If I love books so much, how come I never have time to read??

Today, 1st of November but with weather similar to late August, I spent some time with my parents in the fine city where I live.

Usually visits here are to coincide with football fixtures, and often we have time only for a quick catch up before, at half time and then after the match. But due to the ever changing kick off, the whimsy of satellite TV, the folks decided to have an overnighter & hang around. I also kept my diary clear so we could spend the unseasonably warm day doing things I rarely get time for in my home city.

So what has all this to do with books? Well we frequented a large book store on our wanderings, and I kept picking up titles that piqued my interest. But I didn’t let myself buy any. As I explained to my Dad, I have a pile of books bought and yet unread at home. Some I have owned for years. My excuse is that I never have time. His response was I should put a few hours aside each week to read.

And of course he’s right. I love books. I love the smell of the paper, the weight in my hand, the texture of the pages. A room lined with shelves of countless volumes of fact and fiction, a personal library to peruse, would be my perfect space.

As a child I was a voracious reader. I would stay up late in bed, consumed. I picked up Jane Eyre at 9, though I struggled with some of the language. In my early teens I made weekly visits to the local library, to search out interesting titles to borrow. I have memories of sitting in bed all night to finish a book I was so engrossed with, that I couldn’t put it down until I had finished. I began to buy books, classic novels as 99p paperbacks, through my teenage years I got through the works of Austen, Dickens and Hardy. I sat on my bedroom floor, and read on through streaming eyes, as I wept through the final pages of Tess of the D’urbervilles.

So why now do I no longer have time? Where does that time go? Or have I fallen out with my love of the written word?

I fear I have become lazy. My desire for knowledge and stories is now sated by TV, social media and podcasts. I oversubscribe, so I always have a backlog to catch up on, and I never turn my smart phone off. I will sit in bed for an hour, refreshing my feeds and timelines, to catch every post & comment I can. That hour could have been spent reading.

So it’s time to make a pledge. To turn my phone over & pick up a book. To turn off the TV and make way through that stack of the unread. To reignite that passion, and lose myself in the text once more.

2014 – The Summer I Shaved My Head

So the first question to answer is why. And there’s not a simple reply. Having just marked my 40th birthday in style, I was having a post-World Cup slump. I hadn’t actually been to Brazil you understand, it had just dominated my life for a month. So after a tournament I had waited four years for, and a birthday I had been building up to for a while (and celebrated for weeks) my life was feeling anti-climactic.

I was feeling flat. I need inspiration. It was then that I saw online the Macmillan “Shave or Style” campaign. I knew that Macmillan had helped some of my friends and their families through really tough times, and I felt a nervous thrill at the thought of taking such drastic action. But if I agreed to it would anyone sponsor me? Was it a risk worth taking?

I tentatively asked a few friends, and the response was positive. So I took the plunge, set up my page and spread the word via Facebook, Twitter and email.

I wasn’t really expecting what happened next. The donations came flying in. Some from people I hadn’t met, some large amounts by friends who had personal experience of Macmillan and even a completely anonymous £100 gift. People kept telling me what I was doing was great, how brave I was and more than anything what a superb cause it was for.

When the day itself arrived I was still fairly cool about it, buoyed on by all the good wishes. But as I walked to the very public house where it was taking place, the nerves started to kick in. I am happy to admit that a few measures of Dutch courage were consumed, especially when more people turned up to watch than I had expected!

The moment had come. A high stool was placed in the centre of the room, the clippers were in the hands of a trusted friend and a circle of amateur photographers were awaiting the big event.

The worst thing about the shave is that there were no mirrors. Everyone else could see what was happening, except me. Did I have a funny shaped head? Were my ears sticking out oddly? Did I have a 666 birthmark behind my ear??

Luckily my head was normal shaped and everyone kept saying it really suited me. As soon as the deed was done I rushed into the ladies, and saw an odd sight looking back at me. It had been 40 years since my hair had been so cropped, and it would take some getting used.

In the following week, with the evidence on display and a few more emails and prompts my total raised went beyond the £1,000 mark. Even now I struggle to believe that, such a simple act raising so much. People continue to tell me I suit the look, making me think I have wasted time & money trying to style my hair all these years. I have learnt different ways to wear headscarves, and invested in some funky hats. I’ve had an extra 15 minutes in bed each day, as my shower & get ready time has been slashed. I’ve felt quite liberated.

So the downsides – everyone wants to touch your head, even people who may not have spoken to you before. Some people don’t even ask.

So the positives – the amazing amount of support and goodwill you get from friends, family, work colleagues and even complete strangers. I would get stopped in the corridor to be congratulated, and received a touching message from someone battling cancer than reduced me to tears. And most of all I single-handily raised over a grand for an amazing charity that provides essential support to people in their darkest hours. I have absolutely no regrets, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.