A good week for books, reading, and routine

A big theme of the week just gone has been recovery; recovering from the busyness of the week before that (trip to Brighton, etc) and the shock of bumping into my ex though ultimately that was kind of cathartic as I feel I really have closed the door on a chapter of my life and I know that there is no going back (thank God) – onwards to the future! And next week I have the adventure of going to Madrid, a city I have never been to so I am a little apprehensive but also excited. The last week really does feel like one in which we have started to move into autumn and the latter phase of 2014. It started with the old fashioned but totally normal spectacle of the Tory party conference with a defection, a sex scandal, promises of tax cuts, and an attack on Human Rights. It finished with the horrific and barbaric beheading of another British person (a volunteer who had gone to help refugees in Syria) by the Islamic State; awful people and I hope their fighters have lots of bombs dropped on them. Meanwhile the weather has changed. The warm sunshine (though cool mornings) of the majority of the week has now been replaced by rain and cloud. You can also tell autumn is here with the TV schedules. The first proper ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ was last week and it was hilarious watching the bad dancers particularly Greg Wallace and Scott Mills, the latter proving the clich√© that all gay men can dance is totally false. Other TV to mark the return of autumn includes Gogglebox, X Factor, and Dr Who.

One of the big positive areas this week has been around books and reading. I finished Patrick O’Brian’s ‘The Fortune of War’ – a great old-fashioned seafaring adventure combined with human touches and lovely character portraits. The whole Maturin-Aubrey series is a pleasure to read. I knew I had to read a specific book for my book club on Thursday which I thought I had at home. I was staying with Dave at the weekend and finished the O’Brian book there. So I started a short book that would keep me busy just until I got home. The book I chose was Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’. Short and totally different to O’Brian’s novel, Stardust is an adult fairy story. Indeed, it reminded me a lot of the wonderful (and long) book I previously read Susanna Clarke’s ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ and which I look forward to reading again at some point in my life hopefully. The timing was perfect, I finished Stardust just as I got home on Tuesday. But disaster in that I didn’t have the book club’s book, Edmund White’s ‘The Flaneur’, at home. I have most of the prodigious output of White as an author but not that one. So after work on Tuesday I had to hunt around London for a copy. Nothing in Foyles but I found it in Waterstones though in the travel section rather than the LGBT or fiction section of the shop. The Flaneur is a short book about White’s wanderings around Paris where he lived for a couple of decades. I more or less finished it in time for the book club which met at Waterstones in Piccadilly on Thursday night. It was my second time there and we had a good turnout of nine people including some people I met at my previous visit. The general feeling was that this was a good book that was enjoyable to read but not a heavyweight / change your life book. The conversation drifted at the group to talk about good books to read in general and, overall, it was a very pleasant evening. I have now started reading a secondhand book I picked up in Gay’s The Word on Monday – ‘Under the Radar’ by James Hamilton-Paterson. Not sure of the gay content yet as it is primarily about people flying bomber planes during the sixties but I am sure it will become apparent. Then earlier today in a charity shop I managed to pick up a very good condition hardback copy of ‘The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters’ by Gordon W. Dahlquist. Written in 2006, this is a wonderful cyberpunk adventure I would highly recommend and I look forward to reading this as well all over again at some point.

Exercise-wise, not a bad week at all. I am writing this blog on Saturday 4th October and this morning I had a very good jog-run. As usual I got up around 7.30 and wandered down to Victoria train station for a coffee and people watching. Then back home and out for the exercise as my body and muscles had been warmed up. I did my usual route and managed a time of 37.20; very decent and better than last week (38.37), perhaps my best ever? And my joints are not aching too much afterwards. I managed to get to the gym and do decent cardio and weights sessions on both Sunday and Thursday. And on the Monday of last week, I had a kettle bells session with my old colleague Sara (I read that kettle bell exercises are excellent for working the leg muscles without putting pressure on the knees). Then on Thursday afternoon I treated myself to a massage at my gym. I love massage especially on my aching legs. I have also been trying to keep my food intake under control. It is hard going to bed ‘hungry’ (even though I know it is not real hunger) but I do feel a bit lighter and my gym shorts feel a bit looser. Linked to exercise and food, my health is OK this week though I have noted a new lump on my long-term problematic knee though the lump itself is not causing me any pain or problems. In terms of my goals of skill development around languages and digital skills, I have managed several Duolingo sessions (particularly getting ready for Madrid) but very little around digital beyond keeping my website and blog up to date.

A lot of the week gone has been about the simple pleasure that comes from regular routine – one of those things that you do not realise how lovely it is until it is gone. Sunday was its usual quiet self. After the gym I pottered along to Old Compton St in Soho to have a coffee at Caffe Nero where I read and watched the world go past. And then back to Dave’s where I was staying for the weekend to sort out the laundry, have my weekly shave (I detest shaving and wish there were a pill I could take to avoid it), and fill up my meds box for the week ahead making sure I am using the meds with the nearest expiry date. Monday was a similar chilled day filled by seeing Sara and then showering at my gym. The lovely weather, not sure whether to think of it as an Indian Summer or evidence of climate change, allowed day-time pottering around London including Soho, Piccadilly, and Russell Square. The latter to check out the ever wonderful Gay’s The Word bookshop with its lovely staff duo of Jimmie and Uli before my quarterly check in with my life coach Kerr (lots of talk about closure of the past and preparing for winter, which always gets me down, and beyond). I was then supposed to see my physio on Monday evening to work on my knee and achilles but he was ill (in part, this gave me the justification to pay for the massage on Thursday). And then after work on Friday, it was to Dave’s where we watched double Coronation St and I crashed out by about 10pm (such a lightweight). Saturday was jog-run followed by wandering around some of my favourite charity shops, writing up my blog, and listening to the radio.

Three ‘office’ days this week (with another half day of work done working remotely). Nothing too bad this week and, indeed, some time just to get on with work that needs to be done rather than being in meetings. Some difficult conversations to jeer people up but you can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs. I did have one big grump about a meeting but it was mercifully short and actually quite useful. It was funny telling my boss I didn’t really want to talk because I was in a bad mood. On Wednesday morning we had a half-day training course on safeguarding issues – not too much of anything I had never considered before but some new information, some new questions to ponder, and overall a good refresher on an area it is easy to assume one knows about already. One of the key things that came out is to look at an organisation’s culture for any signs of a failure in their role of safeguarding vulnerable people. Key questions to ask: what is acceptable and unacceptable; what has been learnt; what has changed? It should always cause concern where there are no signs of learning i.e. regular updating of policies and procedures at least. And on Tuesday afternoon, there was a work event that tied into my love of reading (and so emphasising this as a reading and books week). The Reader Organisation (see my website of the week) had a colloquium presenting its work. The organisation was set up by a social entrepreneur in Liverpool and has grown to be a national organisation with a staff of over 100 people and an annual turnover of +¬£2m. Their basic premise is the various benefits that come from groups reading aloud to each other. The afternoon session was to demonstrate how this worked through video, discussion, and analysis. Clearly there are benefits from shared reading though I felt too much emphasis was put on providing academic proof but this may well have been due to their funding coming from the Research Councils. Melvyn Bragg was there and when he spoke it was lovely just to listen to his luxurious voice. A quick coffee afterwards with my old colleague Susan Blishen before off on my escapade to find the book club’s book. I also managed a coffee catch up with my friend Jamie on Thursday who has got a performance of his play ‘A Fight at the Opera’ coming up soon. And catching up with old friends on e-mail, Facebook and Twitter – one of the blessings that has come from the digital revolution (just like this blog).

My final bit of this blog is some very good news. I have written previously about my friend James who has liver cancer. It turns out that his tumours have not got bigger and he is going forward for a new procedure to burn out the tumours by using microwaves. He has a long journey to undertake for this treatment and it is not guaranteed to work but, as he says, this is a far better option than just being put on the ‘T list’.

Website of the week: http://www.thereader.org.uk

Wonkers of the week: Two this week. The first is an individual, the odious Jeremy Clarkson who may have taken a car with an offensive number plate into Argentina leading to him being chased out. He says no offence was intended – that is what he says every time. The BBC really should not be commissioning ‘Top Gear’ when it is connected to him but, as usual, it is all about money. The second is Tendring Council in Essex who painted over a Banksy piece of art. He painted it in the place where the Clacton by-election will happen to cause debate on migration issues, they painted it over apparently so it did not upset anyone. It should have been given to a local public art gallery – complete local authority vandalism.

The destroyed Banksy
The destroyed Banksy

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