Life on high starts way down below

Just completed ‘An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth’ by Chris Hadfield (Pan Books 2015).

This is an enthralling account of Hadfield’s professional life from his early days training with Canadian Forces flying jet fighters, through some 300 pages of fascinating facts on his journey to becoming an astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle and finally station commander on the ISS. The latter illustrates perfectly his journey from a cramped launch capsule, to a busy schedule on the Space Station, ending with a crash back to earth in a hot box on the end of a parachute canopy.

If anyone has the notion that it’s all about posing in NASA coveralls and being feted by the media, forget it. In fact forget anything you might assume about training for space – no wonder so few make the grade. While space travel may sound glamorous, it’s only a small part of an astronauts life, the rest is graft.

The book is extremely readable and, having seen him running the BBC TV series ‘Astronauts: Have you got what it takes?’, it comes as no surprise just how incredibly difficult it is to qualify. Hadfield wins with his down-to-earth (!) descriptions and his endeavours to impress upon every reader that it really is tough up there.

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Time is called a great poet

Saddened this week to see the death of Brendan Kennelly on Sunday (18/10), aged 85, at a nursing home in County Kerry, Ireland. He was a much loved and distinguished Irish poet and broadcaster, publishing more than 30 books of poetry. For 30 years he was Back in 2010 he was given the Irish PEN Award for his contribution to Irish literature. Irish President Michael D Higgins said of him that he had ‘forged a special place in the affections of the Irish people’.

I was delighted to meet Brendan, sadly only the once, back in the 1960s when he visited Leeds. He was a friend and collaborator with fellow poet Rudi Holzapfel, who I was working with at the time in his antiquarian book business. Looking through my own archive of Rudi’s work, I find I’ve got three books containing work from both of them:

the rain, the moon – Brendan Kennelly and Rudi Holzapfel (Published 1961) This is a limited edition hardback signed by Brendan Kennelly, Rudi Holzapfel and Donald Carroll – who wrote the intro to the collection.

Poems – Brendan Kennelly and Rudi Holzapfel (Leeds 1963)

The Dark About Our Loves – Brendan Kennelly and Rudi Holzapfel (John Augustine & Company)

In his collection Now (Bloodaxe Books, 2006) Brendan writes a meditation on time through a fascinating sequence of little tree-liners. This is a theme he has returned to over more than years. A short piece like this can barely do him justice as there is so much that can be said of his outstanding work. Now, very sadly, time has caught up with him. He will be greatly missed.

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Cake Forks, Coffee Perculators, Sherbert Lemons & Pear Drops

Just finished Nigel Slater’s excellent ‘Eating for England’. It’s not a new book – published by Fourth Estate 2007 – but is hugely enjoyable and very readable. I spent most of the time reminiscing over all the things I remember from my childhood that he catalogues. Lot’s of ‘I remember…’ and ‘did you have…’.

Because it’s not an A to Z of our relationship with food, it drifts from one wonderful, or otherwise, memory to another with such diverse items as Black Pudding, Murray Mints, Ribena, Dairylea and Branston Pickle.

What comes across is a wonderful catalogue of things we’ve forgotten, or would like to forget. His summary of our attitude says it all: ‘the French cook with their senses, the Italians with their hearts, the Spanish with their energy, the Germans with their appetite. The British, bless them, cook with their wallets.’

Whether you remember Fry’s Five Centres or not, read this book for a trip down memory lane. Highly recommended.

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