MY NEW BOOK-THEMED BLOG


 

I subscribe to a number of WordPress blogs about books and reading,  and after enjoying them for several years, it finally dawned on me that maybe I should identify the book-related material in my  own blog  and start a second blog, devoted to books. Ping! Lightbulb flash.

So: I’m happy to announce the launch of THE BOOKSMITH BLOG  http://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com .  Thanks again to WordPress.com for their blogging platform.  They really do make blogging easy for  wrinkly writers like yours truly. I hope you visit my new blog, even if you’re not an official Booknut like me.  If all else fails, it has quite a funny header pic.

Despatches from Timbuktu  will continue to act as my electronic soapbox where I comment on modern life, South Africa, social trends, my travels around the Western Cape and Cape Town, plus  anything else that might  attract my butterfly attention.

And not to overlook the fact that Despatches From Timbuktu  is  the one place where Chocolat can express her displeasure at my poor performance as her Personal Assistant. Sorry, Chocolat,  but you have no idea how much work building a new blog entails . I promise there’ll be fish for supper tonight. How’s that for an apology?

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Filed under BOOK REVIEWS, CHOCOLAT: MY CAT, EXPLORING CAPE TOWN, POLITICS, PRESENT & FUTURE, READING, SOCIAL COMMENT

THE FREEDOM OF UNSUBSCRIBING


 

 

You have no idea how liberating it is to tick the Unsubscribe box  and confirm that you no longer wish to receive e-mails from  xyz  site. 

Let’s face it: over time one’s interest can, do and should change. Why not? You’re not dead are you? Life flows swiftly by and some interests prove to have been but a passing fancy, or a big mistake. Did you really think you were going to learn Urdu on-line from Babbel.com?  Get a grip!

So I unsubscribed from the writing sites that were clogging up my Yahoo Inbox. Right now I’m confining myself to blogging and the occasional letter to long-time friends. I’m not writing short stories or working on a novel. So why do I need torrents of advice on 20 Sure fire tricks to get that Novel Finished!  or  Revision strategy?  or  How to Write a Killer Query letter   or Find your Agent, make a new Friend!

My Yahoo InBox should be breathing an enormous sigh of relief. I know I am.  Wading through the advice swamp was time consuming, to say the least of it. Now all I have to do is wean myself away from Pinterest. Think I’ll leave that until next week.  Softly softly catchee monkey, and all that.

And I’m firmly resisting the odd stabs of FOMO.  Do you know what that is? Fear of missing out.  Some genius has identified it as a new trend, symptomatic of our insatiable craving for electronic content.  They may be on to something. But: I will be strong! Subscriptions – be gone!

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POTTERING THROUGH MY NOTEBOOKS


I’m a great potter-er. Sunday is a good day to potter around my house, doing minor tasks, playing with my Stuff. Even after my recent purge (see my recent post about The Guys and the Grand Purge) I still have plenty of Stuff left to play with. Believe me.

I was paging through my  old notebooks, dating back to the early 1990s.  Regrettably I have a weakness for notebooks. I can’t resist them. And don’t let me find a sale offering bargain price notebooks, because we all know what will happen.  A quirky cover? Cute Cats? Gold and sparkly ?  Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

So there I was, reminiscing with my notebooks when I was struck by a thought: what will happen to my notebooks when I die? Will the family be sufficiently interested to read them? Always assuming, of course, that they can read them. My handwriting varies from the semi-legible to a jerky scrawl …

Added to which I have developed a  series of abbreviations over the years, which enables me  to write quickly, and the chances of anybody else working out what I  intended, are not good. I spent years slaving behind a typewriter, and latterly a keyboard, which means I can type much, much faster than I can write. I can type at the speed of my thoughts. Very satisfactory, and also legible. But obviously notebooks are handwritten, in a variety of places – coffee shops, aeroplanes, retreat centres, other people’s spare bedrooms – anywhere and everywhere, and the  notes are not always legible.  Even to my eye.

The notebooks contain ideas for future  blog posts, draft poems, notes to self, articles, writing exercises, outpourings of angst, lists, titles of books and authors and  must-reads. And so on. Let’s face it: because I’m not a famous writer, nor a noted social diarist, it’s doubtful that anybody else will be remotely interested in my scribbling.

On the topic of noted social diarists, some very famous people e.g. Winston Churchill, or famous  writers e.g. Noel Coward  kept detailed – and regular – diaries. I own a copy of a fascinating compilation of diary entries, arranged by date and kicking off around the era of  the mid 1660’s (Samuel Pepys)  up to the late 20th century  (Alec Guinness, Brian Eno, Andy Warhol), titled The Assassin’s Cloak,  edited by Irene & Alan Taylor.   Of course, the social diarists entries are a delightful  mix of gossip, innuendo and scandal, whilst the politicians are dealing with weighty matters of state, or declaring war and so forth.  A far cry from my notebooks.

Thinking it over, I should probably tear out the written pages, burn them, and donate the remaining unused notebook to a charitable scheme collecting stationery for  disadvantaged school kids.  That’s what I should do . I probably won’t get around to it, and my family will stare in dismay at the pile of notebooks and say : “What the hell are we going to do with these?” Good question.

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*(JAP)BROWNED TOAST IS DEADLY


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Really?  Is there no end to the health warnings? Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t eat fried foods.   Don’t be overweight. Don’t eat tuna – it’s full of poisonous minerals. Don’t eat processed meats . Don’t eat too much salt. Don’t eat sugar. And now TOAST? Is nothing sacred?  But, the BBC – a source I trust – solemnly advises us that we need to carefully toast our morning slice to a pale golden colour – any browner, and we are at risk. Yet again. I give up. It seems that anything and everything is waiting to ambush us, and the results will be fatal. Pass me the boiled lentils and a nice glass of pure spring water. Sigh. Read the article and depress yourself.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38680622

*(Just a Paragraph:  when I’m short of time and/or inspiration, I keep my blog ticking over with ‘just a paragraph’: random thoughts, reflections, comments, ideas … little snippets)

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THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH by A M Smith ©


 

 

Periodically I post my short fiction on my blog.  The following short memoir could have been titled “Interview with a Monster” but I opted for “The Days of my Youth”  because it was written in response to the question: what happens before or after a famous fictional event? So I chose Thomas Harris’ famous fictional creation, and  wondered what sort of a childhood could produce such a complex, monstrous character? The character is being interviewed by a brave journalist:

 

 

I’m hoping to set the record straight, by agreeing to this interview about my earliest childhood experiences.  Everyone seems to think that people like me emerge from the womb dripping with wickedness, right from the start.  It’s not so – nothing could be further from the truth.  I had a perfectly normal childhood.  Normal –  whatever that is. It’s all relative isn’t it? But perhaps you don’t agree.

My earliest memory? Mmm, let’s see. I remember Mother pushing me up and down the garden path in my pram, humming quietly under her breath, trying to get me to drop off to sleep no doubt.  Father didn’t like to be disturbed, he made it very clear he would not tolerate a screaming baby, and once he was in his workroom he definitely didn’t want to be disturbed.  I remember being allowed to visit his workroom, I might have been four or five, maybe?  I was allowed in, on condition I sat on the stool and didn’t touch anything.  I remember the smell of the formaldehyde, and being enchanted by the box containing the glass eyes – I was longing to touch them, and play with them, but I sat on my hands, and looked around at the animal heads mounted on the walls, the glass fronted display case containing the most delicate examples of Father’s craft, the birds, seemingly caught in mid-flight. No, no, I don’t think Father’s taxidermy had anything to do with my interests in later life.

Oh – one of my fondest memories from my early years, was Spot.  My dog – I loved him dearly.  He had black spotty patches on his white coat, and so lively, as only fox terriers can be!  And I’d like to emphasize that I did not spend my boyhood  doing unspeakable things to small animals!  Really, you have no idea, no idea at all, of the dreadful letters I receive on this subject – I often wonder whether the authorities have locked up the right person when I read those letters. Trust me, some of those letter-writers ought to be in here, if what they write is to be believed.  I’m sorry, but I feel strongly about this and again it takes me back to my first question : what is normal?

You think my name might have been an influencing factor? Well – I must admit it is an unusual name – Mother was obsessed with the ancient world and she chose my name. Of course, once I went to school, I was teased mercilessly about my name. And then, later, the newspapers had a field day inventing that silly rhyming couplet to describe me.  So juvenile, don’t you agree?

My first love? Oh, that’s an easy question to answer: she was the prettiest little girl (I have a soft spot for pretty women – but perhaps you’ve heard). Anyway, she sat in the desk in front of me in Primary School.  She had long brown ringlets, and her name was Clare.  It’s a name that keeps recurring in my life, quite strange really. Very recently a young woman came to interview me and her name was Clarice.  But not a pretty girl, I have to say, rather thin mousy hair and a pale, strained face.

Another vivid childhood memory?  Well, let’s see. I know!  it was Uncle Gregor’s visit. I must have been about seven at the time. I found him very exotic, with his thick accent and funny foreign clothes. But what I remember most clearly is the night he took us out to dine, in a restaurant, what an occasion! The starched tablecloth, the smart waiters, the bright lights, the odours of food, wine, cigars, the buzz of voices – so different from our usual quiet life at home.  What? What did I eat? Do you know, I can’t remember, but I do remember what Uncle Gregor ordered. I’d never seen or heard of it before – hardly surprising, Steak Tartare was not a feature of our modest suburban cuisine. I remember being fascinated by the deep redness of the raw steak, and the intoxicating rich, sharp bloody smell of the meat – somehow it struck a deep note in the depth of my being. Hmmm. Now that I look back, perhaps a seminal moment.

What? Sorry, I was wool-gathering. More about my school days? Well, I don’t know – nothing really springs to mind.  My favourite lesson? Oh – biology I suppose, especially when I reached Senior School, and we started dissecting specimens. I was quite handy with a scalpel, Father’s tuition paid off there, and it was always so intriguing to slice through the muscle tissue and come to those perfect little organs, those tiny little mouse-hearts glistening with the blood … Are you alright? You’ve turned quite pale. Maybe you should call the guard and get some water?  Or should we stop now, perhaps it’s enough for one day.

But I must say I’ve enjoyed re-living my childhood memories with you, it’s not often that anybody shows any interest in Hannibal Lecter’s youth, no, they always want to hear about my later career. Oh well, that’s the way of the world, I suppose.

 

 

 

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THE TEMPTING LIBRARY BUMPER BOOK SALE


As is well known, I need more books in my house like I need the proverbial hole in my head, but nonetheless, I succumbed. After all, I’m doing a good deed by adding to Library funds, aren’t I? My book buying, on this occasion is a public good deed. So stop raising your eyebrows, and rolling your eyes. Yes – I did eat my Kryptonite for breakfast  – I can see you from here.

I had wonderful success on the Oldies But Goldies Table. A banquet of tattered treasures, old and battered, and costing R2 or R5 each. How could I resist? This is what I carted home:

Biggles & the Black Peril – Capt W E Johns  – boys’ adventures (see review below)

A Book of Poetry – W.M. Smythe   – dipped into;all those classic poems I should have read and didn’t; but  I can see this one is going to make its way back to the Library Sale tables.

The Bonfire of the Vanities  –  Tom Wolfe – still brooding heavily in my TBR pile.

Thus far I have only read Biggles and the Black Peril  by Capt W E Johns.  What a nostalgia fest!  I read as many of the Biggles books  as I could get my hands on when I was somewhere between the age of 9 and 12 years old.  I loved them.

Reading a Biggles book some 65 years later I polished off the book speedily.  They tend to be short on pages and even shorter on plot, but I say! What adventure, what thrills – chasing the baddies and/or being chased by the baddies (chief baddy in this epic is called Blackbeard – of course he is; and no, he’s not a pirate he’s a devious scheming Russian Up To No Good on British soil – the cheek of it!).

Flying all over Northern Europe in pursuit of the baddies in a flying boat – have you ever heard of such an aircraft? If you were born 1960 onwards, then probably not.  The page containing the publication date has been torn out of my battered copy, but the references are post-WWII , so I assume  the book was published in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

It’s all good clean fun, and the chaps are strong-jawed and courageous. The heroic Major Bigglesworth dramatically exclaims at intervals:”Hark! I hear an approaching machine!” I promise you, he does. “Hark!” – isn’t this delicious?  You can see him cupping his ear for the drone of the engine, while he turns his noble profile skywards and keenly scans the skies for the enemy aircraft. Wonderful. They don’t make heroes like this any more.

Our modern heroes rely heavily on Armageddon style weaponry and electronic wizardry, not to mention jaw dropping supernatural powers. Not so the brave band of Major  Biggles & Co. No no. Not for them. It was all down to courage, grit, determination, pluck and jolly good dash of luck thrown in. My vote goes to Biggles and not to Batman. You think I’m too old fashioned and hopelessly out of touch? Hard cheese,  dear reader.

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*(JAP)MY LATEST LEXICAL TREASURE


*(JAP)MY LATEST LEXICAL TREASURE

Dictionary.com has introduced me to a wonderful new word which I’m about to share with you.  I love it! Both for its comical aspect, and for its meaning. But I’m going to preface my discovery with a few general remarks on the topic of the right to free speech. Theoretically, we have this right in South Africa. But oh! the tsunami of outraged howls when a prominent person dares to voice a personal opinion.  It would seem that free speech is fine, so long as it doesn’t contradict political correctness.  Anyway, I will prudently say no more, and I will leave you to join the dots regarding my latest lexical treasure:

THROTTLEBOTTOM noun [THROT-l-bot-uh m]
1. a harmless incompetent in public office.QUOTES
If there was one function that any vice president, even a Throttlebottom, could be expected to perform it was to represent the president and the country at funerals of notables abroad.
— Carl Solberg, Hubert Humphrey: A Biography, 1984
ORIGIN
The term Throttlebottom was formed after the character Alexander Throttlebottom in the musical comedy Of Thee I Sing (1932).

 

*(Just a Paragraph:  when I’m short of time and/or inspiration, I keep my blog ticking over with ‘just a paragraph’: random thoughts, reflections, comments, ideas … little snippets)

 

 

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THE GRAND PURGE


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Not of my body, let me hasten to add. Maybe I chose a misleading title for this piece.

No, no, dear readers: of my overflowing cupboards.  A blitz on the dreaded STUFF, which I have written about before. I’m not a hoarder, but it’s astonishing how stuff accumulates. Gifts, raffle prizes, sale bargains, retail madness. Regardless of the source, my cupboards are overfull.

My friend Emily inspired me to phone The Guys – she used them when she had a mega-purge of her very large house. Result : ruthlessly tossed mountains of STUFF – ornaments, bric brac, travel souvenirs, you name it –into the pile it went . The Guys arrived in their bakkie, armed with cartons, crates and ready cash (yay!) packed it, loaded it, and drove away.

I spent a hot, sweaty Sunday extracting unused item – you never know, one day I might … Sound familiar?  Out came the pristine manual typewriter, in its metal case, that I’d been keeping for the day when I retreated to the Karoo to a farm cottage sans electricity, and sans electronic aids,  to write my award winning novel. Dream on, lady. Never going to happen. Out it went.

Extra flower vases  acquired from florists’  arrangements, sent by daughters. You can always send me flowers for a birthday, I love them  – but what to do with the vases afterwards? You sell them to The Guys, that’s what!

Old, chipped ornaments, which I was definitely going to repair one day . Truly, that is the deadliest phrase in my life: one day I will …   Complete the sentence. The One Day tasks sink below a wave of accounts to be paid, vet appointments, medical appointments, meetings. No to mention the craft projects. Not even going there!  And so it goes. As you well know. And one day  is yet to arrive.

Out went my once prized collection of stone eggs. I went through a phrase when I was intrigued by gemstones, and it was fun to collect them. That phase has passed. Now I’m bewitched by postcards and Postcrossing. Lotsa fun. Can you see the butterfly mind effect at work here?

I assembled the rejects on my dining room table. There was the gigantic electric wok which was so big it wouldn’t fit into any cupboard, so has been sulking, unused, in the garage. Out it went. Here was a box with a new light fitting for the bathroom. Never installed, for technical reasons. And here – a real blast from the past: a box of stiffy disks. Remember those? PC’s are no longer manufactured with a slot in which to insert them, so …

The box of silver Apostle teaspoons that you can’t put in the dishwasher? Sorry. Bye bye. No longer of use.  But the wad of money The Guys gave me is definitely of use. Time, effort and sweat well spent. I plan to spend the cash on theatre tickets. I am definitely not buying any more STUFF.  That’s a promise!

 

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MARCH 2017 UPDATE FROM CHOCOLAT


 

 

I am happy to report that I am now able to resume my normal routine of sunbathing and napping. My Personal Assistant is back on duty and has stopped lounging around on our bed. About time too.

However I must admit the Junior Substitute  PA did a good job. My meal schedule was uninterrupted and she certainly brushed me more often than my PA does.

All in all, it’s a relief to be back  to my  usual routine. Nurse-maiding a human is terribly time consuming and frankly, not my designated occupation.  I’ll leave you now, I have a date with my favourite cushion on my veranda chair.

 

(Thanks to Regine Lord for her superb pics; all pics copyright RL)

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A FEBRUARY 2017 UPDATE FROM CHOCOLAT


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I have to report  that my Personal Assistant is not performing her duties as per her job description i.e. undivided attention to me, 24/7.

It seems that she is going to be absent from our home for 48 hours, and when she returns, will require bed rest. I have never understood why humans can’t be like us .To remedy digestive upsets, or troublesome hairballs, we  eat grass, which solves the problem.  Aches and pains are cured by prolonged sunbathing. Wounds respond well to gentle licking. And sleep, as we all know, cures everything. Which is why I’m always working on my zed’s.  Why can’t humans be more like us?

I will be supportive, of course, cuddling up to her in bed, and purring gently. She seems to like that. So until you hear from us again you can rest assured I’m keeping a close eye on her and will update you later.  Chocolat.

P.S. Don’t you think the pink blanket sets my fur off to best advantage? I feel the contrast enhances my appearance.  Always important to look one’s best, don’t you agree?

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