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

The Village: An Imagining.

One of the quirks of the Russian language is the lack of articles; as a results many Russian speakers misuse articles when speaking English. This has led to possibly my favourite phrase ever. They all love to talk about “The Village

What are you doing at the weekend: I’m going to The Village.

Are you busy this evening: Yes I’m going to The Village.

Would you like to come to The Village.

It doesn’t matter who you talk to they all phrase it the same way, not a village, or my parents’ village. They never name The Village or in any way acknowledge that there may be another village in existence. To me it has a fantastical ring to it, to the point that this is what I imagine based on their descriptions.

To The Village!

Kazakhstan has only one village, it is known as The Village (capital T, capital V). It is somewhere in the centre of the country so that everyone can access it easily.

It seems there is some sort of direct, as the crow flies, means of transport to The Village. I’d like to think they teleport or similar, but they usually talk of taxis and trains so instead there must be a dedicated group of people whose sole responsibility in the nation is to transport people to and from The Village. I like to imagine them in a uniform, wearing national colours as they work for their country, or maybe there are different clans or rival factions, perhaps the train and taxi people are rivals. Maybe there are rogue transporters running people back and forth without official papers smuggling people or object in and out of the village without the authorities knowing; or maybe they do know, but turn a blind eye, taking a slice of course.

fantasy uniform

The village itself must be huge, during the weekend the population of the village must quadruple. It needs to house almost the whole population of Kazakhstan during the weekend and holidays. Maybe it’s on a parallel plane of existence.

During week days the population is old people and a few young children. The old people would be a bit like fantasy elves, they are long lived, stoic and formal. They’ve seen and know too much, they continue to practice the old ways despite the modern advancements their children try to bring back from the cities. I imagine the grandparents indulge their grandchildren in the secrecy of the week, imparting knowledge to them and even occasionally smiling, while the children’s parents work in the many cities.

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Their houses are immaculately clean as all of the women’s’ time is spent on housework and preparing food for the weekend’s festivities. I picture the men spending their time looking serious and sitting in their chair. They may take a walk around The Village, maybe they will read a book.

Logically however, there must be some sort of spacial rift in The Village as despite my colleagues all going to The Village, they have never mentioned seeing each other there. Or perhaps there is a wrong side of the tracks mentality. Maybe long held family rivalries prevent different groups socialising in The Village, it would not be tolerated. The adults who leave The Village during the week do as they please in the city and this causes friction between them and the previous generations. The grandparents consider going to a city frivolous and unnecessary, they suspect their children are dishonouring their legacy.

fantasy citadel

As soon as they get back to The Village each woman is expected to join in cleaning the house, and preparing the weakly feasts, all their time is to be spent with their own family sharing in the running of the household. I imagine all the females gathered around a stew pot as they prepare a special meal, stirring occasionally as aromatic vapour flows through the house, maybe they make bread and gossip about their neighbours. This is where they gain the knowledge of the old ways. Occasionally special events occur, new year, a birthday, a new birth in which socialising is encouraged, but of course only with friends and allies; the appropriate gifts should be given and feasts prepared. There is a balance between keeping their children doing the right things and keeping them happy.

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Maybe they are trained to never reveal the true nature of The Village, to never name speak its name as everyone knows names have power. The Kazakhs I know are incredibly difficult to get straight answers from and will reveal little to nothing about themselves. Perhaps they are all hiding a big secret about The Village. Maybe it was their safe place against the Russians.

Or maybe its just a quirk of the language.

The Best Travel Game – The Legs Game (House rules)

The legs game is the best road travel game I know, as a kid, and even now as an adult it is a great game that everyone can participate in no matter how long or short the journey is. It works less well on long stretches of motorway or for train travel, but for towns, cities, villages and the A-roads in between it’s ideal.

Recently my brother told me how he had introduced his fiance and her family to The legs Game while in Australia. They seemed to enjoy the game however there seemed to be some disagreement about the rules, which seems ridiculous as they didn’t know the game up until that point.

This game was first taught to me on a bus journey by someone older in the church, I think though I don’t really remember; I must have been maybe 9 or 10. As a family we have played this game on many road trips, and it manages to engage us all, even Dad has been known to participate.

Anyway with this in mind I thought it would be a good idea to explain the rules of The Legs Game, or at least our house rules.

This game depends on a certain degree of honesty and trust as having a score keeper is no fun, so bear that in mind if your you’re with a bunch of cheaters.

The aim of the game is to collect the highest leg score. You score by being the first to spot and call out any written word/sign of an object that would naturally have legs; you score the number of legs the object has.

For example, imagine you are driving down a British country road and you spot a pub called the Bull and Dog. If you are the first to see and call out it’s name you would get 8 points, 4 for the bull and 4 for the dog. Note it must be written text, not an image.

legs game bull and dog

House rule variations:

  • A location/object can only be claimed once – using the pub as an example, it may have multiple signs on it however only one person can have the points.
  • At least one other person must be able to verify the viewing of the sign/writing (not compulsory, it depends on how trustworthy your lot are)
  • Inanimate objects are permitted (e.g. bed and breakfast – 4 points awarded as beds have 4 legs)

legs game bed and breakfast

More contentious house rules:

  • Professions are permitted for 2 points (e.g. estate agents – these are people therefore 2 points are allowed)
  • Names are not permitted (e.g. The Shakespeare gets zero points)
  • MAN lorries are permitted for 2 point
  • Number plates are permitted (rarely an issue)
  • A table may be permitted for 4 points (decide among yourselves)

legs game shakespeare

Plurals (2 options):

  • Plurals don’t alter the points, only a single amount is awarded (e.g. Kittens for sale – 4 points awarded as a kitten has 4 legs) – my brother thinks this is the correct plural rule.

OR

  • Plurals are awarded double points as it implies more than one (e.g. Kittens for sale – 8 points awarded as 2 kittens would have 8 legs) – I think this is the correct plural rule.

Also, be aware if you play this game close to home or on routes you are particularly familiar with, some of your party may try and claim points before they are actually visible as they know they are coming. This should be discouraged however you see fit.

Whichever set of rules you play doesn’t really matter, just make sure you agree on them before hand.

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.