Friday 25 January 2008

Wind and failing memory blight old age

14st 13lb (oh yes! again); 2.0 alcohol units; 1,471; Fastnet.

Last night a howling gale blew up, making so much of a chimney-whistling, slate-rattling racket that I concluded that there was no chance of getting to sleep in my bedroom upstairs. So I decided to make use of the quieter spare bedroom on the ground floor, which also luckily happens to be on the lee side of the house. Only it turned out that there was not much chance of sleeping there, either. Partly because of the grandfather clock in the room next door, which woke me as it struck each hour (albeit only for long enough to think “I really must get up and stop that”). But mainly because it was still noisy enough outside to frighten the dog, which kept trying to join me under my single duvet. There wasn’t actually room for both of us, so it became something of a trial of strength and nerves.

I conceded defeat at six and spent a couple of hours finishing I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, a book I hugely enjoyed to begin with, and which I had stupidly never read because I reckoned anyone who could come up with 101 Dalmatians couldn’t be up to much. But about halfway through, my enthusiasm tailed off [there’s a definite dog theme in this entry] and it took me, in total, 18 days to get through its measly 335 pages. Considering that around half the 3,401 books on my shelves are unread, at the pathetic rate of 20 books per year I would need to live another 85 years to get through them, as opposed to the four years I’ve actually got. And that calculation does not take account of the fact that a lot of them are much longer than 335 pages, or that I keep adding to the collection at the rate of about a book a day, on average.

On the other hand, it won’t make much difference either way, as one of the things no-one told me until it was too late was that the books you read in your teens and early twenties remain imprinted on your brain for life; whereas those you read in your thirties and beyond are unmemorable even one week after you’ve put them down. Since the early 1990s I have been in the habit of scribbling in my books (apart from the oldest, rarest and most valuable first editions, in which I use Post-It notes), to record (a) the fact that I have read them, in the hope of not doing so again by mistake, and (b) any lines or passages I particularly enjoyed.

I noted nothing in I Capture The Castle after page 172.

During my first flush of enthusiasm, I mentioned how much I was enjoying the book to a female friend, who has since transformed herself into a female ex-friend. She said that she hadn’t read it, but could recommend the film version with Bill Nighy and Romola Garai. I asked my friend the professional film critic if he could verify that it was worth seeing, and he replied that he couldn’t remember anything about it apart from the nude scene, which didn’t last anything like long enough for his money. Typical 50-year-old Bloke. I bet he’s got fantastic recall of all the films he saw in his teens and early twenties. Particularly the Confessions of a ... series.

My piano tuner rang in the morning to report that he was running late owing to two blockages on the A1. One caused by an overturned caravan at Stannington, which sounded perfectly plausible, and the other resulting from an office chair blowing around the carriageway in the Swarland area. That began to sound a bit too much like a Monty Python sketch for my taste. But the dog still insisted on going out this afternoon, gale or no gale, and I’d probably have passed an audition for the Ministry of Silly Walks as I battled to make any progress at all across the prairie-like fields to the south of my house.

This must be as severe a gale as we have had in my two decades here, so I walked with due trepidation under the roadside trees, many of which bear little yellow tags to show that they have been earmarked for felling by a forestry expert on the grounds of public Elfin Safety. And guess how many have blown down during this most violent of storms? That’s right. Absolutely none of them.

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