Archive for February, 2020

Ten years on: a new chapter

It was ten years and nine days ago, exactly, that I started this blog with my first tentative post. It was just a couple of days after I had turned 50, and was feeling rather down, as I remember. I’ll leave it to the arithmeticians to work out my age now, and to armchair psychologists to figure out how I’m feeling about it. Certainly, much has happened in those ten years.

In the first place, this blog took off in a way I had not really expected. I had started with some vague ideas of recording my thoughts on the books I read, and, while I still do that, I also write a great many other things that don’t really belong to a book blog. Which, I suppose, is why I stopped calling it a book blog. I like to have this platform to spout my views on various matters (trying as best I can to steer clear of politics); and, lately, much has appeared on here of an autobiographical nature. I suppose that is inevitable, given how very nostalgic I feel for my childhood years, and, further, given how fascinating I find the topic of the mind’s development (at least, my mind’s development, as my mind is the only mind I feel I can comment upon with any confidence). And if nattering on about myself sounds tedious and narcissistic, I can only plead in my defence that I do try, at least, not to be too dull.

But do not fear: I shall not be using either the 10th anniversary of my blog or the 60th anniversary of myself to churn out here yet more nostalgic reminiscences, or self-regarding retrospects of this blog. Rather, let me bring you up to date with an exciting new development which may, in part, explain my neglect of this blog in recent weeks.

The fact is, I am now retired. I have been a retired man for this last week. Approaching 60, and aware of my dodgy ticker, this seemed a good time to call it a day. So I checked my finances, went through the pensions and all that stuff, and, just two days after officially becoming an old man, I became also a retired man. All of this needed a bit of running around, reading official documents, signing forms, and the like; and that didn’t really leave me much time to write here. Also, given how little I have been reading, neither has there been much to write about.

But now, all is changed. Now, as I write, it is Sunday evening, but I am not going into work tomorrow. My brain has not quite adjusted to that yet. When I choose my shirt in the morning, I do not need to pick a work-shirt for an office day, and a casual shirt for a casual day: it’s all the same now, whatever I wear, whatever the day.

That first Monday, I got out of bed at the usual time. I dressed as usual, and left home as usual, but, on the way to the station as usual to catch the usual commuter train, I went into coffee shop instead, and spent all morning with a coffee and a book. It felt so good!

The book I am reading, by the way, is the second volume of Ramachandra Guha’s biography of Gandhi – Gandhi, The Years that Changed the World, 1914-1948. The first volume, Gandhi Before India, had focused on Gandhi’s earlier life, and on his campaigns in South Africa; the second, which I am assured may be read independently of the first, focuses on the Indian independence movement. I particularly want to read this, as I would like to be as knowledgeable about this period of history as I pretend to be. And also because Gandhi was such a fascinating man. A very strange man, certainly: Einstein had said about him: “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.” Guha, despite his obvious admiration for his subject, does not write a hagiography; neither, thankfully, does he write a hatchet job, which, given some of the less pleasant aspects of Gandhi’s personality, would have been all too easy. Gandhi remains a controversial figure for many reasons, but I would like to understand something of his life and times, and of his person, before passing judgement. It is too easy to pass judgement.

But regardless of subject, starting on a thousand page book is quite an adventure for me these days. Since my rather serious illness a few years ago, the effects of which are still with me, my reading, which was never prolific to begin with, has declined significantly: I was getting too physically exhausted to read anything more than a few pages a day of anything that taxed the ageing cerebellum. I am determined now to bring my reading back to a level similar to what it had been.

The other thing I am determined to do is to learn French properly. Of course, there are many courses available, but I am not so much interested in conversational French: I know how to ask for a baguette at the boulangerie, or directions to the bureau de poste. No – I want to read some of the fabulous literature that country has produced. This time next year, I want to be reading Molière in the original French. I mentioned this on my Twitter account, and in no time I was inundated with various suggestions on what to read – all very good suggestions, and all very helpful (except for the joker who suggested I start with Proust! – he knows who he is!), but I have to take it a step at a time. Currently, with the aid of a French-English dictionary, I am working my way through a drastically abridged and extremely simplified version of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. The full text of Le Misanthrope is still some distance away, but I think it is achievable.

I am also reading more poetry, as I had promised myself I would. (I am still pursuing Clive James’ translation of Dante, and enjoying it greatly.) And, of course, I want to spend some of this extra time I now have, unexhausted by the pressure of office work, to revive this sadly flagging blog. Will it change after the first ten years? Well, I hope so! I want no more of those routine posts I used to put up every time I read a book: the only thing more boring than reading a post about a book where the writer has nothing of any great interest to say about it is actually to write such a post. But even without such posts, I will have, I trust, things to say. Mainly, though not exclusively, on literary matters.

So, in short, I now declare this hiatus over. A new chapter in life is opening for me. And, hopefully, a new chapter in the blog as well.

Now, before I get any further, I think I should respond to the various comments I have received on this blog in the last few weeks and haven’t yet responded to. This blogging lark ain’t easy, y’know!