This week saw the ‘snap’ General Election take place here in the UK, with feelings on both sides of the political divide running high before, during and after the event. Personally I love elections – once upon a time I could cover a count, spend the rest of the night watching the results roll in on TV, get the Darling Daughters off to school nextmorning, and be at my desk by 9am to write a front page lead for the mid-week edition, and a detailed report for the main paper. Alas, those days are long gone, and keeping track of what’s happening leaves me emotionally and physically drained, this time around more so than ever, but it was incredibly exciting, with twists and turns worthy of a thriller plot, and a very unexpected ending.
The who;e thing was so intense that even I felt the need for something quiet and soothing, so I was delighted to find some antidotes to election fever recommended by the Book Foxes over at Vulpes Libris (a ‘collective of bibliophiles talking about books’ which is one of my favourite book blogs).
Yesterday’s calming, peaceful choice was a quirky look at postcards from Book Fox Hilary, who prefers old-fashioned picture postcards (sent and received) to mobile phone photos, and is convinced they will make us all feel more peaceful. She recommends a wonderful Twitter site, PostcardFromThe Past, with images of old postcards and snippets from their messages. Unlike her, I don’t think the page would lure me away from elections, but it is very, very addictive, especially if you find a place you recgnise! And, apparently, its daily postcards have been compiled into a book, Postcarda from the Past, Collected by Tom Jackson, which sounds fascinating, as does Boring Postcards, collected and arranged by Martin Parr RA, which she also mentions.
Anyway, Hilary’s post sent me scurrying off to look through my box of old post cards, acquired from various sources. I particularly like this one of Windsor Castle and the River Thames, bought for a few pence in a junk shop because we used to have picnics along there when I was a child! It’s postmarked July 14, 1969, and the stamp was fourpence in old penny.
It’s probably a nostalgia thing, but I like old postcards and their faded, forgotten messages – I can spend hours rootling around in boxes of postcards in second-hand shops, dreaming up tales about the writers and their recipients, and looking at pictures of a world which seems quieter and less busy. And there are all those lovely old stamps, which is an added bonus.So I’m inclined to agree with Hilary when she says: “To soothe the soul in times when the world seems to be going crazy, I recommend postcards – tiny vignettes of beauty, or humour, or memory (one’s own or someone else’s). These collections of postcards work a little magic.”
Here’s another of my postcards, found in an old book, showing the Statue of the Memorial Well at Chawnpore, in India, but sent from Lucknow, by an unknown author who only signs his/her initials – I.P. I think, or I.D. but they are a little difficult to decipher. I assume the sender was a soldier or civil servant, serving or working in India. He likes being out there ‘all right’ but finds it very hot. And who was Miss A Walker (who had sent him a ‘nice’ photo)? Was she his sweetheart, sending a picture of herself? A maiden aunt or some other relative? The schoolmistress?
And here’s the back, showing the message from IP and the ‘India Postage’ stamp priced at one anna.
Oh dear, I got side-tracked there, so back to Libris Vulpes, and Wednesday’s post, which provided something quite different, when Colin wrote about Eve Garnett’s The Family From One End Street, one of my own childhood favourites – but not necessarily a book I would have chosen for its calming qualities. However, it does provide a kind of oasis of peace in a world gone mad, giving a glimpse of a vanished way of life, with simple pleasures and old fashioned values, untouched by the troubles of the outside world, so I can see why someone might select this.
But it would be hard to argue with Monday’s offering, The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff, chosen by Jackie. I’ve always thought this explanation of Taoism is every bit as delightful as Milne’s original Pooh stories, and I defy anyone to read it without smiling. Whenever I read it I can always feel the stress draining away, word by word.
Actually, my favourite anti-stress read is a poem – The Lake Isle of Innisfree, by WB Yeats, which never fails to induce calm and tranquility, and conjures memories of deserted Irish beaches and the heather-covered hills where my grandparents lived However, when it comes to fiction Pooh is definitely one of my favourite ‘Keep Calm’ reads, closely followed by Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and almost any of Jane Austen’s novels – I’ll plump for Pride and Prejudice I think. And what about writing inspired by the author’s childhood, like Lark Rise to Candleford (Flora Thompson), Laurie Lee’s classic Cider With Rosie, or Dylan Thomas’ enchanting A Child’s Christmas in Wales?
At this point I trawled through the index of The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies, by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, which doesn’t mention election fever, but does prescribe the ‘elegant prose’ of Henry James in The Portrait of a Lady as a ‘balm’ for anxiety. I have to admit it’s a long time since I’ve read any Henry James, and I’m not sure his work would make you feel calm or peaceful, but I might give this a go.
The authors’ idea for combating stress sounds more like what we’re looking for. I haven’t read The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, but they make it sound so delightful I may buy it. It is, apparently, a slender novel about a French shepherd who decides the world needs more trees, and it is ‘ impossible not to feel peaceful in his company’.
It’s hard to say what makes a successful ‘calming read’, but looking at the Book Foxes’ suggestions, and thinking of my own choices, I think it’s interesting that there seems to be a preference for children’s books. Nostalgia and familiarity also appear to play a part, and we obviously need something happy, with simple story lines, where the real world has no real impact, and where we now all will end well – comfort reading I guess. Does anyone else have any thoughts on the matter?
*You can read the full text of the Book Foxes’ calming reads on their website, Vulpes Libris.