Sunday, August 9, 2015

Old Friends and Lovers

"What did people do before the Internet?" she asked.  "They must have been bored silly!"

My daughter Autumn is one of the most intelligent female humans below the age of 18 that I know.  Not that I know a significant variety of female humans below the age of 18 - or that I question them on the subject of entertainment.  

That said, this observation and opinion regarding her relative intelligence is not a manifestation of the axiom that, when the subject is children, parental delusions are functional...

An old friend I have never met - author Bill Bryson, one of the wittiest and most intelligent travel writers I have ever read... And he's branched out into history as well, which can only be a good thing right?
"What did people do before the Internet?" she asked.  "They must have been bored silly!"

That observation presumes that the Internet would, naturally, have enjoyed as prominent a role in the life of the average person in, say, the 1980s as it does today - an assertion that I am not prepared to accept at face value.

Actually I have significant doubts that it would have enjoyed that level if saturation or necessity in the life of the typical person largely because in the 1980s technology simply did not enjoy either the popularity in general that it does today, or the social cachet it does. 

Contrary to that limited scope of belief that is often applied when it comes to entertainment and social trends among teens today, I suspect that they view the 1980s through the same coke-bottle glasses with which we viewed the 1950s in the 1980s.  

Which is to say with a slanted view that accepts the idea that it was a far simpler time, filled with simpler problems and simpler wants.

I am very certain that those times - both the 1950s and the 1980s - were far more complicated and stressful than the young can possibly appreciate, at least until they reach a point in which they look back at the 2010s with the same point-of-view.  Say around 2040 or so.

I am willing to grant that, not having had access to the always on and packed with variety Internet that we enjoy today, the lack served as something of an impediment to nurturing a wider range of entertainment interests.  

But on the other hand, the lack necessarily limited selection of entertainment vehicles that we did have available to us to better quality entertainment.

I truly believe that.  

I know that we enjoyed far more intensely and with more appreciation the various forms of entertainment that we did have.  Entertainment in the form of books and TV, good movies, and weekend evening entertainment in the form of clubs, music, and dancing.  

Throw in the odd concert and -- for my family -- theatrical plays and the symphony, and you get a pretty accurate picture indeed.

I was truly fortunate to have belonged to a family that both encouraged and enabled the interests of its children towards those pursuits.

Having almost unrestricted access to such a variety of entertainment -- options that many of my neighbors and friends lacked -- my only regret was not drinking deeper of that seemingly endless pool.  

Don't allow this terrible movie treatment of the book ruin the experience for you - the book is way better than the movie.  In fact other than some odd similarities between the book and the story told in the movie, there is really no comparison at all!
A Childhood Pied–à–Terre
My parents encouraged our desire to read by providing an unlimited set of accounts at bookstores we used in Brisbane and Sydney - the only rules being books we chose could only be hard cover, and could not be of the pulp-fiction variety.

Those rules made more sense when you understand that the family home has a room we call "The Library" that is, in fact, equipped with floor-to-ceiling shelves on every wall populated with the books of over five generations.  

Every purchase we made, once read, found a home on those shelves for the benefit of future generations and, believe it or not, we often were able to find books on a subject we required on the shelves.

My siblings and I called the Library our pied–à–terre after we were forced to take French lessons by our mother in preparation for a seven-month stint in France that our father was forced to undertake. 

"Better you than me!" his boss was reported to have said about the assignment, which saw our father negotiating a complicated agreement pertaining to duty applied to Australian goods being shipped to Port of La Rochelle and Marseille-Fos Port.

Our parents agreed that the assignment was the perfect opportunity for the children to expand their horizons and experience Europe so we accompanied them.  My older sisters were made responsible for us, and functioned as guides as well as minders, so naturally we ended up seeing the museums and sites they wanted to see.  

Les Trois Jeunes Détectives - Hannibal (Jupe), Peter (Pete) and Bob Andy?!

The Library absorbed quite the collection of books from that trip, including my own contribution of the complete set of nine books of Les Trois Jeunes Détectives (despite the fact that we already owned the American versions).   What can I say?  They were my favorite book series at the time and still have a special place in my heart.

That said though, I was horrified when I read them the first time and discovered that my old friends had somehow been given new names!  Jupiter Jones had become "Hannibal Jones," Pete Crenshaw somehow morphed into a bloke named "Peter Crentch" while Bob Andrews became "Bob Andy." 

Oddly the names of many of the other characters remained unchanged.  Their chauffeur and frequent assistant Worthington became  Warrington, though he still drove a Rolls Royce.  But Uncle Titus and Aunt Mathilda were the same, as was Skinny Norris, Police Chief Samuel Reynolds, and yard helpers Hans and Konrad.

That room was special not just to us kids mind, but we suspected it was special to every generation of kids in the family.  Though save for the books that populated the shelves, none of them managed to alter the appearance or imprint the room with signs of their occupation.

At the center of that room is a long oak table around which the children of every generation did their homework, wrote papers, and tended to their scholarly obligations.

At the far end of the room, facing out upon the rather large and lush backyard, there is a massive set of French doors before which is placed a pair of the most comfortable leather chairs you have ever had the pleasure to curl up in.

Crafted from mahogany and leather, they are large enough so that even my current adult frame would be easily able to curl up in them.  Placed directly between the pair is a low flat convenience table behind which sits a monstrosity in brass that is known as the "Six-Way-Floor-Lamp" -- a towering structure that provides a literal pool of bright light around the chairs of a quality and quantity perfect for reading and that simply cannot be found in modern day lamps.

According to the family lore, the chairs and table (and possibly the lamp as well) was purchased as bespoke from a London craftsman by our great grandfather some time in the 1890's and shipped to Sydney, which was closer to the original station and its house back in the day before it was all transplanted north to make way for the suburbs.

The chairs are deep and wide; their back tattooed with buttons that create a field of small pillow-like supporting surfaces that offer comfort very difficult to describe.  They smell great - but I only realized quite recently that the smell was likely the product of old leather and whatever was used to treat and care for them - some cream or spray.

As children we suspected that they were in fact magic chairs, somehow enchanted so as to make the process of immersion - that break with reality - so absolutely critical for sinking into a really good book all the easier -- they made for amazingly womb-like havens within which one could curl with a book and become lost in its story. 

My favorite circumstances for reading - the ideal circumstances - was a nice cool June Winter day in which it was rainy and grey outside.  Curled into one of the chairs, the room toasty from the ancient radiator, and a cup of Billy Tea sitting on the table between the chairs.  Yeah, that is perfect reading conditions, no question about it.

We don't have anything like it in our home today.

Audible is my preferred source for audio books that I listen to on my iOS devices  and they did not pay me to say that either!  But it seems that the Overdrive Service you can use at your public library has recently made peace with iOS - so it must may be that we can use our iOS devices with it?  Have to check that out!
Old Friends and Lovers
The reason for all of this reminiscence is down to my getting some books from the library today and revisiting a story series I have not read for almost thirty years - the IM Fletcher series by mystery writer Gregory McDonald.

The reason that I chose to revisit them has to do with the fact that I learned by accident that I had not in fact read the entire series!

I was reading a random blog post for a blogger I read regularly and they mentioned a title from the series I had never heard of while talking about a spin-off series from the author, and that was when I discovered that due to the complex changes that adult life often forces upon us, my awareness of the books had blanked during a period where the author was actually quite active.

Now as I appreciate good stories it seemed to me that the only right and just path to take was to start over, with the first book in the series, and then work my way forward.

The first book in the series is titled Fletch, (ISBN-13: 978-0375713545) and if you have not read the series I strongly recommend it.  Fletch is followed by ten additional titles.  When I last had the pleasure of his company there were just seven books in the series, so I feel I am in for a treat.

The Fletch books by McDonald are very good - I think they are actually better than the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald (no relation obviously) - and that is saying something as I am a major fan of JDM.

The only problem I will have is finding time to read them.  Normally my intake of books these days is almost exclusively audio books from Audible dot com that I listen to while working.  Presently I am listening to the Game of Thrones series with some of the newer Bill Bryson books in between them -- Bill Bryson is brilliant by the way.

Here's to Old Friends and Lovers....  The book sort.