Books and My Life: Part 6

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

This blog outlines my life, seen through the lens of the books I have read.

After nine months as a clerk, I had to get out of the office! I remember setting up an interview with a holiday camp near Portsmouth where I would be the potato peeler and washer-upper. But I didn’t go; my boss talked sense into me, and I listened to him because he had been in a glider-borne infantry unit during the second world war. I knew I had to leave Military Vehicle and Engineering Establishment (MVEE) though, and at the end of the summer of 1978 I began work as a trainee tree surgeon. I was recommended by a friend to see a school’s career advisor in Farnham and he told me about Arboriculture. This sounded like a good mix of town and nature, adventure and stability. I could go to agricultural college and get a qualification, but I would need a year’s experience to be accepted onto the course at Merrist Wood College. So, I began writing and phoning local tree surgeons. Most didn’t reply or told me they had no work, but eventually my persistence was rewarded when I met Peter Honey of Honey Brothers early one morning and he agreed to take me on for £30 a week. I raced from his yard back to MVEE on my bike, elated.

The soundtrack of my year with Honey Bros included Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean. As the radio was usually on in the cab, I listened to a lot of chart music. But this was the Punk era and bands like The Stranglers, Eddie and the Hotrods and Be Bop Deluxe were filling my head. I don’t remember reading many books.

I moved out from home to live closer to friends in Farnham. Initially I stayed with a friend’s parents but then shared a two-bedroom flat with Phil Elledge, a teacher nearly ten years older than me. It was around this time that I read ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant’, a fantasy trilogy by Stephen Donaldson. The hero/antihero is a leper, mystically transported from the USA to The Land where he feels alive again. He had been summoned by a power to either help or hinder the defenders of The Land from Lord Foul the Despiser. Covenant struggles with accepting this new, better world and can’t let go of his defensive routines, that are essential in our world to keep lepers from damaging themselves due to the lack of feeling in their limbs.

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In the second trilogy, The Land suffers much more directly from the Despiser’s curse. The really memorable part for me was the idea that each day started with The Land as a blank, but it would quickly become either a desert, a jungle or sometimes another manifestation of nature. So, the hero never knew if it would be possible to travel safely the next day. I remembered this concept when I visited the tropics and saw plants that grew steadily, hungrily, for 12 months every year. You can almost see them grow as you watch.

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