The Power of Words

Working life in a boarding school doesn’t exactly give me the time to write I crave. It hardly offers much time for reading, for that matter. But, when a moment comes along when I don’t have lessons to plan, PDPs to fill out, reports to write or duties to carry out, I grab a book and my quote diary and escape for as long as my tired brain allows. I’ve kept a quote diary since 2015, charting my progress through the books I’ve been reading and jotting down any particularly wonderful words or beautiful descriptions – writing that stays with you long after you close the book, like the smoke in the night sky left by a magnificent firework. It’s not the most labour-intensive of blog posts, and yet it is the work of five years of reading. Here’s a selection of my favourite lines from the books I’ve read in that time.

Oh, and if looks as though there’s a lot of H.R. Haggard and M.M. Kaye in there… it’s because there is. Together with Bryce Courtenay, Michael Morpurgo and John Wyndham, they’re my all-time favourite authors.


 

The Garden of Eden, no doubt, looked fair before man was, but I always think that it must have been fairer when Eve adorned it.
Henry Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines

Her father was a man “led by a star”, as the natives say, and would follow it over the edge of the world and be no nearer.
Henry Rider Haggard, The Ghost Kings

It is certain that few build up the temple of their lives upon some firm foundation of hope or hate, of desire or despair… but rather take chance for their architect – and indeed, whether they take him or no, he is still the master builder.
Henry Rider Haggard, Montezuma’s Daughter

Almost every flock of vultures has its king.
Henry Rider Haggard, Marie

“Duty is a fool-word that makes bones of a man before his time and leaves his girl to others.”
Henry Rider Haggard, Marie

“There’s so much human suffering that the whole world should be wailing.”
Joy Chambers, My Zulu, Myself

“A man’s half licked when he says he is.”
Jack London, White Fang

For most of the years of my life I have handled human nature in its raw material, the virgin ore, not the finished ornament that is smelted out of it – if, indeed, it is finished yet, which I greatly doubt.
Henry Rider Haggard, Child of Storm

There is nothing more uninteresting than to listen to other people’s love affairs.
Henry Rider Haggard, Child of Storm

“He who walks into a storm must put up with the hailstones.”
Henry Rider Haggard, Child of Storm

“First serve, then ask for wages.”
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan’s Wife

“What is life but loss, loss upon loss, til life itself be lost? But in death we may find all the things that we have lost.”
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan’s Wife

Complete happiness in this world is not allowed for even an hour.
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan’s Wife

“Music is a living art, ambassador. It’s meant to illuminate the emotions of the one who gives it life. How can written music have any feeling?”
Thomas Hoover, Moghul

“The Infinite will of God is always mysterious, mercifully granting us what we need more often than what we want.”
Thomas Hoover, Moghul

“We are all searching for our own self. But the self is not easy to find, so we travel afar, hoping it lies elsewhere. Searching inward is a much more difficult journey.
Thomas Hoover, Moghul

Kings have frequently lamented the miserable consequence of being born to great things.
Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

There was something in Johnny’s character that was pure gold without a trace of alloy.
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

“No man goes so far as he who knows not where he is going.”
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

Conway Barton possessed a love of two things that have never yet failed to ruin those devotees who have worshiped them to excess: Drink and Women.
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

It was an age of lavishness. Of enormous meals, enormous families, enormous, spreading skirts and an enormous, spreading empire. Of gross living, grinding poverty, inconceivable prudery, insufferable complacency and incomparable enterprise.
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

It is darkest under the lamp.
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

Ten men with one heart are equal to a hundred men with different hearts.
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

“No sport is worthy of the name that does not include an element of risk.”
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

“Though I can feel the wind and hear the thunder, I do not yet despair of avoiding the storm.”
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

“I put my hand upon my knife and walked as a cat walks in an alley full of dogs.”
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

“The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

“I have yet to learn that cure is preferable to prevention.”
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

Dasim Ali was a placid and pleasant person who harboured no bitterness towards anyone – except on occasion towards God, who had granted him no sons.
M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

“Fire is a good friend when men are few and foes are many.”
Henry Rider Haggard, The People of the Mist

What a vast gulf there is between love and loved! It is measureless.
Henry Rider Haggard, The People of the Mist

The devil – a very convenient word at that – is a good fisherman. He has a large book full of flies of different sizes and colours and well he knows how to suit them to each particular fish. But white or black, every fish takes one fly or the other, and then comes the question – is the fish that has swallowed the big, gaudy lure so much worse or more foolish than that which has fallen to the delicate white moth with the same sharp barb in its tail?
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan and the Holy Flower

“If the snake had the strength and brain of the elephant, and the fierce courage of the buffalo, soon there would be only one creature left in this world.”
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan and the Holy Flower

“You don’t understand. If only you understood, you would understand.”
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan and the Holy Flower

“You white men are very clever and think that you know everything, but it is not so, for in learning so much that is new, you have forgotten much that is old.”
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan and the Holy Flower

The night is dying, the day is not yet born.
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan and the Holy Flower

“New journey, new stick, Baas!”
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan and the Holy Flower

Love is the best of medicines – if it be returned.
Henry Rider Haggard, Allan and the Holy Flower

“I am a cosmopolitan. But then the gods of nationalism rose up.”
C.J. Sansom, Dominion

In the summer of 1929 he left for England for a year at Oxford; he felt alone and out of place the whole time there, surrounded by people who mostly seemed either to be decadent aristocrats or pretending to be.
C.J. Sansom, Dominion

“This view reminds me of a story I learned at school: He took Jesus to a high place, and showed all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and said, ‘All these things I will give thee, to have dominion over, if you will fall down and worship me’.” He frowned. “That is not quite right. Was it ‘dominion’ or ‘power’? Anyway, it was something like that.”
“Jesus was a Jew, wasn’t he? Who was it who took Jesus to the high place?”
Gunther shrugged. Then he remembered, with a superstitious shiver, that it had been the Devil.
C.J. Sansom, Dominion

“You don’t see it, do you, people like you? That all you’re doing is standing against the tide of historical destiny. Which, by the way, is about to drown you.”
C.J. Sansom, Dominion

“Love’s a game for the young and lovely, and the mirror, my dear, never lies.”
Aimee Liu, Cloud Mountain

One hundred wireless networks password protected; one thousand humans in an acre holding their wallets close to their genitals.
Amy Liptrot, The Outrun

I heard it said that in London you’re always looking for either a job, a house or a lover.
Amy Liptrot, The Outrun

I wonder if it’s possible to really come back once you’ve lived away for a while, or if it’s called coming ‘home’ when you never belonged.
Amy Liptrot, The Outrun

One day you’ll boast of coming here, but realise you remember nothing about it.
Jane Johnson, Court of Lions

Like eyes they were, and seemed to watch him. The few cliff-dwellings he had seen – all ruins – had left him with haunting memory of age and solitude and something past.
Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage

“Proselyter, I reckon you’d better call quick on that God who reveals Himself to you on earth, because He won’t be visiting the place you’re going to.”
Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage

European women are so cold they give you a chance to say no at every turn, and you feel good about it, too.
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Dirty Havana Trilogy

He didn’t worry that the man was going to get him, because the man had got him.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Wednesday looked like he had learned to smile from a manual.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

If he were a real woodsman, he would slice off a steak and grill it over a wood fire. Instead, he sat on a fallen tree and ate a Snickers bar and knew that he wasn’t a real woodsman.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

A salesman in America is naked without his smile.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

That is the tale; the rest is detail.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

We need individual stories. Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“The Americas just swapped Liberty for sugar.”
Thomas Hoover, Caribee

“What can a man know of wine if he samples only one vineyard?”
“A woman might say it depends on whether you prefer flowers or wine.”
Thomas Hoover, Caribee

“You are hungry and honest, and that is very rare in this country.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

When he was younger he had admired people with moneyed childhoods and foreign accents, but he had come to sense an unvoiced yearning in them, a sad search for something they could never find.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“My name is Gabriel Oak.”
“And mine isn’t. You seem fond of speaking it so decisively, Gabriel Oak.”
Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Poets must first be hanged, then mourned at the gallows.
Orhan Pamuk, The Red-Haired Woman

My empire is of the imagination.
Henry Rider Haggard, She

“Swift – be swift- death is in the air we breathe.”
Henry Rider Haggard, She

Mediocrity is the best camouflage known to man.
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

“My mouth tastes like the splash-board of an Indian lavatory in the mango season.”
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

I imaged hundreds of eyes hungrily devouring my freedom as they watched from the prison darkness.
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

“Animals, that’s my speciality. You can ask me anything about animals. You name it,” – he brought his hands up as though he were squinting down the barrel of a rifle, pulled an imaginary trigger and made a small explosive sound – “I’ve shot it.” He lowered the imaginary rifle and grinned at me. “I love wild animals.”
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

The concept of a white man coming along and forgiving everyone’s sins and then getting nailed to a post for his trouble seemed a highly unlikely story. As Dum pointed out, white men never forgive sins, they only punish you for them, especially if you are black.
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

Ruthless logic is the sign of a limited mind. The truth can only add to the sum of what you know, while a harmless mystery left unexplored often adds to the meaning of life.
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

“All I know about the Bible is that wherever it goes, there’s trouble.”
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

A natural leader, I have found, need never explain. In fact, they less they explain the more desirable they are as leaders.
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

“To play black, the music must come from your soul and not from your head.”
Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

Once a man has lived long enough, every moment is a reflection of some other moment.
Naomi Alderman, The Liar’s Gospel

The name of God is now in the water.
Naomi Alderman, The Liar’s Gospel

Every person wants to feel that some other man can guide them back into the light.
Naomi Alderman, The Liar’s Gospel

Storytellers know that every story is at least partly a lie.
Naomi Alderman, The Liar’s Gospel

“Put your God away. You have one too many loyalties.”
James Clavell, Shogun

“Endeavour” is an abstract word, and unsatisfactory.
James Clavell, Shogun

“Love is a Christian word.”
James Clavell, Shogun

Mutiny breeds in idleness, not in hardship or hard work.
C.S. Forester, The Gun

“The hand of God is at work in León.”
C.S. Forester, The Gun

He had seen for himself, on a brief visit to the interior, one of the slave routes that wound across Africa. A trail that had been clearly marked by hordes of vultures that perched among the flat-topped thorn trees, and the bleached bones and rotting corpses of the innumerable captives who had been unable to go any further, and been left to die where they fell.
M.M. Kaye, Trade Wind

Men were covetous, and the world no longer wide enough.
M.M. Kaye, Trade Wind

“If it is a traveller’s tale, where then are the travellers?”
M.M. Kaye, Trade Wind

One day the old cities, if they were not destroyed by war, would be pulled down and swept away, and in their place would arise a flavourless uniformity of brick and mortar, populated by once-colourful people aping the white men’s dress and speech, so that all cities would in time become identical masses of houses and factories, shops, boulevards, and hotels, linked by trains and steam-ships, and filled with imitation westerners imitating western ways.
M.M. Kaye, Trade Wind

The pinkness overwhelmed a person, as an aphid might feel suddenly thrust into the petals of an overblown rose.
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

If you went indoors for a moment, you’d sense from the change of light that something had happened and then, when minutes later you came out again, there were the towering castles of grey tinged with white, real estate for gods and frightening giants.
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

“Altruism costs a great deal.”
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

Suspicion feeds upon itself like a cancer.
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

People are people through people.
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

The law cannot stop a man and a woman.
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

Doris with the wonderful tits was about as subtle as a meat-axe.
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

“My people [the Jews] have an instinct for knowing when to move. The only we denied that instinct we paid too big a price.”
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

“I do not suffer from the affliction of being white.”
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

Together since the world began, the madman and the lover.
Bryce Courtenay, Tandia

God allows no fragmen tof our souls, no atom of our dust to be lost from his universe.
John Rollin Ridge, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murrieta

“The usual trouble with liberal-minded men is that they think others are, too.”
John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes

A city is a desert of bricks and stones.
John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes

“There are times when one fails to see why God invented the ostrich.”
John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes

The Bomb appears to have no other destiny but to be held up and shaken threateningly.
John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes

Listener, the joy of a story is in its telling.
Laila Lalami, The Moor’s Account

Quote Unquote: STREET OF THIEVES

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This week’s read is a work in translation: Mathias Enard’s Street of Thieves (Rue des voleurs in the original French). As a former student of languages, I have a somewhat conflicted view on reading works in translation. Part of me has always been a bit of a purist on the subject: if you can read a book in the language in which the author intended it to be read, why not do so? There are so many details and nuances that can be lost in the tricky process of translation – the author’s voice, for one. However, what you read impacts on what you write, and since I write predominantly in English, it always made far more sense to me to read works intended to be read in English, with the effect that I eschewed works in translation altogether. I grew up with English, therefore I must write in English. That at least was the argument I cleaved to for most of my time at university. A colleague once said to me he could destroy that argument in three words: Waiting for Godot. Unfortunately, uncultured pleb as I am, Samuel Beckett has yet to feature on my reading list – nor will he for some time, theatrical scripts not being my preferred reading material of an evening. However, I concede it a point well made, and in the years since I have relaxed my approach a little and tried dipping my toes in the water.

Street of Thieves tells the tale of Lakhdar, a young, idealistic Moroccan whose boyish desire to seek his fortune across the Strait is realised after a series of stark, harrowing underworld adventures that make Enard’s text a bildungsroman of the darker variety. There is enough of the everyman in Lakhdar to make him an instantly sympathetic protagonist, and no matter how you look at it, the sequence of events that set his journey in motion would humble even the strongest of wills.

The greatest strength of Street of Thieves is in its flawless realism. Every single event is wholly and utterly believable; some magic in Enard’s emplotment almost strips the story of its “story”, as though you are watching Lakhdar’s life in real time. Tragic events happen and caricatures come and go, but they are so very real, so human, they might as well be people picked off the street at random and given parts to play. Where there is grief, there is no melodrama; where there is rage, there are no histrionics; just the restless drone of everyday life, weaved seamlessly into the fabric of fiction.

The book’s title refers to a street in Barcelona’s Raval district, one of the seedier quarters of the coastal metropolis. Enard lived in Barcelona for a time and his knowledge of the comings and goings within the depths of the city paint a convincing picture, though even if he had no experience of his own, he could hardly have chosen a more fitting counterweight to the city in which Lakhdar’s story begins: Tangier, by many accounts one of Morocco’s seedier locales. There is a magic to both cities that draws tourists in every year – the ever lucrative vein of “pink gold” Enard so evocatively describes – but we don’t see much of it from Lakhdar’s perspective. Everything is huge, dark and dirty, as though we are seeing both cities through the eyes of a cockroach, scuttling from corner to darker corner. It is certainly an easier book to write about than it was to read.

I may not have read Waiting for Godot, but I have had the good fortune to explore both Barcelona and Tangier. I went to Barcelona earlier this year in the hope of finding material for my own writing. It was a wistful fantasy, to which I am often prone; I found little of any real value in my wanderings around the city, my interests being so far removed from the modern metropolis – say, by about four hundred years. I wandered around the Raval district a lot, carrying with me only my notebook and the card key to my hostel room, and found the place shadowy, dusty and surprisingly Arabic-speaking, but not as menacing as I had heard tell. Then again, I limited my explorations to the daylight hours: I believe Raval puts on a very different mask by night, if the stories are to be believed. All I really remember about Raval was a chance encounter at the end of a street with a flock of monk parakeets drinking from a puddle in the road, illegal immigrants of a different colour, but illegal immigrants all the same.

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Having traveled a good deal in Morocco previously, I found in Tangier a curious melange of the other cities I had seen, as though it were a human imitation of the work of Gods elsewhere. Here were echoes of Fes’ labyrinthine medina, without the medieval charm; echoes too of Marrakesh’s charming cafes, without the charm, Taroudant’s city walls, without the beauty of the desert, and the blinding white of Casablanca, stained brown and grey with age. All the same, Tangier had a far greater effect on me than Casablanca or Marrakesh, knocking both cities down in strength of character, showing that hybrid vigour that sometimes allows a mongrel dog to triumph over a prize-fighter.

I met a Lakhdar, once. Not in name, but almost identical in nature. He was friendly and sincere, with that almost too sincere character common to the folk of many African countries that puts a lot of Europeans on their guard. Had I been traveling alone, I would have undoubtedly abandoned my plans and gone with him to meet his family at his invitation. As it was, I did not, and I have never felt entirely happy with myself for how the ensuing drama played out. Lakhdar, too, is frustrated by visiting Europeans who, one way or another, lead him on only to let him down, concerned or agitated by his desire for friendship. That the story takes place in the turbulent months of the Arab spring gives more than a little credence to their caution, and yet… if you were in Lakhdar’s shoes, would you see things so clearly? The gulf between Africa and Europe is only nine miles wide at its narrowest point, and yet it yawns like Mariana.

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Favourite Scene:

Tough call. Street of Thieves is not a book of standout scenes so much as it is an exploration of the difficulties experienced by a young Moroccan crossing over. Maybe his lengthy descriptions of the sordid Raval district? Enard painted the side of Raval I wanted to see but was too cautious to venture out at night in search of – the Raval one sees through the slits in the blinds. A quarter inhabited by fleshy prostitutes, circling drug addicts and lecherous men who ogle the women one day and turn a blind eye the next on their way to Friday prayers. Like Goya, the Romantics and all the Victorians before me, I am drawn to the dark, if only to better understand the light.

 


Favourite Character:

Another coin toss, though this time, it’s between two men: Sheikh Nureddin and Marcelo Cruz. The coin analogy is not a bad way to start, for in a way they are two sides of the same coin, just as Tangier and Raval mirror each other. Sheikh Nureddin is the more sinister of the two: calm and comforting, fatherly and always dressed to the nines, he exudes moral strength and commands confidence, and yet all the while he drives honest men to commit brutal acts in his name. Scarier still, even after the illusion flickers and you see the demon beneath the dress-suit, Enard has you seeing his humanity when he walks back into Lakhdar’s life, like Lucifer with his wings restored. Marcelo Cruz, by contrast, is a grotesque caricature of corruption. A twenty-first century undertaker who races to be the first on the scene whenever the bodies of the unfortunate wash up on the shores of the Spanish Mediterranean, Cruz takes an almost inhuman delight in his profession. Death has lost its meaning to him; he has become corrupted by the stink of corruption, and only the endless spiral of ever-darkening videos on the internet keep him entertained as he waits for the bloody tide. Both men are avatars of fear; one wields it, one is possessed by it, and it is hard to say which is the more fearful of the two. The devil you know, and the devil you worship. It is a wonder that Lakhdar is as sane as he is at the end of the narrative – though perhaps you might come to your own conclusions.

 


Favourite Quotes:

He spread a terrible sadness; the rotten smell of a lonely soul.

Cities can be tamed, or rather they tame us; they teach us how to behave, they make us lose, little by little, our foreign surface; they tear our outer shells from us, melt us into themselves, shape us in their image – very quickly, we abandon our way of walking; we stop looking at buildings, we no longer hesitate when we enter a metro station, we have the right rhythm, we move around at the right pace; and wherever you come from, in the end they train you like dogs.

You try acting funny or charming in literary Arabic, it’s no piece of cake, believe me; people will always think you’re about to announce another catastrophe in Palestine or comment on a verse of the Koran.

 

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Quote Unquote: THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF JOAQUÍN MURIETA by John Rollin Ridge

This week I’m looking into a rather different kind of novel, albeit one much more in line with my usual taste. Often considered the first novel by a Native American writer, John Rollin Ridge’s The Life and Times of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated Californian Bandit is a remarkable account of the life of one of America’s most infamous outlaws. I have no misgivings in making such a claim: Joaquín Murieta may not be a household name like Butch Cassidy or Billy the Kid, but as the primary inspiration for Zorro, and by proxy Batman, the Californian bandit’s legacy is alive and kicking.

As might be expected of a bandit narrative, Joaquín’s tale is a tragic one. Ridge paints a picture of a man who set out with honest intentions but turned to villainy after being wronged once too often on account of his being a Mexican in an increasingly intolerant America (a situation that still resonates painfully across the ages). Finding himself on the wrong side of the law, Joaquín sets out on a career of vengeance against the nation that would not let a man like him earn an honest living. Along the way he gathers about him a colourful cast of characters, including his sweetheart Rosita, his brother-in-law Reyes Feliz, his nemesis Captain Love, and his bloodthirsty second-in-command, the unforgettable Three-Fingered Jack. The end is never in question – millions before and after Murieta have paid the price for defying the might of the United States – but such is the degree of Joaquín’s panache and gallantry that you might be forgiven for willing him to succeed, no matter how many bloody crimes are committed in his name.

To the modern eye, Ridge’s account comes across as half-story, half-history. This is not altogether untrue: the events within the narrative have been, to a greater or lesser extent, subjected to a fair degree of fictionalisation. An overarching narration of events takes precedence over dialogue and character development, and though Joaquín is very much the star of the show, this is as much the tale of his friends and foes as it is his alone. There are elements of the story that make for some hard reading in the twenty-first century – namely, the casual racism employed towards the Chinese, who fall before Joaquín’s men like wheat in the wind. Where Mexicans and Americans stand their ground and fight to the death, all of Ridge’s “Celestials” (an outdated slur used frequently in the narrative) are cowardly weaklings who habitually grovel and flee at the first sign of danger. They feature as a nameless swarm, fodder for Three-Fingered Jack’s bloodlust and a lawless whetting stone for the sorties of Joaquín‘s gang, since their slaughter rarely if ever provokes any reaction from the Americans. Ridge is, of course, speaking with the voice of his time, but given how evergreen the anti-Mexican sentiment of the narrative remains a century and a half later, it is hard not to draw comparisons to the present. Joaquín’s vendetta is in many respects a racial one, but it is rationalised through his personal tragedy. The xenophobia of his enemies cannot be so easily waived, and the indifference of the Americans upon his slaughtering of the Chinese miners speaks volumes.

I have been passionate about bandits since university. I am not entirely sure why. There is something raw about the idea of banditry that appeals to me, as it must have appealed to the Romantics of the nineteenth century. I chose to study Spanish bandit legends for a research project in my third year at university and I have been hooked ever since. I suppose it could be summed up as follows: the further removed one is from violence, the more exciting that violence appears. Some travellers in the 1800s came to Spain with the express purpose of seeking out an encounter with the bandit chiefs they had read about, leaving bitterly disappointed when they returned home unharmed. As I sit down to write of the legend of Joaquín in the comfort of my study, with the faces of surly Andalusian highwaymen staring down at me from the framed Doré prints on the walls, I am no less afflicted than my predecessors. Joaquín Murieta joins their ranks as a fearsome commander, standing tall alongside other such legends: Serrallonga and Roque Guinart; Diego Pernales and El Barquero de Cantillana; Tragabuches, Pasos Largos and El Tempranillo.

It is easy enough to conjure up a fantasy in one’s mind of the lawless world of Gold Rush-era California, but to do so with any degree of accuracy from the niceties of the present day would be no small feat. To write convincingly about the past, one must ignore the attitudes of the present and fully espouse the zeitgeist of the era in question. Therein lies the pitfall, for where is the storyteller who writes for an audience long since dead? And where is the book that is totally free of the truths and prejudices of the day? The very act of putting work into the public domain is to subject it to the scrutiny of the present-day readership, and it is upon this anvil that a story’s success may be made or unmade. To tell Joaquín’s story with more than a kernel of truth today would be to wind the clock back beyond one hundred and fifty years of social change, to a time when it was not essential to take into account the sensibilities of every featured demographic. Ridge’s account sounds so very believable because it was written not long after the events in question occurred, but even then his account is not unbiased: the author’s sympathy for Joaquín bleeds through his writing, for Ridge, a Cherokee, had plenty of reasons of his own to hate the Americans, having lost his father at an early age at the beginning of the events which would lead to the infamous Trail of Tears. History is warped by the age in which it is scrutinised, like a kaleidoscope that twists with each passing year.

August 3rd, 2019. A lone gunman walks into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and shoots twenty-two people dead, supposedly in retaliation for the Hispanic invasion of Texas. Within forty-eight hours, a Mexican spokesperson calls the attack “an act of terrorism” against Mexicans living in the US. The men who assaulted the young Joaquín Murieta and raped his wife got the sticky end they richly deserved in Ridge’s account, but in reality they were merely the heads of a greater hydra; the intolerance and hatred they represent is with us to this day. The story of Joaquín Murieta is all the more important now than it ever was. Here is the legend of an ordinary Mexican who was made into a monster by the land of opportunity, but who, like countless bandit heroes before him, rose above the darkness in the hearts of his people to become something eternal: a folk hero.

 


Favourite Scene:

The parallels between Joaquín Murieta and his illustrious descendants, Zorro and Batman, are mostly subtle ones, drawing largely on the bandit’s sense of nobility and his fight for justice. But there is one scene in particular that is especially poignant in its cultural impact. Having met with an old acquaintance on the road, Joaquín warns him to tell nobody of his presence in the state. The traveller swears he will be true to his word and goes on his way, but upon arrival at the nearest town, he hears talk of the bandit chief and talks of his recent encounter. Unbeknownst to him, Joaquín has friends up and down the country and, hearing of this betrayal from one of his spies, takes the matter personally. He comes to town in disguise, seeks out his old friend and, before dispatching him with a single shot, removes his disguise and declares the immortal line “I am Joaquín!”. It becomes a recurring staple of the legend of Joaquín that he fearlessly reveals himself before making a kill, and it would not surprise me in the slightest if Batman passed over Zorro and got his line directly from the Ridge’s book.

 


Favourite Character:

Murieta is a man worthy of three legends in one lifetime, but there’s another man in his saga who towers above the rest, and that’s Manuel García, more commonly known as Three-Fingered Jack. Next to Joaquín, Jack is easily the most memorable character, serving as a gruesome foil to Joaquín’s nobility and a grim reminder of the reality of the nature of banditry. Three-Fingered Jack’s unfettered violence is truly galling whenever and wherever it occurs and casts a long shadow over the villainies of his compadres, whose handiwork seems almost gentlemanly in comparison. There seems to be nothing at all redeeming in his character, and yet there is something immensely appealing about the monster – I honestly expected more of the wolverine in his last stand than he actually got.

 


Favourite Quotes:

They might as well have attempted to catch the red-winged spirit of a storm.

“If you betray me, I will scatter to the winds all that you have and all that you love.”

That terrible, three-fingered hand, which had dyed itself in many a quivering heart, had torn with its ruthless talons the throats of many an agonised victim, and had shadowed itself forth upon the horrified imagination of thousands who only knew that it existed.

 


Quote Unquote: BLINDNESS by José Saramago

**Quote Unquote is a new series of review-style posts geared towards mining my way through the mountain of books I have managed to accrue over the last few years**


 

Tonight I’m going to be looking at Blindness by Portuguese writer José Saramago, Nobel Prize winner and author of The Gospel according to Jesus Christ. I’ve had the book for the best part of a year, having borrowed it from my mother’s collection, and I took it with me on the Camino two weeks ago. I thought it would do me good to get some cultural reading under my belt, and Blindness looked like a light read… at the time. But that’s exactly what you get for not reading the blurb thoroughly, though the title alone should have given me an idea of what I was in for!

In his ensaio, Saramago weaves a monstrous tale centred on, above all else, the darkness in the human heart. It is not so much a cautionary tale as a dreadful reminder that we are only one small stage removed from savagery: one small push is all it takes. In this grim tale, that small push is the loss of sight. Starting with a man who goes suddenly and inexplicably blind whilst waiting at the traffic lights, the blindness spreads like a plague, spreading out from the source and driving panic in its wake. As the authorities race to take action, the affected are quarantined within an asylum, where things deteriorate with terrifying speed, culminating in the rule of force of a bunch of blind thugs who seize the food supply and extort their fellow inmates, first demanding their possessions, then the women. When a timely fire drives the blind out of the asylum and into the world, they find things are not all that much better on the outside. Throughout, Saramago conjures up a bleak world of stumbling and tripping, of unimaginable filth and miserable humanity and the depths to which the world can sink. We see it all through the eyes of the doctor’s wife, the one character miraculously spared the “white evil”, whose ability to see all that transpires becomes something of a curse as she alone is forced to bear witness to the breakdown of the world around her. She, and those within her halo of morality, somehow make it through their terrible ordeal until, just as quickly and inexplicably as it began, the blind have their sight restored.

Saramago’s writing style is hard going, to say the least. Even in translation, Saramago opts for chunky, seemingly endless paragraphs with no markers to indicate who is talking to whom. Like the Nadsat employed in A Clockwork Orange, one adapts to this style of narrative after a while, but it does make for difficult reading at times, especially when multiple characters are in conversation.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about blindness that makes for such a powerful plot device. I often come back to Triffids between books, and there are obvious parallels between the two books, though when rested against Saramago’s version of events, Wyndham’s vision of a world populated by the blind seems remarkably clean. Compared to the latter’s apocalyptic London of shattered windows and irregularly parked cars, the streets of the mental asylum and the unnamed city in Saramago’s work are rancid, litter-strewn and splattered with so much human sewage that one wonders whether the triffids operated a waste disposal service as part of their world domination bid. Wyndham’s world is also laced with an unmistakeable air of Middle England decorum: even after the total breakdown of society, the old laws still apply and sex is as invisible in Triffid-infested England as it is in Middle Earth. Not so with Saramago. There is one scene in particular in Blindness that will probably haunt me to the end of my days, not least of all for having seen it acted out with remarkably human depravity by Gael García Bernal in the 2008 film version (not how I imagined the character, but no less menacing a presence).

Blindness as a theme holds a morbid fascination for me, as sight is the one sense of the five I could not live without – and I can speak with a little experience on this count, as an especially fierce migraine temporarily robbed me of mine when I was eleven years old. It was only for few minutes – it might have been three or it might have been five – but I remember the terror as the world faded into darkness in the middle of a Biology lesson one morning. When my sight returned a few minutes later, I cannot even begin to describe my relief. It was an incident I never got any stick for – which is surprising, given how much of a commotion I must have made, flailing about on my stool and crying out that I could not see – but perhaps that stands testament to the shared understanding seated deep within all of us of the terror of a world without sight; an inheritance from our ancestors of a time before fire and the electric light, when the starless night was inky black and full of danger. That primordial sense of fear is never far away in Saramago’s writing. Stripped of any kind of logic or explanation, the plague of blindness reduces humanity to its very worst, reminding us all that, without sight, our mastery of this world is finished and we are cast back to a primal state which, in all likelihood, will kill us all eventually.

In short, I’m glad I read Blindness, but boy, did Saramago have some demons… I am learning to bleed a little more darkness and despair into my own writing, which is and always has been so thoroughly oversaturated with hope, but I sincerely hope I am never driven to conjure up such a hellish place as Saramago’s asylum for the blind.

 


Favourite Scene:

The blinded icons in the church. You’ll find a lot of the same images in Triffids – the lines of blind people staggering down a street, people clawing hopefully at tins in supermarkets that don’t contain food, the silence of a world where all the cars have suddenly stopped – but there is nothing quite as harrowing in Wyndham’s world as the church of the blinded icons. It’s one of those truly original scenes that one encounters every so often in a good book that stay with you forever. The idea of a vengeful priest scratching out the eyes of the painted saints and blindfolding the statues is monstrously chilling; a vision of lost hope in a figurehead normally associated with being the last bastion of faith in a darkening world. The absence of said priest in the scene, leaving the reasoning to conjecture, only adds to the haunting effect. It is a scene I almost feel moved to paint. Perhaps someday I will give it a try.


Favourite Character: 

The girl with the dark glasses. Cool, independent and frequently insightful, the girl with the dark glasses puts up with a lot in the narrative – in Saramago’s world, a physically attractive woman is no safer in a blind world. She adjusts to her predicament with remarkable speed, adopts an orphaned child and provides an iron support to the women of the asylum through her cool head and determination. The circumstances surrounding her affliction also make for a curious and delightfully awkward plot point – a rare moment of humour in the tale.


Favourite Quotes:

It is necessary to kill when what is still alive is already dead.

I’m not entirely convinced that there are limits to misfortune and evil.

Panic is much faster than the legs that carry it.

I Need A Hero: My Favourite Fictional Leads

I’m off on another adventure in a couple of days. A fortnight in Catalunya awaits – because where better to spend the fallout from all this Brexit madness than with a people who have tussled with independence for centuries? I doubt the Catalans will be all that interested in the petty squabbles of a rather recalcitrant Guirilandia – and anyway, I’m a good deal more interested in their own history – but with another adventure looming, my mind turns back to the world of fiction. I always take a book with me when I travel, as it’s pretty much the one time in the year I can guarantee I’ll get some serious reading done. Frankly, given how important fiction is to me, I’m surprised I haven’t turned my hand to it as a topic more often. So tonight’s post is about putting that to rights. And I thought I’d start with an illustrated list of my favourite storybook heroes.

Perhaps the collection below says a lot more about me than I at first thought possible…


8. El Cid (Cantar del Mio Cid, Anonymous)

Kicking off the top ten with a bit of a controversial one, as this particular hero was a man of flesh and blood before he was a fictional character. Whether or not you choose to see him as a hero rather depends on whose account you choose to follow. Certainly, the Muslim chroniclers of the day didn’t exactly paint a very pretty picture of him. All the same, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar is a larger-than-life character in his epics, and the seesaw story of his rise and fall and rise again is – for want of a better word – one of my favourite tales. And now that I’m not at university anymore and don’t have to analyse him as a masculine image, or a symbol of religious fervour, or any of that academic nonsense, and can instead indulge in boyhood fantasies once again, he’s a damned impressive hero who is good to his men, be they Christian or Moor, loyal to his wife and king, protective of his daughters and a generally wise arbiter. It’s just a shame about the episode involving the Jews Raquel and Vidas, or he might have placed higher on this list. For some reason they didn’t include that little episode in the 1961 film…

H_Cid


7. Rat (The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame)

I think one of the things that shocked me most when compiling this list is how quintessentially British most of my favourite heroes are. Come to think of it, there are only really two characters on this list who are not Englishmen by birth or blood. I’d pretty much given up on my homeland for the beauty of foreign lands during my teens. Rediscovering the joy of reading in my early twenties completely turned that around, and made me appreciate on a deeper level characters from my childhood that I’d perhaps not understood fully until that moment. Rat is definitely one of them. An English county gentleman, who balances his seasonal desire to travel and see the world (depicted as a sudden madness) with his unshakeable attachment to his riverside home and his often poetic delight in the countryside around him. Rat always made me think of an England long since gone, albeit much beloved and not entirely forgotten. I could always empathise with Mole stumbling blindly around the new world and Toad still makes me laugh (especially voiced by Rik Mayall),  but I think my heart always did and always will go out to courageous, country-loving Rat.

H_Rat (2)


6. Bill Masen (Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham)

There’s something about the quiet, reflective protagonist of Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids that has always drawn me in. Another Englishman, and in many ways as much a caricature as Rat, Bill Masen takes the apocalypse with just the right amount of melancholic reflection and stiff upper lip that you might expect. For a sci-fi book – and a thumping good one, if I might say so – there’s a refreshing absence of the brash, gun-toting, “gotta save the world” Americanisms of your average apocalypse narrative. When he’s not dodging paramilitary groups or sinister man-eating plants, Bill spends most of the book musing on the state of the world after man, the foolishness of man and the loneliness of the human spirit. Triffids will be one of those books I treasure when I grow old, as it was Bill Masen’s thoughts on loneliness that gave me solace when I travelled solo across Spain.

H_Masen


5. Ashton Hilary Akbar Pelham-Martyn (The Far Pavilions, M.M. Kaye)

Let’s be perfectly honest here, to write a list of my favourite fictional heroes and not include the central character of what has always been my favourite book of all time would be nothing short of criminal. Orphaned shortly after birth in an opening that never ceases to chill me, Ashton (Ash) is raised by his father’s syce and spends his childhood under the impression that he’s Indian, before being rudely awakened to his English heritage after a series of adventures. He spends most of the book dealing with the fallout from that revelation, never entirely sure where his loyalties lie, and consequently never truly fitting in anywhere. The only trouble with Ash is he’s just too perfect. He slips up and gets hurt, and you can really feel his pain and his anger when he does, but even as a naïve young man he comes across as just a little bit too good to be true: fluent in more than five languages, an extremely talented sportsman, a natural with the ladies from his first experience and frustratingly good-looking, so much so that he spends most of the book being able to pass for Englishman, Afghan, Nepali or just about anything the plot requires, without having a drop of Pathan blood in him at all. Even so, I confess myself charmed by his tenacity from the beginning and have rarely felt so strongly about a protagonist as I have for Ashton Pelham-Martyn.

H_Ash


4. Hazel (Watership Down, Richard Adams)

The second anthropomorphic hero on this list is a rabbit, and this one doesn’t even dress like a hero. He’s just a rabbit, and neither the strongest nor the fastest of the rabbits of the Sandleford Warren, but in many ways he’s a greater hero than many of the characters on this list. John Hurt’s voiceover in the 1978 film only sealed the deal. I admit that I saw the animated movie before I read the book, but it evidently didn’t scar me for life as it did to many others as I did go on to read the book (though whoever decided that a visual representation of rabbits being gassed en masse was deserving of a U-rating obviously had some demons). Hazel is wise, caring and self-sacrificing; a true leader, equipped with all the merits of El-Ahrairah, the Prince of Rabbits (a sort of lapine Anansi/Coyote). I know Bigwig has always been the traditional fan favourite, but for me, it’s got to be Hazel, because he’s the kind of leader I could believe in. A hero with no pretensions to glory or leadership, but who looks out for every single member of his clan, and who becomes a leader quite organically as the story develops.

H_Hazel (2)


3. Tintin

Probably the most well-known character on this list, Tintin has been in my heart since I was a lad. His agelessness, his never-ending sense of adventure, the fact that you could essentially paint yourself into his shoes wherever he went… and the fact that I’ve been compared to him in every single line of work I’ve ever had, due in part to my round face and strange quiff-thing going on with my crowns. If we forget his earlier iterations (Tintin au Congo was written by a Belgian in a very different age), Tintin is a young man with a heart of gold. Tintin in Tibet is probably his finest hour, showcasing the Belgian reporter’s winsome determination and hope to find his lost friend, who pretty much everybody else has given up for dead. I had every Tintin book bar one as a kid (Dead Sea Sharks), and he’s one of those rare heroes whom I value above the supporting cast, no matter how colourful and memorable they may be (here’s looking at you Captain Haddock, Cuthbert Calculus and, of course, Thompson and Thomson).

H_Tintin


2. Peekay

The top two spaces go to two heroes who share the same country: South Africa. British by blood, Peter Philip Kenneth Keith – unfortunately named by his parents, more fortunately shortened to Peekay by the author – has a hard lot growing up as a little boy in an adult world. You hardly even notice him age as he often seems mature beyond his years, the result of being forced to land on his feet by his born-again mother and his tormentors, including the Judge and the vile Sergeant Bormann. The way Courtenay has him describe loneliness is every bit as powerful as Wyndham, if not doubly so in that it comes from the voice of a child. And Peekay’s fierce sense of justice and morality – a common feature in Courtenay’s heroes – is exactly the kind of thing I could go for. Throw antiheroes and bad-guys-gone-good at me all day, but I love a hero with a strong moral compass. I wanted to learn to box when I read the book and watched the film, so greatly did I fall under the spell of this particular fighter. All the same, when it comes to the title bout for my favourite fictional hero, there’s one man who just beats Peekay to the punch…

H_Peekay


1. Allan Quatermain

If you’ve read my writing before, this will be no surprise. Allan Quatermain is my favourite fictional character, hands down, no contest. Not the version you might have seen in League of Extraordinary Gentleman movie (though the graphic novel is close enough), I’m talking about the original. Humble. Wise. Melancholic. Cynical, but not unadventurous. And, though modern readers might find his language more than a little antiquated and even offensive, rather advanced and liberal-minded for his day. Allan Quatermain was the inspiration for such legendary figures as Indiana Jones, but I’ve always found the source material a good deal more inspiring. Maybe it’s his undaunting appearance – a wiry old man with bristly hair, a short stature and a shrinking habit – that makes him so likeable. He lives alone, but keeps good company and is a ceaseless fountain of wisdom, whether that wisdom comes from his own mouth or the mouths of his sage companions like Hans, or Umslopogaas, or Indaba-zimbi. Perhaps, above all else, the true quality of Allan Quatermain is the quality of his writer. The old adage, write about what you know, can be a little restrictive for those who enjoy historical fiction. Henry Rider Haggard, however, was at the very heart of the world about which he wrote, seeing the Boer Wars at first hand and even taking an active role in them himself. Quatermain taught me a lot about the world when I started reading again, but most importantly of all, he gave me a reason to embrace my homeland once again. It will be a while before any hero, great or small, topples the great Macumazahn from his seat at the top of this list.

H_Allan

Special mention: Quint & Maris (The Edge Chronicles, Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell), Harry Flashman (Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser), Richard Sharpe (Sharpe’s Tiger, Bernard Cornwell) and Tommo (Private Peaceful – but just about every protagonist from Michael Morpurgo’s books would do)

Did you like this list? Feel free to copy the idea for posts of your own. BB x

The Quote Hunter

Two things first.
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One. I can’t stand quotes. Seeing one in the introduction or conclusion of a piece of writing is an immediate turn-off for me. I think they’re entirely unoriginal and univentive when used incorrectly, and they all too often are. But more than that, it’s plain lazy. We’re such wonderful, creative beings. What’s stopping you from weaving word-magic of your own?
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Two. I absolutely love quotes. The more original, the better. Especially ones that carry weight, and doubly so if they’re off the radar. The more you find, the more you can relate to, and in so doing, learn to spin your very own. At least, that’s the way I see it.
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I’m a filthy hypocrite on so many levels.
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The truth is that one of my favourite reading habits is to underline standout writing as I go, bookmarking entire pages if there’s too much to admire. In the olden days that would have meant defacing my library with pencil scratches and sticky-notes all over the place. Not to mention the dog-eared, ever-thumbed pages. There’s something genuine about that, but I’ve never been able to shake the idea that scribbling in a book is something close to sacrilege. With iBooks it’s a simple matter of tapping, swiping and tapping again if needs be. I’m doubly indebted to Durham’s International Office for their generosity on that front; why, if it weren’t for the iPad, I might never have got back into serious reading. Fancy that: technology leading me back to the old ways. It’s funny how the world works, sometimes.
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Since this quote-farming business has only been in operation since July 2015, it’ll take me years to build up the bank to the size it should be. However, in the meantime, I’ve been keeping a quote journal in one of my (far too) many Paperblanks notebooks, which is already one sixth full – and a third of that is from a single book (M.M. Kaye, you are a literary goddess). I try to keep a balance between meaningful quotes and pure nuggets of gold writing, so it makes for good reading on its own.
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Why am I wasting time explaining all of this? You know what’s coming! Here are twenty-five of my favourite quotes to date, taken from the various books I’ve been reading over the last year.
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The Garden of Eden, no doubt, looked fair before man was, but I always think it must have been fairer when Eve adorned it. (Henry Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines)
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By the afternoon of that day […] at least six or seven drums were throbbing from various points. Sometimes they beat quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes in obvious question and answer, one far to the east breaking out in a high staccato rattle, and being followed after a pause by a deep roll from the north. There was something indescribably nerve-shaking and menacing in that constant mutter, which seemed to shape itself into the very syllables of the half-breed, endlessly repeated, “We will kill you if we can. We will kill you if we can.” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World)
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Her father was a man ‘led by a star’, as the natives say, and would follow it over the edge of the world and be no nearer. (Henry Rider Haggard, The Ghost Kings)
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Until then I had always thought of loneliness as something negative — an absence of company, and, of course, something temporary… That day I had learned that it was much more. It was something which could press and oppress, could distort the ordinary and play tricks with the mind. Something which lurked inimically all around, stretching the nerves and twanging them with alarms, never letting one forget that there was no one to help, no one to care. It showed one as an atom adrift in vastness, and it waited all the time its chance to frighten and frighten horribly — that was what loneliness was really trying to do; and that was what one must never let it do... (John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids)
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It is certain that few build up the temples of their lives upon some firm foundation of hope or hate, of desire or despair [] but rather take chance for their architect – and indeed, whether they take him or no, he is still the master builder. (Henry Rider Haggard, Montezuma’s Daughter)
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“You are going to spend a strange honeymoon, baas,” said Hans […] “Now, if I was to be married tomorrow, I should stop with my pretty for a few days and only ride off somewhere else when I was tired of her, especially if that somewhere chanced to be Zululand, where they are so fond of killing people.” (Henry Rider Haggard, Marie)
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“There is so much human suffering that the whole world should be wailing.” (Joy Chambers, My Zulu, Myself)
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There’s no law in the Sahara (Mayne Reid, The Boy Slaves)
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I must not go on writing like this or I shall throw down my pen and book a passage for Africa. (Henry Rider Haggard, Child of Storm)
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If a man feeds only upon honour, he will grow thin.” (Henry Rider Haggard, Child of Storm)
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“First serve, then ask for wages.” (Henry Rider Haggard, Allan’s Wife)
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“What is life but loss, loss upon loss, until life itself be lost? But in death we may find all the things that we have lost.” (Henry Rider Haggard, Allan’s Wife)
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Complete happiness is not allowed in this world even for an hour. (Henry Rider Haggard, Allan’s Wife)
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I have always avoided baboons, feeling more afraid of them than any beast. (Henry Rider Haggard, Allan’s Wife)
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The Infinite will of God is always mysterious, mercifully granting us what we need more often than what we want.” (Thomas Hoover, Moghul)
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It was a fear of India. Of the savage lands that lay all about her, stretching for thousands of miles and yet hemming her in. Of the dark, secretive, sideways-looking eyes; the tortuous unreadable minds behind those expressionless faces. (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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Conway Barton possessed a love of two things that have never yet failed to ruin those devotees who have worshipped them to excess: Drink and Women. (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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Common sense will nearly always stand you in better sense than a slavish adherence to the conventions. (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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“If you saw a lunatic in possession of a lighted brand and knew that he intended to set fire to a building containing a hundred helpless women and children, all of whom would inevitably be burnt to death; and if the only possible method of preventing it was to kill the lunatic, would you consider that murder or humanity?”
“You cannot justify murder.”
“I’m not. But whose murder are you talking about?” (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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“I told you so” is a cheap form of satisfaction at the best of times. (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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“Though I can feel the wind and hear the thunder, I do not yet despair of avoiding the storm.” (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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“The Lord helps those who help themselves.” (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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“That bloody goat! I can only hope that some wet and hungry tiger has made good use of it. It will be a richly deserved end.” (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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“As a nation we cannot resist moving in and showing someone how to run his affairs when we see them being run damned badly.” (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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They had escaped from violent death by the narrowest of margins; they had lived as hunted animals and now they were herded together as captives; their countrymen everywhere were being pursued and slaughtered and defeated, and the Empire of John Company was crumbling into ruin. They had seen sights that would haunt their sleep for as long as they lived and they did not know if they might live as long as another day, or another hour. But for a moment they could forget it all and stare at each other with antipathy and cold anger; the greater issues giving place to an instinct as elementary and as animal as that which drives rival stages to fight in the spring. (M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon)
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Do you have any particular favourite literary quotes? I have my preferences as regards genre (historical epics and romantic adventures tend to take priority), but I’m always on the hunt for a good read! x

Shakespeare and a Pigeon with a Death Wish

Summer has arrived in Spain. It’s been pleasantly cool up until now, but yesterday somebody upstairs decided to crank up the thermostat. Two months ago it was finally warm enough to ditch the thermals by night, and now it’s shirt season. Which, for anyone who knows me, suits me just fine.

I haven’t done a random regular update in a while. I guess that with all of the to-and-froing after Semana Santa I’ve hardly had the time: in less than a month I’ve been to El Rocio, Sevilla, Cordoba, Barcelona, Andorra, Calatayud, Monfrague and Jerez de los Caballeros, not to mention taken part in a Romanian art school exchange and worked a weekend at an English immersion event. It’s been pretty non-stop since the 23rd of March. But life goes on, and as I try to make clear on this blog, life is not one massive series of amazing year abroad adventures – unless you count the everyday as an adventure in itself, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did. It’s full of trials and tribulations of its own.

Well, what’s to say? Here I am in the staffroom at my afternoon private school, waiting for my Upper Sixth class to arrive for a catch-up class (I’m still making up for those hours I lost by being in Barcelona, one month later – take note, future me!). It’s hard work but rewarding, teaching Upper Sixth… They don’t all take part as they should, but those that do do so with a spectacularly high level of English. The others are just as good, if only they’d speak more (an eternal problem with teenagers). I look back to the honeymoon period when I’d first arrived and it was a barrage of questions from all sides… but even if they aren’t as proactive with familiarity, at least being settled pays off. And at least I know their names. It hardly needs saying, but that’s crucial to good relations.

Teaching at the public school this morning was uncharacteristically problematic. For the first time this year I forgot to set my alarm, with the result that I only woke up at the sound of my flatmate leaving, some fifteen minutes before my first class. In my haste to leave I startled a recently fledged pigeon that had been sitting on the doorstep of the block of flats which, as Fate would have it, flew straight under the wheels of a car. In that dark mood I went on to teach two Lower Sixth classes about the End of the World, painfully aware that the biggest challenge – trying to teach Shakespeare – was still around the corner. Even so, I’d prepared a nifty presentation for the job, which would do the trick.

Provided the computers were working. Which they weren’t.

For the second week in a row my premier class had to suffer an off-the-cuff lesson where all the visual prompts and gags had to be done manually. I’ve got to say it; if my mother hadn’t gotten me into drawing, I don’t know what I’d do in such situations. Drawing skills are a genuine lifesaver in teaching. No PowerPoint? Whip out the chalk. Trouble explaining a word? Draw it. Need to motivate the kids? Get scribbling. It’s a defibrillator that never runs out of juice. I owe my parents, my friends and my art teachers so very much for encouraging me on that front. I don’t know where I’d be without a pencil in my hand and an image in my head.

It’s 15.30. My Upper Sixth class should be here in a couple of minutes, but if they play their usual ‘I went home for lunch’ card, I’ve got at least another twenty minutes until they turn up. In the meantime, I’ll get prepping their mock exam. Let it never be said that a language assistant is a cushy job. You land a job as good as this, you’d better earn it. BB x