Monthly Archives: October 2011

Book Of Days, Part 3, Excuse My French…

Good Evening, Bookworms,

Much of this blog entry was actually planned out yesterday morning at work when my stupid-arsed PC decided to play silly buggers with me. Well, not so much the entire PC, but a certain application by the name of Microsoft Access. It kept locking up on me and not letting me do my bloody job! So, as well as several mugs of tea, I started penning my book blog entry and decided to resume the memoirs with my time at Eccles College, doing my hellish A Levels.

Much of the problem, looking back, was down to me picking some weird and wonderful subjects that I’d not done before and I probably should have stuck to what I knew. Having said that, I took French at A Level, which had been one of my best subjects at high school, and I ended up absolutely hating the damn subject by the time the spring of 1991 rolled around and I had to sit those bastard exams! Seriously, A Levels are the worst exams ever. A degree is easier! Any of you who have not yet experienced either A Levels or a degree may find that odd and hard to believe, but trust me on this matter… Degrees are easier than A Levels! They certainly were 20 years ago!

Anyway, I started at Eccles College in the September of 1989 and I shall be concentrating mainly on French as, for my French A Level I would have to study some works of French literature, hence the book element of this blog! As I mentioned in last night’s blog, I am a very fast reader when a book is in English. However, this is definitely NOT the case for other languages, and I had a very frustrating time. I’d also gone from being one of the best at French when I was at high school to decidedly average, or even below average, when I made that jump from GCSE to A Level, a matter which I found very hard to handle. People said the gap was big, but that was an understatement – it felt like the size of the Grand Canyon! I found this rather demoralising and ended up hating the subject I’d once loved.

In last night’s entry I touched upon the fact that the French language has more versions of the past tense than I consider to be truly necessary, and bemoaned the existence of the Past Historic which only actually exists in literature. Yes, slow down my reading progress even further, why don’t you?! Merde alors! To be fair, three out of the four set texts we studied were not too bad. I didn’t mind the novels, La Place and Viou and quite enjoyed Moliere’s comedy, L’Avare. However, a pox upon you, Jean-Paul Sartre! Les Mains Sales was the bane of my life at college! Not only did I have the usual frustration of being slowed down by looking up words, but, with LMS, I also had to get my teenage head around the concept of Existentialism. This sucked. I didn’t get my head around it at the time and the only reason I have understood it since is thanks to Eric Cantona! Now, it might suit King Eric to be an existentialist, but I’m sorry, Monsieur, but it’s not my bag at all. I would rather not exist in their scheme of things than exist for having done something wrong. Simple as that! Existentialism, as my French tutor Ms Boulton tried to explain, was all about committing a grand act. Usually, it meant bumping someone off! (Yes, I know, there’s a lot of politicians in this world whom I wouldn’t mind seeing six foot under, but I’d rather see someone else take responsibility for offing them!)

Anyway, I’d had to get my head around a play in a foreign language, the concept of existentialism and the concept of a crime of passion, another purely French thing! Was my 16 to 18 year old brain coping with all this? No, it bloody wasn’t! Consequently I found Les Mains Sales grim and impossible to relate to, and it came to represent my whole falling out of love with French for a year or so, until November 1992 when my beloved Manchester United signed Eric Cantona from Leeds for a bargain £1.2 million!

Obviously, during my time at college, I had enough trouble with the subjects I was taking, but I did spend some time reading Nineteen Eighty Four purely out of choice. I also found that the college library had a selection of musical scores, so I spent one free period having a look at Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which surprised Joy, the librarian, as she didn’t know I’d studied music at high school and could follow a score. Actually, talking of music, I was at Eccles College when the whole Madchester thing went big! When I was at high school, the only two Mancunian bands I could think of were The Smiths and New Order. I am still pretty fond of the latter in particular. Anyway, when I got to college, there were a hell of a lot of other bands from round our way who were about to explode onto the scene big time – Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and James to name but four. I got to know a fair bit of James because a lad who made me some mixtapes of his favourite stuff was a huge fan of theirs in particular so a lot of James went onto those tapes! Then, of course, Sit Down became a massive hit in the spring of 1991, sadly not the number 1 it deserved to be, but was still huge at the time I turned 18, and not long after that, Manchester United winning the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam, beating Barcelona 2-1 at the Feyenoord Stadium on 15th May 91. The day after, at college, the only matter being discussed was where was the best place to go to that night to see United parade the trophy!

Of course, there were also some other major news events during my time at college, not least of those was the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and then, the following year, the reunification of Germany. I was taking GCSE German alongside my A Levels at college, so it became extra significant! Closer to home, though, were the riots at HMP Strangeways. Can still picture the footage of the protesting prisoners sat on the roof of the jail!

The less said about the hellish A-Levels the better, but although I’d not done that well, college staff helped me get in through clearing to go to university and I was off to Bolton. Next time on my bookworm memoirs, join me on the 22 bus as I head off to Bolton to do my degree. Plenty of books and also the start of my life as a matchgoing Red! This may or may not be the next blog entry, but it will be coming soon. Also, the Booker Prize announcement is due today, 18th October, so you can expect some mention of that, too! Until the next time, though, take care and Happy Reading!

Books mentioned in this blog entry:

  • La Place – Annie Ernaux
  • Viou – Henri Troyat
  • L’Avare – Molière
  • Les Mains Sales – Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  • Symphony No 6 in F Major (Pastoral) – Ludwig van Beethoven (orchestral score)

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Mind Your Language(s)! The Joys of the Written Word….

Good evening, Bookworms,

Fresh from having enjoyed the fourth part of the fantastic series Fry’s Planet Word on BBC2, your intrepid bookworm is back online again, with a view to blogging about words themselves. About time I blogged about words. After all, I couldn’t have done 32 previous blog entries without them, could I?! I also have the book Planet Word by J P Davidson to accompany the series presented by Stephen Fry, so at least I shall have some permanent reminder, even though next Sunday’s programme will be the final part of the series. Like when you come to the end of a truly great book, it’s sad to come to the end of an exceptional series on tv. Especially if, like myself, you tend to think that most of the stuff on television these days is an absolute pile of shite! I think I have bemoaned the amount of utter drivel on tv these days on several occasions in these blogs, particularly when something has happened to cause me to reminisce about the 1980s! We may have had far fewer channels in those days, with Channel Four only starting on 2nd November 1982, by which time I was nine and a half, but not only were the programmes far better in those days, even the adverts were better! Yes, even the Shake ‘N’ Vac advert! It may have been seriously naff, but it still pisses on those Crazy Frog ringtone commercials from a great height! Jamster have got A LOT to answer for and I hope they are amongst the first against the wall if that revolution ever comes…

Had my book club meeting on Tuesday and we are now reading The Book Of Dave by Will Self. Basically, a deranged London cabbie called Dave Rudman writes this book, a huge rant about not getting custody of his son, and the book is actually written on metal and buried in Hampstead Heath. Years later, with much of London underwater, indeed much of the country underwater, only islands remain of what is now known as Ing, the survivors have found the book and have turned it into a religion and basically have their own language, Mokni. A link to the Wikipedia entry for The Book Of Dave can be found at the end of this blog entry for anyone who wishes to read more about it.

Whilst this is very clever of Self, and shows what can be done with the written word, a glossary has had to be provided at the back of the novel and I have had to refer to it a fair few times while reading the first chapter. Some of the invented language is easy to work out, much of it based on Cockney rhyming slang anyway like barnet for hair, but the unfamiliar can cause me to wade rather slowly through a book, an experience I find very frustrating because I can usually read very fast! One of my biggest frustrations came when I was at college doing my A Levels and studying literature in French. That was a really challenging and frustrating experience. Worse still was trying to get my teenage head around the concept of Existentialism, something I still do not see the point of today!

While we’re on the subject of A Level French, and things I do not see the point of… the Historic Tense. Oh, for crying out loud, how many past tenses does a language actually need?! Is it REALLY necessary to have a past tense that is only ever used in literature? Why do you need to use that in books when you can get by perfectly well with the other past tenses that your language has?! You do NOT need an extra version of ANY tense just for books! Past perfect, past imperfect and past conditional are surely more than enough versions of the past tense for anyone learning a language to get their heads around! Now, I can work out when past conditional would be used, in such phrases as “I would have gone to the shops if it hadn’t been peeing down with rain” or the French equivalent thereof, but I and others have had enough problems distinguishing between when to use perfect or imperfect tense, so I didn’t exactly welcome the news that there was yet another past tense in French, used only in literature. Yeah, just to make you plod even more slowly through a book! Thanks a bunch… NOT!

I have studied French, German and Spanish for academic qualifications, French to A Level, as I mentioned above, and both German and Spanish to GCSE level. Essentially, I can understand signs in those languages and can get the gist of most newspaper or magazine articles. I can also understand SOME books. However, not being in my first language means I may have to have a dictionary handy and look up the occasional word and if I AM going to read any books in foreign languages, it is going to take me rather longer than it would do to read them in English, so it would have to be a matter of doing it out of my own choice and not to meet some specific deadline or I may end up stressed as well as frustrated, just as I did during my French A Level classes. Also, but not quite to the same extent, the same goes for books which have their own constructed languages.

Strangely, though, I once read Nineteen Eighty Four out of choice, when I was at college, and I don’t recall having been slowed down too much by Orwell’s invented language, Newspeak. Perhaps I just took words such as  plusgood and doubleplusungood in my stride and felt it was fairly logical anyway, it didn’t need an awful lot of working out! With the use of Mokni in The Book of Dave, I think it’s the plant names I’m having most trouble with getting my head around. About the only one I can make the most sense of is chrissyleaf for holly, ’cause it’s obviously a reference to holly being associated with Christmas. And, of course, we’re fast approaching that time of year again, anyway!

Like The Book Of Dave and Nineteen Eighty Four, there are other books written ostensibly in English, but in parts, at least, not English as we know it, but an invented language for the purposes of the novel, and another book I can think of where this is also the case is the Anthony Burgess novel, A Clockwork Orange, which has a language called Nadsat. I have not read A Clockwork Orange, though, so can’t say yet whether Nadsat might slow down my reading of the book or not. As I read Nineteen Eighty Four in either just one or two sittings, Newspeak certainly didn’t hold me back from my Usain Bolt-esque reading speed! Reading the Wikipedia entry for Nadsat, it says Burgess was a polyglot who loved playing around with languages. Nadsat originates from Russian, as the suffix at the end of numbers 11-19 so it ostensibly translates as “teen”, and is used as slang by the teenage character, Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Actually, as I’m blogging about the task of making onself understood in writing, I was out for a meal last night and was talking with my friend Shau, and she mentioned my blog, which she had seen via my links on Facebook. I explained that I like to blog loosely on several books in one entry while some like to blog about one book at a time and really go into depth. It is true I can certainly do that for many books and I have read a large percentage of the books I mention on here. However, there are books I mention which I haven’t read and books which I have partially read or which I had to skim through quickly when I was at university! I blog about a mixture of the read, the partially-read and the unread! I hope people enjoy my blog entries and that these entries give people ideas for what to read next! I hope I’m blogging about books in an approachable way, proving you don’t have to be posh to love books or blog about them! All of the places of education I attended in my younger days were pretty ordinary, none of them were remotely posh or private. What I did have, though, were parents who both enjoyed reading and who encouraged a love of books in both myself and my sister. That’s what you need, I think. That is the ideal start in life. It doesn’t even require an awful lot of money, but in itself, it is more precious than any cash. It is, in fact, as the Mastercard commercials would put it… Priceless!

Well, on that note, that’s about all we have time for this evening (sorry, gone into tv continuity announcer mode again!) Hope you will join me again soon for another book blog! Until next time, take care and Happy Reading! The promised link for the Wikipedia entry re The Book of Dave is below. Enjoy!

Books mentioned in this blog entry:

  • Planet Word – J.P. Davidson
  • The Book Of Dave – Will Self
  • Nineteen Eighty Four- George Orwell
  • A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

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Ger-Manic Monday

Guten Abend, Bücherwurme!

That’s “good evening, Bookworms” in German, for those unfamiliar with the language! Welcome to another blog entry on the day anyone with a BlackBerry is bemoaning the fact their phone has not been able to do anywhere near half the stuff it can normally do (can’t you tell I’m a BB owner disgruntled at the Epic Technology Fail?!) and also the day when I have had further correspondence from Guardian Books regarding the whole Kindle saga and it now seems I am going to have to venture to the post office and see if there’s anything amongst the deliveries for me at Eccles PO. What I do now know, though, is that Guardian Books sent out the Kindle via Royal Mail, it was sent 2nd class (so there’s actually still a chance it is on its way to me as my mum has said they can be VERY slow with 2nd class post) and was sent out on 26th September. I am off to Eccles Post Office tomorrow morning, prior to going on to work, armed with the email from Joanna Lord of Guardian Books, my passport and a paid credit card bill for proof of address, and I am going to have it out with Royal Fail on the non-delivery thus far of my competition prize which I should have received last month! I sense tomorrow is going to be a book-orientated busy day – it’s my book club meeting at Waterstone’s tomorrow evening, when we’ll be discussing In Cold Blood and then choosing our next book and setting the date for that!

Anyway, the other news, which may well help explain the rather odd title for this blog entry, is that my mum and I will be going to Berlin for a short break in late February! So, if you’ve wondered about any recent German references and the fact that I wished you good evening in that language, the mystery has now been solved! Also, a large English-German dictionary, which I spotted the other day in the Oxfam Bookshop, has now been purchased. Trying to work out the year of that edition, think the most recent date mentioned was 1990 and it said it was £14.95 then, so let’s just say a dictionary of that size, now, is probably at least twenty quid and I got it for £4.99. Bargain!

Other than reference books, though, this is quite a good excuse, as a blog entry, to have a look at all things Germanic when it comes to reading matter, fiction and non-fiction alike. Perhaps we should start with German authors, although, to be frank, the only one whose works I have studied is Thomas Mann, as I took an entire module on Mann when I was at university, studying such works as Death In Venice and The Magic Mountain. Now, I don’t know if you’ve either read Death In Venice, seen the film, or if both are alien to you, but the book’s narrator is very taken, throughout, with this Polish boy called Tadeusz and to my mind, certainly when I was in my late teens and early 20s at university, I personally felt that this admiration for the boy went beyond innocent aesthetic joy at the young lad’s attractive features. Frankly, I thought the story’s narrator was a right dodgy pervert along similar lines to Humbert Humbert in Lolita! Except that Mr Humbert lusted over a girl, while the protagonist of Death In Venice was stalking a boy! Does anyone else also feel this way, or am I the only one who sees the narrator as a dirty old man?!

When it comes to other famous German authors, the only one I know of is Günter Grass, but I haven’t read any of his novels, so I’m afraid I can’t comment on him, and I have to own up here because, for years, I thought Franz Kafka was German! He wasn’t. He was Czech! However, he did write his books in German, which may have led to my confusion when I was at Eccles College all those years ago!

I recently bought a book, ostensibly a children’s book, called Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Obviously, I have the English version, but this is a translation from the original German. Not read much of it yet, but essentially it’s a book about books – a book-loving girl with a dad who can make characters from books come to life! I also like the fact that, looking through it, I have seen each chapter start off with some book-related quotation! To link from German authors to books set in Germany, we can consider Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada, historical fiction set in Nazi Germany as a couple lose their only son in the war and then, embittered by their son’s death, start a risky postcard campaign against Hitler. Also set in Nazi Germany, but not, as far as I know, by German authors, are The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas and one of my favourite books, The Book Thief! Both portray, as main characters, children caught up in the whole regime.

On now to the non-fiction material and we shall start with A Year In The Scheisse, a book I found out about at the end of reading One Steppe Beyond a month or so ago. Our author, Roger, has epic financial issues and his advisor has told him that, seriously, he needs to find a nice German woman to tie the knot with as German laws mean that a married couple see their tax bill halved and that should sort him out! I’m about halfway through and Roger has just had a nighmare speed-dating experience! He had every right to be sceptical of this method of dating in the first place when one of his friends had told him to try it! Personally, I also think it sounds horrendous and don’t fancy doing that AT ALL in my ongoing search for a male bookworm!

Simon Winder’s big chunky hardback Germania details German history from its earliest known start upto the Third Reich and details the author’s love of and fascination with all things German. Also fascinating me, because I’m a nosey cow and always wondered what was behind the Iron Curtain, is the Cold War Era. Yes, that includes several countries, most of Central and Eastern Europe to be exact, but one of the main focal points for East-West division and the differences between the two is in Berlin! Add in the fact that much of the Cold War was still exceptionally chilly during my childhood and then came to an epic finish in late 1989 when I was 16 and a half and thus both old enough and aware enough to realise that something monumental was happening and European maps were going to have to change big time from what they’d always been during my childhood up to that point!

1989: The Year That Changed The World by Michael Meyer is the account of one American journalist who was one of the few Americans who knew the proper story behind the crumbling of  the Eastern Bloc. He seems very critical of successive US governments of the time who a) couldn’t seem to take the hints that things really were changing in the East since Gorbachev took power in the USSR in 1985 and yet b) seemed rather quick to try and take credit for the fall of Communism. Fact is, the USA might have always wanted this to happen, may have dreamed for years about this happening, but they didn’t see it coming and they didn’t make it happen. Reagan may have made speeches calling for the Eastern Bloc to tear down the Wall, but the fact that it did eventually happen had nothing to do with the US and everything to do with both politicians and ordinary people on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain getting fed up with their way of life and also realising that the whole thing was unsustainable as it was. Things HAD to change! The first stirrings of discontent and realisation that the whole Commie experiment could not continue took place in Hungary. Fearful that the Soviets would send in their tanks, as they’d done previously, their head honcho Nemeth went to Moscow to see Gorbachev and eventually got what he wanted to hear… as far as Gorby was concerned, the same conclusion had been reached, the Communist era couldn’t last much longer and there would be no tanks rolling in to Budapest from the USSR. What the Hungarian government did next, therefore, was entirely their own decision and there would be no interference from Moscow.

As well as Hungary, things were also kicking off in Poland where the Solidarity trade union was successfully legalized and, indeed, permitted to contest elections. And, of course, there was East Germany, the DDR, one of whose officials accidentally let slip some news about its citizens being able to obtain passports. With no-one else available to deny this, the news spread, as did the momentum, until the world saw what happenened in November 1989 – emboldened by their mass numbers, thousands upon thousands of East Germans advanced towards their side of the Berlin Wall and ordered the guards to open up! The guard at Checkpoint Charlie saw the massive crowd, heard their demands, gave a shrug and opened up. Auf Wiedersehen, DDR! For life in the DDR prior to that point, check out Stasiland, a collection of interviews by Anna Funder with numerous East Germans about life under constant Stasi surveillance in the old regime.

In the meantime, I shall get this finished and published and return to my reading-up sessions so that I am equipped for when I head off to Berlin at the end of February! I have already been looking into things on the internet, particularly about Ostalgie, nostalgia for all things East German and the icons that are Ampelmännchen, the little hat-wearing pedestrian crossing men used on traffic lights in East Germany! You should check them out too  – seriously, you are in for a treat! 😀

Until next time, take care, Happy Reading and Gute Nacht!

Books mentioned in this blog entry:

  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  • Death In Venice – Thomas Mann
  • The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann
  • Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  • Inkheart – Cornelia Funke
  • Alone In Berlin – Hans Fallada
  • The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  • A Year In The Scheisse – Roger Boyes
  • One Steppe Beyond – Thom Wheeler
  • Germania – Simon Winder
  • 1989: The Year That Changed The World – Michael Meyer
  • Stasiland – Anna Funder

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Book Of Days, Part 2… Bookworm’s Schooldays, continued…

Good Evening, Bookworms!

After that brief foray, the other night, into the joys of Footballers’ Autobiographies, we now return to the matter in hand, as I recount my formative years as a young bookworm. Last time I wrote my book-reading memoirs, I was in the juniors at Monton Green Primary School, starting to learn to read music and playing the recorder (thus starting to fulfil the wish to understand music which had begun in Switzerland) and reading numerous books. Obviously, at that age, some of them were just reading books for school, but I read a lot of books for my own enjoyment even back then and one of my particular favourites from those days was The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race by Morris Lurie, a tale of a young hippo called Edward who is a fantastic swimmer and so, with the help of his father training him up, he enters the race. One of the funniest bits is when twin hippos try to cheat with one of them hiding in some underwater reeds halfway along the course, ready to take over from his brother… their attempt does not escape the eagle eyes of the official hippos in the helicopter…

“Announcer, announce through your megaphone that there are two number 18s and they are both disqualified!”

Actually, I don’t know if I kept a copy of that book when I moved house. Sadly, I don’t think I did. Maybe I should buy a new copy? I can always read it to my niece when she gets older! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it, lol! Anyway, along came 1984 and my change from primary school to high school. Off to Ellesmere Park High School (later to become Wentworth High in 1987) I went, all those different subjects to get stuck into, all those different rooms to go to. Oh, and the “joys” of class reading in English where we all had the same book. Even in the top set for English, not every pupil reads at the same speed and this is where some problems started as I was accused of skipping pages on one occasion. I have thought about this since and wish I’d thought of my eventual response at the time.

You see, as anyone who ever did PE with me will testify, I was absolutely pants at sport! Anything vaguely resembling physical education was an utter nightmare for me and not finishing last was an achievement as far as I was concerned. You know the Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, meaning faster, higher, stronger? Well, my attempts at PE were more like slower, lower and weaker! I was slow at running, so I had to be fast at something… hence reading! I do NOT skip pages. I don’t need to. Whatever I was reading, particularly if I was enjoying it, I could read that book like the clappers! I was the Usain Bolt of Reading! I still am on many occasions!

Class readers are a bit hit and miss as far as books go, though, aren’t they? You’re never going to appeal to a whole class. Even before the “joys” of my final two years and set texts for my GCSE English Literature, I can remember a fair few books that I read as part of a class and about which I usually had to write at least one essay, including Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Elidor, A Pair Of Jesus Boots and Charlotte Brontë’s classic, Jane Eyre. I would later go on to study Jane Eyre again at university on one of the literature modules of my degree. In the meantime, the first major exams of my lifetime were on the horizon as my final two years at school meant working towards my GCSEs. I was in the top set and had the Shakespeare-mad Mrs Walsh as my English teacher for those crucial two years as we embarked on the Bard’s classic tragedy, Macbeth, Jane Austen’s legendary Pride And Prejudice, Animal Farm by George Orwell and some First World War poetry. I cannot recall which book or books we used for the poetry, but I can recommend the Penguin Book of First World War Poetry as an excellent and thorough anthology should anyone else wish to have a shufty at some Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen!

Of course, besides the stuff I had to read, there was stuff I read for the sheer fun of it, and my two much-taped-up copies of Sue Townsend’s first two Adrian Mole books are testament to how much I loved them and how often I have re-read them! Not sure who exactly it was, but it was thanks to one of the members of Salford Trampoline Club way back in its founding year of 1985, who introduced me to The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 and the sequel, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. Over the years, as I became more aware, I have got more and more out of these two books and been able to suss out the mistakes Adrian made in his attempts to be an intellectual! Also, a year or so later, another fictional diary came out which was a revelation… When Aidan MacFarlane and Ann McPherson published The Diary of a Teenage Health Freak, they gave teenagers, like I was at the time, the facts of life in a far better, non-embarrassing manner than any P(H)SE lesson at high school could ever manage! It is a credit to the authors and researchers that subsequent editions have kept pace with updated information regarding sex, drugs, alcohol and all the issues dealt with in the original book which first saw the light of day in bookshops in the late 1980s.

The subject, on the timetable, can be known as many things from school to school; Personal Guidance, Personal & Social Education (as it was known at my high school) and often Personal, Health & Social Education. Whatever it was called, these timetabled classes were often embarrassing, cringeworthy periods of the school week! (I imagine many current teenagers nodding in agreement here and saying “They still are, mate!”) This book, however, dealt with a fictional high school pupil, Peter Payne, his PHSE lessons at school and other events at school and in his family which caused him to investigate a lot of matters regarding sex, drugs, solvents, booze and the need for a healthy lifestyle. Pete went through the cringeworthy lessons to present the facts of life for the rest of us in a fantastic format! It was followed up by a sequel, I’m A Health Freak Too, written from the point of view of Peter’s younger sister, Susie, with more female-orientated facts of life in it. I believe it is now known as The Diary of the Other Health Freak, but I shall list it as I know it.

So, books read, exams sat, I left high school and awaited my results. Actually, I was sat dangling my legs in Lake Geneva when my GCSE results were due back home, and had them posted to me, but I’d got what I required and I was off to Eccles College in the autumn of 1989! Join me soon for Part 3 of my bookworm memoirs as I go to sixth form college and start my A Levels. Oh, and things started kicking off big time on the continent and locally when it came to music!

Until my next blog entry, take care and Happy Reading!

Books mentioned in this blog entry:

  • The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race – Morris Lurie
  • Mrs Frisby And The Rats Of NIMH – Robert C. O’Brien
  • Elidor – Alan Garner
  • A Pair Of Jesus Boots – Sylvia Sherry
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
  • Macbeth – William Shakespeare
  • Pride And Prejudice – Jane Austen
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell
  • The Penguin Book Of First World War Poetry – Various
  • The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend
  • The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole – Sue Townsend
  • The Diary Of A Teenage Health Freak – Aidan MacFarlane & Ann McPherson
  • I’m A Health Freak Too (The Diary Of The Other Health Freak) – Aidan MacFarlane & Ann McPherson

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You’re Booked, Sonny! Footballers’ autobiographies…

Scholesy's name goes in the book... but not by a referee, this time!

Good evening, Bookworms!

During his illustrious 17 year career in the first team at Manchester United, many a “tackle” has seen Paul Scholes’ name go in the book, as we Reds know all too well. However, on Thursday evening, at Selfridges in the Trafford Centre, Scholesy’s name was going into a lot of books and many of us Reds were very chuffed about it! Yes, the Ginger Ninja, midfield maestro and scorer of many, often crucial, goals for the Red Devils, was signing copies of his autobiography, Scholes: My Story.

Largely photographic with commentary by Scholes and also comments about Scholes by many former teammates plus other Old Trafford legends, it reflects how many of us Reds already saw him – as a loyal Red, and a very shy bloke who didn’t want any sort of fuss whatsoever – he just wanted to get on with training, playing matches and then going off home to his wife and children. What you also get in this book, that you didn’t really get the chance to see in his playing days, is the dry wit of the bloke! Commenting on a photo of himself wearing United’s gold and black away kit from around 2002, he wryly notes that he didn’t recall getting any transfer to Wolves! Pointedly, he believes we should play most games in red and white and, if we do need a change due to a colour clash, we should wear white or black on those occasions.

We fans may buy and read many autobiographies because those players are amongst our favourites, but, sadly, many such books are not the greatest works ever committed to print. In fact, some are pretty awful, particularly if they’ve been ghost-written and that “ghost” hasn’t even had their work proof-read! Whoever assisted with the writing of Steve Bruce’s autobiography, Heading For Victory, back in the 90s, didn’t do a very good job at all. I remember reading it and spotting all manner of spelling errors! Definite red card and early bath for whoever ghosted that particular book! Letting your author and your publishing house down is no better than letting your teammates, manager and supporters down! Brucey was our captain when that book came out and someone at Bloomsbury really ought to have given him better service by giving the book a thorough proof-reading before it went to be published! Sports teams, of many kinds, are often reminded of this, and it would do well for book publishers to also bear this in mind for their future publications…

Perfect Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance!

Back to Thursday for a moment, and I was in the queue from around quarter to six until finally meeting Scholesy at around twenty past seven. Just over one and a half hours. 90 minutes plus “Fergie Time”, actually! How apt for meeting a footballer! One of my finest footballer-meeting moments came in October 1995 at the then Nike Shop in the Arndale Centre, when I was 3rd in the queue to meet Eric Cantona! That one wasn’t specifically a book signing, he had been opening the Nike shop and was just signing stuff in general, but one of the things I brought for him to sign was the original French version of his autobiography, Un Rêve Modeste Et Fou, which I’d managed to get that summer while away in Nice. I’d already had my copy of the English version, My Story, signed by King Eric at the start of that year, when I went to The Cliff to watch the lads train and then get autographs afterwards. Another quibble with publishing houses here – why couldn’t you have thought up a more inventive title for the English version of Eric’s book?! When it comes to someone who was a fascinating character on and off the pitch, for the publishing house, Hodder Headline in this instance, to call his book just “My Story” is a very poor do!

It is also a poor do for certain people in the business to pressurise players into bringing books out when they’re young and have hardly won anything yet in the game! Even if they may have won a cup or two, they may yet have other greater things to come later in their careers!  Eric may be excused, somewhat, because he was a fascinating, often controversial, character and much had already happened to him in France to be worthy of a book before retirement, but most players should wait until at least the tail end of their careers or, better still, until after they have hung up their boots, before looking back on their playing days in a book! Actually, I can’t remember which controversy has brought this about, but I am pretty sure Sir Alex Ferguson recently stipulated that Manchester United players should not be bringing books out until they have left or retired! Quite right, Fergie! Frankly, if all players waited until they’d hung up their boots before turning to writing books, I am fairly sure the reputation of footballers’ autobiographies would be greatly improved! Gary Neville waited until this summer, several months after he’d retired, before writing his autobiography, Red, and that was a thoroughly good read!

(Actually, some advice for my fellow Reds: Read Neville’s book and immediately follow it up with Scholesy’s! There’s a good bit of overlapping, obviously, as the two of them have been teammates since being in the youth team and reserves and Scholesy retiring only 4 to 5 months after Red Nev!)

Players often don’t do anything terribly interesting away from football itself and, in many cases, they are not the most educated of people. They have great intelligence on the pitch, knowing how to find a teammate with a pass, how to split a defence, or take a nifty free kick, but they’re not really the brightest lamps on the street, so it really does make sense for them to wait until they’ve achieved a fair few things in their career before writing about it! One of the few players who was an exception to the rule and had a degree to his name was Brian McClair, and his intelligence and dry wit made his autobiography, Odd Man Out, an absolute joy, and an absolute hoot to read! The lad done good, as the grammatically-incorrect cliché goes!

Right, OK, fellow bookworms, you will be relieved to know that I have now got the footballers’ books bit over and done with and have no serious intention of blogging about them as a genre of book in the near or even distant future. If one or two such books come out in the future and are actually worthy of a mention, I will mention them, but I won’t be listing loads of them altogether in a blog entry like this! No, I shall be returning to the matter of blogging about PROPER Books, lol! It’s just that I met one of my heroes on Thursday night and I thought I might as well do a blog about footballers’ autobiographies to get this particular kind of book dealt with!

We’re into stoppage time here, but we’ve had an eventful “match” with books by Paul Scholes, Steve Bruce, two by Eric Cantona, one by Gary Neville and a late one by our sub, Brian McClair! We’ve also had a red card for Bloomsbury Books for ungentlemanly conduct (failing to proof-read Brucey’s book!) and it’s about time I checked my watch and blew the final whistle to call Full Time on this particular blog! Until next time, take care and Happy Reading!

Books mentioned in this blog entry:

  • Scholes: My Story – Paul Scholes
  • Heading For Victory – Steve Bruce
  • Un Rêve Modeste Et Fou – Eric Cantona
  • My Story – Eric Cantona
  • Red – Gary Neville
  • Odd Man Out – Brian McClair

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