Tag Archives: books

Life’s too short to hate (or is it?)

One of the joys of fatherhood – whether as a stepfather or as a natural parent – is the opportunity to see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. I may well be world-weary even at my age, but even something that has become the norm for you can become truly exciting again when you’re introducing a child to a whole new experience.

As a result, my elder daughter – The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest – and I found ourselves in a Thai restaurant yesterday evening, getting some much needed food ahead of a trip to Madison Square Gardens to see Alicia Keys perform live in concert.

The interesting thing about spending any amount of time alone with a 12 year old is that the conversation has a weird ebb and flow to it. For a few minutes you might sit in absolute silence as you desperately cast around for topics that might be of interest to you both. Then once you hit paydirt, you suddenly find that you can’t get a word in edgeways for half an hour, as a stream of consciousness is unleashed upon you and anyone within a 60 yard radius. And then silence again.

During one of these conversational ‘tirades’ last night, my daughter brought up the topic of hate, saying that she doesn’t understand why some people say that hate is too strong an emotion. She then proceeded to string together a list that may have included everything from her third grade teacher through to the socio-economic policies of the autocratic regimes of Central Africa. I wasn’t on the hate list, I’m happy to say, although that may simply have been a pragmatic approach on her part, prompted by my decision not to give her the concert ticket ahead of time.

Anyway, if I’d have managed to jam a metaphorical foot into her conversational door in order to squeeze a sentence in, I’d have said that I agree with those people who don’t have any time for hate. But then I realized that there is just one thing that drives me mad to the point of loathing – something that makes me angry whenever I see it, almost to the point where I feel like taking decisive physical action to remedy the situation.

Because, dear reader, violence against books just isn’t acceptable.

I grew up worshipping books – eagerly devouring every last page and twist of everything from the Secret Seven and the Roald Dahl books, to Agatha Christie and even Jeffrey Archer. And so sacred did all books become to me that I couldn’t even bear to break the spine, let alone deface them in any other way. I used to read books with the pages only as far apart as would be allowed by my thumb being wedged in at the bottom. Oh hell, what am I talking about – I still read books that way. No folded corners, no creases in the cover, and I always make sure to pick up the book that’s about six from the front in the bookshop, just so that it’s as flat as possible.

Obsessive-compulsive? Moi?

The Special One, incidentally, has a completely different view. She naively believes that books are there to be enjoyed. If she’s even in the same room as a book, its spine will crack spontaneously, in fear of the numerous pains that she is about to inflict on its pages. I wince in agony as she flattens the book completely with the palm of her hand, or leaves it splayed open while she goes off in search of a late-night snack. Hurt a book, and you are hurting me.

Recently though, I’ve noticed that more and more New Yorkers seem to be writing in their books. Maybe I’m just coming across more students, but it seems that the primary use for a biroballpoint pen these days is to scrawl copious notes (generally in green, I like to think) in otherwise beautiful and pristine books. Underlinings, rambling notes, and even doodles I’ve seen recently – is nothing truly sacrosanct these days? I’m thinking of starting a campaign for a legislative change which would allow any book being used in such a way to be snatched from the holder’s hand by any passing stranger. Watch out New York, the Book Police are in town.

Suffice to say that I managed to put aside my hatred for the course of last night’s concert, and a good time was had by all. The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest burst into tears when Alicia Keys introduced Beyonce, and shrieked at the top of her voice when Jay-Z came on stage at the end.

She must have learned how to scream from seeing me shortly after her mother has picked up a book, that’s for sure.

A tale of two vending machines

The Special One and I spent the holiday weekend back in the UK, engaging in a whirlwind tour of friends and family. I think most of them are starting to ask questions about whether I’ve actually left the country given how much I seem to be back there. Maybe I should change the name of the blog to “Brit Mostly Out Of Water”?

A weekend spent 3458 miles away from New York inevitably necessitates spending a fair amount of time in airports, particularly following the British Airways crash landing in London – not to mention apparent 150mph headwinds awaiting us on the way back.

Time in airports these days seems less about interminable waiting and more about interminable shopping. And if ever you needed a powerful demonstration of the difference between New York and London, maybe these two pictures of airport vending machines could provide it. Firstly, a machine found at London’s Heathrow:

Heathrow Airport

These machines first started appearing a year or so ago, offering travellers the chance to buy a book to occupy their minds when there’s only The Bourne Ultimatum on the inflight movie channels. Admittedly Russell Brand’s ‘My Booky Wook’ isn’t necessarily Shakespeare, but it’s got to be better than seven hours of sudoku.

Now the vending machine at JFK:

JFK Airport

When I was a kid, vending machines had bubble gum in them and you put 2p in to get something out. Now it seems that you use them to part with $250 in order to pick up cutting edge music players. Have we reached the point where iPods are considered spur-of-the-moment impulse purchases, to rank alongside a Coke, a packet of Doritos or a Mars bar?

Obviously, you’re not actually going to be able to use the iPod on your flight unless you’ve brought a computer and your music collection with you, and you’re able to find somewhere to charge the battery.

Of course, if you really can’t find a power source to charge your brand new device, you can just unplug the iPod vending machine and use that outlet instead. Other travellers will just have to content themselves with that book after all.