I'm now so hooked on audio books that those two little earphony white snails dangle permanently down my front. This is a boon and a curse. It's a boon, in that what wouldn't our ancestors have given to escape the mundane entirely at their convenience? Those longuers in hideously uncomfortable carriages would have been transformed by, say, Martin Chuzzlewhit, Vanity Fair or a Philosophy Bites podcast.
The curse is that when Jo is dying (Bleak House), or Keith Talent's at the darts (London Fields), or I'm singing with Mollie (Ulysses) it's hard to concentrate on, for example, the shopping. Last week, in Tesco's, the brown-shirts had just invaded the Ephrussi house in Vienna (The Hair with Amber Eyes). At the checkout, they hurled Emmy's dressingtable over the balustrade. Asked if I had a club card, I heard only the dressingtable hit the marble. When I got home, my shopping had apparently been done by a lunatic. No cheese. Three apples. Something I had taken for cream but wasn't. Sweetcorn instead of peas. Edmund de Waal had ruined our dinner.
In the park, shrieking at my dogs (I'm deaf, with the snails in my ears, and irritable since I don't want to miss a word and the dogs will lag and dawdle to sniff) I felt my mobile vibrate. Unable to find the pause button (iPod nanos are very nano indeed) I pulled a snail out of my left ear, answered my phone and found myself, in a second or two, live on the radio talking about something or other, with Lolita still pouring into my right ear. I tried to make sense for my radio audience, but they may have got more than they bargained for, with Lolita clearly audible from the dangling left snail. Why didn't I just pull the whole snail contraption from the socket? I've no idea. You become slightly deranged when attached to great literature.
And other people get involved. Slightly weepy (Ragtime - it's Doctorow reading his own work that gets me) I find myself patted on the shoulder by strangers. I've given up trying to explain, since this alarms people. I forget we're inhabiting different worlds and I'm sure they want to enter mine as little as I want to enter theirs. Luckily, you can't yet get Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety on audiobook. I'd be a wreck hearing the gravelly tones of Sean Barrett intone, 'There is a point beyond which - convention and imagination dictate - we cannot go; perhaps it's here, when the carts decant on to the scaffold their freight ... Camille is now, suddenly, calm ... For ten seconds Danton looks away. After that he watches everything ... He watches each death, until he is tutored to his own.'
A little Waugh next. Scoop, perhaps, if it's available. I'll be cackling in the post office queue and metaphorically shaking my fist at lorries and buses who dare drown out the voice of William Boot. At least I hope metaphorically. Once plugged in, imagination and reality fuse together. I may not be quite myself. If you hear I've been arrested, you'll know why. I went to a convent school so am perfectly at home in institutions and just imagine how many audio books could fill a decent ten year stretch.
Happy New Year!