Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

NOT the word I would have chosen...

Just after the New Year, a book stall at my local shopping centre closed down.  Which was probably not entirely a bad thing.

I loved that shop.  She stocked an electic range of books and I often bought several books at a time, and bought something most weeks.  No will power - or at least not where books or plants are concerned.  Her prices were always good, and the closing down sale had some most excellent bargains.  So I went the rats and bought many, many books. 

One of them was this one.


A memoir.  I do like memoirs, diaries, biographies and autobiographies.  Stanley Johnson sounded like an interesting man, who leads a rich and varied life.  His curriculum vitae includes exploration, travel, writing (poetry, fiction and non-fiction) and training as a spy. 

I was right.  He is an excellent story teller and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his world.  However, I had some early doubts.  On the first page he describes his mother as 'by nature an optimist' and goes on to give an anecdote which he believes illustrates this quality.

'She was always ready to look on the bright side of life.  I remember being woken by her one night when I was about four years old.  My father was a pilot in the RAF during the war and we were living in a little cottage near the runway at Chivenor in North Devon where his squadron was posted.

"Look, darling!  Come quickly!"  She hustled me to the window.  "There is a wonderful bonfire on the runway?  A plane has crashed and, quite soon the depth charges will explode!"

I can't remember where the depth charges did explode that night....'

No, I wouldn't describe that as optimism.  Flakiness?  Space cadetship? 

What do you think?

And, the next day they found out it was her husband's plane which had crashed.  He survived (which naturally she assumed he would) but was badly injured.

90 comments:

  1. What a jolly mommy!
    I know people who told children some pretty tall tales during the war, to "buck them up, jolly them along." And I suppose it was not a bad thing, but a bonfire on the runway seems a bit bloody extreme!

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    1. dinahmow: And to wake him up to tell him...?

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  2. Better a jolly, than angry or anxious one!:-)

    Aloha

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    1. Cloudia: In principle I agree, but this is a bit extreme.

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  3. Hmmm, it seems a bit strange to me...and I do not think it was really optimism but lack of awareness? Maybe she knew it was her husband and did not want to alarm her child? Strange...

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    1. farawayinthesunshine: It certainly had to be someone she knew. Very odd.

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  4. Astonishing how shallow some people can be. I would call her a stupid, unfeeling and ghoulish woman. If that constitutes optimism, so be it. Having been in the thick of that particular war, with the incredible suffering on both sides, it is incomprehensible to me how one could wake up a four year old and effectively say ' look Johnny, your daddy is probably frying up in that but isn't if a pretty fireworks.

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    1. Arija: Oh yes. My mother spent a little over a day under a bombed house (in Birmingham I think). Nothing pretty about war. Nothing.

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  5. I don't know what to call what she said, but optimism is NOT it. It was something to soothe her own (justifiable) worries, not her child's, as he was asleep. I imagine she was much less optimistic when she got the notice that it was, indeed, her husband's plane.

    Well, at least it was an interesting read for you.

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    1. Webster: Apparently her optimism continued.

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  6. Yes - definitely not wonderful. Certainly a display of stiff upper lipness.

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  7. Wow. There is keeping cool in a crisis, and then there is just flat out insanity...

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    1. Jane@Hesitant Housewife: Certainly unusual I would think.

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  8. That is just a tad weird. She obviously always saw the glass as being half full.
    Have you finished reading this book and, if so, would you recommend it? I don't buy books now as trying to clear things out of the house but I always check on our library list.

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    1. Mimsie: I thought it was weird too. I have finished it, but will probably not read it again. Not a bad book, but not amazing either.

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    2. Thanks EC....perhaps not one to bother too much about.

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  9. I don't think I'd be pointing out a crashed plane by saying oh look, a bonfire, let's wait for the explosions. That's a little gruesome. I'd be more likely to say that a plane had crashed but I was sure the pilot had been able to parachute to safety. Hope is more optimistic.

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    1. River: Very gruesome, particularly when it had to be people they knew. And to wake him up?!!

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  10. No, I don't think optimism would be the right word here.

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    1. mybabyjohn/Delores: It certainly didn't strike me that way.

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  11. My goodness, that is definitely a strange word choice. Mum was a bit... unusual, I'd say. I also enjoy memoirs and thoroughly enjoyed the three books by Jennifer Worth that were the basis for the Call the Midwife series. You are well into your fall season now, EC, and I enjoy thinking about the opposite happening in my part of the world. Sending you hugs! :-)

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    1. DJan: Unusual is a very diplomatic description. Autumn is definitely here - and is wonderful.

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  12. What a strange story to describe his mother's optimism.

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    1. Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe: There were other stories which did illustrate optimism much better for me. Like her assumption that the year he entered for a poetry prize he would win (he did).

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  13. A wonderful bonfire? Oof. I hate to say that she reminds me of my other half. As you know, I can be riddled with fear and anxiety half or most of the time, while she sits there with her legs up and crossed asking, "Isn't life just wonderful?" She said this during Hurricane Sandy while enormous trees were falling all around us and damaging things. Worst storm NY has ever seen. I hid in an inner hallway of ours hoping I wouldn't get crushed on the impact, while she sat near the window on the couch as if it was a lovely spring day. This just brought me to that memory - which was 6 months ago. *crosses eyes* God help me.

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    1. Test: Optimism is sometimes not the comfort it is supposed to be. It sometimes seems totally irrational. Particularly if you are afraid (with excellent reason).

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  14. Her mistake was getting him out of bed. What a gruesome event to pull a child into. I wonder how much she leaned on this boy for comfort as he grew up.

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    1. Joanne Noragon: I cannot understand WHY you would wake a child for that.

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  15. Optimism is not the right word...As for waking a child, totally unnecessary...I think it would have put me off the book, right from the start!

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    1. Sienna Smythe: I kept reading, but it did make me wary.

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  16. I wouldn't call that optimism. And why would she wake him unless she believed they needed to evacuate because of the nearness to the coming explosions.

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    1. Carol Kilgore: I wouldn't have given it that name either - and would have tried to let him sleep I think.

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  17. Wow... She's was something alright. I'm sorry your bookstore closed, I hate it when that happens. Sounds like an interesting read though.

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    1. Betty: Finances and space are the better for the closure of the book shop. I miss it though.

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  18. Living in a war, wondering if your hubby will live or die, or if you and your child will be safe, I would guess you would develop defense mechanisms in order to survive and her take on a plane crash might have been one of them. Or she was nuts and her adult son, in his memory, is using his own defense mechanisms or just respect for the memory of his mom. We're all a little crazy. Some just show it off better.

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    1. Strayer: You could be right about his defence mechanisms - though he certainly admired her all his life. You are also right that we are all odd in our own ways...

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  19. If this Stanley is Boris’ dad, then this story is probably par for the course for this family.

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    1. Friko: Stanley is indeed Boris's dad.

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  20. Not optimistic but fatalistic,realistic and accepting, sometimes such is life.

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    1. Linda Starr: Acceptance is one thing, welcoming it as she apparently did another.

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  21. I think this dear lady did not have a grip on reality ...to an extreme that, in todays world, would require treatment. Back then they probably thought she was a little eccentric. That is sad for him and for her ... I hope the book was able to demonstrate a good ending to the shaky beginnings in his life. It does make me wonder how someone of his intelligence could be oblivious to her issues. Interesting post EC ...

    Andrea @ From The Sol

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    1. Andrea: I can accept that we all have different coping mechanisms, but it was involving him which bothered me (most).

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  22. That's taking the glass half full to extreme.
    Sounds like she lived in a self imposed la-la land, possibly as a coping mechanism.
    Truth can't be shielded, not in war time.
    The fact that she "hustled" him to the window to actually look was a concern. At four years old. What was she thinking?

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    1. Vicki: Waking a small boy up to look was definitely a concern. Though he certainly didn't seem to be bothered about it. I guess it worked for them. Just the same...

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  23. Perhaps the poor woman was terrified but putting a brave face on the situation, as people were expected to at the time. Values were very different then, and parents tried to shield their children from 'unpleasantness', hence her pretence that the fire was a pretty bonfire. It seems pathological to us now, who expose even young children to all kinds of horrors in the shape of TV, movies and video games.

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    1. lynners: Yes, I do understand where you are coming from, particularly in relation to television, movies and the like. Just the same, waking her son up struck me as extreme. And also wrong.

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  24. I think I'd need to read the rest of the book, and perhaps other books, if there are any, to get a better idea of whether his mother may have had a justifiable reason for waking him up, one that he didn't mention, or whether she truly lacked the common sense to let him sleep through it. It's hard to know without having been there, I suppose :)

    Oh, I need to get back to reading actual, real books! I spend my reading time on blogs these days ... They are fascinating and I've learned a lot, but a book is more relaxing and doesn't hurt my neck!! It's sad to lose a good source of interesting books, isn't it? Book stores, especially the independent ones, are in dire straits.

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    1. jenny_o: He did write other books, but not memoirs. And no other reason was given for waking him. Odd. But he certainly didn't hold it against her, so perhaps I shouldn't. Perhaps.

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  25. What kind of mother would awaken her child to see his dad's plane explode. I would say she was a little but nutty.

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    1. Birdie: He, and all his siblings survived. Just the same, not a decision I could have made.

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  26. Actually she reminds me of some of my family members who have had mental health challenges. Sadly they have said similar stuff. Whoa! Growing up in that house.

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    1. Riot Kitty: Ouch. For both him and you. Not an easy upbringing.

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  27. I think living so close to the aerodrome during a war would certainly make me rather flakey. But I don't think I would get my kids out of bed to see the bonfire. Maybe she needed the comfort of having him close. And of course, so sorry about your bookshop closing, that's a real shame.

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    1. Carol: I think living through a war would make me more than a little bit flakey.

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  28. Gin and valium cocktails...?

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    1. Kath Lockett: Before or after the event?

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  29. Sounds a bit looney to me. Talking from the edge. Somebody up there mentioned eccentric - at the very least. To wake a child up to point out something horrific seems absurd.

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    1. Laura Eno: I teeter on the edge of sanity myself (too often for comfort). That teetering would not be mine though.

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  30. As the child of two uber-practical pessimists, I cannot even remotely relate to this! My parents wouldn't even let me stay home from school on my birthday, which I recall some friends' parents doing. Grossly unfair! So, to me, this woman sounds wacky.

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    1. Ms CrankyPants: So we share parental types as well as the dread disease (and cats).

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    2. I knew there was a reason why I liked you when I read your blog!! Maybe we're long-lost relatives of some kind. Or the result of some Evil Government Experiment. Haven't had enough coffee yet to work it out, but the old gears are creaking in my underused brain.

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  31. Ummmm....she sounds to me as she was a bit flaky!! I can't find anything optimistic in such behaviour. But, each to their own, perhaps. She obviously did something right in the raising of her son...so, who are we to judge, really?

    It's not something that I would have done, though...the waking of the child in the middle of the night to witness something like that...particularly during war time; and with the father in the Air Force!!!

    How sad it is that your book store has closed down. I hate hearing about book stores closing down. I hate the thought of paper books being replaced by e-books. I hope it is just a trend that soon will do an about turn!

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    1. Lee: No, we possibly shouldn't judge. But I did.

      I now have an e-reader (to read the books of some of my blogging friends), but really don't like reading books on it. A dinosaur. I like the feel and smell of print, and find flipping through 'real' books when I am looking for something faster and easier.

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    2. I'm standing fast, EC...I don't care if I'm accused of being old-fashioned! So be it! Old-fashioned I shall remain to the bitter end! ;)

      I refuse to get an e-reader! I'll be the last woman standing (or sitting) without one! I'll be the last of the Mohicans, as it were! I am are far as mobile phones go, I think. I refuse to own one of them, as well!!

      Onwards to the foe!!!!

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    3. Lee: I am not really a fashion follower - old or new. And yes, I have the e reader and the phone the hospital demanded I have while my mother was there - but neither are used often.

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  32. We've gone so far to the opposite extreme -- "Careful, Johnny! It's not safe for you to play outside without a security guard and fifteen adults orchestrating your every movement! Things may look pleasant - but there are DANGEROUS THINGS EVERYWHERE!"

    perhaps there's a happy medium somewhere...

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    1. daisyfae: I really, really hope there is. Many of the things we did while I was growing up were heaps and heaps of fun (and yes a little dangerous). We survived - and benefited.

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  33. Stanley's mother sounds like a fascinating character!

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  34. I adore memoirs, I enjoy being invited in other people's lives, but this one does not seem to be my kinds...read :).

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    1. unikorna: Yes! The invitation into other people's worlds is WONDERFUL. And I don't have to like the people in it to find if fascinating.

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  35. Since he was only four years old when this occurred, let's hope his memory is distorted. I can't imagine ANY mother doing and saying such a dreadful thing. No, that doesn't demonstrate "optimism" at all. I'm an optimist. THAT describes insanity.

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    1. Susan: Not my understanding of optimism either. At all.

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  36. You went the rats--that's a new one for this American.

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    1. Snowbrush: I had no idea that it was a local idiom. I assume that you knew exactly what I meant though...

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  37. --Interesting.
    She was either a saint or plain crazy.
    ...but what's wrong w/ crazy anyhow?

    Xxx LOVE. How are you, dear?

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    1. My Inner Chick: Crazy is fine. I spend rather a lot of time there. Crazy which doesn't damage anyone else of course.

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  38. She sounds like a nut. But not a miserable one. All the same, I'm not convinced everyone should breed.

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    1. All Consuming: I am quite convinced that some people should never, ever reproduce.

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  39. Dear EC, I wonder if she was so worried about her husband that she "put on a happy face" with the magical thinking that if we don't let ourselves entertain thoughts of dark happenings they will not happen. Peace.

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    1. Dee: Perhaps, but waking up her small son goes beyond a 'happy face' I think. Still, he survived it. And loved her always.

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  40. The mummy seems to have developed a coping mechanism that took away her reasoning. War can do that--tip one over the edge if their hold on it was shaky at the beginning.

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    1. Susan Kane: Minds are incredible things - good, bad and just plain odd. And I certainly couldn't criticise anyone with a shaky grasp on reality.

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  41. Yah... not that word I would have chosen... Drugs?? Alcoholic??? Ai ya yai!!!! I like the "coping mechanism" comment - that seems to be right on the money...

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  42. Nicky HW: Stanley's father was an alcoholic, but he doesn't so much as hint as substance abuse where his mother was concerned. Coping mechanism sounds fair - but it is an odd one. Very odd.

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  43. Oh, my gosh, this is great. I love you for simply GOING INTO that book store, but then choosing this one - love it!

    I chose an odd looking memoir once, can't remember the name of it but I really felt it. It WAS an unusual memoir. Why, just WHY do some writers make it and others not (& by 'make it' I mean get to actually write for their living not their hobby - that is, their work sells). The one I read, & this one are choice.

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    1. wordsfallfrommyeyes: I read a lot. And a lot of genres - but memoirs, biographies, autobiographies and diares are right up there with my favourites. I wish I knew how and why some authors 'take off' and others have to have many, many jobs other than writing. And we are robbed, just as they are robbed when they cannot write all of the time.

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  44. Hey, being a former Space Cadet myself, I take umbrage! ;-)

    No, the word I would nominate for that macabre and incredibly insensitive behavior would be "sociopathic."

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    1. Laloofah: Ahhh, another word/phrase that we use differently. It was an amazing thing to do wasn't it? And Stanley certainly didn't seem to think that there was ANYTHING problematical about it. Families are often very odd indeed.

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