The Value of Comfort Reading

The reasons for reading are many and varied. For some it’s academic; a need to understand a new idea, for work, school or even just out of curiosity. For others it’s for entertainment, they want to laugh at humorous events, or feel the rush of adrenaline during tense moments. For a lot of people the reason they state is escapism. They get to leave their current life behind and enter another. One which they get to choose, maybe with quests, wizards and dragons. Maybe they visit a new land and culture, or experience a different career and colleagues. Perhaps they participate in a high speed chase, or a battle or an intergalactic war. Whatever floats your boat, there is a book that can take you there.

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I am part of a few Facebook book groups, in general they are open and friendly and as a group non-judgmental. That being said individuals will state their opinions that you may or may not agree with. One I’ve seen a lot of is that there are so many books in the world, why would you ever re-read a book. Another almost unconscious bias, is that some books are more worthy than others, children’s books or young adult books (YA) seem to have a stigma attached to them, almost like you need to apologise for reading or enjoying them. People are allowed their opinions and they are perfectly valid. I however disagree with these two ideas.

Sometimes though, what you need is a comfort reads; when you aren’t looking for a grand epiphany, or a rollercoaster of emotions, instead a sense of soothing familiarity and innocent positivity. There are books that naturally fall into this category for example “cozy mysteries” where everything turns out well for the characters you are invested in such as Miss Marple by Agatha Christie, or Agatha Raisin by M.C. Beaton (review here). Or easy reading chick-lit such as Wild Designs by Katie Fforde (review here) or Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Café by Millie Johnson. If you enjoy farcical capers there’s P.G Wodehouse (review here) or The fugitive Pigeon by Donald E Westlake (review here).

But these aren’t the type of books I want to focus on. Instead, when I’m stressed or down, homesick or lonely, what I crave is a re-read of a favourite, or books aimed at younger people

Recently on a road trip in my campervan, we started experiencing mechanical difficulties, we needed to carry on, and so we listened to Claudine at St Clare’s by Enid Blyton. One of my childhood favourites I have read many times, even as an adult. Did I learn anything? No. Did I feel any strong emotions? No. But that was the point. I could escape into this world I knew inside out and allow myself to relax into the gentle humour of the book without worrying about twists or turns. I am also very excited about the new Malory towers TV series that’s just starting. From what I’ve seen on social media, it’s the parents who are really interested in this, probably for a similar nostalgic reason.

St CLares

Another week, I was a having a difficult and stressful week at work. I felt the week slipping out of my control. So I downloaded Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. I’d never listened to or read it before, so I didn’t know the exact storyline, but the idealistic nature, charming naivety and cheerful positivity allowed me to relax and filled me with a sense of serenity. I even painted a little watercolour of my favourite scene.

Winnie the Pooh

This week I was due to go on holiday to see my family. I live and work abroad in Kazakhstan where I don’t speak their language and in general they don’t speak mine, consequently it can be quite isolating so I was excited to go home for a bit. Obviously things being as they are at the moment it didn’t happen and so I needed to provide myself with a sense of home and comfort another way. The books that give me greatest sense of home, are The Belgariad by David Eddings.

Belgariad books

This is a light and easy going traditional fantasy series written in the early 1980s. It’s not written in a YA or children’s style, though its innocence and child friendly subject matter make it perfectly suitable for that age group. Unlike the popular heavy and brutal grim dark style that dominates the fantasy genre today, these books promote all the positive attributes of the genre. They books take me back to my childhood, my Dad loves them, and introduced me to them when I was about 12 (in between Harry Potter books). Since then I have read them many times, the characters feel like friends, the cities and towns like holiday destinations, the world itself as familiar to me as any home would be, in fact more consistently so as I’ve moved so often in my adult life.

Belgariad

What I’m trying to say is, reading isn’t a competition; there are no prizes for completing a reading challenge, or reading the Booker Prize nominees, or ploughing through the classics. By all means set goals, and work on self improvement or study if you want. But allow yourself some comfort reading along the way

For more information of where to get hold of audiobooks have a look at my previous post here

Starting My New Teaching Job in Kazakhstan

You may by now realise there is a significant lag between real life and my blogs, however I actually wrote all these at the time they happened, but I’m only now getting around to uploading them. Anyway, below is a continuation of my adventures in Kazakhstan.


My goodness 7:30 feels early when you’re a day behind on sleep plus several hours jet lagged, but never mind, I had to meet N___ at 8:10 so he could show me the way to school and get me through security. A short slightly awkwardly silent 10 minute walk later and we were there. N___explained who I was to the guards so they would let me in before depositing me with the vice principle of something or other.

This was not the woman who had interviewed me or had been emailing me.

She had been made redundant. (was back to being a teacher).

As had the part of the V.P.’s role that included all things connected with international teachers.

That explained the lack of organisation and communication the last 2 months.

Never mind.

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The V.P. explained a lot about who the different V.P.s were and other leadership positions and why the names didn’t match up with the signs on the doors (not that it mattered, I couldn’t read them or remember anyone’s name anyway). She then led me on a tour of the school. It was very tidy and all the pupils looked very smart. Eventually I was deposited at the Physics department. There were 14 people in the physics department, I was the only one fluent in English.

I was made to feel very welcome, offered several different desks in several different workrooms. They all wanted the English speaker in their room.


One of the ladies is called Gulnara.

Gul is a type of flower and nara means camel she informed me.

What a lovely name.

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I was asked by several people at different times how old I was. Is this a cultural difference? Is it a fairly standard question to ask a relative stranger in Kazakhstan? I didn’t mind telling them I am 30. They were surprised. They said they thought I was younger, so that was nice I suppose.

The school ran on WhatsApp, or that’s how it seemed. There were loads of groups for teachers and classes, it seemed I needed to download it if I was to know what was going on. I did download it. I still didn’t know what’s going on.

whatsapp-update-latest-version

I was given a laptop. Everything was in Russian. The password was in Russian using the Russian keyboard. I figured out the English key equivalent so I could login in, then I switched to the English keyboard and figured everything else out by location.

I went to observe a lesson. This particular teacher has very little English but insisted the pupils speak English only. They were researching part of the topic then explaining it to others. Where I come from that’s a classic “f.o.f.o.” lesson. If this was the level expected of me I might be alright.


The only person in the department who spoke reasonable English was M___, she offered to accompany me to lunch in the cafeteria. I went along and spent approximately 80p on a seasoned rice dish that contained carrots and some unidentified meat. It was quite dry but tasty.  We didn’t linger and soon headed back to the department.

I was WhatsApped by the VP in the middle of the day to tell me my contract didn’t start until tomorrow so after meeting everyone else I was free for the rest of the day.

I took that to mean I could go home. So I did.

Damn jet lag.

I was still awake at midnight.

I listened to my audio Russian lessons for half an hour and learnt to count to ten. Go me.

I eventually slept

russian audio

A Summer with Toby

In case you don’t know, Toby is my campervan; a 1991 Talbot Express to be precise.

Having just bought Toby from a private seller I decided to take him for a brand new MOT despite his current one only being 1 month old. If I was driving him all the way to Spain I wanted him in tip top condition. He failed on loads of points that the previous MOT should have picked up on, he needed some welding and a few other bits and pieces (though by all accounts he was in very good condition for his age). I did the only sensible thing, I threw money at the problem. I was planning on leaving in 2 weeks. The guys at the garage were incredibly helpful and by the time I got him back he was driving like a dream and I felt very poor.

Road Trip to the Ferry Port

After the final packing and loading of the camper-van we finally left for Spain. Our first stop was the local Morrisons. We bought petrol, snacks and had macaroni cheese to tide us over. Having never driven Toby more than 15 miles, we were now driving to 300 miles or so to Dover to get the ferry. He drove so much better than he had before the trip to the garage, he could even cruise at 65 mph on the motorway without complaining. I think we even managed to over-take a lorry at one point, it was exciting. We didn’t make it to the ferry port until about 11:30 pm which was a bit later than I’d hoped but the ferry wasn’t until about 6 a.m. the next day. We drove around looking for a likely spot to pull up for the night and settled on a small carpark; we pulled our curtains closed ready for a few hours sleep.

Camper Margot

Things that went unexpectedly well:

  • Toby – he drove really well and used less petrol than I feared.
  • Margot – she loves being in the camper and snoozed most of the way.

Things we we should have considered earlier:

  • Toilets – the carpark did not have a toilet. Mum and I both dealt with this differently but I’ll leave out the details.
  • The bed – we hadn’t actually investigated how the bed set up; by morning we knew it wasn’t how we’d done it.

 

Driving Through France

We took the non toll road route. I had a vague outline of a plan, places I wanted  to reach each day though no actual idea about where we’d sleep. A lot of Europe is very campervan friendly so I figured we’d make it up as we went along, after all we couldn’t really know how far we’d go each day.

The roads through France are very wide and well kept, there were views of fields for miles and we eventually made it into areas of sunflower fields (my favourite). I’d hoped to make close to Bordeaux that first day but it was getting dark and late and we decided to find a campsite for the comfort of a hit shower. We made a better attempt at creating the bed, but it still didn’t seem right. We covered about 500 miles from the port to the campsite, we were hungry, grimy and a little grumpy but the campsite staff were friendly and chatty and the inevitable pouring rain came more as a relief than a problem.

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As the driver, I was happy to just keep driving, I would have hated to be a passenger though so I tried to keep in mind what it was like for Mum. As I mentioned before Margot was having a great time so I wasn’t too concerned about her. I’d connected my MP3 player to the sound system so we had music and we kept trying to find a coffee shop on the road but it seemed impossible. It was difficult enough to find a petrol station at times, and we really needed petrol, with Toby being so old it wasn’t a good idea to run low on Petrol.

For day 2 we decided to take a detour into Bordeaux, it seemed a shame to do all that driving and not actually visit anywhere. We were listening to “A Good Year” by Peter Mayle as an audiobook in the camper (downloadable from audible). It’s set in France with vineyards, wine and eccentric French plumbing (read unreliable French plumbing) and they went to Bordeaux at one point so we thought it fitting.

a good year

The traffic getting in was appalling, and getting out was even worse. We were in the middle of a heat wave and you may be surprised to learn that Toby doesn’t have air conditioning. In fact with the crawling pace of the traffic the engine was getting worryingly hot (I didn’t mention this to mum) the dashboard indicator was creeping closer and closer to the red zone. Once we were moving it was fine, it just needed the air flow.

We arrived in Bordeaux about 1pm, it was was beautiful. I love architecture and I could have spent weeks wandering around and sketching, but alas that wasn’t the sort of trip we were on this time so I took photos. We managed to find an open cafe eventually (everything was closed for the holidays) and spent a fortune on one creme-brulee and a single profiterole. After only and hour or so we decided to continue on our way. We wanted to reach Spain that day and that meant getting through the mountains.

bordeaux

We took one more stop before heading into the mountain at a town called Orthez. We made sandwiches and took Margot for a stroll. It was a little cooler and the town was pretty and quiet. It was as we started making our way through the Mountains that Toby started having “moments”. He had a “cough” he used to do this quite a lot before he went into the garage and usually he just snapped out of it. We made it up and through the mountains without too much concern though I was going as easily as I could. He’s quite a big heavy beast for the size of his engine and it was quite a climb. I was relieved when we made it to the decent though I hadn’t really indicated my concerns to mum (you notice it far more as the driver).

route 2

We’d driven about 400 miles that second day and had made it into Spain without me realising. I’d expected some sort of notable border, someone to check documentation etc but nope, nothing. So we carried on driving into the night.

Tune in next time to find out about where we slept and how Toby coped with a very hilly Spain.