onsdag 12 juni 2013

Summer grumble

It starts with the bus stop tantrum. I seem to have one every year, in full view of a nervous audience of fellow travellers. The ongoing problem is, from the beginning of June to the middle of August, the bus timetables are changed and buses run much less frequently. This means you will either be far too early or a little late to wherever you're going - or, as is so often the case, much too late because the bus that is running is delayed (and packed, of course). Sometimes scheduled buses don't arrive at all. I certainly don't begrudge bus chauffeurs their holidays, but this drives me up the wall every single year. No effort seems to be made to keep time, and the impression you get is that the bus companies think that, hey, what does it matter, everyone's on holiday anyway. But I'm not on holiday. No-one's on holiday from June to August, worse luck. I'm still working, and the worst part of it is, I don't want to be. Having to run to catch a bus which then does not turn up or turns up ten minutes late only adds insult to injury.

The yearly bus stop tantrum is only a symptom of end-of-summer-term malaise. School is out, but work is still very much in. As the city shuts down around you and the TV channels start sending reruns, as the sun beats down and last-year pupils whoop and holler, enjoying one of the happiest days in their life, you are only too aware that your freedom is still far away - well, far-ish. It's not even as if things are slowing down, either at work or privately. There are so many things you need to fix "before the summer hols" that there is not much time for lazying in the sun - or out of it, comes to that.

But they will come, the holidays - and when they do, I'd quite like one of those famous good summer reads. In fact, I could do with one now. Why is it so hard to find an honest page turner? I tried another one of my family sagas and gave up after approximately a hundred pages - luscious descriptions of idyllic summer days full of honeysuckle, butterflies and what have you before Disaster Strikes (World War One) are not the best way to catch my interest. Not even Wilkie Collins can be relied on. The man in the black skull-cap in Hide and Seek turned out to be a sad disappointment - a Rough Diamond, if you please. I never much cared for men of the wild: I like my diamonds to be polished, thank you very much. Hide and Seek's plot reminded me of The Dead Secret in a way: in both novels, the characters who try to find out a secret and the ones trying to hide it are good-natured people, and so there is not much suspense. You know they will all get along swimmingly by the end. There was one plot twist I didn't see coming, but Hide and Seek still remains the weakest of the Wilkie Collins novel bunch. And even a pro-Victorian like myself must marvel at how little you need to do to be branded a vile seducer. No matter if you meant to marry the girl; no matter if you left the country not knowing she was pregnant; no matter if all your letters were intercepted through no fault of your own; no matter if you tried to make contact the moment you came back, only to learn that the girl was dead and the child you didn't know about had vanished without a trace; you are still a terrible person. Because you shouldn't have slept with her, should you? Not before you'd put a ring on her finger. I must say, supposedly moralistic Dickens cut Captain Hawdon in Bleak House much more slack than this.          

Anyway, I've now started reading a slim Swedish volume which seems to be evolving into an elegant chiller, set in a manor-house in an unspecified country during an unspecified war. I'm not greatly in favour of mysterious dystopias generally, but this story seems promising, and the author conjures up atmosphere without being boring. Perhaps I've struck gold at last - or at least first-rate electricity-conducting copper.