My strategy for packing-up the house is taking a long time to formulate. Lots of thinking time. I’ve been thinking about boxing-up books today. Most easily packed (and weeded) are the shelves of books I’ve actually read. Then I got thinking about which books I might want to read whilst we are in rented accommodation. Of course I have a Kindle which will keep me in reading matter for a good few weeks but as this period of hiatus will most likely coincide with Christmas, I thought about other books I will want to have to hand. And most obviously (and sentimentally for me) it will be my small, battered, American copy of ‘The Night Before Christmas’. I will consult the others about their Favoured Christmas books to keep separate.
I also decided I would also like to have to hand my go-to book in times of stress: ‘Arch of Triumph’ by Erich Maria Remarque. It’s simply stunning in its nihilistic, calvados-ridden darkness. It’s so familiar to me being one of the few books I have ever read more than once, and is now a quirkily comforting read. Of course there will be times when I don’t have time or energy to read more than a page or two and for that reason I will also set to one side the anthology of poems published by Bloodaxe books called ‘Staying Alive’.
These three books will form the basis of my 72hr book stash, modelled on the newly discovered (by me at any rate) 72hr emergency kits.
This morning I spent the precious two and a bit hours when my son is at preschool, sat at St Bees, finishing this book and greeting. I’d found the first half of the book so-so but the last few days I have been sneaking in as much reading time as possible. Much to the detriment of the state of my house and me and my family’s diet. I’m making amends now. Also the Kindle is out of juice, so for the sake of myself, my poor husband, (yes I did fetch it out of my coat pocket during the interval at the opera on Sunday night), and my lovely, slightly malnourished children, I am not going to recharge it until I have got a handle on my household. It will be tidy and meals, (proper meals with vegetables and everything), will be planned and bought for. Then I will plan my next read.
So what made me sink to such lows? The main answer would be the Weedon family. Not that I was modelling their lifestyle in the same way that some social commentators think that watching video nasties turns one into a serial killer, no. I think it was the glimpses into their chaotic and sad lives that hooked me in and made me worry for them and ultimately kept me reading the first few chapters of the book.
We’ve been house hunting too whilst I’ve been reading this and unsurprisingly the class issues of various villages and areas kept playing through my head a la Pagford vs The Fields as we would stumble upon a house that wasn’t ideally suited to us but was in a desirable middle-class village with, say, a group that organises coach trips to Carlisle’s classical music concerts. Someone else snapped it up. Sigh. Of relief?
So the moral of the story in ‘The Casual Vacancy’? Perhaps, I would argue, it is that politics is dangerous. But that’s not fair on Rowling. Really, the danger lies with egos and lack of concern for one another. So do fight for what you believe is right, but smile and look wide and when you think you’ve looked wide, look wider still. (B-P).
This Sunday, in between all the diversionary tactics of avoiding packing the house for an imminent house move, I took my husband to see Robin Norton-Hale’s modern version of La Boheme: his first ever opera. We sat there and strained to make out the words and laughed at some of the jokes we could distinguish, and watched politely and when the lights came up for the interval I turned to him and said (in a Little-Britain-esque voice) ” Ah don’ like it.”
Nevertheless we ate our cheap, ersatz cornettos (60p each – this is the Carnegie in Workington, not the ENO) during the interval and soaked-in the culture and tragedy of the second half. I did not shed a unitary tear. On the walk back to the car I mentioned this fact to hubby and compared my emotional reaction to La Boheme with a performance we had happened to catch earlier that day, again in Workington, before the Rugby match, (I’ll explain later). This earlier performance was street-theatre (or opera), and comprised four individuals: two of whom I recognised as locals, the others drafted-in, I guess; wearing outsized puppet torsos and microphones. They paraded into the hub of Workington, which has a rather special sound system, and then began a twenty minute performance of love-expressed, love-lost and love-regained, using well-known arias and ditties from various pieces of opera. As the first performer sang to the backing music I started crying and didn’t stop until that piece had finished. I found it interesting that this, shorter, perhaps ‘inferior’ performance (no Olivier awards were won for *that*), had moved me in a way that the nationally renowned, imported variety had failed to do.
I’ve since looked up the history of La Boheme on and when reading the story I *was* moved and realised that it was the transition to a modern setting that had scuppered its ability to resonate with me. Had this opera been set in nineteenth century Paris and referenced the lack of matches (rather than lack of change for the meter) and Mimi being a seamstress (rather than an etsy-esque badge-maker) and Mimi needing funds in a non-NHS society (rather than her dying in 21st century Workington from consumption), I think my heartstrings would have been pulled more effectively. It was cleverly adapted, but the cleverness is only apparent when you know what aspects of the libretto the performance is referencing.
Had I done more research it could be argued that I might have had a more fulfilling experience. Thing is, this is West Cumbria. It was a form of art and culture that is rarely accessible round here. I had to go to try it out, and sadly “Ah didn’t like it.”
NB – Both bits of opera were put on in Workington as part of the Rugby World Cup’s cultural programme. Workington hosted two Scotland games, and it was a great boost for the area. It was my first experience of live Rugby league and I reckon it won’t be my last.