I love carrying out the good bits of the paper and the pot of tea to the table on the deck (weather permitting) in the cool quiet early morning. First I read the Sports section, for football news and analysis (though as my team seems to be permanently relegated to Sunday twilight games, there's rarely anything to read about them). Next I peruse Domain, for real estate porn and architecture. Then comes Spectrum (which used to be A2). I skim the book section, so I know what I've got to look forward to, and read the publishing industry gossip column. Then I do the general knowledge crossword (with a little help from my friend Google; fifteen years ago I had an encyclopedia, a dictionary of quotations, an atlas, and sundry other reference books to assist me.)
By now I've drunk my tea and I'm ready for a short break -- hang out the washing, make some toast -- then back to Spectrum. By the time I've finished that, Michael will be up and making my coffee, and over coffee we will do the Good Weekend quiz. After that, scattered through the day, I'll read the news section, and then Insight, and by the end of the afternoon I will have finished Good Weekend.
It makes me very sad to think that in a few years, this whole weekend ritual might be a thing of the past, as newspapers migrate wholly online or disappear altogether. Because it just won't be the same. I read the paper online during the week, but nothing matches the anticipation of all the neatly folded sections piled beside my elbow, a feast of information ready to be consumed at my leisure, to the tune of birdsong and the aroma of English Breakfast tea.
So the question arises: what next? There are any number of books that I'd love to read aloud to my daughters: Seven Little Australians, Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, the Bastable books of E. Nesbit. But it's Evie's turn to choose, and that means it's probably going to be a Warriors book. The last time I tried reading aloud a Warriors book, it didn't end well. This particular volume featured a disfigured cat called Brightheart, and after a chapter where poor Brightheart was teased by the other cats, Alice fled the room, howling that she NEVER wanted to hear this book again EVER because she felt so sorry for Brightheart. In vain, Evie has reassured her that Brightheart goes on to live a long and happy life, and becomes an Immortal (I think). No dice. The Brightheart book is off the list.
I'm just not sure if I can face 500 odd pages of cat drama...
'The aim is to warm up your glands with a series of jolts. The worst thing in the world for the body is to settle down and live a quiet little life of regular habits; if you do that it soon resigns itself to old age and death. Shock your glands, force them to react, startle them back into youth, keep them on tiptoe so that they never know what to expect next, and they have to keep young and healthy to deal with all the surprises.'
Accordingly he ate in turns like Gandhi and like Henry VIII, went for ten mile walks or lay in bed all day, shivered in a cold bath or sweated in a hot one. Nothing in moderation..."
Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford, 1949
Apart from the stuff about the glands (unfashionable now), I wonder if Uncle Davey anticipated the 5:2 diet by 65 years? He certainly looks healthy enough, doesn't he!
One way I can reliably win quiet, restorative time for myself is through reading. Since childhood, I've tended to hide myself inside a book. Now that my children have turned into proper people, demanding thoughtful interaction, I sometimes have to retreat from them into the peace of a book to recover my inner balance. The trouble is, they know exactly what I'm up to, and they don't like it. They insist on trying to talk to me while I'm reading, pulling my attention back to themselves. (How dare they.)
So those minutes I can steal during the busy times of the day -- at the stove, stirring dinner; at the table, scoffing lunchbox leftovers; maybe a quiet twenty minutes between putting away the washing and starting dinner preparation, while the kids are chilling after school -- become all the more precious. If I'm sprung, I have to put the book away and go back to being Mum.
But now I'm wondering, did I seek solace in books in the first place because I found people such hard work? Or have years of retreating into reading rendered me unfit for normal human interaction?
When Alice started primary school, we had a reading diary. I say 'we', because I was the one who conscientiously filled it out every night. Every scrawled space with the date, the name of the particular excruciatingly dull reader we'd struggled through that evening, and her comments which I recorded because she couldn't (usually a noncommittal 'okay', though in fact she was more likely to shriek, 'I HATE reading! I can't do this! This is TERRIBLE!') and my dutiful signature, gave little hint of the nightly war we waged to 'get reading done.'
Filling out the diary became more desultory as she advanced up the school, paradoxically in inverse relation to her growing literacy skills. By the time it came to Evie's turn, I was exhausted. No matter, Evie was keen enough to fill out her own diary, though her enthusiasm dropped away eventually, too.
When Alice went on her big Harry Potter binge, and when Evie plunged into the world of Warriors, we didn't keep records. Now Alice is in high school, where they don't expect you to keep a journal of what you read, and Evie is in Grade 4, and she can read basically anything.
Evie is still expected to read for 'twenty minutes every night' and keep a record of what she's read -- how many pages, did she like it, etcetera. And I'm supposed to ask her comprehension questions to make sure she understands what she's reading. I'm not a naturally rebellious person, but this year, I've decided not to cooperate. I'm not going to make Evie keep a record of what she reads. I'm not going to set the timer to make sure she does her statutory 20 minutes. And I'm not going to cross-question her about the content either. I trust her to use her own judgment about whether this is a 'just-right' book, without totting up how many words she can't quite understand per page. Sometimes you have to encounter a word a lot of times before its meaning drops into place. I want her to read books that are just a little bit too hard, as well as old favourites that she knows by heart. And I want her to think of reading as a pleasure, a joy, not just another homework chore to tick off the list, not another square to fill up in the bloody diary. If that means that some nights, she doesn't read anything, that's fine. And if she wants to spend all day immersed in Half-Blood Prince, that's fine too.
It turns out they were playing 'What Harry Potter Character Am I?' (catchy name, I know). They'd found a list of every character in the Harry Potter universe, printed it out (see above), and numbered each sheet and character. Then they'd choose, unseen, a number combination (say, 5-18), look it up, and then perform it for the others to guess.
For example, if I had chosen 5-18, I'd be a Gryffindor Quidditch player... a Chaser... future wife of George Weasley...
Can you guess who I am?
But Alice is a massive fan, and we have watched it on a loop approximately 4,782 times (seasons 3 -10 anyway, Gem doesn't seem to have the rights to the first two seasons, which is okay, cos they were not that great). There are many episodes we can almost quote by heart.
But recently I noticed something odd. In seasons 3 and 4, the Friends do quite a bit of reading. You often see Rachel or Monica in the coffee shop with a book. Rachel read Joan Didion at the beach. There were books lying around the apartments. Chandler bought a first edition of The Velveteen Rabbit for Joey's girlfriend (what a declaration of love!) One of my favourite episodes is the one where Rachel persuades Joey to read Little Women, then terrifies him, in the middle of an argument, by revealing, 'Beth dies!' She then takes it back, so he'll keep reading. But towards the end of the episode, Joey comes in, clutching the book. 'Beth's really sick... Jo's there, but I don't think there's much she can do...' Rachel hugs him, and says, 'Do you want me to put the book in the freezer?' (That's where Joey keeps the things that really frighten him.) I love that episode, and the fact that Beth doesn't actually die until Good Wives is neither here not there...
But something happens after season 4. The reading stops. Now you see the cast flipping through fashion magazines. The books disappear. The only appearance of a book after season 4 is when Joey discovers an erotic novel in Rachel's bed. ('Is the vicar coming over?' he asks her, leering.
'Joey!' she says sternly. 'Where did you learn that word?')
Why did the Friends stop reading?