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Nick Hornby is one of a small number of novelists whose books I thoroughly enjoy reading. He posesses a unique ability to extract humanity and humour out of some of the most difficult situations and to create recognisable, real life characters that the reader warms to, irrespective of what they have done.

A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby

This book, a sort of Breakfast Club for the suicidally depressed, is no exception. I was sucked into the storyline pretty much from the start, despite its weighty subject. Four people with nothing in common, apart from a desire to end their lives, find themselves on the top floor of a well-known jumping off point in South London. Instead of queuing up on the ledge in single file they descend via the stairwell and embark on a series of madcap escapades involving tabloid headlines, an angel visitation conspiracy, a holiday in Tenerife and a riotous meeting in Starbucks.

Each section in the book is written from the viewpoint of one of the main characters. You step inside their heads, as it were. The “star” of the book is Martin Sharp, a former chat-show host very much down on his luck, particularly after having slept with a fifteen-year old girl and ending up in prison as a result. He finds his match in Jess, an eighteen year old foul-mouthed rebel who has alienated herself from everyone around her as she speaks without bothering to inform her brain first. Then there’s Maureen, a middle-aged carer who has lost 20 years of her life nursing her seriously disabled son. Finally there’s JJ, a washed-up American musician, who resorts to lying when asked to explain why he wanted to jump because his reason seems so banal compared to everyone else’s. I got the impression that the author had the greatest degree of sympathy for this character.

The continuous jump into each other’s thoughts is utterly convincing and often quite funny. In Maureen’s sections, all the swear-words are blanked out: for a short while I thought this was an American thing, owing to the fact that I bought the book in Chicago… Swearing by others in the group is often followed by “sorry, Maureen”. The degree of personal insult each person in the group has to endure is cringingly hilarious at times. In the end however, a bond of sorts forms amongst them, and each of them finds out a bit more about themselves.

So, yes, I would recommend this book. It’s full of warm, funny moments with a set of wonderfully complicated characters. It’s not so much a book about suicide as it is about keeping going.

And if this book is ever to be made into a movie, I’d love to see Colin Firth playing the role of Martin Sharp..

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I’ve been reading my daughter the tale of Rumplestiltskin over the last day or so. Man, it’s wild! For anyone not familiar with the story, here it is in a nutshell.

A miller foolishly tells a king that his daughter can turn straw into gold.

The king gets interested, siezes the girl, locks her in a room full of straw and tells her upon pain of death, that all the straw needs to be turned into gold before dawn the next day.

An elf appears and for a small fee, offers to do the job. Offer is accepted and hey presto – the straw is converted into gold by the elf.

The king is impressed, but rather than let the poor girl go, he brings her to an even bigger room full of straw, and the nightmare for the girl continues for another few days, with the rooms getting bigger and bigger each time. Every time, the elf saves the day, but the poor girl is eventually obliged to promise her first-born child to him in return for a room full of gold.

Get, this: the girl then marries the king. It’s her reward no less.

She has a baby, the elf comes back looking for the kid, she refuses. The elf then proposes that if she can discover his name in 3 days, she can keep the kid. At the last minute she finds out that his name is Rumplestiltskin (a messenger hears him sing his name as he dances around his house), and when she tells him his name, the angry elf puts his foot through the floor before he leaves and is never seen again.

Now who exactly is the bad guy here? That king is a complete psychopath! I mean, imagine marrying someone who has just threatened to kill you if you can’t do something that should be impossible to do! And, like, what the hell is Rumplestiltskin doing, loudly singing his name outside when so much is at stake? Idiot.

So what was the moral of this tale? “The bigger the bastard you are, the greater the rewards”? “All men are bastards”? “Keep your father away from the drink, because he might say something really stupid”? Possibly all these are lessons to be gained from the story, but should we really be telling our kids this? 🙂

Still though, it makes a welcome change from “Prince Charming”…

I saw a vivid fireball in the sky last night, and friends of mine are reporting the same – the Geminids are here, so be sure to pay attention to the skies over the next few days (if you are lucky enough to have clear skies). The meteor display should be greatest on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. You could possibly expect one every minute or so.

Wrap up warm, and good sightseeing!

An update: According to Spaceweather.com, a huge solar flare has erupted on the Sun, ejecting a lot of material “in our general direction”. So, not only might there be bright meteors tonight, but there is a small chance we might see auroras too. The Northern Lights are something that should not be missed. I saw them once here in Ireland, and it’s a memory I cherish – it was just magnificent. So, look for an eerie green glow in the sky tonight. You just never know..

Every so often, I get sufficiently inspired to write a poem, so I’ve collected the ones I have written in the last few years and I’m putting them here. I’ll add more over the coming months if I can.

This story, concerning the fate of the senior editor of the CNET portal in the US is very tragic and very moving. What that young family went through in that last week in the Oregon forests is unthinkable.

“They stayed in the car all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, amid rain and snow, occasionally starting the car for warmth. On Wednesday, they used magazines and wet driftwood to build a fire. The wood was hard to get because it was frozen, Hastings said, so they tried to thaw it and keep it dry by putting it under the car. On Thursday, the Kims burned the spare tire, and on Friday burned the remainder of their tires for heat and to signal for help”

My thoughts go out to his family.

INFP

Last night in the pub, the conversation to the topic of personality profiles. About 16 years ago, I did a Myers Briggs personality test. I just did it again online, and the results are much the same.

I’m described as INFP – Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, and Perceptive. In essence, I prefer my inner world to the outer world, the big picture over the details, I empathise deeply with other people and I prefer natural order over any imposed order. Apparently, people like me are idealists, gentle in nature, who avoid conflict and seek harmony. They are often inner-conflicted themselves and they never seem to lose their sense of wonder about things. According to this site ” Some INFPs have a gift for taking technical information and putting it into layman’s terms.” Yes, there are definitely aspects of me here. The assessment here is quite accurate.

So, what profile do you have? Does the suit fit? Take the test!

Another photograph from the weekend. This one is from Inch Beach in East Cork – one of my regular haunts.

Irish country Road by the sea

Over the last few days we have had a continuous barrage of gale-force and storm force winds. Curiously, the weather was meant to be dreadful today but it didn’t turn out like that in Cork at least. It was actually quite a pleasant day..

In any case I still had to get down to the sea to take a few photos. I don’t know about you, but there is nothing like the sea during a storm.

East Cork Storm 4

East Cork Storm 2

East Cork Storm 1

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