Belfast Telegraph

Rab's Week: Why I shelved plans to dump all my books

By Robert McNeil

Seeing all those thousands of books dumped in a skip in Londonderry was like a dream come true for me. Not necessarily a good dream, either. I really felt for the owners of the former Bookworm store, which went into receivership. The contents of the business had to be disposed of, so the public were invited to help themselves. It was a nice gesture, providing a boon to book-loving folks. But I doubt if I'd have wanted to be among them.

I've too many books already. I keep ordering them, every week, rarely finishing any, inevitably disillusioned about a quarter of the way in. It's all part of the growing realisation: the truth isn't out there.

You know that feeling you get when you enter a bookstore or library: there must be something in here that makes sense of it all. Doesn't have to be a heavy tome of non-fiction.

Ideas are often best expressed in fiction, though I'm not sure I'd recommend the Sartre and Hamsun that took up so much of my youth. On reflection, I'd have been better going down the discotheque. It's not just the feeling that the books don't have the answers. It's their sheer weight, the physical encumbrance of them.

Often, my mind turns to taking off somewhere, starting a new life, but then I think: "But how could I move all these books?"

I've done it umpteen times, and it's a hellish exercise that I no longer want to repeat. So I thought: "Why not just dump the lot, along with absolutely all my possessions?"

Crikey, there's a thought. How free would one feel? That's why pictures of the scene in Derry resonated with me.

Relax. Although I've had these thoughts frequently of late, I know it's not going to happen. I'd feel free for five minutes before pining for that dog-eared copy of Tolkien.

The books have become a part of me. All sorts of books. Never mind great truths, I read Star Trek novels, Jack Reacher thrillers, and a little bit of PG Wodehouse nearly every day (I keep him in the loo, just beside the cabinet containing my wigs and false beards).

I suppose I'll keep on looking – mostly on Amazon now – for that one tome that explains it all. But, in the meantime, I'll always find time for a tale about Mr Spock's early life on the planet Vulcan.

Friday: Wise between the ears and beyond her years

Big Brother house hopeful Ashleigh Coyle, from Londonderry, runs self-esteem classes for young women.

Last time I looked I was not a young woman and I've no esteem at all. So I'm hardly qualified to comment. But the lass is only 18. Must have a mature head on these young shoulders.

Saturday: Fantasy costume drama fantastic

Yay for Comic Con. The first MCM event came to Belfast's King's Hall for the weekend, allowing sci-fi folks to dress up and mingle with like-minded fantasists.

And I mean "fantasists" in the positive sense of the word.

Anything that essays escape from grim reality is good enough for me.

You have to admire someone who spends £400 creating a Commander Sheppard costume from the game Mass Effect, as did Ballymoney man Jim Steele.

I'm unfamiliar with that genre but admire Jim's dedication.

Given the choice, I'd have gone as Captain Mal from Firefly, though not with his famously tight trousers.

Sunday: Rathlin to Japan's rescue

It's nice when a mother and her son can help other parts of the world with seaweed. Doubly so when it's a part of the world that scoffs the stuff avidly, particularly in miso soup.

Kate Burns and son Benji McFaul hope to export the macroscopic, multicellular, benthic marine algae (thanks, Wikipedia) to Japan, where stocks were hit by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Operating from Rathlin island, off the north Antrim coast, Kate and Benji are growing thousands of tonnes of kelp on ropes. And they're employing four Rathlin residents as lab technicians. Let's hope their venture is more hit than miso.

Monday: Hope that Friday feeling overwhelms my boss soon

Though this appears under Monday, the day the shock news broke, the subject under advisement is Friday. What shock news? This: the revelation that, increasingly, bosses are letting their staff go home or to the pub at 1 o'clock on Fridays.

The "evidence" is anecdotal but was sufficient to generate a headline or three, even if you think the practice can only apply to other people far away in another land where aircraft swerve to avoid flying pigs. Here's the skinny: realising that the "Friday feeling" causes production to wear off, particularly in the afternoon, employers have concluded that staff might as well push off home.

Said employers include publishers Pan Macmillan and Penguin Random House, cosmetics outfit L'Oreal, online fashion firm Asos, and cereal giants Kellogg's. Good for them, we say. The five-day week is more or less medieval. It should have been banned by the EU ages ago.

Tuesday: What's eating Tara? Men...

I was never a fan of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, but now that she's become a recluse I find myself warming to her.

You may recall her from some years ago when she was never out of the papers as one of those people famous for being famous.

Now she's never out of the house, so she could be an actual recluse as distinct from a media recluse, which is anyone who doesn't play ball and give interviews.

Her reclusiveness has complex causes relating to paranoia and anxiety occasioned by drug-taking. But a television documentary with top sociologist Jeremy Kyle revealed even more disturbing news: she won't have boyfriends because she cannot bear the way men eat.

At the time of going to Press, I've few further details. What could she mean? The slurping? The burping? The indecent haste? It's enough to make any man feel paranoid and anxious.

Belfast Telegraph

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