Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Day I Met My Hero

Jonathan Safran Foer

I read Jonathan Safran Foer's thoughts on fish farming last week. I had heard about his new book a couple of months back and was impressed by the idea of it, to say the least. At the bottom of the piece in the G2 supplement, were details of a book group event in London. Jonathan would be attending and discussing his book, Everything is Illuminated, my favourite book by a living author (to put it morbidly), with its Chris Ofili-esque cover.
My heart sank. My boots were heavy. Everything happens in London, I thought. Every Thing.
And then yesterday, I was sitting in the staffroom at Bath Waterstone's, where I work, talking to my friend Tom Abbot about it.
'But Jonathan Safran Foer is in the Bath Lit Fest line up,' he said.
'WHAT?!' I replied.
'Yeah,' he fumbled around under the Saturday papers and pulled out the programme.
'Here,' he pointed.
'Sunday 28th February, 2pm,' I read aloud, 'that's tomorrow!'

And so, today I caught the one o'clock train from Redland to Temple Meads to Bath Spa. I phoned the box office and asked for directions, then headed to the (thankfully) well-kept toilets on the platform to apply my make-up (I was not about to meet my hero with a bare face).

I walked out of the station, up the road and turned down Henry Street and across the cobbles to the Masonic Hall, where I almost walked into Jonathan, who I was not expecting to be milling around. I don't know what I was expecting, that he be flown in last minute in his own private jet? Not often on a writer's wages.
I stood in front of him, pointed at him and said to the woman selling tickets in the entrance 'look, he's a real person.'
I don't think even I would be able to respond to someone pointing at me and talking about me as if I was some sort of post-illusory Pinocchio, so I wasn't surprised when he didn't respond, instead ascending the stairs to the 'writers only' room.

I could have said anything, I could have held out my hand and introduced myself. I could have told him how much I admired his work. As we have read, I did neither of these things.

My friend Holly Thacker has been photographing events at the festival as a Bath Literature Festival Photographer. I was extremely relieved when she turned up. I had been biding my time before the talk recommending his books, displayed on a table by the entrance, to people who hadn't read him before (I had been asked to by the bookseller who hadn't read them).

I bought a copy of Jonathan's new book, Eating Animals, and went inside with Holly.
We sat on the left hand side near the front. I was nervous. I was excited.

Holly and I talked a bit about weirdos. A man at a festival event had told Holly he was part of the New World Order. Now we were sitting in the Masonic Hall and she had been asked whether she would be infringing copyright by taking photographs.
'What, copyright on his face?' I asked.
'No on the hall. It's the Masonic Hall. Could be some kind of secret. As if a 'secret society' would call the building the Masonic Hall,' she said.
'You'd better watch out, they might abduct you and try to pull your face off, claiming you to be a reptilian lizard, shouting 'show your scales!'' I said.
We mused over the symbol of the all seeing eye and of the keys.
'I like the crest with the handbags and the pens best,' Holly said.
(There really was one).

Everybody started clapping, and Jonathan walked through the centre of the room to one of the throne like chairs.

For almost an hour I sat and enjoyed his intelligent and funny answers to the questions he was asked about his book. I liked his analogy between monogamy and vegetarianism (spending your life not having everything you want all the time but enjoying it nevertheless).
He was everything I had hoped he would be.

The floor was opened up to questions. I had rehearsed mine over and over in my head so I would not cock it up. I raised my arm. Everybody else's questions were a blur around me as my heart thudded away in my chest and my palms sweated over My New Book.

I was the last question asker.

I took the microphone.

'Is it on? Hello? Oh yes, Hi.' Oh my God pleasedon'tfuckthisuppleasedon'tfuckthisuppleasedon'tfuckthisup, I said in my head and then, miraculously,
'would you suggest (could would imply he wanted to) a way we can begin implementing the re-localisation of the food production?'

'I'm glad you asked that...' he began.

Oh thankyouJesus, I said in my head.

I had temporarily redeemed myself. He said, if we wanted to, each one of us could cut just one meat based meal a week, or even just those burgers we eat when we don't need to, but eat just because they're there. And if we each did that, the effect on the factory farms would be felt immediately. Eventually we might in that way be able to make the move back to the way things were. 40% of damage to the environment results from our obsession with meat. Imagine what we could achieve with a slight menu re-shuffle! This man can do no wrong.

When the talk was over, a woman came over to me and asked if she could take my email down. She asked if I'd heard of guerrilla gardening. I told her I'd been introduced to the concept last year and found it very exciting. She was part of a movement in Bath, the members of which have a lot of war-time dig for victory spirit. It's very sweet. I wrote down my email address in her mini-green-moleskine and told her about my quince jam. She was impressed.

I joined the queue to have my book signed by Jonathan.
I reached the front.
'Hi how are you?' He asked in a monotone voice.
'I'm fine.'
'What's your name?'
'P-H-I-E,' I finished, 'I wanted to bring my copy of Everything is Illuminated, my favourite book of all time, for you to sign, but my sister wouldn't bring it to the station,' I said.
'Why was she in the place where the book was?' he asked.
'She was at home.'
'Where had you been before the station?'
'Er, at my other home, I'm living at home at the moment and my parents have split so there are two houses.'
Oh my God why am I wasting my ten seconds of talking-to-my-hero-time telling him I live with my parents?! I thought. I could be telling him how I loved the way he manipulated the language in Everything is Illuminated so that the Ukrainian way of speaking English came through, or Oskar Schell's 'Heavy Boots' in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Or how I had translated the numbers the grandfather in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close had dialled into the payphone on my own battered blue mobile so I'd know what he was trying to say to his lost love.
But I didn't instead I 8653 69 4376 22688 69 3825464 7273687!

'Another time,' he said.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Does No One Clean These Windows?

I'm treating myself to a crepe with maple syrup. I don't realise that I've spilled a lot of the syrup down my front as I queue for the train, which only has two carriages today because somebody projectile vomited all over the third carriage so it had to be removed - or at least that's what I think I overhear the conductor say. We pack onto the train. A kid of about ten standing with his father and little sister is voicing his concerns about the lack of space. His mother- staying on the platform says, 'if you start to panic, just cover your eyes (she covers her eyes) and count to ten, okay?' Her eyes have the suggestion of tears in them. The boy nods, the doors close and father and children wave their mother goodbye.
'Does no one clean these windows?' asks the boy, who is almost forced to be pressed against them by space deficiency.
His father pretends not to hear, mutters something about the little girl's toilet request in thick cockney. The boy points to a plan of the train stuck to the passenger wall and the letters WC on it as if his father is the most stupid man in the world.
'Alright, alright, everyone will be getting off soon,' the father says.
'Dad, what does obstruct mean?' the boy says.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Mother Meera Gives Darshan in Bristol

I wake up to the obscene sound of Grieg's electronically remastered-for-mobile-technology Hall of the Mountain King, commonly referred to as 'the theme tune to that Alton Towers advert a few years back.' It is the automatic alarm sound. It is truly horrendous. I haven't been able to sleep much, not because I am due to see Mother Meera today, but because I was planning YouTube stunts in my head.

After breakfast and a cup of tea, I collect my things and trudge through the streets of Bristol, lamenting the existence of 'morning people' and remembering why I never go out before 9am.
At St. Georges, usually used for concerts, a side door is open for the trickle of people arriving to see Her (with a capital 'H') to enter through.

The first thing we are ushered past is a merchandise table. This surprises me and at first I think perhaps Darshan isn't free after all. I'm compelled to buy something and even though I want a wristwatch with Mother Meera's face on it (£25), I opt for a passport sized photograph of Her (50p) and some sandalwood incense emblazoned with Her face and the inscription 'always remember the divine.'(£2) I may possibly be allergic to it. But I can't be allergic to God, surely?

After I have made my purchases, I find a corner of the foyer to sit down in. I want a little space. When I look up, my mother's friend is standing in front of me. Paradoxically, I am glad to have the company. We walk up to the room Mother Meera is due to arrive in at 10am.
The first thing I notice is that a lot of people are wearing purple. This is apparently by random choice. secondly, there is a woman dressed all in white near the front with a large bird's feather in her hair.

We are told that when Mother arrives, we will be led out one row at a time to kneel in queue formation down the centre of the room before ascending to the stage, where She will sit, awaiting our turn for Darshan, 'the bestowal of Love, Light and Grace.'

She arrives, a small woman with a red dot between Her eyebrows, wearing an orange sari, the scarf around Her shoulders.
We sit for around an hour and a half in silence before it is our turn.
I find that it actually hurts me to kneel in the centre of the room. I hope it will not hurt when I am kneeling in front of Her. As I ascend the stage, my heart starts beating faster. Not out of excitement but because I get stage fright, it's like graduation day all over again. I am three then two then one away from Her.

Then it is my turn. I bow my head and touch (but don't push as the laminated instructions stated) Her orange covered feet. She touches my shoulders lightly and then gestures my head up so that my eyes meet Her eyes. I don't know what I'm expecting. Rays of light to emanate from them? She looks at me but I see nothing at all in Her eyes. Then she looks to her right and I think 'was that a flash of disappointment in Her eyes' then She looks to the floor signifying the completion of my Darshan.

As I walk away, thinking I felt nothing. I realise that I do feel something. I also realise that it did not hurt me to kneel in front of Her and that my heart no longer beat fast when I did so. I walk past all the chairs and out of the room to go to the toilet. Ideally, I would have preferred to have clicked my fingers and the other people in the room melt away so that I can reflect on my experience, but instead I have to make to with a toilet cubicle, where I decide, still in a state of calm, that what I feel is comparable to the feeling I had in the Notre Dame, the Sacre Coeur, the back room of one of the shops in Glastonbury, a small Stone Circle in Tipi Valley and even the feeling I imagine you get after you have come up on ecstasy. Awe.

When we reach the door to exit the building, a flurry of snow is whizzing past it. Outside, the snow envelopes us. It lasts all the way down Park Street. Then just stops and the sky is as blue as it had been that morning.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Alphabetising Erotica

Saturday morning and I sway on my way to work, having ordered a taxi just to get me to the station in the first place. I manage the niceties well at first, although a little unsteady after my foray into the past (a 'Skins' party). I stray from the till to help a customer. The bell underneath the counter is rung to call me back. I walk-run back. I go full pelt into a customer who I hug by way of apology, making her laugh. I decide I am a shop-floor liability and wonder to the stock room to see what can be done in there. And then I see it, erotica, falling apart at the seams. Spanking Volume 1 on the floor. Blushing at Both Ends damaged at both ends. It is time to alphabetise erotica. This is simultaneously fulfilling and hilarious. My favourite title is The Hot Nurse's Nympho Sister, which features an expertly written blurb that covers up the content superbly. I have a flash-forward to the future and see 70-year-old me realising it wants to write this stuff. I find confirmation in a book titled The Most Beautiful Erotic Lines In Literature. I think Anais Nin, I turn to a random page (which happens to be page 47 if you're interested) and find, "I creamed her anus. She had angel buttocks. I entered her as in religion." ~ Bertrand Blier.

Friday, 5 February 2010

So last night was stationery club. I thought I'd quote my friend Gina on this one:

"I have just returned from stationery club. Initally we sat in the wrong place until 7.11pm. Things were looking dire until a girl approached us after she saw the stationery club emblem stabilo pen placed in front of us. After a few very dangerous moments of thinking that stationery club was going to be the three of us only, Sophie realised that all 20 or so members were sitting upstairs.
Then the real fun sarted. Nobody understood me because I wasn't on twitter. The main man had 5 stabilo related questions for us all to ponder and A WORRYING AMOUNT of twitter people who were unable to attend had sent hilarious emails to be read out like stationery club haikus and fascinating and contentious questions such as 'do you find the stabilo a bit scratchy?"