February 22, 2012


I love how many people read on the metro in Barcelona.

When I float on board first thing in my morning haze, I see bowed heads of all descriptions. Full Spanish hair caressing the pages; the soft chalky curls of an old woman;  bespeckled balding patches and the lightly pruned hands of middle age clutching the cover. However,  what’s surprising is that more often than not, the most ardent of readers are young men. Young men that read certainly get a big stamp of approval from me. I like to snuggle into my scarf and watch them as their eyes pore over the pages. More recently, I have postponed my pervy perve fest and started taking my own book with me to get completely lost in and get lost in it I most certainly do. I’ve almost missed my stop twice this week!

Getting on the metro in the morning isn’t particularly pleasant in any city. You are crammed into the carriage with hundreds of other bodies and I don’t know about you, but the fuller the train is, the more I imagine terrorist attacks and severed, bloodied limbs flying at me in a smoke-filled frenzy.  Some say I have an over-active imagination. Anyway, the discovery that many other people do, in fact, read has been supremely pleasant for me.  Now I can identify kindred spirits in a sea of faces!

From a very early age, our father would always read to us. He would take us to the bookshop at the weekend and we would buy books to read in the week. We would listen to his warm voice and fall asleep to it. As a result of this, while the other children at school were reading books recommended for their age, I was given the privilege of reading whatever I liked and I often chose older, more challenging material, which only fuelled my desire to know more!
I took the word ‘bookworm’ to new extremes. Perhaps we could change the word to ‘bookmaggot’ because I devoured pages and pages and pages like a fiend. As I initially shared a room with my twin brother, my Dad had to come in with his little handy kit to install me a reading light on my top bunk. It was fire engine red metal and it served me very well indeed. My Dad reports that he would wander past my room in the dead of night to see the swell of light slipping under the door , revealing my secret nightlife.  
As I grew older it got worse and worse (or better and better, it depends how you see it). The last two years of Primary school weren’t particularly happy for me and it didn’t take much to convince my Grandmother to let me stay home. I became a dab-hand at feigning sickness. Grandma would give me a little bell to ring if I needed anything and as soon as the door was closed BAM! I was off. I would read books back to back. Only stopping to drink the milk and eat the marmite on toast that dearest Grandma would kindly deliver. Between 9am and 4pm I could read as many as 7 books and then I would trot downstairs to make Grandma a perfect cup of tea, curl up in her bedroom and start the daily ritual of watching 15 to 1, Countdown and Ready Steady Cook.

After a while, my pretence of being sick started to wear thin and I would be packed off to school. I managed to convince the secretary on a number of occasions to send me to sick bay and eventually home, but one day she caught me reading and promptly decided that I was a fraud! So I had to adopt new strategies... I was fortunate enough to have a warm airing cupboard in my room, perfect for brewing concotions. Once or twice, when I was really desperate to stay home, I took an empty shampoo bottle, an egg, some milk, vinegar and other basic kitchen ingredients that have a tendency to go rank very quickly and shook them all together. A couple of days incubation in the airing cupboard et voila! Curdled puke in a bottle. It worked a real treat and I had solid evidence of malaise.
Soon this game was also up and my days off were few and far between. I had to face my demons at school but we often had useless substitute teachers who wouldn’t notice if I slipped out of the classroom to eat sugar cubes, hide in a corner of the library and read until my eyes hurt. One time, Miss Cauliflower (I can’t remember her real name but she had tight curls, just like the top of a cauliflower) caught me and demanded to know what I was doing. I opened my eyes wide, performed a little frown and announced in a small voice that she said I could go to the library to research and strangely enough, she totally fell for it. I must have missed so many classes during this time but it didn’t matter. I was in a safer place, directing my own study away from the cruelty of other girls.
And so the reading prevailed and gobbled me up. I climbed trees in the nearby field to get some peace and quiet until the local council/or my enemy (I never found out who) actually smeared dog shit on the branches to deter me.  I read and read and read and so when I think back to my childhood, I prefer not to remember reading as an excuse to escape people but as my own private education.  I was pulled into new worlds, dark histories and tangled family affairs- far more exciting than being miserable and isolated in the classroom.

Nowadays, I still read but I have to limit myself and remember that life exists outside of books! Sometimes, when I am reading a particularly good novel, I ache to call in sick and stay in bed until it is finished... or to sneak my book to the office bathroom. No one would notice I was gone for at least a little while. Right now I am sitting here and I am itching to somehow conceal my paperback under the table. It’s a bit like a disease that I have to ward off with doses of the real world!

It’s nice to be back in a daily routine now. Did I tell you that I had a new job? After months of utterly different days, varying timetables and rollercoaster emotions, I am now currently a 9-6pm girl and it’s amazing what a difference it makes. Last night was my first weekday evening off in over 6 months. I cleaned, I baked, I made my friend Camille something pretty for her room and of course, I read. I look forward to every evening now where I can wind through the city at sunset on my newly acquired bicycle, discovering new routes and eventually arrive home to make myself a perfect Grandma-standard cup of tea and curl up on the sofa.

What do you do to escape the world? And what are your favourite books? Tell me! (If you don't have a google account, tell me on Facebook, ya?)

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