Observations

I was going to post this one anyway, but the first bit, for sure, fits into Fandango’s One-Word Challenge (FOWC). belligerent. I was going to update you on my current audiobook, called Renia’s Diary.

As it happens, Renia was about fifteen, a Jewish girl from Poland, in 1939. Of course, we know what happened, in fact we are told up-front that Renia was murdered by the Nazis in 1941. But because it is a diary, she writes so present tense – we know what is ultimately going to happen, but Renia, as she writes, has no idea.

She starts off, in January 1939, mad because they have had to uproot the family home. She has been packed off to live with grandparents, somewhere I can’t pronounce. Her mother is in Warsaw, for reasons I haven’t discovered yet.

In the first few entries, she also talks about school, for school terms in Poland ran absolutely normally in 1938-9. She even goes on her summer holiday at the end of the school year.

When Poland is actually invaded, in September, only Warsaw resists for any length of time (a week!). Again, thinking about the present and the future. We will win, she writes. Poland was invaded by both the Nazis and the Soviets, as a result of their pact at the start of the war. Renia even talks about Stalin’s occupying army, how one of the soldiers was sweet on her.

That is where I’m up to. So far it is pretty much what a teenage girl would write, I guess, but I am expecting Renia to get older very quickly.

Because it is a diary, everything is contemporary, which gives the book a unique perspective. It’s not written as a history book, where the end is known all the way through, where the author is leading us through to some end point. We do, of course, know what finally happened to Renia, but she didn’t. I’m expecting the account to end quite abruptly. And, I wonder if she’d have been so worried about being sent to her grandparents if she’d have known all the things that would happen subsequently?

And it makes me wonder about us. We often have immediate worries and concerns, but only hindsight allows us to know whether we were part of history.

This girl was living through something which ultimately changed the world, although she wasn’t aware of the sheer scale in her diary. And I look at this virus, and can’t help wondering whether we are too? We’ve already been in a situation where a roll of toilet paper is a better bargaining chip than a five dollar bill, where governments are handing out billions and trillions in order to keep their citizens solvent. Governments will presumably want to to claw all that money back one day? I wonder how much joy they will have? Maybe a few hundred years more austerity? How do they think populations will react to that? Maybe we’ll get to the point where a society is not just defined in financial terms, where money is not the be-all-and-end-all?


You guys have probably heard by now that both Prince Charles and BoJo [Boris Johnson] are being reported in the media as positive. I have to say that my immediate reaction was to wonder how they knew? Why they have been tested when even front-line nurses have not been tested yet, although in BoJo’s case presumably he is quite central to the co-ordination effort, so periodic testing is probably justified.

My second thought was a little more positive. If these public figures can pick the virus up, then it wouldn’t surprise me if many others of us have picked it up, too. And we don’t know, because the symptoms happen not to have been particularly bad (in us. They are obviously bad in some people.) And we’ll never know yes/no for sure, because we’ll never get to a hospital and therefore never be tested?

It is just a thought.

Audible – October ’19

I’d let my Audible subscription go off the boil, I get a new credit every month and had accumulated three credits to spend.

Audible is a bit of a fiddle, because if I were to decide to halt my subscription, I lose these credits (even though I already bought them). Like many services, it is easy to subscribe but if you want to unsubscribe, some care is required.

I think I can spend every credit on a book (now), then halt the subscription, then read (i.e. listen to) each of the books, at my leisure. But it’s a bit of a pain that I can’t just stop buying new credits and cash them in one by one, whenever I feel like a new read.

The jury is still out on whether I keep the subscription, especially as I don’t use it so much any more. I’ve thought a few times about canning it, but after all it is only quite a small amounteach month. However I have decided that I need to do more than just sit on this growing pile of credits.

So, I’ve just spent my three. I thought I’d share my choices.

Straight in at #1 (actually, I’m not doing this in any particular order), I found a book on an interesting subject. A subject that interests me, in any case.

A book by Canadian (I think) author Naomi Klein, about the conflict between making money and the environment. I think we’re pretty adept at paying lip service to the environment in order to make a fast buck, but ultimately we’re headed for a crunch of some kind, so I was interested in what this woman had to say. It was written in the early 2010s, I guess, so we have a few more years of data to go on. I wonder if anything will have changed?

So, I’m about 2 baths into that book. I only really listen to Audible when I have a bath.

In at #2, still waiting to be opened, is a book by Louis Theroux.

I’ve got to love Louis Theroux. Seriously. His subject matter is, er, not what I’d choose myself, but nevertheless I enjoy his documentaries, and will usually record them if I see that they’re on TV.

I’m not even sure what this book is about, but figured it would be worth a read.

My last choice – I have no more credits until next month – was the one book that I really wanted.

It was only released a few weeks ago, and only on Audible for the last few days.

I know little about Renia’s Diary, save for a little of the back-story. Renia Spiegel was Polish and Jewish, and from 1939 she kept a diary about life – and ultimately, death – under Nazi occupation.

I don’t read paper books any more, because they are difficult on my eyes, and Audible is easier, but Renia’s story is exactly the kind of book that I used to read – an auto-biographical book by a first-time writer, somebody who’s had an experience worth sharing, and who’s not making a living by selling books. You can keep your “actor” and “sportsman” nonsense, I’m not interested, give me a real story any day. So I have high hopes for Renia, that’s why she’ll be last.

Audible (23 May 2019)

I mentioned the other week about my last Audible read, with some hope for the new one. A report so far…

This one is called Outlander, and I’m only about a third of the way through it. It starts just after WWII, when an English couple are on holiday in the Scottish highlands. She is miraculously transported back in time 200 years, with the highlands full of the old clans and the countryside interspersed with Redcoat forts.

She’s a fish out of water, very English in very Scotland, so regarded with suspicion by the Scots although taken to live with a clan. In the Forties, she’s meant to have been a war nurse, so has a smattering of French and some healing knowledge. That she has French makes her suspicious to the English too, but that she has nursing makes her a bit useful.

I mean, at that point, it was kind-of interesting. I thought there were a few ways in which the story could go, not least how to use her 20th-century knowledge to try and help people (whilst presumably managing not to be burned at the stake!), trying to explain how she’d got there in the first place. You can imagine that she might have wanted to get back home, but how on earth do you explain “home”? And so on.

But actually the direction that the book has taken is not so interesting, for me anyway. She’s taken in by some Scots but is wanted by the English. To try and protect her, she’s forced to marry a Scot, After just a month or so. Thereafter, there’s a lot of time spent describing the many and varied times they shag as newlyweds. I mean, I was a bit surprised because I tould assume that these sex scenes would titilate a man rather that a woman, and the book was written by a woman. Maybe it is written like that purely because men would appreciate it, and maybe buy the book?

I mean, all of that is harmless enough but it turns the book more into romance than sci-fi. I can obviously handle the sci-fi aspect – hence starting the book in the first place – but I’m not so much interested in the romance. We all have our own experiences of romance so, to me, other people’s are not something I’m particularly interested in.

It is a bit more sinister than that though. I don’t know whether this is just the story being faithful to the time, but I’ve picked up on this woman behaving very deferentially to the husband. In the scene I just read, this guy wallops her – that’d be enough for me to walk. I mean, you maybe don’t have a choice about the walloping, but you do have a choice about the dynamics of the ongoing relationship. In my world it is very simple – men and women are just 50:50, so I tend to notice when one partner becomes dominant. But as I say, that might just be the author’s portrayal of 18th-century Scotland.