My reading: science, fiction and structure.

The trick with reading short stories, I think, is not to rush from one to another without taking a breather between. The best of them should be given time to soak into the thought-stream.

Of course, it’s not always possible to guess in advance whether a new story deserves to be given the kind of attention that implies. When I picked a 2007 anthology of Science Fiction off the dustier of my shelves I had no memory of where it had come from, and I don’t read enough of the genre to recognise even the name of the editor, let alone any of the twelve chosen authors.

My choosing it at that moment was motivated by tidiness. In the last few weeks I’ve built up a sizable heap of discards for the charity shop. Judging by the recent turn-around in my reading to acquiring ratio, there’s a possibility that I might have shelf-room for all of my books, soon. I can’t think when that last happened.

I know, this approach is far from the usual driving spirit for someone in search of entertainment. But, actually, in using this strategy, I’m drawing from a history of good luck, or maybe serendipity. Some of the best films, plays, radio shows and reading experiences I’ve enjoyed, have been due to happenstance, rather than research.

Now you might argue that since The Best of 2007… was on my shelf, I must, at some point, have thought it would be worth reading. Actually, a substantial number of my TBR books have been gifts. I swop a fair few volumes with friends, family and neighbours. Sometimes these are because we know each other’s reading habits and expect them to be entertained, other times because we’ve struggled through them, or even, given up, and would like a second opinion. And then there are the books that have been orphaned. My shelves are, it seems, viewed as a safe place: a book haven.

Please note that word ‘seems’. Despite the evidence of my wall spaces, I can be a ruthless reader. Maybe it’s easier to hand the final disposal of a book over to someone else.

To get back to, Science Fiction: The Best of The Year, 2007, I still don’t know why I had it, but I do have a few thoughts about why it languished on my shelves for several years.

  1. It’s a thickish book, with only twelve stories inside. I thought they’d be long, and was not sure I’d have the stamina for so much science.
  2. I don’t like the cover illustration.
    • It’s predominantly red: not one of my favourite colours.
      • There’s an illustration of a space vehicle, and an astronaut. I always expect ‘hard’ sci-fi when I see a plot that looks like it relies on technology.
        • ‘Hard’ sci-fi is something I’m happy to watch, but too lazy to read. It so often requires the learning of lots of new terms and theories. That might be acceptable in real life, but not for short-fiction.

If only I had opened it earlier. Point number 1, is qualified by the discovery that although there are 372 pages, they’re printed on thicker paper than I expected. The font is a good size, and the lines or print are well spaced.

Point number 2, well I hardly thought about the cover, once I had started the stories, and although there was ‘hard’ science in some, it was not delivered in dense blocks. Rounded characters led me into scenarios that explored themes on a human level. They raised universal questions about how we exist, or interact, and explored the strengths and weaknesses of our natures, without lecturing or grandstanding.

As always, with my reading, I’ve learned something more than I expected. Why should we take a breather, between reading short stories? Because it supplies a space for our minds to pick up all the nuances of a well delivered finish.

A book-spine poem

A couple of weeks ago, Chris, at Calmgrove, introduced me to another variation on the found poem form. I’ve failed to discover when and where this originated, but did see a lot of interesting examples and challenges around the web, stretching all the way back to 2012!

Unable to resist joining in, I’ve cherry-picked a few volumes from my shelves. My version is a prose-poem.

A World of My Own.

Diary of an ordinary woman, in search of Schrodinger’s cat. Along that country road, footsteps. A view of the harbour, the probable future.

No signposts in the sea. True at first light, wild swimming in the sweep of the bay, familiar passions. The waves, a far cry from Kensington..

Coming up for air, in the heart of the sea, a reckoning. The sealwoman’s gift, ways of seeing room at the top, far from the madding crowd. A woman’s life? Travels in the scriptorium.
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Listening to the Poet Laureate in his shed.

I’d just like to reassure you, before we go any further, that I’m not about to confess to my unsuspected dark-side. While I may have, in the past, enjoyed overhearing conversations on public transport, and in cafes and restaurants. Those occasions were purely accidental, and largely unavoidable.

I’m not currently so desperate to feed my habit that I’m sneaking across county boundaries to lurk in gardens in an earwigging-Tomasina fashion. I shan’t need to, thanks to Simon Armitage’s BBC pod-cast recordings. Where would I be without my radio?

As a fellow shed owner, and user, I was instantly drawn to the title, The Poet Laureate Has Gone to His Shed. If my first thought was that I would be listening to a monologue, the blurb gave me a list of eleven guests, and when I checked the date, the series had been made before the lock-down. Two unrelated people able to safely connect, in a small space? Ahhh.

Add to that the idea of our Poet Laureate chatting when he was meant to be writing, and it’s certain that I’m going to drop in to hear what’s said.

The writing that is supposed to be happening, during shed-time, is a translation of The Owl and the Nightingale from middle-English. It is, Simon Armitage explains, a comic, medieval debate. I take it that the poem triggered the idea for the pod-casts.

I stumbled across episode nine, on Saturday evening, because I’d left the radio playing while I tidied up, and caught a repeat broadcast. His guest was new to me. I’ve clearly not been listening to what’s happening in the arts, because Simon described Kate Tempest as multi-talented. She’s ‘a spoken word artist’ ,but that seems to include being a poet, playwright, rapper and novelist. Phew.

Simon & Kate

He might have added, conversationalist to that list. Time passed so quickly, I hardly noticed my chores, and was surprised to find I’d taken an hour to do them.

What did Simon and Kate talk of? All sorts. It was a lovely, gentle, discussion, about the nature and basis of their art, and backgrounds. It was wordsmiths using words to think about the power of words, but it was also a demonstration of the art of conversation. There was a focus, but there was also freedom to roam across topics, to explore.

To finish, though, I want to focus on writing, because as the recording reached the end, Kate said she had something she wanted to say to Simon, and us listeners. Her thoughts seem to me to apply to other forms of producing and consuming literature, and music.

I feel like I’m a novice, that I have so much to learn. Every time I read a poem I’ve got no idea why it does to me, what it does. When it’s a great one, you know. Sometimes it feels like the most mysterious of forms. Even though I have all this experience of doing it in a certain way, there’s so much I…. it makes me feel so young, all the time, when you’re at the foot of a great poem…

Simon’s reply? ‘Actually, if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be interesting, would it…That journey, that’s why I’m in it. It’s not the product, it’s the process…’

Oh, the joys and compensations of being a radio listener. I shall need to ration those other ten interviews carefully.

Six memorable stories: in five words?

This week I’ve been gently challenged by Ola, who, in tandem with Piotrek, blogs about her reading, on Re-enchantment of the World. They recently described some Favourite Books in Five Words. This idea has, it seems, been circulating for at least a year, so I’m late – again.

I wondered whether the inspiration for this owed something to Hemmingway’s six word story. Once I’d made that connection it was inevitable that my list would be short fiction. I decided to limit myself to six that I’ve found unforgettable.

I begin with Mary Mann.

‘Who?’ you say.

I’m not surprised. She is a writer who has been shamefully neglected, so let me stretch the rules a little, and put her into context.

Mary Mann, born 1846, in Norfolk, was a merchant’s daughter who married a yeoman farmer in 1871. They had four children. Yeoman, by the way, means he farmed his own land. Many farmers were/are tenants. It has been suggested that Mary’s writing helped her transition from town life to an isolated rural community, and was a necessary supplement to the family income during the agricultural depression of the 1880s.

Women O’Dulditch, by Mary Mann (1908)

Dinah and Car’line’s ideal husband?

Bliss, by Katherine Mansfield (1918)

Revelations at Bertha’s dinner party.

Hills Like White Elephants, by Ernest Hemmingway (1927)

Listening for what’s not said.

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1955)

Fate, reverence and a circus.

The Blush, by Elizabeth Taylor (1958)

Mrs Allen listens, watches: sees.

Puss in Boots, by Angela Carter (1979)

Sex, lies, rats and love.

There could, of course, have been more. On a different day of a different month, there would have been other choices.

A few thoughts on changes to my reading habit

This week I’ve been reading some short sci-fi stories from the 1930s, by John Beynon. If he doesn’t sound familiar, maybe you’d recognise him as John Wyndham. Under that name, he wrote seven novels between 1951 and 1968.

I own six. All have the kind of dog-eared covers that might suggest I’ve picked them up cheaply: certainly that they’ve been well-read.

Last year, I included one, The Day of The Triffids, in a course called Reading 1951, partly because I wanted a contrast in tone to my other two novels, by female authors, but also because I knew Wyndham was an easy read. Triffids is around 90,000 words, and a page-turner. I was sure it would make a quick introduction to best-seller genre-fiction.

It did that and more. There were subtleties, for instance in the way it engages with the politics of its publication period, that I’d missed when reading only for entertainment. Sharing ideas brought fresh perspectives to my interpretation, as well as that of the group.

A couple of months later I was offered some unwanted books, and there were two collections of Wyndham’s early short fiction. I couldn’t resist, though I’d no idea when I’d get around to reading them.

I don’t think I’m alone in noticing that the last few weeks have been a godsend when it comes to dealing with the less-likely books on my shelves. It’s not just that I’ve more time, or that I’m less focused in the way I consume, it’s perhaps that being so confined, I need to range more widely in my reading.

In the last few days, I’ve been on three trips around our solar system. Since each journey was imagined in the 1930s, some of the science has felt a little dated. Sleepers of Mars, for instance, has Russia and Britain each sending manned rockets to claim Mars, in 1981.

There was a moment where I hesitated, wondering what something so far from accurate could offer. The opening two pages are scene-setting, and includes some soap-boxing.

But, after all, just what is meant by life? It is a pretty piece of vanity for us to assume that it is only something on a carbon basis needing oxygen for its existence. for there were things on the deserts, things in the cities and things moving in the papery bushes which suffered no inconvenience from the thinning of the air.

Then I had a problem with the ‘story hook’.

These two great rockets from Earth were not wanted on Mars, and their departure was being arranged for them. It was not, however the callous Martian intention to drive them at random into space. The decision that they must leave held no animosity, and the activity about the flanges showed that care was being taken that both vessels should have the best possible chance of making the return to Earth safely.

There are Martians! Put that with twenty-first century Mars explorations, and I’m faced with a paradoxical reading situation.

There are stories that have a short shelf-life. Sometimes I read them as ‘period-pieces’, for insight into the writers and readers of the time. That wasn’t the kind of reading I wanted.

As I wavered, murmuring, ‘What about Mars Rover?’ another question overrode it: ‘What could Beynon possibly do with the rockets, other than send them home?’ It didn’t seem much to build a story from.

One of the many good things about short fiction, is that if you don’t like what you’re reading, finishing it doesn’t cost much in energy or time, and you can always abandon the rest of the volume. I read on.

Actually, Sleepers of Mars turned out to be more of a novella. It had nine chapters, which meant plenty of room for character and plot developments. Mars was not simply a dying world, it had a complex history that was gradually revealed in a sub-plot that impacted on the human characters, and, this reader. Yes, I became involved.

Even in his early days, Beynon, it seems, knew how to hold his reader. Science is not the focus of these stories, intrinsic as it is to plot developments. As in his novels, the real story lies in the facets and flaws of human nature, and the vulnerability of an environment to exploitation.

I’m inclined to suggest that what Beynon/Beynon Harris/Wyndham wrote were timeless parables. The other four equally chilling stories, consider the potential exploitations inherent in developing time-travel; weapons of mass-destruction; the impact of big-businesses on our environment, or short-term thinking when exploring.

Each drew me in by focusing on characters placed in jeopardy. All left me thinking about the ways we live, and should live.

I’m happy to call these timeless writing, which is pretty impressive when you think they were published before space travel became reality.

Treating ourselves, in troubled times

I can still remember how disappointed I was to miss the National Theatre production of Twelfth Night, back in early 2017. No, I wasn’t planning to head up to London, it was to be a live broadcast in cinemas and theatres across the country.

I’ve mentioned these productions before. They’re popular. This one was drawing a lot of media interest thanks to casting Tamsin Grieg as Malvolio, and Doon Mackichan as Feste.

There was only one problem, I’d let my ‘friend’ status lapse, so was denied access to the first wave of booking. Seats were snapped up almost as soon as they went on sale. I kicked myself. It was far from the first show I’d missed that way.

However, soon after the ‘lock-down’ started, National Theatre announced that they would re-release some of their catalogue on YouTube, on a weekly basis. They started with, One Man, Two Guvnors, another show I’d failed to book for.

The night before my surgery, we pulled the curtains, turned the lights down, and joined James Corden, in Brighton. Oh how I laughed.

I’ve missed a couple of weeks. Last Saturday afternoon, though, I settled down Madam Recaimier style, with a cooling drink to hand, and let myself get washed up on the shore of Illyria alongside Viola and Sebastian.

I hear your concern: ‘Did it live up to expectations?’

Oh, yes, and more. Even watching on our large household sized screen, on a sunny afternoon, it was a smooth transition.

The stage design alone was stunning. Add to that some brilliant casting, exciting costumes, lovely musical interludes and witty modern references, and I was hooked.

If you’ve somehow missed hearing about these shows, up to now, let me recommend you drop in at the National Theatre website. The programme changes weekly, on a Thursday, at 7pm GMT, so there are still a few days to catch up with Olivia, Orsino, Antonio and friends. After that, I’m looking forward to Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Frankenstein.

Reading styles

I do like the idea I’m multi-tasking, and lately, the closest I’ve managed has been in terms of reading materials. I’ve been recuperating, in a not very interesting way, for about two weeks.

When I first returned home, I binged on a collection of Brother Cadfael mysteries I was gifted last year. Ellis Peters, whose real name was Edith Mary Pargeter, wrote lovely, reassuring pictures of 12th century England.

These novels are set in a time of political upheaval and uncertainty, but within the confines of Shrewsbury Abbey, even murderous threats are unraveled, and set in order with calm good humour. No matter how brutal an attack has been made, how misguided the accusations against the primary suspect, Brother Cadfael can be relied upon to view it with generosity, and usually, play cupid to a romance that seems fated to failure.

In the middle of September of that year of Our Lord, 1140, two lords of Shropshire manors, one north of the town of Shrewsbury, the other south, sent envoys to the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on the same day, desiring the entry of younger sons of their houses to the Order.

One was accepted, the other rejected. For which different treatment there were weighty reasons.

So begins, The Devil’s Novice. How effortlessly I slip through the doors of the cloisters, to find out who, and which, and why.

These mysteries make soothing nightcaps, and I’ve worked my way through six of them. I had expected this would feel like too much of a good thing, but here I am, preparing to set out on a new adventure with trusty Cadfael.

Meanwhile, progress on my literary read, Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, is slow. After two weeks, I’m halfway through. I’m intrigued, even curious, but it’s a book that I can only take in one chapter at a time.

The first one begins:

The silence of snow, thought the man sitting just behind the bus-driver. If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called what he felt inside him ‘the silence of snow’.

He’d boarded the bus from Erzurum to Kars with only seconds to spare. He’d just come into the station on a bus from Istanbul – a snowy, stormy, two-day journey – and was rushing up and down the wet, dirty corridors with his bag in tow, looking for his connection, when someone told him that there was a bus for Kars leaving immediately.

My questions, this time, are all ‘who’? It’s not just the (so far) nameless character I wonder about, at first, I can’t figure out the narrator. He’s sidled up to me, getting increasingly close. ‘Our traveller‘, he says, and ‘So let us take advantage of this lull to whisper a few biographical details’.

Whoa, I try to tell him, haven’t you heard of social distancing? I’m not sure we know each other well enough to be so close. I don’t know that we share a common view of this world. But this narrator is pushy, doesn’t allow me to back away. Three pages in and he offers me some reassurance.

…I’m an old friend of Ka’s and I begin this story knowing everything that will happen to him during his time in Kars.

Ka, then, that’s the name of the central character. Something to hold onto, at last.

Ka enters the bus, and the story is properly started. I can ignore the intrusive narrator and focus on Ka, the poet. Something will be happening soon, that’s clear. What it might be is not predictable. Even the weather isn’t.

The road signs caked with snow were impossible to read. Once the snowstorm began to rage in earnest, the driver turned off his full beam and dimmed the lights inside the bus, hoping to conjure the road out of the semi-darkness.

This scene feels like a metaphor for the story. Ka is asked by one of his fellow travellers why he’s travelling to Kars.

‘I’m a journalist,’ Ka whispered in reply. This was a lie. ‘I’m interested in the municipal elections – and also the women who’ve been committing suicide.’ This was true.

What am I to make of this, that Ka is unreliable too?

Perhaps, he is more realistically human than the infallible Cadfael, though it’s hardly fair to draw comparisons. Both fictions do their job, in transporting me to other times and places. The conclusion I’ve reached is that, odd as it may seem, my daytime and nighttime reads compliment each other.

I wonder what other odd partnerships are waiting to be discovered.

Multi-tasking, Elizabeth Taylor style

Okay, best case scenario , at this moment, is that we’re trapped, for our own good, in our homes. Am I the only one who spent the first couple of days hoovering out-of-sight places that generally remain untouched for months, and dusting?

William McGregor Paxton 

Maybe that was because the first week coincided with clear skies, and the bright sunshine was revealing. Maybe, because usually when I’m home in daylight hours I’m focused on paperwork of one kind or another. My gran had an expression that may have helped influence this lackadaisical attitude, though it doesn’t do credit to the degree of pride she took in her approach to housework: ‘I’m giving it a lick and a promise,’ she liked to say, if ever I asked what she was doing.

Now that I’m beginning to embrace on-line teaching I’ve got unused travel-time to factor into my schedule. Some days, there’s quite a lot of it, enough that I don’t begrudge using it for the chores I had been avoiding.

The upside of cleaning jobs, done in my fashion, is that they don’t require much concentration. Maybe, more diligent housekeepers focus on the task. My aim, is to fall into a rhythm of movement that allows me to daydream.

It’s a tip backed up by one of my favourite twentieth century writers, Elizabeth Taylor. She claimed to work out most of her stories while ironing.

Elizabeth Taylor is, perhaps, one of the most under-rated authors I’ve come across. Her short stories are subtle, often needing two or more readings to see how the layers of symbol and detail redirect meaning. She had a keen eye for humour (dark and light), which, in my opinion, made her delicately subversive.

So often story writers are advised to use ‘telling details’. What many of Taylor’s stories demonstrate is how much also depends upon the delivery.

I doubt whether I will ever forget these three teenage girls, of the 1950s, getting ready to go to a dance. The first paragraph is admirably economical yet telling, but look at how the second paragraph leads us neatly to that simile in the third.

Natalie, Frances and Katie had been in the bathroom for nearly an hour and could hardly see one another across the room. Bath-salts, hoarded from Christmas, scented the steam and now, still wearing their shower-caps, they were standing on damp towels and shaking their Christmas talcum powder over their stomachs and shoulders.

‘Will you do my back and under my arms?’ asked Katie, handing to Frances the tin of Rose Geranium. ‘And then I will do yours.’

‘What a lovely smell. It’s so much nicer than mine,’ said Frances, dredging Katie as thoroughly as if she were a fillet of fish being prepared for the frying pan.

This story, The Rose, The Mauve, The White takes place over one day. It is delivered in glimpsed scenes. All the characters will attend a dance, which is a big landmark for the teenagers. In the process of moving towards it, the contrasting hopes and insecurities of three generations are exposed.

Taylor has often been described as wielding a scalpel-like pen. It’s a useful idea to hold onto, when entering one of her stories. The unwary reader could easily be lulled into assuming they were entering a place of safe, middle-class comfort.

Except, Taylor’s narrators are always precise. Charles, the seventeen year-old who opens the story goes out in the morning to practice calling for three cheers, which he must do at the end of the dance, that evening.

His voice had broken years before, but was still uncertain in volume; sometimes it wavered, and lost its way and he could never predict if it would follow his intention or not.

Practicing seems a safe, and even sensible thing to do, but such moments are always rife with possible humiliation. If we’re noticing juxtapositions, then the fact that he chooses a spot next to a patch of rhubarb and lawn-clippings might seem significant.

…he put on what he hoped was an expression of exultant gaiety, snatched off his spectacles and, waving them in the air, cried out: ‘And now three cheers for Mrs Fresham-Bowater.’ …a bush nearby was filled with laughter; all the branches were disturbed with mirth.

Katie’s mother, Mrs Pollard, sharing tea with her teenage children and their friends, tells herself that, ‘tea was such fun… though one minute she felt rejuvenated; the next minute as old as the world.’

In the next breath, the narrator moves us on again:

To them, though they were polite, she was of no account, the tea pourer-out, the starch-provider, simply. It was people of her own generation who said that Charles and she were like brother and sister – not those of Charles’s generation, to whom the idea would have seemed absurd.

The dynamics of the family, the insecurities of each age range, and the moments of self-revelation, are offered for us, like fillets of fish with the flour wiped off. We see them, perhaps we see ourselves, as we are, and maybe, as we have been…

‘The one who was wearing a kilt?’ Natalie asked, with more composure. She wondered if Charles was thinking that she must be older than the other girls and indeed she was, by two and a half months.

Armchair tourism: Wales, with Dewithon 2020

There was a bitter, arctic wind cutting across us on Sunday morning. The sun was shining, but better enjoyed from behind glass.

Our garden, just waking to spring, is a limited, but refreshing pallet of colours. The winter has been grey with rain, but now we have blue sky, bright young grass, and a patch of daffodils.

These are not golden, they’re more like the dainty Welsh ones. Wales is out-of-bounds, at the moment. Britain is in lock-down.

Well, have books, can travel, and these are the last few days of the 2020 Wales Readathon, the month long celebration of Wales related literature, instigated by PAULA BARDELL-HEDLEY on Book Jotter. I turned to my shelves, and the first thing I saw was How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewelyn. It’s been there for several years now, as I’ve wondered whether it was a threat or a promise.

I’d been put off by memories of the 1941 film version that I remember disliking, years and years ago. I can’t give you any specific reason for my reaction. When I checked on-line, I discovered that it is considered an American Classic, so maybe I should take another look.

Then again, I’m loving the book so much, perhaps I won’t take the risk. I’m now on chapter 18, which is about half-way, and can hardly bear to be away to write this, despite my desire to share it with you.

The setting is a mining valley in South Wales. The time frame is towards the end of the nineteenth century. It charts a time of political and social change, but the centre of the story is a family, and their loves, songs, faiths and betrayals.

It is a beautifully shaped novel. Opening with the adult Huw describing his preparations to leave his home for good, and then slipping back through memories to describe his childhood in that house, and community. It’s rich with detail, and yet not bogged down with it.

Take the description of buying toffee from Mrs. Rhys the Glasfryn:

She made the toffee in pans and then rolled it all up and threw it soft at a nail behind the door, where it stuck. Then she took a handful with both hands and pulled it towards her, then threw the slack back on the nail again. That went on for half an hour or more until she was satisfied it was hard enough, and then she let it lie to flatten out. Hours I have waited in her front room with my penny in my hand, and my mouth full of spit, thinking of the toffee, and sniffing the smell of sugar and cream and eggs.

My mouth was watering too.

I love the tone and timbre of Huw’s voice. There are moments when I seem to hear him, rather than read the words, such as the section near the beginning when he describes how his parents met:

…she was sixteen and he was twenty. He came off a farm to make his way in the iron works here, and as he came singing up the street one night he saw my mother drawing the curtains upstairs in the house where she was working. He stopped singing and looked up at her, and I suppose she looked down to see why he had stopped. Well, they looked and fell in love.

Mind, if you had said that to my mother she would have laughed it off and told you to go on with you, but I know because I had it from my father.

So far, the story of Huw’s life is full of incident, and he’s only just reached his teenage. I’m captivated by this bright innocent who’s always watching, asking questions, and taking part.

Another draw is the setting, an idyllic green Eden, lyrically described in relation to Huw’s childhood. As he grows older, the shadow of the slag heap increasingly encroaches in a metaphorical and literal form. The industrial revolution happens at a domestic level, impacting on every layer of the family.

This historical novel, published in 1939, seems to offer a warning for our times, as well providing me with an antidote to this strange, restricted moment.

Ducks in the Trevi Fountain: What Covid-19 Can Teach Us About Life, Love and the World Around Us

If you want to see some of the brighter sides of this situation, thoughtfully done, try this:

Leigh Hecking

Ducks in the trevvi fountain

We’ve all seen posts griping about long lines at the grocery store, hand-sanitizer and toilet paper shortages, resource hoarding and general lack of empathy and understanding. The news is no better. It’s a constant stream of anxiety-inducing updates on confirmed cases of COVID-19, death tolls, the plunging stock market and temporary closures or suspended services.

But perhaps the most surprising thing to come out of this – something the disaster movies missed the mark on – is the human ability to seek levity in the face of imminent disaster.

Warning: Long, picture-heavy post behind the cut.

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