Finding escape…in prison

As my July bucket list explained, a key element of this month’s ‘vicar school is over – for now’ rejoicing was the reading of books that are not theological.

I do love my current life, vicar school and everything, but I really, really miss my old life’s space and time for non-educational reading. (I also miss singing. That’s a whole other issue.) Whether that’s commuting time spent engrossed in a good read, or the guilt-free pleasure of reading whatever I wanted, it’s certainly not something I have much space for these days. I commute rarely; my bag usually contains some worthy tome; reading anything not on a module guide induces guilt that my time could be better spent working towards the next essay. For a voracious reader who finds their escape in other worlds, this is a sad state of affairs.

So, in preparation for my summer freedom, I ordered a very large book. It arrived the day before my last essay was due (a Friday), so the parcel was hidden under a cushion until the essay was handed in. Saturday morning was spent on the sofa engrossed. Sunday afternoon saw a couple of hours in the sun with it. By Monday night it was finished – all 750 pages of it. Oh. Happy. Days.

Sunshine ReadingSunday afternoon perfection.

The book in question was a blow-by-blow companion to the making of Tenko – the classic TV drama set in a women’s Japanese internment camp during WW2, shown in the very early 1980’s. I’ve written about it before – most recently on how getting lost in a blackhole of its episodes inevitably results in a ‘Tenko Mentality”. It might not sound like a literary masterpiece (it’s not really) but for a die-hard Tenko fan and historian, it was a joy. All of a sudden, I had escaped a world of ecclesiology and taken refuge in mid-twentieth century history and early 1980’s television making.

In the fortnight leading up to the end of term, I’d re-watched all three seasons of Tenko (and the reunion episode) for possibly the fourth time. I’ve definitely written about the show before, it’s something of an obsession amongst the female Clutterbucks – and an reference point for many every day facts of life. (For example, “it’s so humid, my hair makes me look like an extra in Tenko”.) Watch too many episodes in one go and it’s very difficult to re-adjust to the world around you – we are not in a Japanese internment camp (thank goodness!) It’s utterly addictive too. I’m still both impressed and slightly shocked by my ability, the penultimate Monday of term, that I ran 5km and watched an episode of Tenko before I left for college at 8.30am!

It’s total escapism and it’s only struck me in the last couple of days that it seems to have become comfort viewing in times of stress – the last time I watched it all was the week I started vicar school. Like Chalet School books, the world of Tenko is an alternative universe to escape into when the real world is not all that it should be. [As a result, if you ever see me mentioning that I’m watching it, perhaps check that things are ok…]

Back to the book. It was a joy. If you’re slightly OCD about needing know why things happened the way they did; why plots evolved; how things might have happened; and how it all fits together with reality, then this is perfect. For goodness sake, it’s 750 pages long, and there are photos! It includes possible story-lines that never made it to filming, the experiences of the cast and crew, why cast changes happened the way they did and the real-life experiences of life in the camps that inspired the series. It even includes a bibliography for further reading…

…thus, three days after finishing the book, I returned home to another piece of holiday reading – Women Behind the Wire, a collection of experiences of women who lived through Tenko in reality. It really comes to something that my idea of ‘holiday’ reading now that I’m a theology student is historical stuff! Again, it’s not a literary masterpiece and hasn’t aged particularly well – what counted as ‘popular’ history in the early 80’s doesn’t compare well with that written 30 years later. It’s rather sentimental and its references to the Japanese soldiers verge on the patronising, but it does tell the stories of some incredible men and women.

Tenko was the result of the producer’s earlier job researching those honoured by This Is Your Life, specifically Brigadier Dame Margot Turner, who had been interned by the Japanese. After making the first series of Tenko, Lavinia Warner researched the stories of many of the women interned alongside her, producing a book that chronicles the experiences of one community of women throughout their internment. It’s fascinating, heart-breaking and an example of just how horrific humanity can be. At the same time, it provides an idea of where some of the Tenko storylines came from – though it’s abundantly clear than the women of Tenko had things a lot easier than was really the case!

Now, I feel I have something like closure on this episode of history. True, I still need to get hold of a copy of Paradise Road so I can watch it again (this film depicting a vocal chorus in a camp was also inspired by Women Behind the Wire) and there are one or two other books I’d like to read, but I think it’s enough for now. Next on my summer list is a few more titles from that ever-reliable stalwart of my library: Elinor M. Brent-Dyer…

Friday Fun that could transform your commuting experience…

Unless you have been hiding under a rock (or don’t listen to radio stations that play music written this millennium), you will have come across the summer phenomenon that is Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Catchy doesn’t even begin to describe it – in a good way. Inevitably, the YouTube tributes have begun and this week I came across two of particular quality.

Firstly, through the medium of classy violin playing:

Secondly, what the track may have sounded like in every decade over the last century. (Pay particular attention to the sunglasses…):

If that’s really not your kind of thing, it’s more than possible that you’re more of a Radio 4 listener, in which case, this video, depicting the station in 4 minutes, will be right up your street. In fact, you’ll only find this funny if you’re familiar with the wonderful eccentricity of the station. (As one of the YouTube commenters says, the number of Radio 4 listeners who can operate YouTube is comparatively small. Little harsh, but a little true!)

Continuing that slightly well-educated tack, are you aware of the signs that indicate you’re addicted to books? Perhaps you don’t think it’s likely to be an issue for you? Maybe one or two (or several) of this list will strike a chord? This is just a little of the evidence that I am indeed a book addict. [Despite the fact that my current lifestyle means that I’ve had to kick the habit temporarily.]

Book addict home

Bookseller crushesBeach reading

Book violence

Finally, it’s Friday and I have another TfL gem for you, thanks to Katie E. Ever wondered what London Underground stations look like inside – beyond what we can see with the naked eye when we’re there? Some genius came up with the idea of creating an app that shows the inner workings of Zone 1 stations – not just to look at, but so you can plan the speediest route from A-B. Here’s my local station in all its glory:


With an app like this, no one need ever look like an amateur tube user ever again!

Friday Fun behind the scenes

I trust that we all watched last week’s required viewing? The 150th anniversary special episode of The Tube – telling the story of the history of London Underground. (It’s vanished from iPlayer now, but I’m sure it’ll be repeated at some point.) If  you missed it, and regret your actions, you may find solace in another LT anniversary tribute: 150 great things about the Underground. (It is exactly what it says it is.)

It’s possible that I featured this site a few months ago, but criminally, then forgot about it! Fortunately, a tweet returned it to my attention and I’ve now ensured I see its updates regularly – although it’s now on 101, so we’re two thirds through. As I perused the site, I discovered something I’d never known before…

Finsbury Park was a station I used fairly regularly when I lived in Muswell Hill. (The hill of the mossy well has no tube station, instead it’s a tube to Highgate, Bounds Green or Finsbury Park and then a bus. It’s how they kept the undesirables away…) Despite spending a not inordinate amount of time on its platforms, I had never fully appreciated its artwork. Yes, the hot air balloons are beautiful mosaics, but did you know that each balloon is part of a bigger design that runs the length of the platform? No, me either!

Finsbury BalloonsLooking down the platform. (Credit.)

The site is a mine of LT factoids. If you’re at a loss with where to start, I recommend the author’s reverie on the wonders of West Finchley station. It’s a lovely example of how strong the feelings are that the tube evokes.

Something else you could spend your Friday afternoon working your way through is this delightful collection of photos from behind the scenes of classic films. A lot of the really are classics, but true to my nature, my favourite ones are less classic, more childish…

Home AloneJoe Pesci gets to grips with Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone)

HP DH 2Ralph Fiennes transforms into Voldemort. (All together now: “Haaaaaryyyyy Pottttterrrrrr”.)

Dark KnightAnd, just because the world still misses him, here’s Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Finally, a few literary fun things. Firstly, something a tad niche only suitable for Chalet School fans: “imagine how many Health & Safety forms Miss Annersley would have had to complete” – a Mumsnet discussion, of all things! Secondly, The Guardian has a feature in which you can explore annotated copies of authors’ first editions. I rather enjoyed perusing Bridget Jones’ Diary, though Harry Potter would be a close second. Thirdly, something interesting for all those who read novels and something potentially useful for all who aspire to write one at some point. A gallery of author’s plans, drafts and spreadsheets

Order Phoenix SpreadsheetJ.K. Rowling’s plan for The Order of the Phoenix. That’s both my kind of book and my kind of organisation. 

May this rather dismal looking ‘Spring’ bank holiday be one full of good literature, great films or at the very least, stress free London Transport.

Friday fun for the start of the academic year

Forgive my absence for the last 10 days – there’s been the mother of all end of summer essay crisis (two essays due on the first day of term no less) plus a staff retreat in the middle of nowhere, so I feel I have a justifiable excuse. Fear not though, I have been keeping track of some fun tidbits to amuse you upon this autumnal Friday…

For starters, something that seems apt for the beginning of a new academic year – the 10 worst book covers in the history of literature. This was winning for me…

…until I saw this one:
I want that jumper on the left. That’ll make me cool, right?

Continuing the retro/educational theme, in the week that sees the arrival of iPhone5, it seems an appropriate moment for 20 misty memories of personal computing. Beginning with the dial-up noise (oh, how many memories that sound brings back!), continuing with the whirr of a floppy disc loading, and picking up the original Sim City and construction clip-art along the way, this is a great way to feel really old before your time. 
Retro and yet modern is the fantastic result of what happened when someone took a disposable camera to the Paralympics. In case you were wondering what London 2012 might have looked like in 1992, look no further than this delightful blogpost. [Incidentally, that entire blog is delightful – if you have a thing for quirky photography, you’ll love it.] 

Finally, two videos that are perfectly suited to Friday Fun – because where would Friday Fun be without cats on the internet and musical flashmobs? 
Firstly, Zadok the Priest spontaneously performed in a supermarket (in honour of Classic FM’s 20th birthday – did you realise that station was so young??). Make sure you look out for the reaction when the singing comes in, simply awesome. [Thanks Anne for the tip off!]
Secondly, from the sublime to the ridiculous – what happened when a cat had to have medicine and its owner felt guilty. (Aka, how to amuse a cat with 40+ boxes…)
May you now have all you need to face your Friday with glee.

A night amongst stars and books

“On the banks of the Thames, on Shakespeare’s birthday, World Book Night at Southbank Centre presents a glorious array of writers reading from their own work, their favourite novels by classic authors and Shakespeare’s work.”

So read the introduction to an event I had turned up at with only the haziest of ideas of what to expect. (This is what happens when you accept last minute invites to things via Twitter…) I knew about World Book Night – it had launched last year in a very cold Trafalgar Square – and I knew about the books that were being given away all over the country by ‘Givers’. But did I realise that I’d be spending the evening in the same room as some of the country’s most notable authors – including David Nicholls, Iain Banks, Martina Cole, Andrea Levy & Mark Haddon? No.

The evening got off to a fairly good start when I spotted one of the free books on a cafe table, enabling Jo to acquire The Road by Cormac McCarthy before things had even got going. [Incidentally, she’s had 10 copies of The Book Thief to give away, you may be in luck if you head to Marylebone…] Things got even better when we noted the following sentence on the programme:
“Following part one, collect your free cocktail, give books and join us for part two of the evening.”
Seriously? Free books, free booze AND famous authors? That’s almost a perfect evening!

The concept was a fairly simple one – over a couple of hours, authors, actors and poets shared extracts aloud. They shared just enough to whet the audience’s appetites, but not to satisfy. We had a glimpse into another world and having been sucked in, it vanished. For three minutes I lived in the fear of Mark Billingham’s Sleepyhead; the dream world of Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture the Castle; and the hilarity of family life in the Ronson household.

You know how much I enjoy being read to, so imagine just how much I enjoyed being read to by the books’ authors! There’s just something about an author reading their own words with the voices they’ve given their characters. Listening to Andrea Levy read Gilbert’s first moments back in England (from Small Island) was fabulous – she transformed herself into a Jamaican man in 1940’s London with just her voice.

Oh, and it wasn’t all serious highbrow stuff. Any pretence at pretension was shattered when Kathy Lette greeted the audience with the words:
“Good evening members of the literati…and the cliterati, as there are so many women here!”

This year’s WBN list includes many of my all-time favourite books – The Time Traveller’s Wife, Rebecca, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and Notes from a Small Island – but after hearing extracts from some of the others, my To Be Read list has just got a lot longer. Plus, there are some that clearly need re-visiting (I have a sneaky suspicion that I never actually finished Small Island – shocking). Take it from me, you might want to investigate the following:
Sleepyhead – Mark Billingham (Or watch the recent Sky1 series.)
How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff
The Red House – Mark Haddon (It’s not been published yet, this was its first public reading.)
Honour – Elif Shafak

All this bibliophilic fun makes me even more despondent about my lack of fiction-reading time. Ach well…it’s not like the books won’t be around forever.