Back to Ordinary Life

One of those weeks where something ends (Torremolinos holiday) and something else begins. In this case, the return to ordinary life in London. My holiday cost more than I can probably afford at the moment but it was nice to have a break and put everyday life into perspective.

Meanwhile, London is cold, dark and wet. I’m still getting used to it not being bright and sunny when I get up. TBH, this is the time of the year when I could happily hibernate until Easter.

  • Details on 3 good books read: 2 speculative fiction novels and one big nineteenth century adventure story by a contemporary writer I am discovering and loving
  • Upset on the gym front but good news on weight post-holiday
  • Back to caring responsibilities for mum

My lovely holiday in Torremolinos came to an end on Tuesday – you can read about it here. The final full day was on Monday and I spent a lovely day chilling in the sun on the balcony of my room. Then meeting Philip and some of his friends in the afternoon, followed by a last night drink and dinner.

As a rule, I love to leave early on the final day of my holiday. Might as well just get on with it. But it’s not always that easy. There sometimes isn’t a flight / train that leaves early or that is cheap enough. And so I had a late afternoon flight on Tuesday which meant I had a morning to hang around.

Flight itself was OK though I could have done without the screaming babies – one in the row in front and the other in the row behind. Though great to see Dave again on Tuesday evening.

Spanish flag

3 very distinct books completed last week.

‘Babel’ by Rebecca F Kuang

A fascinating and much lauded piece of speculative fiction. The sub-title is revelatory (‘Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution‘) but unfortunately doesn’t make total sense until you come to the end of this book. I didn’t always find this an easy read but it is intellectually stimulating and I took away 3 main things.

First, it’s an expose of how ordinary in nineteenth century Britain was imperialism, colonialism, and racism. Particularly as white people, we easily dismiss the self-congratulation of Victorian society. But this book puts it in your face with the story from the perspective of non-British people. And it explains why the British Empire was a bad thing for the people occupied by the British as well as perhaps also for British economy and society.

Second, for people like me who like languages, it’s a great store of stories around how languages are inter-connected and how words evolve. Indeed, the whole core of the book is based on a magical occurrence where silver gains special powers through spells linking ordinary words from different languages. In this book, it is this silver that powers the British economy and imperial expansion.

Third, it is sadly rooted in Harry Potter. I say sadly because as a book it has important messages but that is made palatable by creating a story built on Rowling’s foundations. Magic comes through language and there is an Oxford college that acts like Hogwarts teaching young translators / wizards. Indeed, several of the characters can be matched to figures in the Potter books.

skull and crossbones

‘The Romantic’ by William Boyd

Quite by chance in the week just gone, I have read 2 books based in the nineteenth century. Although this one is based in reality and not speculative as with ‘Babel’. However, I say ‘based in reality’ as it is a fictional adventure with an emphasis on adventure. Indeed, it emphasises the story of the great Victorian explorers ‘discovering’ the world.

Our hero / anti-hero was born in 1799 and died in 1882; basically years of tremendous change if you lived in Western Europe. He has a traumatic upbringing but a far from ordinary life. He ends up in the Battle of Waterloo, British India, London debtors’ prison, Massachusetts, eastern Africa, and finishing up travelling in central Europe. As you can see, it’s an extraordinary romp that suggests the paths our life can take are both arbitrary and unplanned.

I must emphasise how well written and engaging this book is. It is readable and I found myself literally unable to put it down. This has made me realise what a great writer William Boyd is. I have only discovered him recently and with one of his more recent books, ‘Trio’. It’s great to discover not only is he a brilliantly engaging writer but he also has a huge back catalogue still to be explored.

motivational picture

‘The Gate of Worlds’ by Robert Silverberg

Silverberg is a classic sci-fi author whom I have recently ‘discovered’ and I am enjoying reading his back catalogue – more details about him here. This is another speculative fiction novel, this time first published in 1967 and set in the 1960s. And it similarly shows the idiocy and cruelty of imperialism.

But it is a far cry from the ordinary 1960s that we know. The Black Death was far more devastating killing off around 80% of the European population rather than 30-50% that did die. This enabled the Ottoman Empire to conquer all of Europe. There is no European expansion so Africa, America, and Asia are dominated by indigenous empires.

This is actually a story similar to ‘The Romantic’ in that it’s about a traveller on an extraordinary journey. And shows how life is a big adventure with twists and turns based on decisions we make whether for good or bad. Again, we have a central character who made some bad decisions as he travelled to the Aztec Empire and sought to involve himself with its internal politics. A wonderfully imaginative and thought-provoking novel.

Macaws in Las Palmas

Gym disaster

A big blow on my return to my ordinary London life when I found on Wednesday that my gym was closed until the end of November due to urgent building works. Thank goodness Philip managed to get me into his gym whilst I was away. Also fortunate that as he was away in Granada overnight on Sunday, so he couldn’t take me to his gym on Monday morning. And so I took myself off to the one in the hotel. Small and basic but it was a nice workout and, unexpectedly, my last one for some time to come.

Swim to the rescue

No gym means I need to focus on other exercise. In more ordinary times (i.e. before my ankle / Achilles injury), I may have focused on walking and jogging. But that is firmly limited at the moment. So the thing I will target is swimming albeit that I find it a bit boring. Managed to get in a session on Friday morning with an equal split between front-crawl and back-stroke in a busy pool.


Weight success due to stomach upset

Pleased to say that my weight has basically stayed the same despite my indulgent holiday. OK I didn’t over-eat but I ate unhealthily and drank plenty. In many ways, I was ‘saved’ by a stomach upset I developed towards the end of the holiday. My theory is that we all get used to the germs around us and when we go somewhere new then that ‘ordinary’ bacteria affects us as we haven’t developed immunity.

My slow recovery

Mum’s hospital trip

The return to London means resuming my caring duties for mum. Over to see her on Wednesday after discovering my gym was shut. Then on Thursday it was back to the eye hospital to check out how her cataract operation had gone. Pleased to say all good though it was a long winded process that meant we spent about 2 and a half hours in the hospital with an hour long bus journey each way there and back – very tiring for all concerned.

Getting nostalgic with friends

The ‘danger’ of any long-term friendship is that we spend our time together reminiscing and getting nostalgic. Certainly true of me and Philip as we spent our last few days together in Torremolinos with drinks and food. Then on Friday I met up with my old mate Brian. As we agreed, reminding ourselves of the good old days is basically because there needs to be more new good stuff.

Staying focused

Did a big burst of Spanish learning on Monday and Tuesday (not much else to do hanging around before going to the airport). I had hoped to go back to my ordinary routine of learning whilst taking my rests at the gym, well that strategy went out of the window.

So I am really trying to identify moments when I can do Duolingo each day. And I have extended out from just Spanish. Back to German as well and the occasional bit of French plus I’ve started messing about with Welsh which is fun.

Art and craft

Ordinary frugal living

The cost of my holiday came out of my precious savings. So ordinary life means frugal living again. Not necessarily a bad thing as my lack of consumption may make up for some of the environmental damage I did by flying to and from Spain. We are only going to be able to save the world by at the very least offsetting every bad thing we do with a good thing.

  • Main issue will be dealing with ordinary life and getting through the increasingly cold and dark days
  • Eye hospital again with mum on Monday to talk about operating on her other eye. That will take up most of the day
  • With the gym shut, I am going to try to get in a couple of swimming sessions
  • Reading a couple of good books: a comfort read and a fascinating biography
  • Focus on language learning and frugal living. Be nice to get in some Art and Culture.
Why are you afraid of being in a minority?

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