OK, this is not a book post – nor is it any kind of a review, it’s one of the rare ‘other’ posts I warned you I would be making.
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.
The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères
by Marie Letourneau
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.
A beautifully rendered YA ghost story
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.
You can’t make this shit up!
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.
A Cosy Crime sleeper worthy of resurrection
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.