The Bees – Laline Paull (Book Review)

24441639

“It’s a book set in a hive, where all the characters are bees, except maybe the odd wasp or spider, but all the main ones are bees. And the book is about them doing bee stuff”… and it’s actually quite brilliant.

Flora 717 is born a sanitation worker, the lowest level worker bee in a hive. Her job is to clean up after the other bees, and her life, like all other sanitation bees, is very expendable.

Like all other bees, she loves and is devoted to the Queen; “Accept, Obey, Serve” being somewhat of a mantra to all bees.

But Flora 717 is different, being able to fill more roles than a simple sanitation worker. Despite the resistance of the bees higher up in society, Flora tries to work her way into society, and earn respect for her kin.

The book in many senses is about totalitarian societies: at the top you have the singular leader, whose power is enforced by politicians and police, all working under the guise as ‘the benefit of the whole’, but never having to actually sacrifice their luxuries themselves.

As the sanitation workers gain a voice, it echoes of a not so distant past with the rise of labour unions and socialism, giving a voice to the lower echelons of society, and allowing them to raise their displeasure regarding their anonymity and condescension. Questioning those who assume power, and recognising their is no basis for why they should be obeyed other than they have simply assumed the role and told others so.

The book is brilliantly written, with me genuinely caring about the fate of a lone worker bee and the hive. I was reading it one night and couldn’t put it down, but once I finally did, I reflected that I had just stayed up late to read about a bee being in some dispute with another insect… seemingly insignificant.

It sounds strange but it’s worth a shot. One of the better books I have read so far this year!

A Brief Reflection

I am soon to work my last shift in my current job, and move into another. I thought this would be a good time for reflection on the past 9 months I have been working full-time night shifts at a care home:

Night shifts have been challenging, and have changed the way I socialise. I often had to withdraw my participation in social events in order to ensure I wasn’t tired, and a lot off my days of were spent sleeping. Some groups I attend; I had to stop altogether.

This was my first ‘real’ full-time job, and through it I have become adapted to the workplace which, as it turns out, isn’t as scary or impersonal as I had thought.

There are a lot of real problems with current state of the health care system though, and this is much to the distress of those working in it who want to provide genuine care to patients. To start with, there is little incentive to work in care: the pay is often minimum wage, and employee benefits are non-existent… you don’t even get paid sick days. This alongside long shifts, short staffing, and cost-cutting, care is not an easy job to work in. Having worked in the private health care sector now for some time, it only redoubles my position against the privatisation of the NHS: when working for profit, those in charge find any way to cut down on costs: lowering the workforce numbers, providing cheaper meals for patients, and supplying care staff with cheap, easily-broken equipment to use for their job. When seeking to make a profit, corners are cut, and in health care, this shouldn’t happen.

That being said, I worked alongside some very caring and compassionate people, who disliked the state of health care as much as I. They would go out of their way for the benefits of the patients, and on a 12-hour shift, maintaining a high level of motivated compassion can sometimes be trying. Some openly admitted they didn’t expect to become rich by working in care, but that didn’t seem to bother them. The level of human interaction, the visible benefit of your work; these were often rewarding enough.

I also met some people there who I have learned a lot from: people who, because of unfortunate circumstances, had their lives changed by disabilities, and face ongoing health challenges with that. Yet who, after a fortnight in hospital, can still come back and greet you with a joke…

I’m not sure what the next job will hold: it seems it will be less physically demanding, and during the day. I’m excited to begin, however!

 

 

Laughter in the Dark – Vladimir Nabokov (Book Review)

826372

 

If Nabokov wrote about paint drying, I would still read it. I’ve read a lot of his books, and after stumbling across this one in a shop, added this to the collection:

Albinus, a wealthy artist is a married man with a young child. Arriving in town for a meeting one morning, he notices he is early, and so goes into a cinema to kill some time. Whilst in there, he notices a young, pretty usherette, and becomes obsessed with visiting the cinema to see her.

Eventually, a semi-abusive relationship develops, with Margot, the young usherette, abusing Albunis’ feelings towards her for financial gain, and the possibility of using his influence for her to become an actress.

When tragedy ensues, Albinus is pressed between moral and emotional pressures.

 

The title becomes so much darker once the book is finished, and you notice what the ‘laughter in the dark’ is laughter at. Albinus was the only semi-nice character in the book, and considering he cheated on his wife for the sake of the thrill, that is saying something.

The characters are all well written, and each unique in so many aspects. Much like Nabokov’s other novels, fairly common human characteristics become all too focused on for anyone to feel comfortable when carrying them out (or, has a hypocritical cynic like myself saying ‘yeh, exactly! People are stupid’).

The shortness of the book and typical style of prose make it well worth the read, though perhaps not as an introduction to Nabokov. The characters are well written and very stylized, and usually mundane situations become poetry when Nabokov describes them.

 

Ranting on an Inconsistency

I read recently an article about a group of late-teens who, after leaving a pair of ordinary glasses on the floor in an art gallery,¬†took pictures of unsuspecting art-lovers looking at the “piece” from a short distance, and in other ways appreciating what they thought may be an exhibit.

This article was shared for the purpose of ridicule across social media, which is where I saw it repeatedly. Comments such as ‘I like to think of the piece representing the dumbing down of society’ was common, however I thought it perhaps necessary to challenge this statement:

We live in a society upheld, knowingly or unknowingly, by the current popular philosophy called postmodernism. Postmodernism asserts that such things as ‘truth’ are relative, and based upon a subjective reality rather than an objective one. For example, to claim that one religious belief system is right and another wrong is now considered taboo as “who are we to say what is right?” and “that’s your truth, they have theirs”. This offsets modernism which sought perfection, now seeking personal experience of perfection, undefined by others.

Art follows philosophical trends in much the same way. Postmodern art movements are subjective rather than objective, relying on the interpretation of the viewer rather than the conveying of meaning from the artists. In other art movements, in one way or another, the artists seeks to convey an image or message; in this one, they have no right to say how you see their creation. “What does it mean to you?”, a previously (frankly) irrelevant question is now the only question you must ask.

So, then it comes to the article. People who often deride postmodern art movements like to comment on the fact that such drawings are ‘just a bunch of lines that a 5-year-old can do’, and I find this to be a majority opinion, yet truth remains relative in discussions of philosophy with the same people. This leads me to believe an inconsistency exists within such people. They believe in subjectivity in regards to philosophy, but then go on to believe in objective truth in regards to art: “that God stuff is your truth and nobody can know, but that painting there: stop being stupid, definitely just a square of red”.

I believe a belief in relative truth should include an absence of derision at modern-art appreciators which recognise the same philosophy in the paintings. I’m not saying that those who hold to moral relativity must appreciate it themselves, but should at least consistently believe that those who do, have the right to do so, absent of mocking.

I myself am not a post-modernist, and also don’t see much in most postmodern art (with some exceptions for specific reasons which I may bring up later), which I feel is consistent. I also have friends who do openly recognise the post-modern beliefs, and love postmodern art, which is also consistent. This rant is just aimed at those who default to popular, inconsistent opinions; sectioning off areas of life and not recognising the holistic conflict between them.

End of rant.

 

How to Survive a Night Shift

When I began working where I do, the prospect of 12-hour, waking night shifts seemed a little daunting; beginning at 8pm, and finishing at 8am. How was I supposed to stay awake that long? Especially with sleeping in the day being something that doesn’t come easy to a lot of people. As such, here are some methods which I have found have helped me in this:

  1. Eat well: I find that my energy levels drop almost immediately after ordering pizza in my breaks. I also found that eating something like this before work meant I was tired before midnight. Pasta, vegetables… boring things like that; they help maintain energy.
  2. Don’t rely on energy drinks: they really make you crash. The half-hour of increased energy isn’t worth the heavy eye-lids that follow. Caffeine can help, and I do have a constant flow of tea throughout the night, but energy drinks are a killer.
  3. Keep busy: Sitting down for too long, even in the quieter hours of the morning, can make it so much harder to stand up and get going again. Find things to do throughout the night, or alternatively, only sit once everything that needs to be done is sorted, even if you ‘have 4-hours to do it anyway’.
  4. Keep talking: I have found for myself that if I am on with a colleague who shares similar interests to me, the best way to make time fly and to stay awake, is to have a conversation with them. This can be about anything from movies, books etc. and I find during the night, conversations about deeper things such as philosophy in art, political movements, and religion, come so much easier.
  5. Keep healthy at all costs: I actively avoid illness. When working nights, your immune system begins to mess up a bit due to lack of sleep (6-hours is considered a lot in-between consecutive shifts). Vitamins, healthy drinks, exercise: everything you can do to not catch that ‘bug’ going around. Working whilst ill sucks, and makes staying awake so much harder.
  6. Prepare: the night before my first night-shift after a break, I stay up late watching movies. I naturally wake up quite early on my days off (sometimes as early as 4am!) so by staying up late, I manage to sleep into at-least midday. This means when I begin work, I will have been awake for less than if I had got up at say 8am. For some, they prefer to nap in the afternoon before work instead, but for myself this is risky: I can’t guarantee I’ll nap.
  7. Take something to do: Some nights, nobody will feel like talking (most the times, this is me), and so you need to take something to keep yourself occupied during breaks. I read, though some find this hard to do and stay awake. Some colleagues bring their Kindle with TV Shows downloaded onto it. One nurse brings a medical textbook to read – I guess learning is one method too that shouldn’t be ignored.

There are probably more, but that’s what I’ve got for now… will post an update if more come to mind!

The Tale of the Wish Fish

As I walked one sunny day
Beside the river, by the way
Mine eyes did catch upon a shimmer:
A sparkling 50 pence in the river

So in I waded to the middle
Though why I did presents a riddle
For I should remember I cannot swim
And so began to sink within

But along you came by the river walking
Becoming alerted to my squawking
The seconds to react barely counted three
You threw the nearby lifebuoy to me

I caught hold and slipped inside
Feeling some damage to my pride
For your reward I reached once stabled
And caught the gold creature believed to be fabled

“Now take hold of mine Wish Fish
And make thou thy Wish”

[A silly poetic version of a story I decided was true when walking one evening with my girlfriend].

The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (Book Review)

29501558

This book is fairly popular at the moment, and I have even heard in anecdotal exchanges that some adults are almost in tears at the impact this book has had on their life.

Guylain, an employee at a book-pulping factory rides the 6.27 train every morning, reading aloud to the other passengers pages from random books that he had pulled out of the pulping machine the day before.

Living a pained existence in a job he hates, feeling like a murder, his best friends are an elderly man who speaks in alexandrines, a disabled ex-colleague obsessed with finding his legs, and his goldfish (replaced when necessary).

Until he finds the diary of a young lady who cleans public toilets for living, and immediately falls in love with this stranger he has yet to meet.

The book itself is perhaps something I wouldn’t usually go for: the feel-good, romantic theme being something which I’d consider often predictable, often repeated, and often unsatisfying. I wouldn’t necessarily say that for this book: it is quite a unique romance in a sense. The girl seems like a very unique character, and was in someways my favourite in the book for her outlook on life.

Though the book was sometimes funny, an easy read, and not at all boring: I still found that I was dissatisfied upon completion: I found Guylain’s idol somewhat annoying and couldn’t quite see his fascination with him. I also found the romance ultimately open-ended with a somewhat ambiguous ending. I guess in someways the couple were both individually quirky, but it seems a bit of a mismatch to me: Guylain always came across a bit too passive.

Not a terrible book by any means, and could easily be read in a matter of a few sittings. Perhaps it’s the ‘feel-good’ factor that will draw many towards it, and it is likely just not my cup-of-tea. Worth a shot if it sounds like your thing, though!