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.

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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.

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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

Leaping Liebsters, Batman

It surprises me often and anew just how many folks I know keep up with this little blog of mine. It surprises me further just how many folks I don’t know keep up with it, too. I’d hardly call myself a prolific blogger. I write what I can when I can. I seldom proofread my material (and doesn’t it show?). I really dislike the process of travel writing. And I don’t even read that many blogs myself. Beyond the writing process itself, I’m something of a stranger to the blogging community. But it keeps my writing muscles flexed on a regular basis, and that’s good enough for me.

So it surprises me even more that superstar Mary at Mary, She Wrote nominated me for a Liebster Award! But, on the understanding that one does not question manna, I’ll take it and pass it on gladly. If you haven’t already stumbled upon her wonderfully positive blog, be sure to take a stroll there sometime, it’s a garden of upbeat sunshine! I made a point of sliding a read of her latest entries into my morning routine last month and it put a smile on my face every time, so if you ever need a smile-doctor, she’s your lady!

Onwards. To the nitty-gritty.

Liebster rules

 

Q&A with Mary

[Disclaimer: For the sake of entertainment, I’ve put words into your mouth here, Mary. I hope you don’t mind. As an interview, it has a little more spunk to it!]

Mary: Alright, let’s get started. Tell me, why did you start blogging?

BB: Originally? Because I wanted to write, and I was born into a generation where getting your own material out there for the world to see was easy enough for a fourteen-year old birdwatcher to operate. I sort of let that slide when real life took over, and got back into the game once again in my second year at university. It’s been sort of non-stop from there, I guess.

Mary: Okay. Tea or coffee?

BB: Tea. Green, if you can help it, though a Rooibos wouldn’t go amiss. A mint tea would be pretty fabulous, though. I don’t suppose you have any fresh mint on you right now?

Mary: Sadly, no.

BB: Shame. Throw me the next question.

Mary: Alright then. Do you have a life motto or an inspirational quote you try to live by?

BB: Don’t drive when you can cycle. Don’t cycle when you can run. And don’t run when you walk. You’ll see more of the world that way.

Mary: Um… okay. Tell me your guilty pleasure.

BB: The Spice Girls. Spiceworld is the real deal.

Mary: Is that really a guilty pleasure?

BB: Well, I’m not a card-carrying Spice Girls fanboy, if that’s what you mean. But I am partial to a little Spice Girls from time to time.

Mary: What is your favourite time of year and why?

BB: Spring. Autumn is beautiful with all of its colours and sounds and the feeling of change, but here in Badajoz you hardly notice the slide from summer to winter. Spring, however, is universal. The world puts on her best dress, the birds are singing, there’s blossom in the trees and winter is over in a field of crisp, blue skies. My heart sings.

Mary: Well, since we’re on that note, how about describing yourself in a haiku?

BB: …Give me a minute.

Mary: Take your time.

BB: Almost got a First / I mean, sixty-nine point four / that’s close enough, right?

Mary: Are you seriously still bitter about that?

BB: …..no. Next question.

Mary: What is your signature recipe and why do you like to make it?

BB: Lentejas a la abuela, most likely. It’s amazing comfort-food for a throw-together dish that has the added bonus of making use of any bread that might have gone stale. Plus it’s earthy and warm.

Mary: What’s in it?

BB: Lentils, breadcrumbs, garlic, a little stock and a few pieces of chorizo. And lashings of olive oil, of course.

Mary: Of course. Do you have any favourite jokes?

BB: Apart from my degree?

Mary: That joke is old and you know it.

BB: I kid, I kid. I don’t actually have a favourite joke to hand, I’m afraid. Tevye has a few golden lines in Fiddler on the Roof that always make me laugh, though.

Mary: What is your favourite mode of transport and why?

BB: From the couple of months of lessons I had as a teenager, I’d say horseback is pretty fantastic, when you know what you’re doing. But old habits die hard, and when it comes to hurtling down country lanes, there’s nothing better than a trusty bike.

Mary: That’s something I can agree with. We’re nearly there. Do you have any hidden talents?

BB: I’m a pretty good bird mimic.

Mary: Would you say that’s a hidden talent?

BB: I would say it’s a talent I don’t pull out so often for the sake of public decency.

Mary: Ok. Last one, then. Tell me your best dinner party anecdote about yourself.

BB: Do you mean about a dinner party I’ve hosted or attended? Or the kind of anecdote I’d reel out at a dinner party?

Mary: The last one.

BB: Well, that’d have to be the run-in with the Guardia Civil when I was fifteen. It’s a tale that’s a little long in the telling, but to keep a long story short, I was detained for not having my papers on me by Fidel Castro’s doppelganger and his two lackeys when all I really wanted to do was walk home across country after a morning spent photographing  vultures.

Mary: I don’t think you could have said anything more you.

BB: Lady, I’d have to agree with you there.

 

11 Random Facts About Myself:

  1. I keep a journal on me at all times, even at work.
  2. I haven’t ever crossed the Atlantic.
  3. When I was younger, I wanted to be a photographer.
  4. I have a very poor sense of smell.
  5. I absolutely love it when it rains.
  6. I frequently leave objects hanging or balanced in strange places.
  7. I don’t actually like listening to a cappella music by choice.
  8. I used to have fifteen Joe Browns shirts. Presently I have just the one.
  9. I have a triple crown, which makes styling my hair particularly problematic.
  10. People seem to know I’m British wherever I go, except once in Germany, where I was mistaken for a German.
  11. I say I’ll eat everything except liquorice, not because I dislike it per se, but because the buck’s gotta stop somewhere.

 

My Nomination(s):

Lang Adults (langadults.wordpress.com)

 

Questions for my Nominee(s):

  1. Why do you blog?
  2. What’s your worst food memory?
  3. What’s your favourite word and why?
  4. Do you have any favourite herbs or spices?
  5. If I say the word HOPE, what do you think of?
  6. What’s more important to you, the lyrics or the music itself?
  7. Pick a Nicolas Cage film title to describe where you are in life right now.
  8. What exactly would you do with £248.76? You have to spend every last penny.
  9. If you could only be left with one sound memory (non-musical), what would it be and why?
  10. Everyone’s had a think about their wedding playlist, but what (if anything) would you want played at your funeral?
  11. I’m going to drop you in the middle of Kyrgyzstan with a bottle of water, a map and a compass. Tell me three other things you feel you might need to get by.

 

I guess that makes for a good shot at this. Are there any other challenges like this out there in the blogosphere, I wonder? I reckon we could do with a challenge to take up at this cold and grey time of year.

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Lisbon’s Padrão dos Descobrimentos shortly before New Year’s Day

And now, back to the job applications. À tout à l’heure, folks. BB x

A Waiting Game

Teaching’s going fine. It’s been a misty last few days here in Tierra de Barros. After a hearty Thanksgiving Party in Almendralejo and a decent slog at the karaoke for afters (via Tom Jones and Lionel Richie under my karaoke alter ego, Bem), it’s back to business as usual for the last three weeks of term (the fourth is always anybody’s guess). My old rule – never repeat a game – is holding fast. Amongst the games I’ve played with my classes are:

  • Psychiatrist
  • The Triangle Game
  • I’m Going on a Trip
  • Chain Word Advance (Noun, Adjective and Verb)
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Kim’s Game
  • Mafia
  • Twenty-One

I’ve still got a few more in the bag before I run out of my set, but when I do, it’s only a matter of invention and re-invention. This teaching assistant malarkey is simply a case of giving the kids an incentive to speak in English, and what better way is there than giving them games they can enjoy in their own language once we’re done? Psychiatrist went down a storm – the kids play it at break-times, they tell me – and this week’s Twenty-One (courtesy of Tasha, an old hand at this game) has proven itself to be more popular yet. The Triangle Game left a good many of them boggled and more than a little frustrated, but my older classes found it immensely entertaining.

The key, I suppose, is not to think of these games as ESL activities in their own right, but as the kind of games you’d have enjoyed playing with your friends at school, or at university, or in any other setting. Parlour games are prime material, such as Psychiatrist (for which I am indebted to the French animateurs at my first summer job who rendered it Pussycat, after the French psychiatre). Campfire games are also a wonder here, and I find myself wishing that the younger me had been more sociable; an upbringing in the Scouts or Guides might have armed me with a good deal more material in this field. Last, but not least, drinking games are an unexpectedly rewarding resource, if modified correctly – especially as many of them are already corrupted games in their own right. Remove the element of drink and place a greater emphasis on speech and you have plenty of ideas at your disposal.

Of course, I have to keep this up for a full academic year. That’s thirty-one weeks of games; twenty-one, if we’re counting down (that’s as many days of games as Emperor Commodus declared in Gladiator…). As a point of pride, I will never resort to Hangman. Thus, the search continues. So help me God.

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Meanwhile, I’m finding myself drawn to the attractions of home more keenly than usual. Perhaps it’s because my old friend Biff is bound for South Africa in the new year (KwaZulu-Natal no less, the lucky so-and-so), or perhaps because it’s Christmas and – being in Spain – you’d never know it, or perhaps it’s the simple fact that, unlike the last time I was working here, I haven’t got the surety of returning home at the end of the year. The fact that this will also be my first Christmas away from home does factor into it, too.

Skyscanner went from a casual browsing affair to my most visited webpage overnight. By the end of the night I’d searched for flights to Gatwick and to Newcastle; to Stansted, Luton and even Durham Tees; and then to Durban and Cape Town; Paris, Toulouse and Berlin… With the Northern Lights’ annual Christmas Concert next week and several old friends due to return to watch, I found myself tempted to wing my way over if I could. But between an 8am flight from Málaga, a midnight bus ride from Durham to London and the knowledge that I’d have to take two days off work for it to be even possible, I decided to save the 180€ it would have cost me towards more worthwhile ventures (I could buy a decent bike for that kind of money – or even pay for two return trips to Gatwick in low season).

I still miss music, and I’ve been pouring my heart and soul into my a cappella arrangement of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, as well as tinkering with arrangements of Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love, The Sugababes’ Red Dress and an Afrobeat mashup of Thriller and Fela Kuti’s Zombie and Opposite People. The musical energy within me still needs siphoning off somehow, and even if the Lights have enough material for years already, all these arrangements are, at least, a temporary solution for my own frustration.

Gala Show (35)


 

To keep my writing muscles flexed, I’ve been building my vocabulary daily on the sly. Whether I’ll use my learning as part of a Pasapalabra-style test for the kids remains to be seen, as some of the words are downright impossible to divine without the right knowledge, but as a writer I’m hoping it’ll do me some good. Here’s a few of my recent findings:

umbrageous (adjective): (of a person) inclined to take offense easily

nonbook (noun): a book without literary or artistic merit

earthshine (noun): the dim light on the unlit surface of the Moon caused by the Earth

A good many of them are much too specific to wend their way into everyday conversation (see bombinate), but I’m hoping it’ll increase my vocabulary in the long run. Polygon and Scrabble would be a lot easier, for one thing. And, of course, Bananagrams. Until the next time. BB x

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Sloth Break

My time at university finished almost a week ago, now. In light of the rather hectic run-up to graduation, and the even more hectic month yet to come, I unashamedly spent the last three days in total idleness. After a year of trying (and mostly failing) to squeeze productivity out of every spare minute, I squandered the first few days of summer and am now fully recharged. It’s that time of year again when I rediscover my inflexibility, when I yearn for a bike and reconsider another shortlived exercise regime whilst the sun still shines, before I accept my fate and return to the world I know best: reading, writing and procrastinating, none of which require the ability to touch one’s toes or do a one-leg squat.

It’s a beautiful summer’s day here in Sussex. There’s a pastel dusting of white cloud in the blue, but otherwise it’s a rare blue sky overhead. I lay down in the garden and almost immediately I spotted the far-off shape of a buzzard circling lazily towards the south. I might have missed it if I hadn’t chosen to look up at that moment. Life is full of instances like that. I wonder how many such creatures simply go by unnoticed every day? It must be in the millions.

I’m currently absorbed in the annoying process of filling out the usual admin tide for next year’s job. Frustrating, but more tedious than rage-inducing like it was the first time. If anything ever puts me off teaching, it just might be all the paperwork involved – though I appreciate that, as professions go, it’s probably a generous one.

Whilst I have the time to be idle, I’m finally making a dent in the large pile of books I’ve accrued over the year, starting with Aimee Liu’s Cloud Mountain, a fantastic find in a tiny old bookshop in Edinburgh that had me hooked from the comparison on the jacket to M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions, to this date still my favourite book of all time. If I can learn to write a novel of such brilliance, I’ll know I’ve made it as an author.

Work begins in a week’s time. If it’s anything like it was three years ago, I’ll be up to my ears for a full fortnight. Busy, however, is the best thing to be. It should be said, five days down the line,  that I certainly prefer the idea of free time than the reality of free time itself. BB x

My Most Treasured Possession

My first dissertation extract is complete, and after three somewhat hectic days I can finally relax in the library and read whatever the hell I want for a little while. My field of research and my area of interest are closer than I could ever have imagined, but the very fact that I have to focus on them makes them a little less attractive than they were before. That’s natural, and it’s primarily why I’d never make a career out of art or music. The minute something you like becomes something you have to do, it loses a lot of the magic it once held, I find.

Perhaps the greatest roadblock to making great strides with my dissertation is the fact that, wherever I go, I carry with me a battered little red notebook chock-full of notes, sketches and observations from the last year and a half. I’m almost never apart from it. If it’s a knee-jerk reaction to years of being warned against electronic addiction, it’s a damned healthy one. And whilst it might have got in the way of focused academic research from time to time, it’s actually been responsible for guiding me to some of the most useful books for my degree this year.

notebook

Fresh from the Libreria Talia back in October ’15

At twenty-two, a one year old notebook seems like a strange object to consider my most treasured possession. You’d never know it was that young, looking at it now. It’s battered and bruised and dog-eared on all sides, and the binding holding it together has been heavily reinforced with generous layers of sellotape. But it’s been with me almost everywhere I’ve gone since I first tracked it down in a bookshop in Villafranca last year and, to me at least, it’s more than just a notebook. Leaving for Spain without a sketchbook was one of the more stupid things I’ve ever done, but the result is this absolutely priceless little book of memories. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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The Red Book at the feet of Washington Irving, Granada

It’s been all over the place. It’s been carried over the holy ground of Moulay Abdessalam and watched the sunset over the Aegean Sea. It’s sat on the walls of the Alhambra, felt the sea breeze of the Atlantic from Cape Roca in Portugal and sampled tapas in Salamanca (with the olive oil stains to show). These days it contents itself with regular trips to and from the library, which is intellectually stimulating at the very least, but perhaps not what the Red Book was necessarily born for. I expect it’s just as hungry for another adventure as I am. The trouble is, there’s only thirty pages left until it’s all filled up, and with the rate at which I’m harvesting new ideas, Greece may have been my eternal companion’s last fling. When I stop to think about it, that’s more than a little bit saddening.

We’ve had some pretty special memories, the Red Book and I. But probably the most treasured of all was its first ever outing to the sanctuary mountain east of Cáceres where, as the sun set over the old city, I had an epiphany and decided to base my series of novels in Spain. And, suddenly, it all made sense. What had been for some fifteen years a mishmash of fantastical borrowings and cliché leapt out of the chrysalis into a vast historical saga. The moment was recorded with two simple words scrawled at the top of a heavily-smudged first page: it begins.

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Full-page sketches like this one are not helping on the page-saving front…

 

Of those who have commented on my faithful travelling companion, the general opinion seems to be that I could get ‘so much money if I ever sold it one day’. Sacrilege incarnate. This little book and I have been on so many adventures now that it’d be like pawning off a loyal pet. But I suppose it’s more than that, because what the Red Book is, beyond a well-travelled journal, is an extension of my very soul. My whole world, the one I don’t tend to share with anybody, is stored within its pages in scrawled notes and sketches. Most of it wouldn’t make a jolt of sense to anybody else, but to me it reads like a map. I’ve kept a working notebook on me in various formats for the last five years – since I could hold a pencil, if you count the sketchbooks as well – but the Red Book is the prince of them all.

The sister notebook is already waiting, an equally eye-catching blue-and-gold journal of identical dimensions. It’s also a Paperblanks notebook. I swear by the things. It’ll be tough, starting afresh with a new book after all this time, like starting up a new relationship. Quite literally: all the memories I’ve stored in the Red Book are ours to share. The Blue Book will need new memories of her own. One day, many years from now, I’d like to think there’ll be a whole shelf of these things, tattered, bandaged and well-thumbed, but loved, and I’ll be able to take them down to explore them with my children, taking them into the worlds I have spent so many years creating.

An ode to a notebook… Well, it was a strange post for Valentine’s Day, I’ll give you that, but with all the time, care and attention I’ve lavished on this little book over the last year and a half, perhaps today’s a fitting day for such a post after all. BB x

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

100 Days of Writing: Day Three

Me and my wardrobe. It’s probably the best love affair I’ve ever had. Twenty-two years of bad ideas, gaudy shirts and triple denim disasters. Is it any wonder I change up my style every year or so? No matter what I wear, it always seems to be something… different. But that’s the beauty of clothes: the way you look is entirely up to you. If birds could change the colour of their feathers at will, I’m almost certain they would.

In my time I’ve favoured yellow dungarees, corduroys and camouflage (for birdwatching purposes), waistcoats and neckerchiefs, denim jackets and oversized t-shirts, peacoats and puffer jackets and, notoriously, Joe Browns shirts. Each and every one had its day and faded away (with no small amount of motherly relief) but it’s the latter that I’m probably the most well-known for, since it was the phase that kicked off in my first week at university and the trait for which I became known. Two years ago I could have been identified at a distance of a hundred yards from my shirts alone. These days I’ve opted for a more modest outdoor look. I daresay it’s a good deal more than possible that there’s a reflection of my ego there.

Clothes are a bit like food. There’s really no need to wear anything more than what is necessary, just as you don’t need to eat a mouthful more than what fills you up – but since when did anybody ever have any fun working on the basis of sufficiency alone? It’s taken me a long time to find a style that’s really my own, one that I feel comfortable wearing; one that I wear for myself, and not for the rest of the world. That, I think, is the cut-off point. Naturally, hispanophile that I am, it’s a certain range of Spanish wear that I’m into at the moment, and it’s one that I feel immensely comfortable wearing – and that despite the fact that most Spaniards would have me down as a foreigner for wearing them, because it’s simply not the thing that young people wear these days. But if that means hanging up the jackets, shirts and chinos for a sporty-looking set of leggings and a hoodie, excuse the pun and jog on. I know what I like and it suits me.

You might also have noticed that in all the ridiculous fashion trends I’ve tried, shorts don’t feature once. That’s still a thing. I wouldn’t be seen dead in them.

The clothes I tend to go in for these days are the high-maintenance kind. That is, I have an awful lot of shirts, and these need careful washing and regular ironing. Fortunately, I have no problem taking the time to do either of these things. True, it’s a longer-winded process this year than it was in Spain – you can’t just hang your shirts out over the balcony and expect them to dry in an hour up north – but I give it my best shot. If you can be disciplined with your wardrobe, you can be disciplined in your other affairs, I find.

In short, clothes are important. They’re essential to non-verbal self-expression. They can be great conversation starters (especially my infamous London Underground shirt – to this day, probably my best acquisition ever). They can make you curse in the morning as you mull over what to put with what and smile when something works out – and even more when it really doesn’t, especially in retrospect. And even if I could go back in time and beg my younger self to lay off the triple denim, I think I’d still let him go through it all. Because whatever I decided to wear in the future, I don’t think I could possibly go any worse than that.

That or the yellow dungarees.

Love out of Love

100 Days of Writing: Day Two

It’s been a long time now since I was in the vicious grip of infatuation. And long may it be until it gets me again! I don’t remember ever feeling so free or so happy over the last few years, and I suspect it’s got a lot more to do with me growing up than anything else. Today’s topic would have been easy enough to tackle, but the stipulation was that it had to be in verse…

Now I’m not a massive fan of poetry, even good poetry. And poetry about love is seldom good. Reading some of the tripe you came up with in younger years is gut-wrenching, to say the least, but if you thought that was hard, trying writing it when that’s all in the past… The words don’t come to you as quickly as they did then, when a bleeding heart makes for an endless inkwell (with the verbal talents of a stroppy teenager). And isn’t there something about the very art of love poetry which belies imbalance?

Nevertheless, orders are orders. So here’s Day Two: The Unrequited Love Poem.

Chasing Cars was playing
As we stepped into the light
And we went our separate ways.
I went up the road
And she went down.

There’s no easy method
To describe a broken heart
When the breaking is so soft.
‘Let’s be friends’
Hurts much more than it should.

Looking back is easy
From the freedom of release
When the world is more than two.
You can see
When you were blind before.

The traffic light is blue
The battle flag is waving
But it’s painted all in white.
There are no rules
All’s fair in love and war.

—–

Her every word is wisdom
And her laugh is summer rain
And hearts, parts and cupid’s darts
All blind you to the pain.

I’ve heard that nice guys finish last
Or something of that kind
That romance died off years ago
And love is hard to find.

The front row of the theatre
The poems she shared with you
They all mean next to nothing
If that’s what a friend would do.

Pity is a murderer
Luck does not keep giving
Fate is just a child’s word
Hope is unforgiving.

—–

It saddens me to think that when you’re young and love’s the end
The worst thing you could bear to hear is to be called her friend.

—–

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am not a massive fan of poetry. Unless it’s Arabic poetry. I can totally dig that. BB x