reading, running, reminiscing

Today I was packing my bags. On Monday I’ll be at a different pharmacy, up north. Just for three weeks, but even that seems like a long time, especially considering that I haven’t been out of town for that long since I first started working at the pharmacy. I paused a lot during the packing process, overwhelmed with the enormity of this trip I’m making, and thinking of all the people I’m going to miss while I’m gone.

Next on the agenda today was to finish reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which a friend/colleague had lent to me. I only had about 50 pages left, so I decided that I had to finish it before my trip, so that I could (1) return the book, and (2) take a new book with me.

Finishing the book today by early/mid afternoon also had the added benefit of allowing me to return the book today, and thus visit another friend/colleague at the pharmacy. Yes, ok, I am possibly a bit too attached to my work and my work family… But they are great people! (most of them)

(I was actually going to write this post about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it seems that that’s just not going to happen… I’ll publish a separate book post tomorrow or the day after.)

To be honest, though, I was a bit conflicted about whether or not I should make the effort of going to the pharmacy today just to return the book and see someone very briefly. I mean, I’m going out for lunch tomorrow, so could easily drop by then instead, and then I could have stayed at home all day today to do productive things like write posts I can schedule for the next few weeks. But then I thought about the other pharmacists I’ve visited over the years, and I thought about whether or not I would regret visiting today, and the decision was easy.

(The “what would you regret?” test is my go-to strategy for decision-making.)

Also – side note – I kind of planned it so that I could then run home from work. I caught the bus/train in, as I usually do, hung around to chat for a bit, then ran all the way home. I’ve wanted to try it out for a while now, so I’m glad that I can cross that off the list. It took less than 80 minutes, which is alright considering I walked a lot (it is so hot and humid!), and I kind of made up the route as I went along.

Well, anyway, people who I’ve spoken to over recent weeks (particularly work friends) all know that I’m super excited about this upcoming trip. Still, me being me, you can’t eliminate all apprehension and anxiety with excitement alone. Not to brag or anything, but I’m pretty good at worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong, which, of course, includes the possibility that there are many possible scenarios which I have not considered but will occur when I’m there.

Yes, ok, that is probably overstating it a bit. I’m pretty amateurish at worrying sometimes.

And I’m sorry that I can’t reveal the actual name of the place that I’m going to – well, I don’t think I should anyway. I mean, I don’t know… Maybe I should review my pharmacy’s policy about social media… Then again, I’m pretty sure that no one I work with reads this blog. But who knows… I seem to have a number of “silent readers”.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was reading “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan, and that I had borrowed it from a friend. In that same post, I also mentioned that I’m predisposed to like books that are borrowed from friends. Now, I have finished reading TNRDN, and whilst I really, really, really liked the novel, I am wondering a bit about this bias.

Well, you see, the friend who I borrowed it from hadn’t actually finished reading it before she lent it to me; she just read a few chapters, and then kind of gave up on it. As I was reading TNRDN, I kept telling her how great it was, and that she should persist with it and give it a second chance. But I think at times I also forgot that she hadn’t read it yet – it’s not that I tried to discuss details with her, but in my mind I had this vague impression that she’s read it in its entirety.

Anyway, I’m not sure if my bias/predisposition still works if the person whom I borrowed the book from hasn’t finished the book and/or didn’t like it. And then I’m really grateful and really want to thank her for introducing me to this book, which I will probably always associate with her irrespective of whether she ever does finish it or not, but I’m sort of wondering if it’s kind of a false connection.

Am I overthinking this? Sorry to say, but this is typical of my thought processes sometimes.

Enough rambling.

I actually really, really, liked – wait, I already said that. Ok, let me explain why. But first, a bit of background: TNRDN is an Australian WWII novel about the POWs who helped build the “Death Railway” through Thailand and Burma. It’s mostly the story of one character, Dorrigo Evans, but the stories of some of the side characters are also explored in some detail – other POWs but also those working for the Japanese military as well.

I actually didn’t know anything about the Death Railway before reading this novel, which makes me feel like this was something I needed to read (also makes me feel guilty about my lack of knowledge about Australian history, but supposedly it’s a part of the war that just didn’t get talked about very much, and still doesn’t). The novel’s probably aimed at people like me.

There’s a lot of confronting, gruesome detail in it (not of actual warfare but of things like foul diseases, and crude surgery with makeshift instruments, and the cremation of corpses) but, although some reviews on Goodreads thought it was unnecessary or over the top, I thought it felt honest and was fitting with the story being told. (I should add, though, that the vast majority of reviews on GR are very positive. It’s just that I tend to only read bad reviews (after finishing the novel myself) so that I can gain a different or more critical perspective.)

One of the things about TNRDN that my friend found quite irksome was how Flanagan does not use quotation marks at all throughout the book, so it’s a bit hard to follow. Especially in the first several chapters, I found myself having to re-read sentences because I only realised halfway through that it was actually someone talking. Not sure if I just got used to it after a while, but it stopped bothering me. I’m not entirely sure what the point of not using quotation marks was – I mean, the novel would work just as well with them – but I’m speculating that it’s something to do with the visual flow of the text (if that makes sense).

There’s a lot of poetry in the novel – actual quotes from poems, as well as references to or mentions of poems – but Flanagan’s writing, in itself, is also immensely poetic. I especially like reading novels where the writing is very powerful; and it doesn’t have to be poetic to be powerful, but this novel was both. It was very human.

Dorrigo Evans, who becomes the colonel when the original one dies of dysentery, is more of an antihero, and he struggles with his position of command during the building of the railway, and also with the fame and respect he receives after the war is over. He feels like everything is false and that he is a fraud. And yet, despite this weakness in his character (or perhaps because of it?), and despite all the adultery and his random obsessions (which, strangely, didn’t bother me that much, but apparently other readers found really off-putting), I thought Dorrigo Evans was a likeable character. Definitely a memorable character.

For some reason, I also really liked the characters Darky Gardiner and Jimmy Bigelow. Maybe it’s a sympathy thing. There probably wasn’t a character I just did not like at all. I also reckon Flanagan did a good job of incorporating the Japanese perspective into the story, as told chiefly through Nakamura, but also through Choi Sang-min (AKA the Goanna), who is actually Korean but worked for the Japanese as a prison guard on the railway. There are a number of other reasonably significant side characters, but those are the ones that stand out for me.

TNRDN is probably the best historical fiction novel I’ve ever read (but, to be fair, I don’t read a lot of historical fiction). I feel like I’ve learnt a lot without feeling like the author was trying to teach me something. As such, I don’t think you need to have a keen interest in Australian history (or history in general) in order to enjoy and appreciate this book. It probably qualifies as a “challenging read” though (challenging in a number of different ways), so you probably wouldn’t want to read it if you prefer more straightforward novels. I might re-read it one day. It would be worth re-reading.

happiness in the form of cake and cold mornings

I am absolutely loving this cold weather we’re having right now. It’s pretty much right in the middle of winter, so it’s perfect. I was really getting worried that we wouldn’t get a proper winter at all this year, but – ta da! – here it is.

To clarify, “cold” here is about 4-6 degrees Celsius overnight. (I’m not too sure what the daytime maximum has been because I actually don’t check the weather reports much, and I’m inside all day, anyway.) This morning was perfect: beautiful blue sky streaked with wispy clouds, no/minimal wind, and the air fogging up in front of me with every breath… If I could’ve taken the morning off work just to sit in the sunshine and read a book, or just do some cloud-gazing while sipping a cup of coffee, I think that would’ve been a morning well-spent.

But I had an important delivery to make.

Yesterday, two colleagues of mine were just having a bit of playful banter (nothing unusual). I happened to be in the vicinity, so was brought into it, and got asked to bring in food for one of them, “for tomorrow”, which was today. This went back and forth for a bit, then evolved into bringing cake in, and we were all deflecting the responsibility, and the result was inconclusive (two of us had finished for the day and were on our way out).

On my way home, I thought about it some more, Googled some recipes, and found a simple one for sticky date pudding. I’d settled on sticky date pudding for two reasons: (1) I knew I had plenty of dates at home, and (2) GI said she’d never had sticky date pudding before.

Once I was at home, I was actually a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. It was already a bit late by the time I finished dinner… I needed to sleep earlier… No one was really expecting me to act on this request for cake… But I thought about it some more and, in the time it took to clean up the kitchen a bit while watching MasterChef, I’d made up my mind: this pud was getting baked tonight!

I might post the recipe, but this is not about the recipe or the baking process. There are two things I want to remember from this:

One: As Marco Pierre White (who’s been a guest mentor on MasterChef this week) says: “A good cook cooks for others”. I think the cooking experience is more enjoyable and more purposeful when cooking for a particular friend or family member. Whether the end product turns out better…? Well, I suppose it’s been proven true time and again.

Two: This is something I learnt from a friend (I credit it to her, anyway), and was probably the main reason why I decided to just go ahead and make this impromptu cake. I think that it’s kind of somewhere between that mantra of “being as nice as you can, to as many people as you can, in as many ways as you can” and the one about living with no regrets. Basically, I asked myself if I would regret attempting to make this cake more than I would regret missing this opportunity to do something nice for someone who’s been absolutely delightful to work with. (Side note: there’s no real special occasion for this, hence “impromptu cake”.)

Well, the answer was obvious and, despite getting to bed later than I should have, and having a bit of a restless night’s sleep (my subconscious always worries a lot about whether people will like my creations; also, it was a tad chilly last night), I do not regret my decision in the least. Not because she said it was delicious or because another colleague said it’s probably the best cake I’ve ever brought in to work – well, ok, partly for those reasons… but mostly because of how almost-childishly-happy she was when she discovered that I’d actually gone ahead and made the sticky date pudding just for her.