Travel Tribute to H V Morton and Wales

This faded old book jumped out at me.  I believe interconnections exist everywhere in many forms but none so strongly as with books.

I spied this hardback ‘In Search of Wales’ by H.V. Morton, with sixteen illustrations and a map, resting on one of the tables at UQ Alumni Book Fair.  It was published by Methuen & Co. Ltd London in 1932 and purchased by the Parliamentary Library in Queensland, Australia, on 27 July 1932.  My photographs don’t convey the substance of this volume.

Apart from my purchase giving me a tenuous Queensland connection, since I have been blogging I have come to know bloggers from Wales like Book Jotter, and people with ties to Wales, so I guess I was curious to find out some early 20th century history.

There is a city named Ipswich, west of the capital Brisbane, Queensland, and it has Welsh heritage from the founding families, the legacy of coal mines, and street names I can’t pronounce.  It was going to be our capital city but being situated inland away from sea ports (and always hotter in summer) Brisbane took over the coveted position.

When I look at the B&W images in this book, I can’t help but feel strong emotion for those Welsh families, the people who came to Queensland in 1851 and started afresh.  Whether it was out of necessity, assisted passage, general interest or just sheer bravery, it was a long way to come to start a new life in a totally different land.

The three photos (below) are 1. Cornfields, 2. Druid ceremony conducted by the Archdruid at the Gorsedd Stone, 3. Cockle women of Penclawdd on the seashore.  It looks cold!  Throughout there are two-page spreads of dramatic valleys, stoney castles and heartbreaking portraits of mining men and soot-covered boys.

My new old book was deleted from the Old Parliament Library catalogue on 22 October 1996 and I wondered where it had been since then.  ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘I am enjoying it now on 10 May 2019’.  Then I saw a small pencilled Dewey notation on the back cover map UL914.29 Mor.  It had probably languished in the University Library.

As yet I haven’t tracked down all the details of author, Henry Vollam Morton, and even though he was a well-known journalist and travel writer, the information in the final pages doesn’t give much away.  There is an insightful personal comment (photo below) which ends with three tiny icons, perhaps foreshadowing today’s social media links.

Further material tells me that the author’s book ‘…is more than a travel book, it is a sensitive interpretation of a country’s people and their history.’  He wrote a series called ‘The Search Books’ and further along it reads ‘Since that time Mr Morton’s gay and informative travels…have gained him thousands of readers.’

At this late stage, a book review would be rather tricky—okay, it would be hard for me to get my head around.  H.V. Morton travels far and wide through Wales and writes in depth.  The voice, the style of that era (nicer than brash Bill Bryson) is easy to read and written in a friendly, personal way with warmth in every chapter.  Allowing for the off-key words we don’t use today, there is factual information and humorous stories, and in Chapter Six he asks the usual traveller’s question and receives a great reply—

“The first village, commonly and charitably called Llanfair, provides the stranger with an impossible task among the Welsh place-names.
Its title is: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandysiliogogogoch

This is no joke.  It is only too true!  The full name, however, is never used but it appears only slightly amputated in the Ordnance Survey maps.
The postal name is Llanfair P.G. or Llanfairpwll.

I entered the first inn and said to those who were drinking in the bar ‘I will buy anyone a drink who can pronounce the full name of this place.’
There was an ominous silence until an old man, finishing his beer, stood up and sang it!

‘And what does it mean?’ I asked.
‘It means,’ I was told, ‘the Church of St Mary in a wood of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St Tysilio’s cave close to a red cave’.” 

Sounds magical to me.  Daith yn hapus!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

IMG_20190509_132036
Another beautiful coincidence – it is not springtime in Australia, it is cool autumn weather. Yet these daffodils, a Welsh symbol, were outside my local supermarket the day after I purchased the book at UQ Alumni Book Fair.

Pets Stop People Travelling


  • Australians really love their pet pals – one in three won’t go on holidays because it would mean leaving their pet behind.  A recent survey examined the lifestyle of 1,000 pet owners regarding the impact pets have on their travel habits.  I found the results interesting.

 

  • National Seniors and Trusted Housesitters research demonstrates that with 5.7 million households owning a pet in Australia (over 13 million people) roughly four million people choose to stay at home rather than holidaying due to concerns about their pet’s well-being.

 

  • Apparently those who did take a break (69%) said they had felt guilty when leaving their pet behind, while over one-third of Australian pet owners (36%) have turned down a weekend away, citing being unable to arrange pet care as the reason.

 

  • Pets often disrupt their owners’ social lives, with 18% of respondents having regularly missed social engagements in favour of staying at home to ensure their pets were cared for.  Of those surveyed, 6% avoided going on dates, choosing their pets over romance.

 

  • When it comes to Australian pet owners who regularly take holidays, 29% opted for a trusted pet sitter versus putting their pet in a boarding kennel (21%), while 35% of pet owners organised friends or family to care for their furry friend.

 

  • One in four participants said they would never travel overseas or interstate without their pet.  Presumably this pet is a dog and the owner is wealthy!

 

  • In a British study of veterinary experts conducted by Trusted Housesitters UK, 100% believed animals responded better to a new carer than a new environment, as animals were particularly bonded to their home.  Is there bias in this result?

 

  • I’m not making any pronouncements for-or-against.  I’ve loved and cared for every one of my darling pets and by making arrangements in advance, none ever stopped me from travelling away from home.  But the guilt was there.

 

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Baking Bread and Growing Mandarins

Two loaves of home-baked bread with garlic on top and grated cheese inside, eaten with chicken and corn soup.  Entrée nibbles were baby beetroot leaves, sliced sausage and home-grown mandarin (tangerine) pieces.  The mandarin tree is about 45 years old but still produces a juicy citrus crop each winter.

One of my earlier posts https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2017/07/15/garden-notes-on-a-warm-winter-day/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Clothes Shoes Food

Shoes Winter Spring Summer

There’s no disputing that clothes, shoes and food make the world go around.  The order depends on your preference.  I would have listed food first but today I’m talking about shoes.  Why?  Because I wear shoes out of necessity and make my favourite pair last for years.

Summertime footwear is usually sandals or thongs, no, not that kind, the flip-flops/jandals kind.  And wintertime is usually a closed-in toe like runners/joggers/sandshoes.  I have black work shoes and lace-up boots for walking, and flat heels and small heels being the most versatile for social occasions.

I like matching accessories, however, my shoes are usually the least prominent colour.  Recently I purchased a shiny rose gold-pewter casual pair of flatties and I love them.  They go with a lot of things and they are comfy.  My maroon old-lady slippers haven’t had a workout yet (summertime lingers in the subtropics) but my shiny flatties are just as good for pottering around the house.  The best part is that the shoe shop where I purchased them had a sale day.  Need I say more…

The ramblings above make it appear that I have many pairs of shoes but in actual fact I do not.  Of course, there’s the old, forgotten ones shoved to the back of the wardrobe, e.g. closet, gathering dust and mould.  The strappy, bling-covered pair which contain good memories; the 1980s white leather and wood health clogs; the brown leather knee-high boots which cost me a month’s wages (much admired by family and friends) now growing mildew.

Not so long ago I had a foot problem due to a gardening incident and suffered much pain even when inactive.  Treatment and recovery were slow, I spent a lot of time babying my foot which became a nuisance.  My heel had throbbed at random intervals, even though I inserted every kind of foot pad imaginable into the sole of my shoe…but not all at once!

My foot injury made me very aware of good shoe support and good advice from a doctor or podiatrist.  Never underestimate the importance of your “plates of meat” as Cockney slang might say.  Feet get you from A to B carrying the complete load of your body.  Support them!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

WordPress Like Tally on Blog
500 Likes – Thank you!

Childhood Status Symbol

Umbrella The SeeThrough Raincoat and Brolly (2)

When we grow up we don’t really shed childhood.  It is tucked away inside us, nice and quiet, suppressed by what we perceive as Adult Behaviour.  Until something triggers that child-proof gate.  Our sillies jump out!  Irrepressible, childlike joy will spring into our hearts, gleam in our eyes and beam from our faces.  Oldies will smile benignly at us but a child will shriek with delight because they understand.  Anything can trigger your past.  A puppy, red shoes, a TV show, theatre tickets, sweets, that winning point, a favourite song, splashing in a puddle with a clear plastic umbrella, er, wait, what was that?  “A clear plastic umbrella?” said Adult Voice.  Yes, when I was young, the most coveted accessory for primary school students was a clear plastic umbrella.  The plastic was plain, you could see the metal spokes through it and the handle was white.It was enthralling to watch raindrops falling on a see-through umbrella held over your friend’s head, water trickling off and dripping onto the ground while she stayed dry.  If you were really fancy (or your father had enough money for kids fripperies) you could buy them with ladybirds or slices of fruit and suchlike imprinted on them.  If you were really rich (and more of a teenager) you teamed it with a short skirt, beehive hairdo and white vinyl go-go boots with lipstick to match.  Trés chic.I haven’t researched this but I’m pretty sure one or two models would have slinked down the catwalk twisting a clear plastic umbrella shaped like a mushroom.  Or, shock horror, wearing a clear plastic raincoat!  “Personally I think you would sweat horribly inside one of those,” said Adult Voice. Anyhow, here comes the sad part.  I was not one of the groovy girls, I never owned a clear plastic umbrella.Somehow I managed to survive the ignominy of having a pale blue nylon umbrella.  Its saving grace was a real bamboo handle and it lasted for years.  Once I left it on the bus and my parents tracked it down in the city council’s lost property office.  Hard to believe now, but there it was in all its pale blue opaque glory.  I have since owned a stylish British brolly, frilly French parapluie, Winnie-the-Pooh bear parasol and various brands in various colours mainly used as sunshades. Until last week, drum roll please, when I came across a clear plastic umbrella hanging on a sale rack.  It was the standard shape, with the usual opening and closing action and it was only a couple of dollars.  Sold!  I actually whooped with excitement.  Finally, a dream come true.  “Pity it’s a clear sunny day,” said Adult Voice.  I brushed this aside.  Once I was out of crowd eye-range, I shook it out.  So clear, so transparent, so useless in the glare of a hot day.  “Be quiet,” I snapped at Adult Voice.  I pushed the umbrella open and twirled it wildly above my head.  I’d made it.  I had joined the Groovy Girls.  My childish delight brimmed over!  And delight brings recollections.My very own CPU has flourished several times in light rain, occasionally the plastic will stick together, but that doesn’t stop me opening it just to marvel at the concept.  Truly, an umbrella worth waiting for.  Now I’m thinking about those white vinyl go-go boots...

 Gretchen Bernet-Ward

More umbrellas https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2018/04/21/hrh-queen-elizabeth-ii-birthday/

Adam Ant ‘Stand and Deliver’ Book Review

You will recognise the name Adam Ant if you were young in 1980s and into the romantic New Wave neo-punk era of glam pop music.  Adam and The Ants created a unique niche for themselves with significantly different music and lyrics, fantasy and plenty of make-up and dress-up.  The title of his autobiography is from their popular song “Stand and Deliver” wherein the video Adam famously dives through a glass window onto a medieval banquet table.  The Ants topped the charts and in 1981 had seven singles including “Stand and Deliver” in UK Top 40 simultaneously.

At this time, Adam was a hugely successful singer/songwriter/performer and his onstage fashions were widely copied.  He was a manic whirlwind of an entertainer, which the fans adored.  His antics usually eclipsed his Ant band, although they were immortalise in “Ant Music”, a single which spent five weeks at No.1 on the charts in Australia.  Mostly, it was all about Adam.  This subsequently took a terrible toll on him physically and mentally.  After detailing his early life, which drastically shaped his adult life (explaining why he didn’t drink or smoke hence the satirical song “Goody Two-Shoes”) his autobiography takes off.  It chronologically details his dysfunctional private life, diagnosis of bipolar disorder, knee reconstruction surgery and the highs and lows of his career.

THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, MAYBE NOT…

Fans know that Adam is not his real name and I was surprised by the chapter on how and why he had the sudden idea to reinvent himself.  After a failed band, a suicide attempt, and recovering from a bout of depression, he walked away from it to start afresh.  He ditched his old name Stuart Leslie Goddard and adopted the persona of Adam.  He married young and his estranged yet loyal wife touchingly changed her name to Eve.  The Ant band came later, named after ants because they are industrious little creatures and I think he respected their work ethic.  Adam Ant was born.

Press quote: “Adam Ant’s tongue-in-cheek tunes are delivered with an excess of flair and good humour” 

My main impression of Adam during the peak of his fame is handsome, self-obsessed, cheekily image conscious when his mood was good; a control freak and not a particularly caring person when he was down.  His personal album photographs show women or band members draped around or nearby Adam but never him exhibiting any closeness to them.  Not so much a character trait, as an example of how his early family life shaped his view of the world.  No Commitment seems to be his subconscious catch cry.  Listen to the insightful words of his song “Friend or Foe”.  Even by fickle music industry standards, he never stayed in one place too long.  The only place he maintained for any length of time was his beloved London flat in Primrose Hill so when he burned out, he took time out.

Over all, I feel he keeps the reader at arm’s length, divulging certain things (often what was already public knowledge at the time – I know ‘cos I was an admirer) and keeping some juicier bits for another time.  Understandably so, particularly in the areas of his love life.  Adam gives the impression he expected fidelity from the woman who shared his life at the time but when it came to his basic urges, he had no misgivings.  Adam used women as one would use headache tablets.  If he was depressed, a woman became his natural high, a temporary escape from his troubles.  Troubles both real and imagined.  He slept with many female friends, fans and famous ladies who appeared to fall under the spell of his charismatic personality.  Many found out after a couple of weeks that he had a “glitch”.  Some struggled bravely to help him, he married twice, his mother stayed supportive, two creepy women stalked him, but most just walked away.

Adam has loaded his book with crazy incidents and name-dropping snippets like meeting Queen Elizabeth II, dating film stars or how a current friend would turn up in his rock video.  He had No.1 albums, knew influential creatives in the music business and certainly mingled with some high profile, artistic people.  A point which stands out for me is when Adam Ant became famous outside UK, he had no problems with money.  Sure, he had to criss-cross the Atlantic at various times during the year to avoid British taxes but he never seemed to want for anything. He’d buy a new house or jump onto a plane like the average person might catch a bus.  This did not help his mental stability and he suffered sleep deprivation, hallucinations and irrational fears which undermined his future.

Adam Ant tattoo: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes”

This autobiography has an epilogue but it finishes prior to his comeback.  Adam Ant has since added movies and further tours to his list.  He will again be in concert 2018 touring UK and USA.  He’s now older, stockier (due to medication side-effects) and much wiser with a grown-up daughter Lily Goddard.  Anyone who reads this book will applaud his struggles and triumphs in the volatile and demanding world of music.

Number 1 ‘Stand and Deliver’
From: ‘Prince Charming’ (1981)
Number 2 ‘Antmusic’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 3 ‘Dog Eat Dog’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 4 ‘Beat My Guest’
From: Single B-side (1980)
Number 5 ‘Car Trouble’
From: ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ (1979)
Number 6 ‘Physical (You’re So)’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 7 ‘Vive Le Rock’
From: ‘Vive Le Rock’ (1985)
Number 8 ‘Prince Charming’
From: ‘Prince Charming’ (1981)
Number 9 ‘Killer in the Home’
From: ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ (1980)
Number 10 ‘Desperate But Not Serious’
From: ‘Friend or Foe’ (1982)

Ten Best Adam Ant Songs : courtesy of Dave Swanson on Diffuser FM.
http://diffuser.fm/best-adam-ant-songs/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

WordPress 100 Posts Milestone

Coffee Shop Wisdom

Platitudes, rather hippy dippy and old hat, short sugar-coated sentences designed to bolster the ‘feels’ of a younger generation.  Look again.  Each line creates an emotion, a memory jog, that tingle of happiness to the down-surge of sadness.  Regret is there, the wince for things done wrong, then the smile for laughing out loud when you get it right.  Basic universal rules for living.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

IMG_20171214_133048

‘Work-Life Balance is a Myth’ Review

Integrate by John Drury
Whole-of-life plan

Traditional work-life balance means separate compartments in our lives, but lines can become blurred, pressure can build and conflicts emerge.  Instead of working against each other, integration means all parts can work together to achieve a positive outcome for our lifestyle expectations.  Then realisation that your work-life balance is “out of kilter” will no longer apply.  I wish I had read this book before my divorce!

John Drury is a presenter, trainer, facilitator, and author of new book “Integrate” which challenges busy people to rethink their approach to life and work.  “The demands of work have never been greater.  A balancing act is not the answer.  Work-life integration is the only way forward in a 24/7 world” says Drury, whose painful personal experience with burnout, and subsequent recovery while in a senior leadership role, motivated him to start helping other high achievers create and maintain a realistic lifestyle.

In his book, Drury outlines a way to align all the parts of your life so they work in unison.  He says “This takes effort, but it’s well worth it and the end result will give you a schedule far easier to work with than just a big juggling act which no-one ever seems to make work.”  He believes that you must look after yourself at your very core; respect your health, your wellness, your relationships and your work commitments.

In John Burfitt’s interview, Drury explains that self-care and implementing achievable self-management strategies are essential.  Drury goes on to say that once important areas are defined and outlined, it becomes a matter of making decisions and planning goals “And you must do that, as a goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Integrate by John Drury 02
Image is an edited extract from Chapter 3 of “Integrate: Why work-life balance is a myth and what you need to create a fulfilling lifestyle” by John Drury  John Drury.biz

Further reading: “Integrate” by John Drury

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Saturday is young … then

Sebastian 003

Boredom sets in––

Think of something
Not cooking
Not cleaning
Not walking
Not tai chi
Not writing
Not doing anything

Boredom sets in––

Start a project
Ideas flow
Creativity expands
Love it
Best work ever
I can do more
Much more

Boredom sets in––

It is tricky
It is hard
It will never end
Why did I start
I don’t like it
I hate this thing
Had enough

Boredom sets in.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

 


Boredom – even the explanations are boring!  Etymology and terminology:

(1) In conventional usage, boredom is an emotional or psychological state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, is not interested in his or her surroundings or feels that a day or period is dull or tedious.

(2) ‎The word boredom comes from a device called a “boring tool”, a kind of drill that works slowly and repetitively; around 1768, bore, meaning “be tiresome” became a popular slang term and the word “boredom” soon followed.


 

Love Food Hate Waste Campaign

Brisbane Queensland Australia 05
Brisbane Queensland Australia

Maybe it’s because I was brought up by post-war parents that I am shocked at the staggering amount of food waste in Brisbane.  I could not understand why our local Government has joined the world-wide campaign Love Food Hate Waste.  Surely you only buy, cook and eat what you need and freeze leftovers?

Apparently for millions of households, it’s not that simple!

The Council brochure states “Love Food Hate Waste was launched in 2007 by Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) in the United Kingdom followed by New Zealand, Canada and Australia.  With food waste making up 37% of the average Brisbane rubbish bin, 1 in 5 shopping bags of food ends up in the bin.  That’s 97,000 tonnes of food thrown away every year.   There are simple and practical changes which residents can make in the kitchen to reduce food waste; planning, preparation and storage of food will make a big difference to your wallet and keep Brisbane clean, green and sustainable.”

Scramble over the mat, don’t trip on the dog, here’s a tasty listicle of Council wisdom prepared earlier:

  • Plan meals ahead – create a meal plan based on what is already in your fridge, freezer and pantry.
  • Shop mindfully – stick to your shopping list!
  • Store food correctly – Learn how to store food to ensure it lasts as long as possible and check your refrigerator is functioning at maximum efficiency.
  • Cook with care – Without controlling portions, we tend to waste food when we prepare or cook too much.  Remember fruit and vegetables ripen quickly and are best consumed daily.
  • Love your leftovers – Freeze leftovers to use for lunches, keep for snacks, or add to another main meal.
  • Consider composting – Turn your kitchen scraps into rich nutrients for your garden, get a Bokashi bucket, consider owning pets like chickens or guinea pigs.
  • Join a community garden – Composting hubs operate in selected community gardens.
  • Six-week food waste challenge – Every week the Council will provide step-by-step information on how you can reduce food waste in your home.  Seriously.

Bokashi Bucket Diagram 01

We are over-stocked, over-fed and over-indulgent of our taste buds.  Or as my dear mother would say “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Love Food Hate Waste BCC Campaign

Goodbye to Facebook Again

Facebook Poke 02

After taking one year off to immerse myself in the art of writing, my time is up.

New Year’s resolution: I will no longer be posting regularly on Facebook because it is the most all-consuming part of my day and ultimately hollow.  Eight years ago I dropped out, as evidenced by the snapshot of this unanswered Poke.  Author Jen Storer of Girl & Duck, The Duck Pond and Scribbles creative groups can be pleased she was the one who drew me back into social media to nurture my writing dream – you light up my life – thank you.

My unFacebooking is not due in any way to the calibre and overall enjoyment of the wonderful ‘friends’ I made, I will miss virtually following your daily journeys in writing and illustration.  Conversely, we all are living two lives, the one on Facebook and the real one.

My departure is due to the links, Likes, highlights, comments, feeds, Facebook layout and general entanglements with people whom I do not know on a real level.  It may feel personal but it is not; and I need to grasp reality, my home, my family and my proper writing.

A visit from a little red hen named Took got me back out into our overgrown garden and I realised the computer screen is destroying my creativity rather than enhancing it.

My WordPress blog will continue https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instil in us” – Hal Borland, American author.

Happy New Year 2018, everyone, and much fulfillment!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward



Postscript
: According to the 2017 Deloitte Media Consumer Survey, daily social media usage in Australia is down from 61 percent to 59 percent in 2017, and 20 percent of Australian social media users say they are no longer enjoying their time on the platforms.  Likewise, almost one third (31 percent) of survey respondents said they have temporarily or permanently deactivated one or more of their social media accounts in the past year.  Fake news is killing the media star with 58 percent of respondents agreeing that they have changed the way they access online content given the prevalence of fake news.  So, folks, I am not alone!

Silent Reading and Socio-Cultural Development

Reading Readers 04

Among scholars, says Thu-Huong Ha, there is a surprisingly fierce debate around when European society transitioned from mostly reading aloud to mostly reading silently.  Thu’s latest article for Quartzy shines a light on the evolution of reading silently––

Finding Space
“The beginning of silent reading changed Westerners’ interior life”
By Thu-Huong Ha
Tuesday 19 November 2017

People think of reading as the introvert’s hobby: A quiet activity for a person who likes quiet, save for the voices in their head.  But in the 5,000 or so years humans have been writing, reading as we conceive it, an asocial solo activity with a book, is a relatively new form of leisure.

For centuries, Europeans who could read did so aloud.  The ancient Greeks read their texts aloud.  So did the monks of Europe’s dark ages.  But by the 17th century, reading society in Europe had changed drastically.  Text technologies, like moveable type, and the rise of vernacular writing helped usher in the practice we cherish today: taking in words without saying them aloud, letting them build a world in our heads.

Among scholars, there is a surprisingly fierce debate around when European society transitioned from mostly reading aloud to mostly reading silently—some even say the ancients read silently just as much as they read aloud—but there is one scene in literature they agree is crucial.  In St. Augustine’s Confessions, the titular professor describes the reading habits of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan:

“But when Ambrose used to read, his eyes were drawn through the pages, while his heart searched for its meaning; however, his voice and tongue were quiet. Often when we were present—for anyone could approach him and it was not his habit that visitors be announced to him—we saw him reading in this fashion, silently and never otherwise.”

The fact that this was so remarkable to Augustine, some scholars argue, is because in the 400s, silent reading wasn’t really a thing.

Other researchers say that this passage is meant more to point out Ambrose’s rudeness.  “It’s really that Ambrose would go on reading silently while he was there, like someone going on texting while you’re trying to talk to them,” says D. Vance Smith, a medievalist in the Princeton English department.  “[Augustine is] surprised by his rudeness at not reading out loud to share with him.”

Reading Readers 05

“The default assumption in the classic period, if you were reading around other people, you’d read aloud and share it,” says Smith. “For us, the default is we’ll read silently and keep it to ourselves.”

If silent reading was in fact rare or rude in ancient times, then at some point the expectation of readers in society shifted.  As late as the 1700s, historian Robert Darnton writes, “For the common people in early modern Europe, reading was a social activity.  It took place in workshops, barns, and taverns.  It was almost always oral but not necessarily edifying.”

But by the time Marcel Proust was writing in the late 1800s, his narrator hoping for time to read and think alone in his bed, reading privately had become more of a norm for wealthy, educated people who could afford books and idle bedroom rumination.

This came with the spreading of literacy and diverse kinds of reading material.  Writes Darnton, records from until as late as 1750 showed that people who could read had only a few books: perhaps the Bible, an almanac, and some devotionals, that they read and re-read. But by 1800, he writes, people were reading more voraciously—newspapers and periodicals—and by the late century they had branched out into children’s literature and novels.

Reading Guy 06

As reading shifted away from the social, some researchers believe this helped create what we now call an interior life.

Writes Alberto Manguel in his 1996 book, A History of Reading:

“But with silent reading the reader was at last able to establish an unrestricted relationship with the book and the words.  The words no longer needed to occupy the time required to pronounce them.  They could exist in interior space, rushing on or barely begun, fully deciphered or only half-said, while the reader’s thoughts inspected them at leisure, drawing new notions from them, allowing comparisons from memory or from other books left open for simultaneous perusal.  And the text itself, protected from outsiders by its covers, became the reader’s own possession, the reader’s intimate knowledge, whether in the busy scriptorium, the market-place or the home.”

“Psychologically, silent reading emboldened the reader because it placed the source of his curiosity completely under personal control,” librarian Paul Saenger writes in his 1997 book, Space between Words.  “In the still largely oral world of the ninth century, if one’s intellectual speculations were heretical, they were subject to peer correction and control at every moment, from their formulation and publication to their aural reception by the reader.”  As Saenger writes, asocial reading helped facilitate intellectual rigor, introspection, criticism of the government and religion, even irony and cynicism that would have been awkward to read aloud.

This strange new trend of reading to oneself naturally had its detractors.  Sceptics thought silent reading attracted day-dreamers and the “sin of idleness,” as Manguel writes.  And worse: it let people learn and reflect without religious guidance or censure.  Silent reading by the late 19th century was so popular that people worried that women in particular, reading alone in bed, were prone to sexy, dangerous thoughts.

Reading Girl 57

There isn’t much consensus between historians on why people would have started reading silently.  Saenger hypothesizes that a shift in the way words were laid out a page facilitated the change.  Latin words once ran all together, makingithardtoparsethem. Saenger argues that Irish monks, translating Latin in the seventh century, added spaces between words to help them understand the language better.  This key design change, he argues, facilitated the rise in silent reading.

M. B. Parkes, in his 1992 book “Pause and Effect: Punctuation in the West” argues something similar.  He writes that a “grammar of legibility”—the visual changes made to texts, like punctuation and word spaces—changed the way we read.  This early book technology was premised on the idea that the scribes, the people writing, didn’t know who their readers would be, or how fluent they might be in reading Latin, and so had to find a standardised way of telling them how to read: pause here; these are two separate words; this is a long “a.”

This scholarship applies for the most part to the Latin-based writing and reading of Europe.  In other major reading cultures of the world like Chinese, whose script doesn’t have spaces between words, and whose literature depends heavily on prosody, silent reading may have developed differently.

Mainstream historical accounts would have us think that the end of oral reading in the Middle Ages was part of the Renaissance, a new European preoccupation with the individual.  But it’s possible humans’ desire for privacy, the carving out of a little pocket in which to escape by way of a book, was there all along.  We just needed a little help getting there.

Written by Thu-Huong Ha for Quartzy newsletter, a weekly dispatch about living well in the global economy.  Original webpage The Beginning of Silent Reading was also the Beginning of an Interior Life.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Portraits of Readers Part Two

Initially I was gathering images for a compilation to promote reading but, instead, my gallery became a montage of book-reading men and boys over the last two centuries, photographed and painted, famous or otherwise.  With every viewing, the images reshuffle.  A montage of book-reading women and girls can be found under Part One.

Reading is rightness!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Portraits of Readers Part One

Initially I was gathering images for a compilation to promote reading but, instead, my gallery became a montage of book-reading women and girls over the last two centuries, photographed, painted, and one carved in marble.  With every viewing, the images reshuffle.  A montage of book-reading men and boys can be found under Part Two.

Reading is rightness!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Don’t Thrash Around

Highs and Lows Graph 01
A short story about life’s ups and downs…

My friend and fellow writer Maud Fitch tilted her head at me and said “Everything is fine for the first three months then the rot sets in and the wheels fall off.  Or, for a modern analogy, your reception drops out.”  She checked to see if I was listening.  “You are left high and dry and feeling cheated, let down, out of sorts, tired, jaded or basically unmotivated.  The first three months of anything are the best, then comes the worst three months.”  As she took a breath, I gave her a querying look.  “Why?” she responded, “Well, who knows?  This is my take on human nature.”

I was perched on a wooden stool while Maud had settled herself down in an easy chair, cardigan wrapped tightly and slippers wedged firmly on her small feet.  She coughed delicately and adjusted her spectacles before continuing.  “A new career, a new car, exercise workout, bonsai class, creative writing, artistic pursuit, second marriage, an extended holiday, all seemingly wonderful for those crucial three months.  Then, bam, a total train wreck.  Worse, it’s a total bore!  Then you wish you had never started.”  I opened my mouth to protest but she ploughed ahead.  “Of course, this phenomenon can work in reverse.  The first three months of a new baby, the first three months of post-operative surgery, or worse, the first three months of giving up smoking. Two words – mindset.”  I stifled a laugh.  “Okay, one word.  But keep an open mind because nothing stays the same for long.”

Uncomfortable, I stretched my shoulders.  “Don’t thrash around,” Maud shouted, startling me.  She waved her arm dangerously close to her favourite cat figurine.  “Look up, look ahead, search for those footholds and handholds to help move you forward again.  Work your way out of the slump, not by changing direction (although you might, she hissed in an aside) but by forging through the undergrowth on that overgrown path until you reach a reasonable destination where you can relax, regroup and start again – when you are good and ready!  It may not be the perfect spot to wait, nevertheless, it will do until you reinvigorate.”

Maud slumped back.  “Do you think that’s too strong for them?”  I laughed.  “Maud, I am sure the ladies luncheon committee has heard stronger things than that.”  She eyed me dubiously, unsmiling, the inference being that she knew them better than I ever could.  I was sure her delivery would win them over and if it didn’t, just like seasonal change, there was always another one.

After some shuffling, Maud pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper from down the side of her chair.  “I was going to reference motivationalist Julia Cameron when she says ‘Sometimes these U-turns are best viewed as recycling times’ but I’m going to read this genuine job advertisement first and say ‘Ladies, be thankful you are relaxing here today’ then launch straight into my talk.”  Maud cleared her throat and read loudly:

“About you – Highly motivated, you possess excellent listening and strong customer service skills. You have proven ability to build rapport with customers, key partners and management. You possess strong problem solving and resolution capabilities. Resilient, flexible, literate, you have the ability to work under pressure, deal with rapid change and work to strict time frames. Self-motivated, available at short notice, you are currently looking to embark on your next career challenge and add value to a growing organisation. If this sounds like you APPLY today! Previous exposure dealing with print/sales/retail is desirable however not essential.”

With a snap of fingers on paper, Maud whooped “Burnout dead ahead” which I thought was a bit unfair.  “Oh, Maudie” I said, a nickname she disliked, “you make me want to grab a coffee and start scrolling endless, mindless amusements across my screen.”  I picked up my phone.  I don’t think that was quite the incentive she had in mind and may have misinterpreted my gesture.  She frowned and started flipping through the pages of her speech, obviously keen to memorise more text.  “Look.”  I offered her the phone.  On the screen was an old Gary Larson “The Far Side” cartoon.  Now, that really did make her laugh.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Primative Resumes
Pressure put on us from the dawn of time…