I recently got a reminder on Facebook of a post I made a year ago. It described the sudden realisation I had come to during a conversation with one of my kids some time previously. In light of the news we’ve had about the pervasive, invasive effects of plastics in the last twelve months I thought it worth re-sharing.
Why is the oil industry so powerful? Why can the U.S. justify going to war, and staying at war, maintaining a ‘presence’ in oil-rich countries, and why does our government keep backing them, even when (Tony Blair) they have to manufacture evidence and ignore the will of the people in order to do so? Just why are these people so all-powerful and so completely untouchable? What about renewables? We know they work, how come the Oil Industry isn’t threatened by them? I used to wonder this, and it wasn’t until one of my kids asked me that I had the sudden epiphany that answered the question for me.
Now maybe I’m late to the realisation, but when it came a couple of years ago it was pretty breath-taking and it’s occurred to me that a lot of other people may still not really understand the answer to this question, not because it’s complex or hidden but because it’s so far out into the open it’s actually invisible in plain sight.
The Oil Industry – or the Petro-Chemical Industry (which includes other fossil fuels) to give them their proper title – have their claws sunk so deep into our day-to-day existence that they are quite literally unchallengeable. And it’s not because we all like to drive our cars, or get buses or fly off on holiday; it’s not even because we like food delivered to our local shops by truck, or white goods from Taiwan by ship. It’s far more subtle and pervasive than that.
All synthetic plastics (save a minuscule percentage now recycled) derive from the fossil fuel industry. So here’s the question: How much plastic do you use every day?
Start at the beginning: were you born in a hospital? Disposable aprons, gloves masks, syringes, canulas, tubing, saline bags, blood bags; the flooring , the light fittings, the light switches, the panic button you press to bring the nurse, the bottles of medication, possibly even some of the medication itself. Are you reading this on a phone, PC or tablet? You’re using plastics. Got a TV, DVD player, stereo, mp3 player, flash drive, games console? Do you listen to vinyl records, CD’s, the radio? Use headphones? All electrical wiring is coated in plastic, and even the most basic of tools, like a saw, have plastic handles – power tools, have buttons and switches and washers, and often cases too.
Got a baby? Whether you bottle feed or express and store breast milk, use plastic spoons, bowls, cups – you’re feeding your baby courtesy of the petro-chem industry. Do you like to clean your house with environmentally friendly cleaners? Still your dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, mop & bucket, toilet brush (bristles, even if not handle), sponges all contain plastics. Plastic seals, plastic buttons, plastic edging, plastic parts. PVC windows.
What are you wearing? Unless you’re wearing 100% cotton, linen, wool, leather, hemp or silk you’re wearing petro-chemicals – from the soles of your shoes, to, the zippers on your jacket, and the fabric of the zipper; the elastics in your underwear, the lycra in your leggings to the acrylic your jumper is made out of petro-chem products. In fact if you’re female and you’re wearing ‘nice’ underwear that didn’t cost you a years average salary then you are definitely wearing petro-chems – there’s a whole branch of plastics devoted just to lingerie. Ann Summers wouldn’t exist without plastic. Polyester, which now probably accounts for a bigger percentage of the low-end clothing market than cotton, is actually the single most common plastic on the planet. Check your clothing labels. See how much you are wearing.
Your carpet, the acrylic paint on your walls, the oil paint on your door frames, the little twiddly thing you’re fiddling with as you read this. The veneer coating on your furniture, your picture frames, your kitchen cupboards. Got plants? Like nature? Did you take a picture of it with your camera? Did you put your house plants in plastic pots, did you water the garden with a plastic hose? Keep fit? All that ‘gym wear’ you’re wearing, all the cardio machines you’re using – all chock full of plastics. Hell, even the gun industry got in on the action (Hello Mr.Glock).
Carrier bags, the lid on your coffee jar, the wrapping round your food, the bag your apples are in , the till you checkout through, the uniform of the person serving you. Your glasses, the aglets on your laces, the glue you use, the bowl you wash up in. Your biro, the ink in your biro, your razor, the bottle of shampoo, in fact EVERY cosmetic or cleaning product comes in something that is at least partially plastic, even the eco products. Kitchen knife handles, food processor, pan handles, storage boxes, dustbin, bin bags, the tray the chicken you bought for dinner was on, and the absorbent pad that soaked up the blood. The cover on your ready meal, the parts in the microwave you heat it in, the handles in the cutlery you eat it with, the sofa you sit on whilst you eat it, the rug under your feet (pure wool rug? check the canvas it’s woven on and the thread it’s stitched with). And on your car it’s not what goes into the fuel tank – the light units are not glass anymore, the window seals, the door handles, the dust covers on the tyre valves, the dashboard, the mirror housing, the upholstery. Your bath, your cushion-vinyl flooring. The washers in your taps, the plumbing that drains your bathwater away. The plugs. All the plugs. The socket plates, coat hangers, combs, brushes, hairbands. Jewellery, watches, activity monitors. Teddy bears, fluffy cushions, your really cosy dressing gown and slippers, and onesie. Your daughter’s nightie, her socks, her school uniform, book bag.
The cover of your paperback is coated in plastic to protect it. Glossy magazines, printer’s ink. Your washing line, laundry basket, your pencil sharpener, the window in your shed. Your reading light, the non-slip coating on the back of your bathmat. The toys your child plays with. Lego. Feltpens, crayons. Rubik’s cube, poker chips, the playing pieces in most games.
Almost every single action you take through every single day of your life will bring you into contact with plastics. Even just sitting still looking around you and realising how much of our day-to-day functioning today is facilitated by or dependent on the Petro-chemical industry, you are almost certainly in contact with plastics somehow. In fact unless you live and entirely tech free existence in a field (in which case you’re not reading this) it is actually IMPOSSIBLE to get through each hour, and most minutes, of your day without utilising plastics, however indirectly.
The ‘oil’ industry oligarchs don’t give a shit about you running your car on electricity, or powering your house from the sun – they control the single most ubiquitous product on the planet. They’re not going to take governments to war for the black stuff. They’re taking governments to war so that they can sell you your entire life, from double glazing and cheap clothes to the idea that you can have perfect skin forever, and restyle your home whenever you want.
And they can keep doing it because we consume plastic at rates we don’t even understand. And then we throw it away, and consume more because it looks slightly different, and because somewhere down the line we were sold the idea that ‘plastic’ defines ‘disposable’.
There’s a lot being said over the last few years about the disproportionate power and wealth wielded by those who control the flow of oil out of the ground: a general and growing feeling that they figure far too large in the lives and careers of the politicians who make the decisions around our daily lives: that they need to be toppled from their ivory towers and that this can be achieved – in part at least – by reducing our dependence on oil. Similarly, it might be imagined that the disturbing news of the last year regarding the insidious nature of synthetic plastics would have helped to undermine the manufacturers’ power-base, that they would finally be back-peddaling from a position of responsiblity for such irreversible global damage.
We are deluded.
In December 2017 U.S. plastics manufacturers planned an investment boost that would increase production by 40%, and threats to convert to clean energy become meaningless when the oil companies – predictably – start moving into renewables now they are becoming profitable.
We are never going to challenge the power these people wield until we are prepared to radically change the way we live.
It’s not the politicians they own. It’s us.
A family of French mice own a little Bistro famous for it’s soup. One day when the Papa Mouse is out buying ingredients, including the secret ingredient that makes his soup so famous, an important critic arrives and demands the soup!
What will the seven brothers do? The don’t have the secret ingredient! Will the day be saved or will their reputation go down the drain, along with a second-rate soup? Read on, and find out!
Only the French can mix rodents and food and make it seem like a good thing 🙂
I picked this up through NetGalley. Short version: I struggled with it.
I had hoped it would be an enjoyable, easy, and amusing read. I love the art-work but the text just fell flat. I can see where the jokes are supposed to be, where the humour should be but it just wasn’t coming across.
I suspect that this is a collection of work based on the things actual kids have said, and had I witnessed any of them in real life I probably would have found them hilarious.
I find my own kids hysterical, and I am clearly the funniest person on the planet, but other people’s kids and their parents’ funny stories rarely do it for me.
What can I say? Humour is subjective and water is wet. Other people may love this, or it may all have got lost in translation.
I’m not a big YA reader, but you can definitely sell me a book with a cover, and Pam Sym’s Thornhill is a good example. Although I didn’t actually buy it (it arrived in the staff room as part of the appraisal batch we received in advance of the Waterstone’s Childrens’ Book Award) it was the cover that pulled me in. Charmingly dark and Gothic with a moleskin-feel, and black-edged pages, I wanted to read it just so that I could touch it.*
This is not a complex book, it’s not an original story but it is beautifully and originally delivered. I read it in a matter of hours, helped by the form of the binary narratives.
The story revolves around the lives of two lonely girls, Mary and Ella. Mary is an orphan, and Ella the only child of a mostly-absent, widowed father. Mary’s somewhat more complex narrative is delivered in a series of diary entries, whilst the simpler tale of Ella is depicted in Sym’s cleverly constructed, and beautiful black and white illustrations.
Their stories converge when Ella and her father move into a house over-looking the old orphanage (Thornhill), and Ella starts seeing a strange girl in the over-run, and fenced off grounds of the building.
There is definite homage paid to Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden which not only provides clear inspiration but is actually cited as a favourite book for both girls. Mary, isolated from her peers by selective mutism, finds expression in the making of puppets which she models on characters from her favourite books. As we intersect with her story she has just begun to fashion the characters from Burnett’s book. The two girls’ interest in each other grows to nascent friendship when Ella finds and repairs one of the puppets that had been left broken and lost in an enclosed garden in the grounds of Thornhill.
I really enjoyed this book. I felt for both girls, and felt the frustration of any parent at the poor choices made by the attendant adults in the tale, but ultimately it is a story about friendship, and how somewhere there is a friend for everyone. Though – again as a parent – I have some reservations about the conclusion as a cure for loneliness. I’m also left with the impression that there may have been another direction this book was originally taking. There are details in the story that suggested to me a different conclusion, or even another character emerging, and when that didn’t happen the attribution for certain events didn’t really ring true. That said I doubt if it is obvious enough for most of the target audience to either notice or worry about.
Overall, definitely worth the read.
*I’m a bookseller, fondling books is one of the perks. If you think that’s weird you should be in a bookshop when two or more of us are stood around together sniffing copies of a new book and comparing it to other fragrances we have known.
By now you will have read a number of (probably contradictory) reviews for this book, which will probably have given you quite a lot of detailed (and probably contradictory) information about the book.
So here’s a very brief answer and overview to help you if you are still wrestling with the question “Should I buy this book, should I read this book, will I be left wishing for those hours of my life back ?”
Well, it’s a doddle to read. It’s actually quite interesting to read. It’s not going to tell you any more outrageous stories about Trump than you have already heard. But it will confirm them, and it will add texture to some. He really didn’t expect to win, he really was just on another self-promo binge.
All of that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t hold surprises. I had no idea Ivanka and Jared are DEMOCRATS (!!??). Oops! I guess I just gave that surprise away…but it’s worth reading about the chaos that’s causing in a White House voted in to place by hard core Republicans. Steve Bannon really is the sad little, alt-right man-child you always thought he was, and not the towering power-house of a political tactician that he accidentally appeared as for a moment or two.
And childishness. So much childishness from so many purportedly adult people. Most of my sticky-notes mark points where the degree of infantile behaviour was so bad that it actually stood out from the day-to-day sulking and tantrums. It quite simply has to be the most insane government a western democracy has ever hosted. Then there’s Trump’s clear belief that the role of POTUS is actually that of an El Presidente-style, junta-leading, banana republic tyrant whose sole purpose is his own aggrandisement and pocket-lining. Like I said at the start – you actually couldn’t make this shit up.
But none of this is revelatory or extraordinary enough to warrant the hardback price, so my ultimate advice – wait until it’s in paperback.
I’m a huge fan of Cosy Crime, I cut my grown-up reading teeth on Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, so it should be no surprise that I’m a big fan of the British Library’s inspired decision to republish lost Golden Age novels.
Fifty-one re-issues in and I’m still stunned at the number of authors who had stellar careers as crime writers, were fully inducted members of the Detection Club, and had publication lists to rival Christie’s but who, within a few years of their deaths, had just vanished from the pantheon classic crime novelists.
Such a writer was E.C.R.Lorac, author of Bats In The Belfry. In his introduction Martin Edwards describes the pseudonymous Lorac (real name Edith Caroline Rivett) as enjoying a “low-key career spanning more than a quarter of a century.” It also produced a catalogue of over seventy novels, yet, cosy crime fan that I am I had never heard of her until her book turned up on my work intranet.
Bats, British Library’s inaugural Crime Classic for 2018, is also the first of Lorac’s novels to be given the British Library treatment. It couldn’t have happened to a better book! One of the dangers of republishing books that have disappeared in the mists of time, at least if you are republishing them for the mass market, is that some of them will prove to have been ‘lost’ with good cause. Not that the writing need be poor or the plotting weak, but there are social aspects that can be critical to the development or fundamental premise of the story that change over the course of half a century. When that happens there is a danger that the reader will at best be disgruntled with a puzzle they were unlikely to be able to solve because they didn’t understand the clues they were being given, or, at worst, that the whole premise will seem beyond ludicrous to modern readers. Of the twenty or so BLCC’s I have read only one has fallen into the latter category, and whilst there have been one or two which were a bit plodding thanks to such issues they have largely been a pleasure to read, and I have been able to joyfully pit my wits against the authors’ intrinsic challenge to solve the mystery before the denouement.
Bats in the Belfry most definitely falls into this class of Crime Classic, so much so that it’s a surprise to find from Edwards that it was a bit of a non-starter when it was first published in 1937.
A failing writer, his actress wife, his ward and a selection of friends are collected one evening following the funeral of the writer’s cousin. Shortly thereafter the writer himself has vanished, his suitcase and passport left in a darkly sinister studio known variously as The Belfry, and The Morgue. The story is as dark and twisty as any you could hope for from a member of the Detection Club, and it plays nicely on themes of the time. Broken marriages, financially emasculated men, and the requisite ‘strange foreign man’ all appear, and even aarchaeology gets a look in. As the main characters sit and incautiously discuss ways to bump off someone and hide the body there is brief verbal tussle over the usefulness – and even existence of – dene holes, ancient subterranean storage areas that provided writers of the time with endless possibilities, most notably in Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. Lorac’s plotting is flawless and deceptively simplistic, and she leads you back and forth from suspect to suspect. She is brutally unsympathetic to her characters, and her writing bundles you along until you finally reach the conclusion, to discover how good you are at detecting. Or not.
One hundred years ago today women finally won the right to vote in the UK. Here is some of the reading I shall be doing over the next few weeks to remind myself of the struggle that brought about that most important of changes, and how there is still progress to be made.
Harper’s debut novel ,’The Dry‘, was one of my personal books of the year last year, and in fact I still sell it quite regularly to customers seeking recommendations. I was absolutely delighted ,then, to receive a proof copy of her new novel,‘Force of Nature‘, from LittleBrown.
The plot is fairly straightforward , five female colleagues take part in a team-building weekend in the forests north of Melbourne. Three days later and several hours behind schedule four of them finally struggle back to the base camp, dehydrated, panicked and battered. The fifth one – Alice Russell, unpopular with the others – walked out of the camp one night and hasn’t been seen since.
Is her disappearance linked to the serial killer who had made the area his hunting ground twenty years earlier, or is it the result of the bullying, anger and resentment that permeates the group? Or is it less than a coincidence that the woman who is missing is an informant for Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk, the officer investigating her employers for money laundering?
In ‘The Dry‘ Harper used binary narratives – one historical, one contemporary – to artfully unravel a single story. She repeats this formula in ‘Force of Nature’ with equal success, the only difference being that in this instance the ‘historical’ events preceded the contemporary events by a few days, rather than decades.
One of the outstanding qualities of Harper’s writing is her character development. She delivers convincing and well-realised personalities who manage to be separate and distinct from each other without falling into charicature-like stereotypes. The new book makes the most of this particular skill, building one of the narrative lines from the alternating perspectives of the remaining four women of the group, and using it to steer the story in different ways unique to each character.
This is a beautiful example of Harper’s defining quality as a writer: the ability to carry a simple, uncomplicated storyline with masterful writing and composition. The way she utilises the voices of her characters: the careful, almost throw-away manner she drops in suggestions that could as easily be red-herrings as critical plot devices. With perfect pacing that builds exponentially to a dramatic, whirling climax Harper unravels a gripping tale.
Two books in an she has already made it onto my ‘favourite authors’ list. I shall be reserving space on my bookshelves for all her future books.
Having decided to spend a year reading more poetry (Adventures in Poetry),and exercising the long dormant poetry-processing portion of my brain: then having found a book that will remove all responsibility for making any kind of decision regarding what poetry I should be reading¹, (A Poem for Every Night of The Year) I am happy to report that the first seven days have been pleasantly rewarding.
Actually, that’s a slight exaggeration – for me it was the first five days. I didn’t remember to buy the book until January 3rd. But once I’d got it and overcome my personal discomfort at not having begun it on the right day, thereby missing the first two poems² I found it quickly became something I looked forward to each night.
The very first night I was initially joyful and then increasingly confused as a poem I thought I remembered from my childhood soon became unrecognisable. Sara Coleridge’s The Months begins with a stanza that is engraved on my heart, but as I progressed through each month I began to feel more and more like the child that loses it’s parent in the toy department: I should have been in seventh heaven but there was a nagging suspicion at the back of my mind that I might have spend eternity in my posh shoes and pooing in a public toilet if I couldn’t get back home. Not only was I certain that the words I was reading were not the words I used to repeat as a child, but I knew for a fact that the last verse ran thus: “Then- , Bloody January again!” and with each advancing line I was more convinced that those words had never sprung from the pen of Miss Sara Coleridge. I was deep into the dark days of November when it came to me. Miss Coleridge had been cannibalised by Flanders & Swannª:
The next couple of nights were happily occupied by A A Milne (apparently its alright to like his poetry as a grown up!) whose style and syntax, I realised, are probably unique and certainly instantly recognisable, and Robert Frost.
I repeatedly forget Frost when thinking about poets I love despite the fact that at least two of his poems have affected me profoundly. Nothing Gold Can Stay shattered my heart into blissfully desolate pieces³ when I first read it at about fourteen in Susie Hinton’s The Outsiders. Undoubtedly context played a part in that: without the tragic story leading up to Ponyboy’s analysis of the poem I probably wouldn’t – at that age – have fully appreciated the meaning in it. But the other, The Road Not Taken, has resonated with me since the first time I read it, at a level so deep I can’t easily define it. If I were asked to choose a motto for myself it would be “I took the road less travelled by”. So much so that I used to have it written on a wall in my house. It both describes, and informs my life-choices on a daily basis. That and The Logical Song.¹¹
As it turns out these few nights of happy, reminiscent and uncomplicated reading were designed to lull me into a false sense of security. On night six I reached for The Book secure in the knowledge that we, the readers, were being eased into the Serious Poetry Stuff along a gentle and meandering path. So my shock was whole-hearted when Esiri side-swiped me with a fully loaded T.S.Eliot, and there wasn’t even a cat in it!
If you don’t know, T.S.Eliot – when he’s not burbling on about cats – is a hardcore Poet. A Real Poet’s poet. Initially, the poem didn’t appear to be too demanding but in the final verse the true Eliot rose from the sea of the comprehensible and suddenly I was equating birth and death and wondering what the hell had happened, and if he even knew what he was trying to say.
I find that’s generally the give-away. If you find yourself perplexed; re-reading it six times, moving your lips as you go; if there’s a big, fat “eh…?” punctuating every line then you have probably arrived at Serious Poetry. I’m pretty sure it’s a rule or something, somewhere. “If it’s too obvious you’re not poeting properly!”
However my confusion led me to a realisation. I had started this experiment just one week ago to try and discover what it is that sets poetry readers apart from prose readers.Why they seem to be two different breeds of the same animal. Why do poetry readers get so much more out of the texts they read? In truth it was something I had forgotten, rather than something I’d never known. They get more out because writers like Eliot do their stuff. If the words you’re reading don’t state simply “Jane shot John”, but twiddle around the edges and swap clarity for obliquity then the reader is gong to have to bring more of their own thought to the understanding process:
“Jane raised the gun and pulled the trigger once. John fell in a bloodless heap on the floor and plaster rained down on his face, matching the pallor of his skin. Holes pierced his body and mind but as Jane dropped the empty weapon and blood spilled from the searing wound in her chest he rose to his feet, turned, and left.”
I mean, I just wrote that and I don’t have a clue what happened, but I’m pretty sure someone could make a story out of it if they thought about it for a while.
Perhaps it is just as simple as that. Prose readers read for the story. Poetry readers read for a deeper understanding, not just of the text, either. But does that mean the story is less important to them? Or is it that the story within a poem changes from reader to reader, biased by individual interpretation? If so when did that happen? The Icelandic Sagas just tell stories. I’ve read Beowulf (in translation, obvs!) there’s nothing that seems to me deliberately obscure. So when and why did poetry attain this highbrow quality that stipulates Real Readers have to be willing to indulge guessing games? I am genuinely asking, I don’t actually know.
It’s easy to come away from these kinds of analyses with the feeling that somehow you are ‘less’ than the towering intellects that spend years immersing themselves in tomes of Serious, Perplexing Poetry, squeezing every last ounce of interpretive meaning from them. So cheer up. Because if you are comforted by petty examples of how the literati occasionally get so full of themselves they just disappear up their own arses then you will love this.
The only poem from The Book that I am going to reproduce in full, this is a shining example of something that makes normal readers gape at each other in astonished bewilderment. Somewhere there are people out there who think that this (fun as it may be) actually warranted publishing:
Sssnnnwhuffffll? Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl? Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl. Drublhaflablhaflubhafgabhaflhafl fl fl – gm grawwwww grf grawf awfgm graw gm. Hovoplodok – doplodovok – plovodokot-doplodokosh? Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok splfok! Zgra kra gka fok! Grof grawff gahf? Gombl mbl bl – blm plm, blm plm, blm plm, blp.
¹ In fact the book suggested the process. When I first saw it on the shelf at work I thought it sounded like a flowery, fluffy idea for poetry-wanna-be’s who think it’s all beautiful suffering and unrequited love. Fuzzy Emos, basically. But the idea of a daily dose of poetry seeped into my subconscious until the whole plan erupted, fully formed, into my conscious mind. I subsequently realised that this was the perfect text for my experiment. Of course I simultaneously realised that rather than a flowery, fluffy idea for poetry wanna-be’s,the book was, in fact, a very sound anthology of reliable verse for sensible people who make informed and intelligent decisions regarding their reading matter and practices. No Fuzzy Emo shit here.
² I’m not O.C.D. I’m not ‘a little bit O.C.D.’ (that’s not a real thing), I’m just tight-fisted. There is a sliding-scale zone within which I can more or less comfortably ignore the real start date for something, but there comes a point beyond which I cannot go. January 14th would have been too late. I could never have started this book that late into the year. I paid for those first fourteen poems, dammit, and I don’t want to be wasting money on poems I’m not going to use!
³ I’ve always had a bent for the melancholic, tragic irony, and pathos. It’s why I love David Gemmell. And Irish music. The only music on the planet that can sound sad, even when it’s belting out cheery sedition.
¹¹ If you think this is weird print out the the words and read them instead of listening to them as happy background noise. Then take a good look at education for the last thirty years¹²
¹² I had to go straight to ’11’ because there is no superscript ‘4’…thanks WordPress.
ª I grew up on a regular diet of these two. They were hilarious and ridiculously clever, and in a small but tidy piece of construction Donald Swann, who was an Oxford Linguist, was very good friends with another professor of languages called J R R Tolkien. The man who first translated Beowulf into English, and whose translation I read.
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