Monday, August 28, 2006

Greetings from the land of Magic and Fairies and White Heather and Skies that blaze orange in the night and mists that roll in with the dawn. Great Greetings.

Johanna and Natalia have been with us for the past two weeks so we've been busy biking and walking and site seeing, shopping, dining, visiting Edinburgh and various castles and miscellaneous this and that, but not blogging.

However,after saying goodbye to Johanna (who left us on Saturday) and sending Sir Paul off to work this morning, the house is quiet and I am left with the remnants of likely what was the most enchanted, wondrous, extraordinary, unprecedented evening of my life. Could it be? Well, yes because this is Garinpark where the days are simply remarkable, each and every one.

You know, it's quite entertaining for me to look back over the past two years, for a number of reasons, the most notable that I find life so damned entertaining, but to remember, especially, with great sentiment and endearment looking out over the Sag Paneer and the Naan bread, the red wine and the candlelight of my first date with Paul, looking across the table at the face of someone who humbly told me of his profession and his hobbies and his life in California, and then after several hours of these pleasant exchanges to come away from the evening and make my way home, to settle into sleep without the slightest indication that sitting across from me that night was a man who was raised at the edge of the woods, in a Polish home, on the wings of a sprite, in the birthplace of mythology, born to Henry and Rose Kieniewicz, the fortunate son who was taught how to identify an edible mushroom before he was taught how to read or write. Now, if you're like me, accustomed to buying your mushrooms at the market, then mushrooms for most of us I think I can confidently claim don't have any more or less appeal than the green bean or the crown of broccoli. Well, perhaps a bit more if you're seriously interested in cooking and a recipe might call for a dried Shitake or a Porcini here and there, but we don't know where they come from exactly, at least I never gave it much thought - mushrooms, that is, I just presumed someone could tell the good ones from the "Huxley" or the psychedelic variety. And I never believed that my cooking could improve or discover such new vistas, if you will, not because I'm so great a cook and there wouldn't be room for improvement, but because I think one arrives at a certain age and says, "Well, this is good enough" not expecting to become any better - and it's not really better what's happened to my cooking, as much as that my cooking has become more soulful, deeply so, closer to nature and now it can boast of an entirely new culinary experience, one born out of pure, unadulterated synchronicity.

Even though my budding knowledge of mushrooms has been most intriguing and I watch the skies for rain and tag along in the woods with Sir Paul, bag in hand, hunting for this delicacy, nothing, not even my familiarity with the Kieniewicz family and its "mushroom anecdotes", which, by the way, are in abundance and quite funny, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw in the back seat of the car when Paul returned to Garinpark last night from ColdHome or the North Country as we call it. (The Ashton & Co. Estate - there, Sir Charles, I didn't call it a farm!)

But I have to tell you about the morning before I can tell you about Paul coming home from the north...

We decided to take a bike ride to the woods near Benview and hunt for mushrooms there. Paul had been successful on his ride the day before with Johanna and wanted to return for more. On the way, we noticed in the field alongside us a pile of muck (manure) and a farmer on a tractor on his way back from feeding his cattle. We followed him into his drive because Paul needs dung for the garden and thought it would not only be a good opportunity to procure this priceless commodity then and there, but to meet a neighbor as well.

After an hour with Brian, a very challenging hour, as Brian is an extreme extrovert - yes, even moreso than me. (Big surprise). But after a successful hour, two invitations, one to a Guy Fox bonfire (Paul will have to blog about that)to meet the neighbors, another to a Ceilidh (pronounced Kay-lee), to dance, Paul managed to negotiate a pile of dung in exchange for a bottle of whisky. Then it was off to the woods where we discovered fields of chantrelles among the birch and the moss.
I went off to buy the whisky for Brian who indicated that he might stop by in the late afternoon on his tractor, which, in fact, he did. Now, Brian not only likes to talk, but he likes gin as well. A lot of gin. Anyway, there I was, busy making bread, listening to music and cleaning the chantrelles from the morning pick when I heard the roar of the tractor coming up the gravel drive and there was Brian with the pile of muck. Typical of me, even the delivery of a pile of shit excites me, I suppose because I know that from this will grow our cabbages and kings and stories and soup, the list is endless, so, yes, I was excited and insisted Brian take off his wellies at the door, come in and have a drink while I cleaned the mushrooms.

And that he did. And he drank and he drank and his tales were becoming a bit woeful and his accent was incomprehensible - he might as well have been speaking Greek and then, fortunately, Sir Paul came bounding through the door with a look that I recognize now immediately, a look of "I have something to show you and I want to show you now but I can't because Brian is here." That look. And Brian stayed and his stories got a wee bit darker until finally, though I'm not sure how, we managed to cheerfully bid adieu and get on to the business of what was in the car.

In a race to the back door, Paul opened the car and in my life I've never seen such a vision, which hopefully he will describe to you at some future point how they appeared in the woods but all I can say is that in the back seat of a car they looked more like passengers, not mushrooms.

We feasted like elfin royalty on boletus, spinach and freshly caught salmon. Red wine and does it get any better?

At the request of dear friends, I have taken pictures of the house, the outside and the inside and, of course, the magic of last night. When I'm talking to you on the phone, these views are what I'm looking at. Also, there's a picture of me holding a bunch of the picture just before it, Paul is reaching into the brook to pick the watercress for me, like a bunch of wildflowers - imagine, watercress growing in the wild, apple trees outside the kitchen window, and the mystery of the woods a bike ride away and this is only August and I've only been here three months now...imagine that.

Missing you all. Love, Amber


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Sir Paul, they don't call me Lady Amber and expect me to shop at TESCO. (Why, the very idea can unsettle one's sleep). I presume they don't expect me to shop at all. I mean, what self respecting title holder would; however, in the case of Gairnpark, I take great pride in what adorns my table. Therefore, nothing gives me more pleasure than taking Dorothy Parker to town and popping into Mellis to see what rare culinary discovery or wee bit of a juicy morsel might evolve, as was the case yesterday, to learn that the Queen herself eats six different cheeses a day. Now, how in heaven's name would I have learned about that if I shopped at TESCO. Not that I give a feather about what the Queen eats, you understand, though admittedly I find it titillating in a pedestrian sort of way to know on what The Royals dine and I must say she looks quite good for a woman of her age.

If I shopped at TESCO I wouldn't have had that lovely chat with the chap who runs the spice shop about Green City Wholefoods, the Glasgow company that procures the Scottish Blossom Honey you liked so much last night. Green City is one of many fledging organizations cropping up in the UK to bring us products closer to home and boycott those in countries where human rights are in short supply. (Not to mention stumbling into the charming co-op down from ODD BINS where the carrots in your lunch came from; another treasure trove lost had I done business with the devil.)

As it is, befitting those who reside in a manor house, every bite of food you take has been meticulously researched and carefully crafted. I may not personally know Gianni Calogiuri, the man who makes our olive oil, but Dan Mellis does and that narrows the gap to two degrees of separation, a good ratio by my standards. Even closer to home were the delicious potatoes and onions Charles and Annie brought from their garden at Cold Farm, a stop gap until ours come in next year.

Dearest, I'm afraid you're married to a woman who should have probably lived two centuries ago, without doubt, at least at the turn of the last, considering I relate, and sometimes more than I'd care to admit, to Clarissa Dalloway and her parties, but where else could we bring together a poet, a musician, a politician, a scholar, a carpenter and a sheepherder except at the table, preferably laden with the sweetest, most delicious bounty the earth can offer, without it bringing harm to the people who cultivate it for us nor to their environment. Ironically, fewer food miles points to more money.


Today we'll discuss dirty laundry and what to do about it.

The Scottish clothes dryer is not a white box resembling a washing machine without all the knobs. Houses here are generally too small to accommodate a mechanical dryer, and operating one is expensive. In most cases the dryer is a plastic coated line that you string between a couple of trees. If you're cooped up in one of the four story Aberdeen row houses, you use your upstairs balcony or dangle the line from your windows. Everyone sees your laundry, dirty or otherwise. You'd think that you can't dry wet clothes outside, as water drips constantly from the sky. But folk gather their pile of dirty laundry for washing day, that morning when they spot a patch of blue in the gray skies, and decide whether they'll get a few hours of sunlight, or at least cloudy weather with a good breeze and none of the dripping stuff.

Just as in the States you stuff the washing machine. Though washing machines look like the boxes with knobs we have in the States, their resemblance ends there. The number of dials and knobs with cryptic labels send you quickly to the instruction manual. After half an hour with the manual and not much wiser, you hit a few knobs at random -- and water comes into the machine. The engine revves up. Or so it seems. The machine stops and starts and waits. That's its normal cycle, and it goes on for a couple of hours at least with the stop and start thing to convince you that something is wrong and you need to pull the plug on the monster. Except that the door is locked. The machine has got you my friend and will decide when and whether you get your clothes. You're about to hit it when it does stop, and lets you open it.

Amber did not want me to string our clothesline across our driveway. We don't want visitors to stare at our laundry and comment on our wardrobe's lack of stylishness. Or at the brand of underwear we use. So we settled for a drying room, a place every Scottish house has to use during days of endless rain that keep postponing washing day. It may be a disused closet, attic space or your bathroom -- just above your bathtub. Ours is the upstairs boiler room (BTW boiler = water heater in the US), larger than a closet with the boiler in one corner but enough space to string a couple of clothes lines. At the Aberdeen DIY hole in the wall I find the clothes line, wooden pegs, hooks and strong wall anchors. The line will have to support quite a weight. Before long I have two strands in place, after I had drilled a couple of ¾ inch holes in the wrong place. Not very useful but they add extra character to the wall.

Our laundry may not come out as wrinkle free as tumble dried clothes, but it will smell fresher. Besides, we're Scottish and get a high every time we save some money. We need it to pay for the cheese Amber buys at I.J. Mellis (our local Whole Foods).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Doing it Yourself (DIY) -- August 14, 2006

I was standing in a large hardware store, looking at tall pine boards. When I mentioned to the twenty something attendant that I wanted to build some furniture, he almost choked. I'm not sure he knew what one does with boards anyway.

Even the acronym, DIY sounds shady, a little like DWI. A DIY store is a hardware store, and there aren't many of them, the largest being B&Q, a clone of the Home Depot and judging by the similar layout probably owned by them. Thirty five years ago when I lived on this side of the Atlantic, DIY amounted to painting a room yourself or, if you were brave enough, wallpapering it. You didn't hear of intrepid souls who built their own furniture, fixed their cars, repaired their plumbing or, heaven forbid, built their house. Doing it yourself was regarded as definitely disreputable, like doing a bad job, Unprofessional, and not something that respectable people wanted to tangle with. Today it's catching on, but you still have to hunt for a hardware store. Aberdeen has a hole in the wall with the basics, but no building material.

When I arrived in the States, I knew how to paint and lay wallpaper. Leaving the States I can build furniture, carve wood, lay a plumbing line, repair appliances, work on cars and so on. I learned those arts first by living in a hippy commune and later working summers in a camp up in the Sierra Nevada as their maintenance man. American attitudes towards using your hands were different, at least in the seventies and eighties. That professionals will totally screw it up so you'd best do it yourself. Book learning isn't enough; you need to be able to do it with your hands. Who's going to board up your house in case of a hurricane but you?

But we need bookshelves to take care of those bulging cardboard boxes that still haven't left our living room. No problem. I measured the space available, sketched out what they'd look like and calculated how many feet of 1 x 10s I'd need. Six ten foot lengths would do. The lumber section in B&Q had many selections of pressed wood and prepared panels, ready to insert. I found the raw lumber in a warehouse in back. Where are my 1 x 10s? I find 20.1 mm x 265mm by 4m. Dismayed, I look to Amber for help, but she makes it clear that she hasn't got a metric to foot converter on her. I take out my paper pad. Good thing that I learned long division in school or I'd be sunk. The wood feels fresh, barely seasoned, and it's expensive. Almost twice what I'd pay for in the States. That may be why furniture here is so expensive. Wandering off to the tool section in search of a ¾ inch router bit, I get my next shock. Lots of millimeters and fractions of them stare at me from the display case. I take out my pen and paper again.

We push our cart loaded with metric lumber and tools to the checkout where I realize we're standing in line with professionals, not at all the DIY crowd. This point is reinforced as I tie down the lumber to the car's roof and look over a few acres of parking lot. All small cars and none with anything strapped to the roof.

Yesterday I sawed and routed out the wood, then glued up the bookshelves. I used power tools I had brought from the States, hooked up to a 120 to 250volt transformer. What was lumber now resembles furniture. And Amber was happy.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


As in Houston, Friday nights we like to pay a visit to the pub to sample the local brew. We've been to the Bieldside and found it nice enough but populated by the local good ol' boys, so we want to try a place where the working folk go, the Cults Hotel pub. Not wanting to drive back after beer or pay eight pounds for a taxi, we're left with our legs, or bicycle, and last night we chose the bicycle.

Leaving Gairn Park and crossing the one lane stone bridge -- we encounter the first hill. Coming from the Texas flats and not trained up for hills, we dismount and push the bikes up the grade. Though cars whiz by us on the narrow road, they see our flashy yellow jackets and give us the space we need. At the top of the hill we strike the dirt road through the piney wood, a speedy though bumpy downhill stretch past fern glades. At the edge of the wood the track joins a narrow path through a hilly field. Large gorse bushes scratch us as we pedal past. Also large wild raspberry stands, their branches laden with very sweet fruit. Walking the trail earlier we filled up on them. The path ends in a copse of beech trees where we drag our bikes onto a dirt road. All downhill from here, to the single lane asphalt road that takes us to the main road. We pass barley fields, once filled with golden stalks, now freshly mown, fields of stubble with straw in straight lanes waiting for the baling machine. Thicker raspberry bushes line the road, but this time we don't stop to sample them. At the main road, we find a bike lane, a good thing because the heavy traffic is nerve-racking. We pedal through Bieldside and onto Cults, an Aberdeen suburb where folk drive cars with snobbish license plates.

As we lock up our bikes outside the Cults Hotel, I wonder whether we'll find mostly expats and the well to do, but my concern fades when I see a couple of guys, beer in hand, smoking outside a small side-door where formerly the servants crept in so as not to be seen by the posh guests. It takes us to a small room where men and women, mostly middle aged wearing jeans and simple tops stood about in small groups. Broad Scots shouted everywhere, the small talk about folk and goings on. I bought a couple of pints and we stood near the pool table where a couple of guys took precise shots at a dwindling number of balls. We talked about our day, family and people we had left in Houston. A man standing next to us said, "Now, there's a couple of Amerreeecans over there." "Who's American?" I say. "I was born in Perth." He returns a doubtful look, no doubt because of my mongrel accent. He nods at Amber's sneakers, the only ones in the pub, and a dead giveaway. As I re-order, I listen for any conversation about the terrorist plot. The barman discusses with a customer how a common acquaintance was delayed a day at Heathrow, but that's the extent of the interest. The animated shouts and talk don't suggest that terrorists dampened anyone's spirits.

Leaving the pub we push our bikes up a well traveled two lane road out of Cults. Where the grade is easier we mount and ride through woods, a mile to the top of the hill. From there, it's level or downhill to Gairn Park. On both sides we pass fields framed by stone walls, the tops overgrown with thick moss. Time and the lack of cement left the walls half collapsed in places. Embedded in each wall is a concrete manger, once used for water and now dry. Black and white cattle sit or lie down in the grass, taking a rest from a long day of cropping the grass and thoughtful chewing.

It's after eight in the evening, and the sky is still bright, at least for a couple more hours.

Thursday, August 10, 2006



So there we are sitting in our living room. The hills reflect the evening sunlight in bright gold. The many hues of gray and light blue are like in a watercolor painting. Though we could sit for hours with nothing but that sky for companionship, today we decided to watch a movie. Until the TV screen went blank. We could hear the sound, but not a flicker showed on that plasma screen. We struggled with every button but nothing. Nada.

We've owned the tube for two and a half weeks, so it seemed straight forward to return it to Comet, our local equivalent of Circuit City. Amber was soon talking to the lady in customer service who tried to sound sympathetic. "Oh, I'm sorry you've had bad luck. Most tellies last for more than two weeks." The way the woman washed her hands of the television sent Amber's blood pressure through the roof. But the woman had a solution. In a week's time a technician would visit the house, look at the television and certify: "This television has expired. It has gone to meet its maker." He'd write us a ticket and armed with that, we'd drive to the store and hope the store had a TV to give us in exchange.

Amber called me and blasted my ear off, so I asked around the office. Is this how it works here? Can't you take the thing back to the store, like in the US? Most said, yes -- but customer service as in the US is a bit of a novelty here. I repeated this to Amber and suggested she talk to a manager and insist on our right to return the TV within our 28 days. The manager she reached listened, then in a low voice asked if she knew of "the Beach store." That's where all the technicians are. No, you can't just return a broken TV. We won't accept it unless a technician certifies that it is broken. In an even lower voice he whispered to her the phone number. Upon calling "the Beach store" she reaches a man who demands -- "How did you get this number?" "Have I reached MI5 or the CIA by mistake?" she asks. "Who gave you this number? I want his name?" She says something about the Comet store where she learned the number. After fifteen more minutes on the phone, the man suddenly pauses. "Did you say two and a half weeks?" "Yes, three times."
"Oh, that washed over me. I'll call you back and see if I can get someone to you quickly."

He calls back. "Yes, we'll get someone to the house in two days. By the way, that man who divulged this phone number had been taken care of." No -- this is MI5 and they sent out James Bond to bump off the squealer.

In between these calls Amber is waiting for a new bed to be delivered from the Bed Shed. She calls the store in Aberdeen for an ETA. After five rings the phone rolls over to a fax machine. Calls again: "This phone is busy. Please call later." So she calls another store in the same chain. After three rings the voice says, "This number does not accept calls." Perhaps the store discourages phone calls since most are from disgruntled customers. Real customers don't phone but show up at the store to spend their money.

The bed arrives. The men lift out various cartons and pieces of wood, and park them at the door. "They go upstairs," Amber says, trying to look imposing. "Ma'm," the delivery lead man says. "We're not authorized to enter your house." "But I can't carry all this, and my husband has a bad back. Do you expect us carry all this upstairs AND to screw it together. I'm not a furniture maker. You are." He looks crestfallen. "Ma'm, I drive the truck. That is my truck. I'm not from the furniture store. The only people I assemble beds for are the elderly or invalids. But we'll bring it in for you." He really didn't want to, but Amber, steeled by her TV experience must have looked like a thunderstorm about to strike him dead.

So the pieces end up in our bedroom. After draining a bottle of champagne, Amber and I tackled the bed. Searching a while we found screws and four lines of assembly instructions taped to the inside of a long, seemingly empty carton. I assembled the bed, but had seven screws left over. The instructions ran out of lines before they mentioned them, so I tossed the screws into my tool chest and lay down on the bed.

We slept well last night.

Monday, August 07, 2006

This is a short story about mushrooms, but you have to wait for it. As Paul would say, "Only one kind of mushroom can be cultivated, the rest cannot be tamed." A mushroom is still mysterious. It grows where and when it pleases. It grows at its own pace and on its own time.

I'm not sure what it is that convinces the human heart to follow its dream; nor what implores us, in the presence of fear and obstacle and anticipated loss to push onward and liberate the personal magnetism of the soul. I'm not sure why some do and some don't, likewise, why some can and some can't. No more than I am aware of what properties come together which actually ignite the dream of the individual. I do know, however, that for me it was as obvious as a leaf on a tree. I knew what was missing and I knew that I would ultimately suffer tremendous sadness if I didn't at least identify the heartbeat of my dream and then take it seriously enough to listen to what it was saying.

I was twenty five when I came to Europe for the first time and apart from the deluge of the physical and visual unfamiliarity, I remember the parallel feelings of weariness and relief as one might experience from having been away on a very long journey and then the return home again. I can't possibly know to what I should have attributed this overwhelming sense of harmony, I just know that when I witnessed the old woman as she walked upon the cobblestones with her sack of groceries, I was watching myself. I saw myself in the cheese shop, at the fishmonger, in the deli, at the bakery, in the pub and at the wine bar; I saw myself by the sea and on the hillside, in the smell of the freshly baked bread and the fragrance of homemade soup that calls one to lunch, I saw myself there and it took a fast hold where it has come to settle in the green pastures of Scotland.

Never could I have known the magnitude to which the old woman on the cobblestone path would have manifested in my life, even though I was keenly aware of how inseparable we were. Still, had you described to me five years ago my life as it is now, I would have thought you were reading a chapter from a novel. I would have suggested it might have been something summoned up by the Bronte sisters to keep themselves amused and warm in the dead of winter. I would not have imagined that it could have been me off to the docks in Aberdeen to hand pick the fish, to come home and make the soup, to gather the herbs from the garden, to bake the bread fresh, to ride my bike to market, to walk among the fox glove and the wild raspberries…but so it was on a warm summer night some weeks ago in Scone while I was staying with Rose that Paul came to visit and we took a walk in the wood.

I had never seen but a few mushrooms scattered around, here and there, and certainly wouldn't know how to differentiate the poisonous from the edible, but Paul has told endless stories about them since I met him. Kieniewicz folklore. The Poles teach their children how to identify a mushroom in the open before they teach them how to read. Then they teach them how to clean and cook them. Poles are very covetous when it comes to their mushrooms. They will never disclose the whereabouts of their haul, in fact, the most you might get out of a successful hunter is when asked where they found such delicacies they'll raise their arm in the direction of no place identifiable and assert, "Over there." Well, where over there, the amateur persists. "Over there," it comes again until you realize that is all you're going to get.

Paul is always on the look out for a good crop of mushrooms, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago when we went up the path behind Rose's house known as Lactarius Lane that my understanding of what makes the mushroom hunt so exciting would awaken even though I was cautioned it was too early for mushrooms and I shouldn't expect any (important to note here my already secret envy of these stories, especially the way he would describe them with such animation and his reference to fairies and the unconscious really stimulated my longing to stumble upon the pot of gold, nevertheless, I was convinced I'd never see more than the few scattered around, here and there, as I sensed you had to be born into this secret society and that "by marriage" alone would at most make you beneficiary of the story, but nothing more), still "one should always take a bag into the woods, never go there unprepared." (This, according to the Paul K. manual of mushroom hunting).

So were the circumstances when I spotted my first row of mushrooms. They were never ending. "There's one," I shrieked. "And another, and another." I could hardly contain myself. They were everywhere. "Paul, look at this one, look at that one, what about this one?" After about an hour and a near sack full of mushrooms, we decided to leave some for the fairies.

We got back to Rose's house late. After ten. She was up reading and when she saw the bag of mushrooms, she too got excited. Soon, we were all in the kitchen cleaning them, drinking red wine and the echo of Polish folk tales resounded everywhere. It was July 22nd, the day that Henry (Paul's father) was buried. We had gone to mass earlier in the day and then to the grave side where the roses were blooming in abundance on and around the head stone. Then came the mushrooms. Rose was convinced that the flowers and the luck in the wood were Henry's doing.

The next day I took the large, succulent caps and fried them in butter. Then I toasted white bread, a humble pedestal for the noble mushroom and we feasted. I must say that I now understand, not through anything I could describe in words necessarily, but I understand why Paul sometimes looks longingly to the woods and simply says, "So, shall we go for a nice long walk?" and then grabs a bag on the way out the door.

Thank you Henry for bringing us Paul and thank you Paul for being the all of you that you are and thanks to the old woman on the cobblestone path who guided me to this side of paradise.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

BOOKS EVERYWHERE -- Confessions of a junkie -- August 3

We knew the day would come when we're standing in our living room surrounded by a thicket of boxes. The sofa emerges from its paper wrapping then legs and boards with screw holes from disassembled tables. Bit and pieces of a telescope, then items shaped like pretzels with clinking parts that go straight to the garage. The first couple of days we do the easy part of assembling furniture, putting away the kitchen so that our palatial house looks lived in -- albeit by a couple of 60s hippies. But then we have to face the inevitable cube-like boxes with all of our books.

The guys who unloaded our container noticed them and shook their heads each time they picked up one more. Our book collection doubled when Amber and I got married. We didn't read the same books, and couldn't weed out duplicates. Why the hell do we hang onto them? What are the chances that I'm going to dip into that Polish scifi novel I finished ten years ago, or the Neil Gunn kitchen-sink novel set in the Hebrides that I couldn't get into? I must be nuts to keep so many when these days it takes me a month to plough through a paperback. Then there are our piles of non fiction books, an endless blether of people's opinions on life, the universe and so on. Or accounts of their experiences. Amber's boxed cookbooks accumulated over twenty years, stand floor to ceiling along one wall. Unopened these boxes sat in our Houston garage for a year, keeping my book boxes company. I doubt the contents will enjoy a brighter existence in Bonnie Scotland.

As writers, we must think that books are somehow important or why would we want to spill more ink on paper and cut down more trees for paper? Yet when I walk into Waterstones (the local Barnes & Noble) and stare at the endless paperbacks on the shelves, or stacks of bestsellers on the floor, I feel the irresistible urge to put a match to the lot. After I've walked out with a small armload of volumes worth hanging onto. It's not because Waterstones doesn't carry "Immortality Machine", at least not yet. It's because there's so much stuff, repetitive plots, many of them badly written, published for no merit other than their ability to generate money. Stacks of displays with Da Vinci Code derivatives bombard you at the door. Three times I tried to read the book, but the choppy sentence construction caused me so much pain that I had to stop. Evidently the reading public doesn't have my problem, but then I cannot stomach McDonald's burgers, Budwieser, Desperate Housewives, Big Brother or other best sellers.

Staring at my bookshelf, I realize that I value the books because I worked so hard to fish them out of the sea of chaff, and then found them delightful or inspiring in some way. A few bestsellers like "The Lord of the Rings" grace Waterstones' shelves today, but most don't. They're obscure volumes that lost money when they were first published. I've read "A Voyage to Arcturus" ten times. The first edition sold four hundred copies. Its author later died from bad teeth. The book is still in print but Waterstones has no room on its shelves. They need the space for Dan Brown, Jackie Collins and the ever expanding Crime section.

One day I'll have to face the unpleasant truth that we're just book junkies. Need the stuff around for an occasional fix, but can't get rid of it.

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