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.


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.  


In defence of Dirty Dancing

A little while ago, I asked for feminist film suggestions on Twitter. I was almost drowned with enthusiastic responses, and will hopefully be able to categorise them all into some sort of blog post at some point. 

One suggestion really stuck out in my mind. @ayiasophia suggested Dirty Dancing, but also mentioned that she had gotten some stick for suggesting it as feminist in the past. Now I must admit, I did scoff a little myself for a few seconds. But then I thought about it. Could Dirty Dancing, in actual fact, be one of the most quietly fervent feminist films around?

What? This blog post needed a picture. Its hardly my fault if a half-naked picture of Patrick Swayze just happened to present itself to me. Its not objectification, honest

What? This blog post needed a picture. Its hardly my fault if a half-naked picture of Patrick Swayze just happened to present itself to me. Its not objectification, honest

Firstly: allow me to declare that I love this film. I've watched it many, many times: on my own, with friends, in a packed cinema with smuggled in wine (yes, we ended up dancing in the cinema, but it's okay because everyone else in there was too), I've seen the stage show twice. Most of all, though, I remember this film from my childhood. If the weather was bad, they used to let us watch it on video instead of PE. My mum and I knew the soundtrack off by heart. To this day, She's Like The Wind makes me weak at the knees. However, it's always felt a bit guilty, loving this film. After all, it's pretty frivolous, right? or is it? 

When I was younger, the subtleties of it totally passed me by. It was, as far as I was concerned, a film entirely about kicking bridges, pretty dresses, dancing, and of course watermelons. I even remember vaguely wondering what was dirty about it. Of course, when you watch it as an adult you realise they're lolling post-coitally around in bed for a lot of the time. And they used to show us it in school! 

Baby is, it's safe to say, not defined by her looks or sexuality at the start of the film. She's smart, and she's going to change the world. She's not what would be considered particularly beautiful. Her sister, on the other hand, is defined by her looks. She's that stereotypical, air-headed woman who thinks her appearance is what matters.

My views of feminism are strengthening constantly these days. It's tempting to define it as not needing a man, but I think it's a real shame to exclude men and relationships from a working definition of feminism. In my opinion, a feminist heterosexual relationship is one in which you are free to be consumed by love at its frightening best, and yet its about not being defined by your relationship with men. 

At first glance, this film is about getting the guy (and what a guy!). But when you think about it more deeply, the reasons why she gets the guy are really important and quite admirable. It is her ideals, her intelligence, and her ability to be an all-round decent person that gets her the guy rather than how drop-dead gorgeous she is. Her sister, who does try to use her looks to get her way, fails miserably. There's also that pro-choice storyline, and who could possibly forget Jonny's speech about how he's used by rich women- he's the one who is objectified here, not Baby.  

So, when you think about it, its actually the perfect film for the school to have been showing us as children, and for my Mum to watch with me time and time again. It's about a young woman who learns that she'll be loved because of who she is, rather than what she looks like. It's about her learning about and pretty freely enjoying sex and love but not being defined by it. She is her own person throughout and at the end... Well, off she goes, like the wind. 

I've noticed that a few of the feminist films that were suggested centre around revenge, usually against men. But there's none of that here. There's an acknowledgement that  men are present, enriching and important, but they are not the be-all-and-end-all of being a good person. Jonny is a support to Baby, but not a crutch - and to me, that's exactly what a healthy relationship should be.