Random Thoughts: Meeting People is Easy

Image from EMS-FORSTER-PRODUCTIONS/DigitalVision/Getty

I don’t know why I’ve chosen the title of a film I’ve never watched about a band I’m not that bothered about as the heading for this post. Perhaps because I don’t think meeting people is easy. And yet here I am about to pretend to meet people by answering some questions about myself. Thank goodness we’re not in a room together.

I don’t often do things that involve tagging, but Chris over at Calmgrove’s recent post in response to a new tag #goodtomeetcha invented by Mayri at Bookforager sent me off to the origin post.

I enjoyed both Chris’s and Mayri’s answers so much that I’ve decided to have a go myself. The questions are all as they appear in Mayri’s post.

What’s that in your bag? (Also, what kind of bag do you carry? No bag? What’ve you got in your pockets?)

I have many bags. I like bags. I have three bags made from kimono fabric (two bought on honeymoon, one made by a Japanese friend’s mum), a Hello Kitty x Atmos bag (bought in Harajuku), a Choo Choo cat bag (the South Korean cat, not Choo-Choo from Top Cat), a Little My bag, a Kate Garey bag with an appliqué couple on who look like me and my husband that says I ❤️ Geeks, another Kate Garey bag with appliqué Bakewell tarts on, a silver Jimmy Choo going out bag (free gift for buying some perfume), two Jimmy Choo tote bags (also free gifts for buying some perfume), a Shakespeare & Company tote bag, a tote from a bookshop in Portland that a friend bought me on holiday that says Read Rise Resist, a Millennium Black Allyship tote, an Oxfam Moomin tote, a tote from the National Archives that celebrates the centenary of Women’s Suffrage, a bright orange Grayson Perry tote from his British Museum exhibition, a black nylon handbag, a posh Radley bag I bought for work when I survived a restructure, a Julien Macdonald handbag that my parents-in-law bought me, and lots more. I use pretty much all of them depending on where I’m going, what mood I’m in and what the dimensions of the book I’m reading are.

The black nylon handbag is the bag I use most often because it’s showerproof (as in showers of rain, I don’t take it into the shower with me), has a strap that goes across my body, and has three zipped sections. On it is a selection of badges, mostly from the writer and actor Ben Moor alongside one from the Japanese band A Page of Punk. In the big section go lip balm, lactase tablets, cough sweets, pocket tissues, a pen, a fold up tote bag, house keys if I’m not wearing anything with pockets, phone. In the middle section are a teeny folding umbrella and the book I’m reading. In the smallest section are two face masks and a bottle of hand sanitiser.

The Radley bag is usually my work bag. It has the leavings of my pre-pandemic commuting life in it. My current work bag is a massive, waterproof, Patagonia rucksack, because the pandemic made my employer decide that none of us needed desks or storage at work and, now we’re hybrid working, we all carry our bit of the office round with us. In my work bag I have: laptop, trackball, phone headset, work notebook, the book I’m reading, pen, staff security pass, lip balm, cough sweets, paracetamol, pocket tissues, microfibre cloth for cleaning my glasses, official work badge in case I need to meet and greet/schmooze, business cards, water bottle, hand fan, umbrella, discarded bus tickets, a screwed up post it with nothing written on it, whatever I’m having for lunch and whatever crockery/cutlery I need to eat it with because that was all removed from work during the pandemic, too.

(Also do you keep a notebook, and if yes, can I see it? What do you keep in it?)

I have many notebooks, although I mostly use Google Keep to take quotidian notes, and to compile book thoughts in preparation for my book review essays. I have four completed notebooks in which I documented our six trips to Japan, stuffed with instax photos, receipts, brochures, tickets, ephemeral packaging as well as my observations and occasional bad drawings. I have a Starsmead notebook bound in a Ravilious print that I’m jotting story ideas and ruminations in. I have a handmade notebook from my best friend that I’m using to gather together mementos of good times. I have a Design For Today notebook that I have vague ideas of doing bad sketches in because the paper feels like it deserves it. I have maybe six other notebooks empty and waiting for me to feel like I have something to record that’s worthy of their attention.

I don’t like showing my notebooks to anyone, so no, you can’t see them.

What’s the one book you recommend remorselessly to anyone who’ll listen?

This isn’t something that I do, because I hate it when it’s done to me. I tend to recommend books when asked, usually in relation to other books and what I know about the person. I have two books that I have re-read more than any other, which are perhaps the closest thing to the spirit of this question: Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky), which I think is the best book in the world; and Possession (A S Byatt), because she created a world so convincing that the friend who recommended it to me went to a bookshop to try to find work by the fictional poets at the heart of the story and because it is a mystery based around archives that is the most accurate depiction of archives and researchers I’ve encountered in fiction. But I know that both these books are not books for everyone.

Tell me a funny story about yourself (extra marks if it involves books)

I used to work at the city archives in Sheffield and would often cut across Tudor Square past The Crucible on my way to and from work. One day I saw someone walking towards me that I thought I knew from work. I started to walk over to him, my hand beginning to extend ready for a handshake. At the last minute I saw that he was wearing a waistcoat and carrying a case that clearly held a snooker cue, and I swerved out of the way. I had recognised/not recognised Jimmy White, who I only know from the telly.

On another occasion, I went shopping with my heavily pregnant sister, who wanted some dungarees. Being the fashionable sort with the disposable income to indulge herself, she took us to Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge to buy a sage green suede pair from Nicole Farhi. Not being the fashionable sort and lacking the same level of disposable income, I milled around while she tried on. I saw a man across the racks of clothes, also milling, also waiting. I stared at him a beat too long, trying to work out where I knew him from. He caught me, smiled wryly and did a double raise of the eyebrows. I turned scarlet, making him laugh. I knew him from Truly Madly Deeply, for he was unmistakably Alan Rickman.

Do you have any favourite words?

Plum gives me deep mouth satisfaction, with the slight plosive of the ‘pl’ followed by the gentle hum of the ‘um’. Strangely, plumb doesn’t do it for me. The ‘b’ seems to cut the hum off too quickly. I also like the lazy haziness of luscious. Serendipity and rambunctious are also favourites. I love words in general and will always try to achieve variety of vocabulary when I write.

Tell me about a favourite book from your childhood

I was quite a serious child when it came to books. I loved When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Judith Kerr), borrowing it repeatedly from the library, and The Silver Sword (Ian Serraillier) for their peril and their triumph over adversity. I also loved The Family from One End Street (Eve Garnett), with its depiction of inner city life and the love and warmth in a working class family. The Heidi books (Joanna Spyri) were also favourites, because I loved reading about what it was like to keep goats on a Swiss mountain and then to be whisked away from everything you knew and loved to be the companion of a rich girl. The episode where Heidi collects a stash of the soft Kaiser rolls from dinner to take to Peter’s granny has stayed with me, and I think about it whenever I buy Kaiserbrot from our local baker.

Do you like the smell of books?

Of course. I always sniff books. Because I’m an archivist, I know that ‘old book smell’ is a combination of the chemical breakdown of the component parts (wood pulp, horse glue, leather, cord, size) mixed with the moulds that like to subtly grow on organic matter, and because my brother worked as a printer for a long time, I know that ‘new book smell’ depends on the ink used to print the text and the cover. There’s a particular inky smell that I associate with coloured inks, often used in children’s books but also in pamphlets and flyers. Blue ink is the least stable and gives off the strongest smell. The book I’m about to start is brand new. The pages still have a whiff of bleach to them, used to make the wood pulp easier on the eye. The cover is plum with silver embossing and only has a faint aroma. The end papers (even though it’s a paperback, it has end papers) are a lovely wove paper dyed orange and smell fresh but not bleachy.

What’s the weirdest book you’ve ever read? (And would you recommend it?)

The Book of Strange New Things (Michel Faber). Yes, I would. There’s interstellar travel, climate change, religion, a terrible secret, an alien community to learn from, a challenge, an obsession, the collapse of capitalism, separation anxiety, and an uncomfortable community of humans brought together for a practical reason with little thought about personal compatibility.

I’d also give a mention to H(A)PPY (Nicola Barker), a slippery tale about a utopia in which all residents are nurtured and protected by The System and nobody ever dies. The structure of the book involves slipping letters, random colourisation of text, and swathes of blank pages. The reader is asked to believe that all knowledge is open, and doubt, hatred, poverty and greed no longer exist. It’s a cracking read.

Sooo … how do you feel about dragons?

They are a conundrum and a continuum. I have a small, green, plush dragon with a snaggle tooth. His name is Michael. I also have a small, green, Japanese dish with a Chinese dragon curled up in the bottom that I bought from an antique shop in Matsuyama. My favourite literary dragon is Chrysophylax in Farmer Giles of Ham (J R R Tolkien), because he’s such a ridiculous tosser.

What are you looking forward to right now?

The weather holding fair for long enough today to go out for a walk. The Robin Ince book launch I’m going to on Friday night. The Japanese film Drive My Car, based on a Haruki Murakami short story, that I’m going to the cinema to see on Sunday. The third season of Succession starting on 18 October. The long weekend in Wales at the end of the month for my birthday.

So there you have it. A slight insight into who I am, of which the clearest thing is that I find it hard to choose just one thing when asked for just one thing. I’m pondering that. I think it might be because I don’t agree with the sense that we should limit ourselves to just one of anything. The world is rich and complex, and so are we.

14 thoughts on “Random Thoughts: Meeting People is Easy

  1. This was a fun read, idiosyncratic (in the nicest sense, coming from someone with an excess of idiosyncraticity) and sensualistic. And funny too, with throwaway deadpan comments! So glad you did this, using Mayri’s original prompts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for linking back to me – I love all your responses to this tag!
    I particularly enjoyed your word choices, and was pleased to see you put into words something I love about words: “mouth satisfaction”. I’ve always settled for “sayableness”, which isn’t accurate at all.
    Have added both The Book of Strange New Things and H(A)PPY to my booklist too, thank you. 😃
    Finally, Byatt’s Possession – what a great choice! One of my absolute favourite rereads. I salute you! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sayableness is good, Mayri – some words are eminently sayable.

      From what I’ve read so far of your reviews, I think you’ll enjoy the Faber and Barker books. The world building in both is wonderful.

      I had a stretch of re-reading Possession every year, but I haven’t done that for a while. It’s a comfort book for me, I get so lost in it. I’m always pleased when I meet someone else who loves it!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A fun, idiosyncratic read. You do feast or famine as far as blog posts go, don’t you? Well, I’m in no sense a bag lady. I couldn’t cope with constantly changing my possessions round. Your childhood reading favourites are mine too. And my ex-husband can join you in tales of approaching the wrong person. Once, at an exhibition at the RA, he spotted a woman he recognised. A friend of his mother, surely? He approached her, and a posse closed round her. He realised at last. It was the Queen Mother.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s an excellent abstract encounter. I never expect to see people out of context, but I think even I would have recognised the Queen Mother. Although I did see one of the neighbours at the bus stop a few days ago, who smiled at me. I blanked her and only realised who she was after we’d boarded the bus and travelled for about 10 minutes, by which time it wasn’t worth the effort of going upstairs to say hello.

      My month long absence was partly down to Lorna Doone taking so long, partly down to a bout of insomnia that left me mentally stumbling through the day. I’ve started using a calming balm to at least help me fall back to sleep when I wake in the night, rather than lie there churning about not being asleep, so I’m more alert than I have been in weeks. I’ll settle down soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perhaps we could share insomnia tips? I too am the Queen of Not Sleeping. Though these days I accept it better – not having to be bright-eyed in the office doubtless helps.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I can sort of bear it when I’m not in work, although as a former Power Sleeper, my body doesn’t respond well to lack of sleep and even leisure time becomes difficult. Mine is a classic cycle of anxiety that feeds itself, sucking in the anxiety of not sleeping to add to the daytime anxiety. If I can rationalise the anxiety away or do something to remove its source, I sleep better. Exercise also helps, and I know that I’ve been bad at making sure I’m active enough outdoors recently. If those tricks don’t work, a cup of chamomile tea at bedtime usually helps. When it’s really bad, I get up and go downstairs to read until I’m sleepy again. Periodically nothing works. This time, I remembered that my best friend had bought me something called Calm Balm, which is shea butter with lavender, chamomile and calendula extracts. I rub some onto my wrists and onto my neck below my ears, then breathe in what’s on my hands for a few seconds, and whatever property that mix of flower extracts has seems to still my mind sufficiently that, when I inevitably wake in the night, I’m relaxed enough to drift off again. I started using it on Friday, so I’d be free of work thoughts. Last night it was a little more of a struggle, because I was thinking about all the work I need to get through this week, and was dreaming work dreams, but I still feel like I slept more. Hopefully it will get easier through the week and my brain will get the space it needs to shut up and shut down at night!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. What a great read, Jan! I love the descriptions of all those bags. Got excited at mention of the Moomin bag (which I bought for my daughter). I’m envious of your notebooks. I too, have several lovely blank ones, waiting for something of sufficient worth to merit defacing the pristine pages. Possession is a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time so your endorsement is encouraging. Less so Crime and Punishment – maybe one day though. Raised eyebrows from Alan Rickman – what a joy. I think of him too, in Love Actually, and in the situation you described I immediately imagined him waiting for Emma Thompson (his somewhat neglected wife in Love Actually). Thanks for posting this – brilliant!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Sandra! My Oxfam Moomin bag was a gift from a friend who knows me very well. And Alan Rickman was total joy. I feel like benefitting from his raised eyebrows was more perfect than speaking to him would have been (although that voice).

      I hope that you do read Possession, it’s a clever book and both the timelines are compelling in their own way. I think I’m going to have to re-read it, having reminded myself of how much I love it.

      Only click the Starsmead link if you need a notebook or are feeling very strong so that you can resist. There are too many beautiful designs on there.

      Liked by 1 person

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