Sunday, August 30, 2009

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens?

Tom Paine, of The Last Ditch, Top 100 blogger, returns after a too lengthy absence with a piece which stirs the soul. Dearieme's late evening music, coming up at 8 p.m. would seem to complement this post as well:

My first "favourite thing" was a toy Mercedes “gullwing.” My father still has it, restored and in a display box with my other childhood motors. If you would like a real one, Bernie Ecclestone’s old one (pictured) is currently for sale. Here’s the link.

A car is more than transport. It’s both a symbol and an instrument of freedom. When I fire mine up and the computer tells me my range, I like to consider not only where I am going, but all the places I could go. All without having to tell anyone else, hang around in a public place at the convenience of others, or trust a stranger with my life.

The car is to the train as John Stuart Mill is to Marx. Though I fondly remember my childhood train set and a steam-powered trip to the seaside with my late grandmother, I hate trains as much as I love cars. I hate the lowest common denominator experience, where all must live for a while the life of the nastiest person in the carriage. I hate the higher cost and greater inflexibility; all with a car still necessary at either end to make the whole farce possible.

The forerunner of another favourite thing of mine was a Tissot watch my father gave me as a teenager. It was an old one of his, which he replaced with an Omega. It lasted until my train-using grandmother bought a new one for my 18th birthday.

While I love technology and hate nostalgia, I still prefer a mechanical watch to more accurate electronic types and now have a small collection. The best I have is a “Grand Complication” that took Patek Philippe's craftsmen months to make. There are models that take four and a half years, apparently! It doesn’t tell time as well as the sturdier one I wear on my holidays (so I can swim) or even a cheap quartz one, but it is a delightful object. It has proved a better store of value than more “sensible” investments and is an heirloom for my yet-to-be-born (no pressure, Misses Paine) grandson.

I wore it every day for the first year I had it, but now reserve it for “Sunday best.” I see it every day I am at home and confess it and its companions give more pleasure than is quite proper.

An artist will know and care about brushes and canvasses so it’s not surprising that a writer (however humble) should care about pens and stationery. Not that I go crazy buying pens any more. Like umbrellas, more are lost than are ever worn out. I have put many fine pens into circulation that way and can only hope they are appreciated, somewhere. I like to have an attractive one to look at while pondering what to write. My interest in stationery makes little sense when most of my writing is pixellated. Still, I can’t pass a quality stationers without looking around and am ridiculously tempted by high quality paper for which I have little use. Even my nice pens are mostly used for marginal notes and corrections on the writing of others.

I left books until last, but they were first. I have an intense working life, am studying a new language and now spend online much of the spare time I used to reserve for books. As I type, there is a reproachful pile of improving literature on a windowsill crying “hypocrite” at me. Yet everything good about my life flows from my boyhood reading.

I was not a great student, but I will claim this. I never took my teachers at their word. I strongly believe no pupil was ever meant to do so.

I went to a series of mediocre state schools with Labour-voting teachers and a Redbrick University where the only openly right-wing lecturer was so eccentric, ugly and ill-dressed that he might as well have been engineered to discredit his thought. The teachers and lecturers mostly didn’t tell us how they voted, but they didn’t need to. The conventional thinking of the Left underlay their every utterance.

If it were not for the town library and the relatives I gently conditioned to regard books as appropriate gifts, how else could I have checked my teachers’ opinions? How else could I have found another view? Not that I knew what I was setting out to find. I expected my reading to explain why my teachers were right, but that’s another matter. Reading is a road, not a destination.

I don’t buy as many books as I used to. Mrs Paine is a voracious reader of modern literature and does most of the buying. She has led me out of the dusty classics I reared myself on and into the modern world. As is always the problem with reading moderns (the bad authors of past ages are out of print) she is disappointed with much of what she reads. She kindly passes on only the good stuff to me.

I therefore only buy books these days in the form of well-crafted objects to treasure. The literary iPod seems close now, but when my daughters’ everyday reading is electronic, I still want them to have beautiful books as the literary equivalent of my mechanical wrist-watches.

I was delighted to find a first edition of Middlemarch for one of Miss Paine the Elder’s birthdays. In a few years, she will have her whole library with her at all times just as I have all my music with me now. Still, I hope that copy of her favourite novel, in the form George Eliot herself imagined, will catch her eye from time to time and make her smile.

Isn't that what “favourite things” are all about?

[Guest blogger, Tom Paine, usually lives at The Last Ditch]


  1. "A car is more than transport. It’s both a symbol and an instrument of freedom.... I like to consider not only where I am going, but all the places I could go."

    "Reading is a road, not a destination"


  2. I spend most of my time on the computer too but pens, paper and books are amongst my favorite things too. My iPod mostly contains audio books (very little music), but there is nothing quite like browsing through a real book.

  3. Which new language are you studying, James?

  4. That was written by Tom Paine of Last Ditch, Bob. He's a British blogger of note and it is a guest post.

    Ladies - yes.

  5. The songs I like the very best change.

    I have lots of current favorites at any given time, but ask me again in a month and they will have changed. Gone up or down in my personal charts, new ones come in and push others lower.

    That is exactly what happens with my itouch favourites play list ^_^. I change it around all the time.

    I like new technology and old stuff too, not generally an "either or" person.

    As for books, I buy lots of paperbacks tho I am not so reverent towards them. I love the smell of books. I love the feel of them. You can take them anywhere and read them most anywhere.