books

Pills, Thrills & Methadone Spills 2: Book review

Community pharmacy can be a pretty lonely career at times. It can be a horrendously stressful and pressured environment to work in. It can also be hysterically funny, and those times often make the rest of it worthwhile. In a workplace that is ultimately centred around illness, the pinpricks of hilarity become all the more important.

Its good, then, that someone decided to make a book of all those funny moments that happen in the average pharmacy day. Its even better when they decide to do so twice. Enter the second instalment of Pills, Thrills and Methadone Spills by fellow anonymous pharmacist Mr Dispenser.


Those of us pharmacy types who use (for which read obsessively depend on) Twitter or who read any pharmacy magazines will no doubt be aware of Mr Dispenser, who is a regular day-brightener with his wit and humour. 

Partly constructed of tweets, part blog-anthology, this is a warm and good natured collection of anecdotes. All but the most curmudgeonly of pharmacists will find themselves laughing out loud, and there will certainly be many moments of recognition in there too. You find yourself thinking 'oh I've got one of those stories too'.

Its a nicely inclusive format, which I think in its own little way helps to address the isolation of the job.  If you look closely enough, you'll even find a couple of pearls of wisdom from yours truly, which is nice. Its like sitting in a pub with a big group of other pharmacists and having a good old chortle about the daft things you encounter everyday. You're left feeling much cheerier about your lot, and with a nice sociable glow. to a non-pharmacy eye, some parts may be slightly close to the bone, but I think that from within the profession its clear that it is meant affectionately.

There is, however, a bit of a disappointing #everydaysexism moment later on in the book in 'Gender Bender'. Given that I write this whilst an unfinished blog post about how harmful portrayals of women can be sits in my blogger account, this is me courteously reminding Mr Dispenser that all women do not merely discuss hair and nails and read Hello magazine, nor do they all coo over babies whilst men leer at sports cars and read Top Gear magazine (Which, by the way, I used to have a wardrobe full of. despite having no driving license). So less of the stereotyping, please, and we will all get along fine at this year's Pharmacy Show

Now lets address the font. Very attentive readers of this blog will know that there is one font that I consider to be an abomination against mankind. Comic sans  is not big, its not clever, and its certainly not jaunty. It doesn't make me think "ooh, a light-hearted and humourous piece of writing!", but rather makes me stabby. There's is nothing wrong with good old arial, and the writing in this book is funny and clever enough on its own without having to resort to comic bloody sans.

Hxxx

DISCLAIMER: This book isn't actually due out yet for 8 weeks or so and may be subject to font changes and editing. If this occurs, I'm going to leave this post as it is, as a testament and reminder of how I can occasionally have some influence. Also possibly because I will be too lazy to amend it.   

You can also find this post- and a whole variety of mine and many other lovely people's book reviews over at Backlight, my collaborative book review blog for busy people.

Which Way to the Nearest Wilderness?

“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.” -Henry David Thoreau 

I was a pretty proficient reader as a child, and I have a vague memory of winning this book for some reason or another from school. I had completely forgotten about it, then for some reason, the title just popped uninvited into my head the other night, and I knew I had to read it again. I managed to find a secondhand copy, which, when delivered, turns out to be an ex-school library copy, still nestled in its plastic cover, and with a label stuck neatly into the front declaring it a gift to the school from the P.T.A. It has that beautiful, musty smell of old books and appears to have been last taken out of the library in 1991. I can't help but wonder by who, and what they thought of it. 


I remember reading this book over and over as a child. I really loved it, although I do remember not quite relating to the situations the main character, Eunice, finds herself in. She has a brother and a sister, and parents who are teetering on the brink of divorce, with a stormy home life characterized by constant arguing. I remember struggling with some of the words, but caring enough about the story to get out a dictionary and find out what they meant.

On reading it now, as an adult, I’m amazed by it. It’s a wonderful, forgotten book, and one of the best portrayals of girls and friendships as I’ve ever seen in either a children’s book, or even adult literature (although I will make an exception for Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, which I’m also reading again at the moment and which is like the perfect counterpoint to this book.) I wouldn’t say its feminist as such, but it is about girls who are not defined by their looks or even their talents, but by their friendships, personalities, morals, and philosophies.

It doesn’t, like most children’s literature, shy away from difficult topics like divorce, bitterness, or mental health issues. It’s ostensibly aimed at girls, but isn’t shrouded in pink or ponies or candy-floss. Nor is it  faux-darkly serious- There isn’t a vampire in sight. It’s a Ken Loach-esque naturalistic, social realist sort of YA, I suppose. The language is actually quite challenging: on the first page, words like philosophy, hobgoblin, façade abound.

It centres around Eunice’s decision to go into the wilderness, build herself a cabin, and live as a hermit, prompted by reading Walden. In the meantime, her sister suffers-and survives- heartbreak, her parents separate and precariously reunite, her quiet, sensitive brother requires- and survives- counselling, Eunice and her best friend set up a business, fall out, and make up again. Where a lot of YA for girls is all about boys, reinforcing the belief that a girl can’t be fully whole without a relationship, this book shows Millie stepping away her boyfriend when he declares he loves her, and eventually embracing her independence, even within the context of a relationship.

Reading this now, as an adult, I’m amazed by how many important life lessons are in there. I suspect they may have seeped into me without my knowledge as a read and re-read it as a child. Is this where my love of peanut butter sandwiches comes from? My ability to deploy sarcasm liberally? My-previously unsuspected, and completely surprising to myself- ability to bounce back from my own divorce? My love of my own company and need to retreat, coupled with an overwhelming love for my friends? Although I must admit, the idea of living in the countryside on my own fills me with absolute dread.

I finished reading it in three days, and I’m slightly stunned that one hardly-known little book could have that much packed inside it. I suspect they don’t make children’s books like that anymore.  

Hxxx

On thinking about God.

I think I have probably always been an atheist. I can't remember having any revelatory moments in which I realised the idea of God was dead to me, and I also can't remember ever really, truly having a need for a god. I remember a few occasions, in those awful dark moments that pounce on you in life, that I wanted a church to go to. A physical place of comfort, which would surround you with warmth and love and knowledge that everything in the world would get better eventually. But I don't think that really had anything to do with an actual wish for a god. And in actual fact, I feel really quite uncomfortable in churches, like at any moment i'm going to be found out and burnt at a stake. 

What I realised quite recently, though, is that this has never actually been a conscious decision to not believe in God. And how could I have been reasonably living as an atheist for so long without ever really confronting how I came to be this way?  I was actually quite startled about how little I knew about atheism (or agnosticism, for that matter)

I was so, so lucky in my parents, who I think both had a Catholic upbringing (I say think because I have literally no idea what religion my Dad is. We've simply never had that conversation). Their attitude was very much: "let her make her own mind up when she's ready". Though my Mum believes in God, she thinks that if he is so omnipresent, there's no need for her to traipse to a church when clearly she could be getting on with something more interesting. I'd never say it to them, but I'm so thankful to them for letting me just drift along pretty much ignoring anything religious. I went through a bit of a phase of deciding i might be Buddhist as an early teen (yes, yes- I was a bit of a hippy-goth type creature, and I refuse to be ashamed of it), and my Dad in that way which is typical of him showered me with leaflets for the Newcastle Buddhist Centre and even bought me a book about being a buddhist. Even now I'll claim occasionally to be a Buddhist, but this is only when I'm grasping for an excuse to make someone else kill a creepy crawly because I'm too scared to. 

I'm also utterly unknowledgable when it comes to religions, including Christianity. I'd just much rather find out other stuff about people than their religion. I want to know if they're nice people, if they're funny, what they do for a living, and who they think will win the Great British Bake Off, rather than which church they go to or whether they believe in the right god or not. I figure my ignorance is bliss, provided I spread it liberally over all religions. Although offering a Jewish vegetarian some bacon brownies may not have been my best moment. 

There is a reason that I've been thinking about my own lack of belief, and that reason is a Skeptics In The Pub talk by the (exceptionally charming) Alom Shaha. His talk was brilliant, and I found I was sat there thinking 'why have I never thought about any of this before and yet it all makes SUCH SENSE'. (I'm really not going to go into every thought I had during his talk, except to say... *swoon*). I bought his book, The Young Atheist's Handbook (whilst attempting and failing to not blush and make a stupid joke about only buying it so I can feel young) from him and voraciously read it over the following week. I found myself doing all sorts of thinking about my lack of belief.

YAH


Now, I would absolutely love to write an eloquent, concise review of his book but I doubt I'd do the genre of book reviewing justice. I'd just like to say that it's very beautiful, and that you all should buy it, if you haven't already. I've found that since reading it, I'm a whole lot more confident and vocal about not needing belief in god now and in discussing this with other people without having fear of offending anyone. At least I know my own lack of belief now stands up in the face of my own questioning. And, in the face of that, I started reassessing a fair bit about the rest of my life- how I feel about love in the wake of my divorce, for example. It sounds a bit far-fetched that one little purple book can do that sort of thing but I guess sometimes the most profound moments appear very unexpectedly.

Anyway, all of this is a very long-winded way of saying: I have thought about it, and I'm now very confident that I just don't have room or need in my life for a god. I'm fine (and actually weirdly comforted) by the thought that this is it: there's nothing beyond, no afterlife, no higher being, no destiny... Just this, and this is what we make of it ourselves.

Oh, and if you're wondering: I think Danny will win this year's Great British Bake-Off, but Iwant Brendan to win.

H xxx