Books, music, tea (38.2021)

It’s been a week with some grim news – the delays in diagnosing and treating cancer caused by Covid-19; the fuel shortages that the government is insisting don’t exist; the collapse of several energy companies as gas prices increase just as winter is approaching. Sometimes the news implies that we are on the verge of entering into a apocalyptic future, that we are going to find ourselves existing somewhere between Mad Max and Ready Player One. This is the time I stop paying attention to the news for a while.

It’s not long now until the new James Bond movie will be out in cinemas, and I can finally reap the benefit of having watched all the Bond films in order last year. If, indeed, there is any benefit to having done this. This week, in a strange case of life imitating art, the current James Bond actor, Daniel Craig, has been made an honorary commander in the British Navy, giving him the same rank as his character. Craig is “truly privileged and honored” to receive this title. As an honorary officer of the navy, Craig will “spread the message about what our global, modern, and ready Royal Navy is doing around the world,” according to First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Tony Radakin. (First Sea Lord Admiral – isn’t that a great title?) It’s a nice bit of PR for the Navy – in the week before the new Bond film hits the cinemas, who’s not going to print the picture of Daniel Craig in his Commander uniform? Certainly not me.

Hon. Commander Craig (Picture: Royal Navy)

“It was long ago and far away
The world was so much younger than today…”

I had this song in my head this week as Husband and I made the journey out to Norwich for the Scritti Politti concert (Janis Ian, “At Seventeen,” in case you were wondering). I lived in Norwich for a short spell some years ago. I don’t remember that time fondly for reasons I won’t expand on here, although I will say that this was the first place I ever saw snow.

My memories of the place are fuzzy – time does that – but I remember the job I had at the hospital, doing data entry in the blood testing laboratory. I would take the bus in the morning, walk across a park to the back entrance of the hospital where the maternity ward was. I would always have to walk past several mothers-to-be and even recently-delivered-mothers who were smoking by the doors. (No, that didn’t stop in the 1950s. It was still going on in the 1990s.) I was one of a team of six temps who were brought in to clear the backlog of tests while the phlebotomy staff got used to the new database. I remember there was a squeamish woman who was grossed out by handling blood tests, a woman who used the phrase “my body is a temple” and I would always joke, “a temple of love” because she seemed to have an active love life. There was the very tall woman who was a smoker, and also pregnant with twins (she said something about knowing smoking might make the babies smaller, but that was OK with her). (*Shudder*) There was a woman who’d been travelling for two years in Asia and Australia and was only recently arrived back in the UK. Her boyfriend got typhoid in Thailand, despite being vaccinated, and she had to nurse him for two weeks. Her descriptions of how he suffered from typhoid sounded awful. There was a single man in our group, who told us how he got occasional money as a participant in police line ups, but as a redhead he didn’t get calls too often.

When the job dried up, I left town, moving to London for the first time. That’s a whole other story.

My one priority for this week’s trip to Norwich was not to visit the hospital but to find Wilkinson’s tea shop, a purveyor of tea since 1972. I was happy to see is still there. I wanted to buy some Rose Pouchong, a tea I remember buying back when I lived in Norwich all those years ago. They still stock it, and while I ordered some and the man was weighing it up for me, Husband and I looked at all the other teas on display, and got a little carried away. We ended up buying five other types of tea (including Boysenberry tisane, cherry sencha, pineapple and coconut sencha, lavender blossom, and Rooibos raspberry and rhubarb). When we got home, we found we already had three containers of leaf tea in the cupboard (French Earl Grey, Ginger Spice, and Honey Vanilla), and that’s in addition to the various flavours of tea bags we have, so we are now on a mission to use up at least one of these three before we can open any of our new purchases.

Now – the concert, the thing that was responsible for this trip out to Norwich. This is my first live music event since Covid. Security were checking not only our tickets but also our vaccination status. “Do we need to wear masks?” we asked. No, because they’re checking that everyone in the room has been vaccinated. We could have worn masks (I did see one or two people who were) but we didn’t.

The show was great, of course. There’s always a sneaking concern that maybe Green’s voice has faded in the 35 years since Cupid & Psyche 85 was recorded. Happily, it hadn’t, he sounded the same. They started with a selection of other songs from either side of C&P85 (The Sweetest Girl, A day late and a dollar short, Boom Boom Bap, Oh Patti, Skank Bloc Bologna (“the first song I ever wrote – in 1978”), Trentavious White (a tribute to rap star Bankroll Fresh, who Green was a fan of), and then without any fanfare, they moved straight into C&P85, starting with The Word Girl and running in order to finish with Hypnotise. Everything sounded as sharp and fresh as if it were recorded yesterday, and even if there was some synthesised vocal for some of the multi-layered harmonies, it was still Green singing, because in one song he got the words wrong. Which is fine. He probably hasn’t listened to the album as much as the audience had. In fact he admitted that he had the ipad (or some similar tablet device) on a stand to look at because he had forgotten some of the lyrics.

Green’s guitar reads “This machine kills fascists”

After the excitement of a night away and a concert, it was hard to settle down and be focussed at work for the rest of the week. I tried but I think I’m entering one of those low motivation phases. Perhaps returning to the office on a more regular basis will help to settle, although next week I have the Scotland trip for the Ben Nevis climb (which I’m currently preparing for by not thinking about it) so another interruption to my work week.

And to finish with some words on books.

Local book club whatsapp group has been buzzing this week as someone recommended a book that wasn’t on our reading list but is available on some free audio book site. This prompted some debate about audio books vs physical books, and how some people struggled with physical books during lockdown so found audio books a godsend, but nowhere in all these messages was there any mention of when our next meeting might be. As I said once before, I’m mostly following this group for the blog fodder.

Meanwhile, International Book Club held its first meeting with five people across four time zones! Hurrah for us! We talked a bit about the book (Wild, by Cheryl Strayed) but also had a lot of chat about what we’re all doing. Someone suggested we should have a International Book Club chat night to get up to speed with what everyone is doing as we haven’t all been in regular contact for… 20 years or something? Our next meeting is early November (The Dry, Jane Harper).

And in the catching up on my pile of Books-To-Read I have finally picked up The Overstory by Richard Powers. I bought it last year in my early Covid-lockdown-let’s-support-small-local-bookshops purchase. I can’t believe I waited until now to read it. I’m maybe 1/3 of the way in and it’s wonderful! It’s a book about trees. And people. And how people interact with trees. And how people see trees. And how trees influence people’s lives. And it makes me want to weep for every ancient tree that is cut down in clear felling, for every forest lost to land clearance. I’m assuming Richard Powers has a science based background in trees, because there is a lot of knowledge conveyed in this book, but it’s done through some wonderfully written stories. The book seems to be a collection of short stories but I think the individual stories will eventually weave together into one story, in the same way that tree roots will combine to make two trees one entity. As I said, I’m only 1/3 of the way in, but I’m pretty sure this will make my top list of books for the year.

I hope you find something wonderful to brighten up your week this week – whether it’s some good music, a good book, or a nice cup of tea.

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