We’ve been invited out to dinner and I have no idea what to wear. My wardrobe is divided between two categories. The first category, staying-at-home-clothes, consists of clothes which don’t need ironing and don’t show the dirt (flour from my hands, muck from my dog, snot from my child). We are looking at a whole lot of denim and fleece. The second category, leaving-the-house-clothes, is made up of every spangly outfit I’ve ever bought for a Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Wedding or Funeral. Sacramental clothes, if you like. There is a dearth of anything in between.
I went to TK maxx this morning in search of something cute but casual, something that might send a message of quirky-but-not-insane. I tried on three dresses which made me look by turns fat or old or desperate.
I gave up and bought a book instead.
I wonder how much money I’ve spent, in my entire life, on books. Definitely not enough to buy a Rolex or a Birkin bag. My expenditure isn’t into crazy territory or anything but sometimes I pick up a book in a shop and I hear voices over my shoulder shouting ‘another book?!’, particularly when I went into the shop with every intention of buying a cardigan.
A Dad rolled up to our little National School last week in a shiny, red Mustang. God, it made such a sexy noise. I’m sure that car could make any man feel (if not look) like Paul Newman. I was genuinely torn between ‘WOW!’ and ‘seriously?‘.
But, I remind myself, money isn’t a real thing. It’s just a promise we exchange for the real things that we need to survive and for the real things that make us happy. I’ve always held that a person should spend their money on whatever makes them happy. Does it matter, in the grand scheme of things, whether that’s a shoe or a bag or a book?
Let’s pretend I bought this book as a gift for Husband. It’s The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler.
Husband has a teeny crush on Alys Fowler. I can’t blame him, she’s adorable. We’re quits because I have a teeny crush on Monty Don ( it’s the way he says year, ‘yehahhh’). hmmm.
I’m pretty sure I can write off the cost of this book against savings made by finding free food. I’ve only had a quick flick but I love it already. Alys Fowler writes like a Pink Lady (think apples, not Grease), sweet but crisp and tangy.
‘I gain so much pleasure from foraging: every leaf and seed and berry that I pick seems to connect me both to my past and my future. I think about what my mother has taught me about the outdoors. I think of how many women over millenia have done this. How our roles have been constructed out of the idea that we’re destined to forage and gather.’
There is enough science to make me feel I still have a few living brain cells. A great bundle of information I’ve been seeking is contained within the covers of this book and that is making me very happy. The pages themselves are thick and matt and, I don’t know why I like this so much, square. The author’s fingernails are convincingly mucky. I can believe this woman.
She also has lovely cardigans.
Now. Hard-thinking hat on. I’m going to have a tough time explaining why I think Alys Fowler‘s Thrifty Forager is as powerful a book as Ray Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451. There is a kernel here, a berry hiding in a thorny thicket, that I can’t quite grasp and I could cry with frustration.
(Hark at me and my fancy bookstagramming. Dr. Who’s K-9 was co-opted to play the mechanical dog, cute, eh?)
I hated every minute of reading this book. It was hell.
Fahrenheit 451 was written in 1953. It is set in an imagined near-future where books are illegal. It is set in a world pre-occupied with having fun. The inhabitants are engrossed in ridiculous reality television which they watch on ever bigger, all-surrounding screens. They wear intrusive ear-pieces, Bradbury calls them ‘seashells’, which bombard every waking, and even sleeping, moment with advertising and distraction. Can you imagine such a world?
Books are considered dangerous storage units of the fuel for that great enemy of happiness: independent thinking.
The writing is unpleasantly brilliant. It singes.
‘Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget…they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.’
‘And what does quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more “literary” you are.’
The hero, Guy Montag, is a reformed book-burner who forfeits his livelihood to rescue some books and, in so doing, is himself saved.
So, Fahrenheit 451 is a book about the importance of books. It is terrifyingly accurate in its predictions. It shrieks warnings against following the herd. It loudly affirms my choice of a foodie book over a frilly dress. All good.
The Thrifty Forager is a book, truthfully recorded and streaming with details of life. Alys Fowler reminds us that,
‘Foraging, the act of looking for food, helps us to map the world around us, to give it meaning.’
So, one is a book about guarding the knowledge and the other contains the most basic, most essential knowledge. The knowledge that could save you if having fun was irrelevant. Owning and sharing that knowledge is, for me, enormously satisfying and…fun!
In her introduction, Alys Fowler writes of foraging,
‘It’s an independent choice and that feels great.’
She got the berry.
I’m going out for dinner tomorrow night and it looks like I’ll be wearing a book, possibly some wild garlic leaves and a couple of dandelions.