes, though it can sometimes be a mistake.

Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think? I think before I act, but make my decisions quite quickly.

Is there anything that has made you unhappy lately? Yes.

Do you have a good body image? Yes.

What is your favorite fruit? The avocado.

What websites do you visit daily? This changes, but currently: The Guardian, The Times, The New York Times, and Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent.

What have you been seriously addicted to lately? Reading and eating avocados, but not at the same time.

What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is? Friendly, generous, focused, productive, and talented.

What's the last song that got stuck in your head? F.E.A.R. by Ian Brown. Which is odd because I haven’t heard it in more than a year.

What's your favorite item of clothing? Today, it’s my Citizens of Humanity wide-leg jeans. Closely followed by a gorgeous jacket I bought last week.

Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy? No.

What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground? Stare at it. Look furtively around. Pick it up. Look around again to see if anyone nearby appears to have lost it. Wave it in the air. Put it in my pocket and think about taking it to the police station.

What items could you not go without during the day? Mascara, tissues, laptop, phone, sparkling water, and food.

What should you be doing right now? Eating! This tag took longer than planned. ;)

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

All that glitters...

The news is grabbing my attention. First the Large Hadron Collider, and now...

Yesterday, on the very same day that Lehman Brothers collapsed, and our financial future became even rockier than it was the day before, the contemporary art world made history with Damien Hirst’s sale at Sotheby’s of an entire body of new work. Work sold at auction by the artist. Not the usual route -- where pieces sell first through a gallery and might later arrive at auction via collectors who'd like to off-load.

He who dares wins: Marketing and spin paid off for Damien Hirst.

Many pieces achieved prices way above their estimates. So, while investors have lost confidence in property, they feel bullish about contemporary art.

And if you had several million sloshing around -- would you throw it away on property, risk it on the stock market, stash it in a bank that might go bust, or gamble on freshly minted art?

If gold prices had not risen to their current heights, I might have withdrawn my savings and invested in glittering ore. The thought really did cross my mind. Not Krugerrands, and certainly not gold bars, but either...

The Gold Toy Lamp by Ryan McElhinney (though not real gold)...

Or a ring by Solange Azagury-Partridge (definitely real gold)...

So I could take my worth wherever I go...

Friday, 12 September 2008

The Atom Smasher

Physics was my least favourite subject at school. I found it difficult and boring. In fact, I didn’t even know what it was. Had the teacher told us that amazing things such as Tesla coils are physics -- and had we built one in the lab -- I would have been an enthusiastic student. Instead, all I remember is double-dutch equations on the board. I was lost, and dropped all sciences except biology at the age of 14.

I hope physics classes now include not only the wonders of Tesla, but also the Large Hadron Collider ... in depth. The atom smasher was fired up for the first time on Wednesday, shooting beams of subatomic particles, called hadrons, through a 17-mile circular tunnel beneath fields and villages on the Swiss-French border. And the world has not ended. Yet.

By accelerating two separate beams to the speed of light, then colliding them head on, the moment right after the Big Bang will be recreated. From this, scientists hope to discover the nature of dark matter.

But the naysayers are concerned that a black hole could be spawned by these collisions. Not just any old black hole, but a black hole that would devour the Earth.

The worst-case scenario is this: A tiny black hole starts eating the Earth. A bit like a comet (gone mad), it keeps orbiting through the planet. After absorbing the entire Earth, the black hole is almost the size of a golf ball, but with the same mass the Earth had before it was eaten. The black hole now takes Earth’s place in the solar system, and the moon orbits around the golf ball. (Which is cute, but means we're all dead.)

Hackers have already infiltrated the LHC’s computer network, posting a warning about weaknesses in its infrastructure. (Yikes!)

Did I really think, once-upon-a-time, that physics was boring?


Sunday, 7 September 2008

Roller Coaster

Apologies for my absence: I’ve been unwell, but am now on the road to recovery. I hope it’s a straight one.

But my life does seem to be in one of those roller coaster phases. And though I dream of a place of consistency and calm, I’m perhaps destined not to reside there. (But I do remain optimistic.)

I’ve chosen the X2 to illustrate this post. The X2 adds a new twist to the old roller coaster ride. It has seats that extend off the track, allowing them to rotate 360 degrees ... while zooming along with the train.

Please excuse me. I think I’m going to be...