Winter Diary

Now that I have settled in here and put all the essential posts in the February archive, I will produce something a bit more current. Or catch up with lost months of December and January anyway. Lost of course to Depression. It has been a very bad eight months. Since July only October was wholly untouched by illness, though November was good until the last week. Why this new turn? Looking at my records since July 2006 I have only 3 months with sub-4 mood ratings and none of those were below 3. But since July 2008 I have had 4 sub-4 and 3-sub 3 (which means pretty severe depression). What is even worse is that I have no good explanation. Maybe it was doing too much public and social activity. But I think it maybe means that I need a medication change!

Anyway a lengthy and severe bout of Depression always leads to re-assessment; to thoughts of mortality and futurity, of how I should spend that time I do have; of the parlous state of sanity and so on. Not that I reach any new or different conclusions. But I am certainly reminded of just how fragile a state my ‘normal’ one is.

One new feature of this bout was that I found that, even when fairly severely depressed, I was on occasion able to read some serious books. This meant that my usual diet of daytime television and re-reading Tolkien and Christie was considerably varied. I finished the fourth volume of Proust– Sodom and Gommorah. The problem with my endlessly lengthened reading is that when I start again I have of course completely lost the narrative thread; but perhaps in then case of Proust, where the narrative thread is not exactly strong,  that is of less consequence. In any case I find it comparatively easy to pick up after an intermission of many, many months and immerse myself in that extraordinary, hallucinatory prose. There is some quality in Proust which makes the descriptions of place in particular stay with me.  It is very difficult to talk about or discuss in any logical way and I imagine that when and if I do eventually finish I will just start again. Reading Proust is it seems to me a lifetime’s occupation. The same is probably true of Dorothy Richardson although I have been stalled on Pilgrimage for a long time.

On a completely separate tack I read John Burrow’s History of Histories. This is certainly an interesting work and may be said to have one of the best of all bibliographies (the greatest histories ever written!) but it is written from a somewhat right-wing perspective. In addition it tends to skimp (as Burrow admits) over the past century or so. On the ancients and medievals it is compelling however. But really it is a starting-point – to read more history. I was driven back to Gibbon,  yet another ongoing quest which one would never reach the end of. I am now up to Chapter 31 – the Goths are near the gates of Rome and the empire has been divided. Gibbon shares with Proust that quality of being endlessly readable. In his case one feels in the presence of this enormous mind. I also went back to the Greeks and read Xenophon’s Anabasis – a work which seemed to me notable for the massive egotism of its author. It reads almost as one might expect the Odyssey to do had Odysseus been a real character and narrating his own story. Which is all very commendably classical I suppose. Maybe ‘the sea, the sea’ is more dramatic in classical Greek. But as a historian Xenophon is -to be euphemistic – a little self-centred.

In later January and February I picked up my reviewing for Reviewing the Evidence and was lucky enough to come across two really terrific mysteries – Alan Bradley’s brilliant debut The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (the review can be found at ) and Vikas Swarup’s Six Suspects  – Swarup’s first book was QandA which was made into Slumdog Millionaire – I think the book has now been repackaged under that title though there is a chapter with the same name in Six Suspects (review at ).

Turning away from books I finally succumbed and bought a Playstation3 in January. I am still really pissed off at Sony over the lack of backwards compatibility and my beloved PS2 is safely stored away; but I wanted some new games especially Fallout 3 so there was really nothing for it. I have played through Ratchet and Clank Tools of Destruction which is as enjoyable and charming on the PS3 as the earlier games were on PS2. Then I started out on The Elder Scrolls:Oblivion 4.  I had not played any of the other Oblivion games and this blew me away in terms of its size, the landscapes, the game-play and the weird levelling system – quite unlike any other rpg I have played. I have put in over 100 hours and am still very far from completion; of course I have deferred the main story-line and embroiled myself in the plentiful side-quests.  Laying Oblivion aside I have commenced Fallout3 another splendid game; interestingly both are the products of the Bethseda company and this means that there are certain comparable features, especially in terms of the discovery of new locations and subsequent ‘fast travel’, but also in the character design system. But the post-apocalyptic landscape of Fallout and the natural world of Oblivion could not be further apart; both however are brilliant games.

Moving to television there is one absolutely dominant feature of these months; my discovery and watching of The West Wing.That demands a separate blog though. Beyond that the wonderful Alexandra Burke won the X-Factor and now American Idol 8 has commenced – so far there are 3 good prospects through to the final 12; it looks as though it may be the year of short women. Continuing on a musical theme we went to see The Nash Ensemble in February as part of our continuing exposure to classical music; on the programme were  a Mozart quintet (number 3 in G minor) and the  Mendelssohn octet. This was the first chamber music concert I had been to for over 35 years; I was fascinated by how involving it was. Rounding out the live ‘events’ are a couple of plays at the Birmingham Rep – Priestley’s An Inspector Calls which was somewhat disappointing ; over-produced so that the play’s  impact and language were at times over-whelmed, and These Six Streets a new ensemble piece about inter-racial tensions in the inner-city; this was also disappointing, lacking any real focus, argument, political point.

And that probably, in sweeping and generalised fashion, brings me pretty much up-to-date.

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