Book hangover

Just finished re-reading my absolute number 1 favourite book of all time, and now I’m… in that weird mood. Book hangover mood.

I’ve read this book maybe ten times since I was sixteen and first got it from a relative, and I’ve been waiting so long since the last time because when you know a book by heart, you’re not really reading it. So I had to wait until I could feel it again, and now I’ve done it. Squeezed the last drops out of it for a while, and it makes me happy and sad and nostalgic, and now I don’t really know what to do with myself…

But hubby’s making something yummy downstairs, and food solves all problems, so I guess it’s dinner and a glass of wine, and another five year wait until I can read it again. Because I will. Because some books are like friends, and even if you lose touch, you’ll never forget.

I guess I’m saying that books matter. Whoever the writer is, whatever their views and politics and prejudice and whatever, a book is a world unto itself. Books may come through us, but we don’t own them. And for every person who reads, they mean something different.

The artist is flawed. The work is perfect. Just be grateful for those times when the words or the notes or the colours settle in the pattern that’s just for you, because nothing can take that away.

What are the odds?

You know why I write? Because life is effing strange, that’s why. And I want to document, explore and exploit that strangeness.

I’m sitting here in the living room with my husband, listening to Saxon’s Crusader, and I’m looking at the album cover. Suddenly my eyes snag on the coat of arms worn by one of the soldiers, and I sit up straight and burst out, “It’s the Henry IV coat of arms! But he didn’t go on a crusade, did he? The play starts with him complaining that he’s too ill to go. Not that Shakespeare got his reputation for being historically accurate, but…”

And so on and so forth. Geeky, yes. But the geekiness isn’t the point. It’s the utter randomness of it all.

Let’s look at the chain of events. Once upon a time in a random country, a random king chose a perhaps not so random coat of arms. It contained the French fleur de lys and the English lion, since his ancestors (and his son) laid claim to France.

A couple of hundred years later, a random Warwickshire boy writes about him, and it’s a hit. The success of his plays are so enduring that, four hundred years later, they’re still produced all over the world. Including the one about the random king.

Enter an even more random player in this strange, eventful history: a Swedish fifteen year old girl who travels to England with her parents to cycle all through the summer and watch a few plays in Stratford. One of the plays is the Adrian Noble production of Henry IV part 1&2, and the girl falls so hard for it that she gets a concussion. Twenty-five years later, she’s still obsessive enough to write a blog post about it. Twenty-five years later, the coat of arms with the fleur de lys and the lion still mean something to her. Those symbols that have long since lost their original meaning for most people — for her, they’re the epitome of nostalgia.

I mean… you couldn’t think it up if you tried!

And now imagine something from our own time and place having that kind of symbolic value for somebody in 500 years’ time. For example, the Swedish king’s official motto having sentimental value to someone in 2416 Argentina.

Mind-bogggling, isn’t it? But it happens. It happens all the time. As humans, we seek for patterns and symbols in everything, and the meanings of artifacts change and change again, moving in and out of the personal, in and out of the general.

The distorted echoes of history. Seriously. It’s the reason to write.

The power of art

Today I watched the movie Pride again. Fourth time in a month, and it still has the power to punch me in the gut. To others, it may just be a run-of-the-mill British feel-good film about miners, but for me it pushes all the buttons and then some.

To begin with, Wales. *sigh* I can’t begin to express the beauty of that country. As a child, I was dragged back and forth across the Black Mountains year after year, and it remains my secret second home.

There’s no feeling like standing on top of the world, looking down at that patchwork of hedges and fields while the sheep graze around you and your skin shines with something which is neither mist nor drizzle, but something in between.

I love Wales. Love it. The cherry pies, the pretty villages, the welcoming people, the bracken and the foxgloves, the sheep and the rabbits, the castles and the churches. And you know what they say: if Wales was flattened out, it would be bigger than England.

I’m sad to say I haven’t been to Onllwyn, but I’ve sort of skirted it. The dotted line on this map shows some of the roads I cycled as an eleven-year-old who didn’t have a clue what had gone on here just two years before.

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Onllwyn is at the bottom of the image, just above Seven Sisters.

I could go on about Wales all day, but I’ll move on to Gethin. He has all of 1% of the storyline, but that’s what really stays with me. I know all about coming from a small village and getting the hell out of there because you’re the local weirdo. When Hefina wishes him Nadolig Llawen over the phone… oh Lord. I get misty just thinking about it.

And then there’s Bill Nighy. Christ, he’s good in this film. His scenes don’t feel like a movie at all, but like a documentary. When he speaks about the “dark artery”, it feels like listening to a real person, telling their own story. Actually, that’s another of this movie’s strong points, that it does such an amazing job of telling several people’s story in just a few brush strokes. They don’t spell it out, they rely on the audience to get it, and it’s extremely effective.

Like Maureen’s son who objects to the “gay invasion”, but you can see him fidget and fret about it. Like the god-awful scene at the nightclub between Tim and Mark. Perfect, understated, beautiful. A stab in the heart. Or like the first time the van arrives in Onllwyn, and they look out to see the children with their bikes, standing around in the street because there’s nothing else to do. It’s so real. I see it around me today.

What else? Oh, Bread and Roses, the song/poem that speaks about how you don’t just need to survive physically, but that you need something else, too – dignity, culture, love. Because without that, what are you fighting for? I cry every time. In fact, all the music is spot on and almost another character in the film. Not to mention the perfect blend of 70’s and 80’s fashion that sets the tone.

This is not the last time I watch this movie. Maybe in a while it’ll only be once a month, but it’s shot straight up there to my top ten of all time, and it won’t budge for less than a miracle. But more importantly, it has told me something about my own life: I need a Cause.

So that’s my vague almost-resolution for 2016: to find something to believe in and fight for. I have no idea where to start. I’m sure people around me have lots of suggestions, but I need to find it for myself. If I don’t feel it, it won’t happen. But I know I want it, and hopefully my brain will catch on when the opportunity comes.

Because I have heard the message of Pride: while we’ve been gathering our iPads and shoes and knick-knacks, and while my own damn country is building a fucking fence against the rest of the world, something important has been lost. And I, the most individualistic of all individualists, intend to find it again.