Also it feels quite cockish to say “Here, read this,” but I love book recommendations. So here, for anyone who vaguely shares my literary tastes, is what I’d Kindle to take on holiday, in no particular order.
1. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, which is charming and uplifting but not saccharine, crucially, and which made my hardest friend cry twice on the train and once in the car.
2. The Wicked Girls, by Alex Marwood. Not charming at all - about two girls who killed another child when they were children themselves. They are now adult women with new identities and new lives and one day, by a terrible quirk of fate, they meet again. “Unputdownable” is overused, but it really applies here. NB: not cheery.
3. Amexica, by Ed Vulliamy, because I loved Breaking Bad, and then by extension I started reading up on Mexico and its drugs war, and then I got completely obsessed. Clear, gripping, and, terrifyingly, non-fiction. If you’d rather read about this in thriller form, see The Power of The Dog, by Don Winslow.
4. Capital, by John Lanchester, because it’s genius and because it’s the closest we’ll get to The Big London Novel.
5. Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton. Shapton is brilliant and polymathic - she’s a fantastic artist (*and* she did the jacket for my last novel) and also wrote a small masterpiece with a very long title, which took the form of an auction catalogue (buy that too; it’s amazing, but it won’t work on a Kindle - you need the physical book). She just writes beautifully, in this instance “about” her swimming-champion past, except it’s about everything.
6. The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller, which I blogged about aaaaaages ago and which gratifyingly went on the win the Orange Prize. You may think you don’t especially want to read about Greek mythology, but you’d be wrong. Aside from anything else, beautiful love story.
7. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. This also deserved to win the Orange. It is deeply, deeply weird as well as GREAT, and will stay in your head for ages after you finish reading. It’s about a doctor turned Big Pharma researcher who heads off into the jungle to find out about a new fertility drug and the people who discovered it. It would take me two paragraphs to explain it properly, and it would sound really mad - just read it. Poisonwood Bible sort of vibe - you feel a bit suffocated as you turn the pages- but very much its own peculiar-genius thing.
8. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. Both a brilliant thriller and a brilliant description of the breakdown of a marriage and of the games men and (the nuttier) women play, brilliantly written. Up til 3am job.
9. I read this last summer, but if you haven’t found your way to A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, then, God, HURRY UP AND READ IT.
Dunno how fast you read but that should do for now. I’m also taking Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which I haven’t yet read but which everyone whose taste I trust is raving about; Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (although tbh I doubt I’ll ever love anything, not even Wolf Hall, as much as I loved A Place of Greater Safety, which actually I might have to re-read); and I’m going to be the last woman in the world to read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, who is the Bernard Levin of “romantic fiction”. Oh, and Tigers In Red Weather by Liza Klaussman, which is another one everyone’s raving about. And Cold Hands by John J Niven - his first thriller - because I love everything he writes.
Very subjective list, obv, and I’ve hardly read any fiction that’s not a thriller this year, due to writing my own book and not wanting to feel accidentally “inspired”, but if you’re wandering about Waterstones feeling overwhelmed, I hope this helps.
“'It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn't figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going,' said Dennis Yeager. 'But we were like, he isn't breathing. How does he still have a heart beat? The nurse checked and said that's because they were holding hands and it's going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up.'”—Couple married for 72 years die holding hands < this is a link.
I had my eyes lasered today. This isn’t a newspaper article and I’m writing at speed, so let’s do bullet points.
I had (had!) myopia (short sight) and mild astigmatism; my prescription was -6 in one eye and -4 in the other.
I’ve been wearing contact lenses since I was 17. I’m now 45. I didn’t like the idea of keeping shoving bits of plastic in my eyes for all eternity.
My eyes were permanently a tiny, tiny bit irritated – I was used to it and didn’t feel discomfort, but the whites weren’t as white as they might have been. Eh, vanity.
More to the point, I hated being blind. I couldn’t bear being in bed and not being able to see the time on the alarm clock, a couple of feet away. On the very rare occasions that I wore my glasses, I felt ridiculously vulnerable, as you do if the only thing lying between you and blurry confusion/panic is a spindly pair of plastic specs.
I used to wonder what I would do if something bad happened when I was lens-less – a fire, a burglar – and I had to grab my children and run and my glasses weren’t immediately to hand. This made me feel anxious.
So I decided – after years of being too scared, too grossed out, too worried, too incredulous – to investigate.
Ask about laser surgery, and you’ll get a wealth of opinion. The people who’ve had it done say: It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. The sceptics say: You rarely meet an ophthalmologist who’s had it done. Eye doctors all wear specs: QED.
The sceptics have an excellent point. You don’t meet many ophthalmologists who’ve had it done. Partly this is because most of us don’t meet many ophthalmologists. Partly this is because privately many express doubt about the ubiquity of High Street operations.
This is because the procedure isn’t a piece of cake but a serious, serious piece of surgery. It’s your EYES, ffs. It’s a major operation (even though it doesn’t feel like it), and it’s non-reversible. As one GP said to me – I did days of research – “if you can’t afford the absolute best, don’t have it done – simple as that.” Actually, everyone said that.
This isn’t to say that all High Street places are bad: some are great. But if you’re going to go down that route:
Make sure your surgeon does some NHS work. If you’re an ophthalmic surgeon and NHS-trained, you know your onions. The same isn’t necessarily true of the private sector. God bless the NHS.
Make sure your consultant is indeed a consultant and a member of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
Make sure the surgeon you see at the consultation will be the person carrying out the surgery – not a technician or a nurse or a random bod.
Make sure you ask how many times they’ve carried out the procedure.
Make sure they give you a proper, thorough examination. Mine lasted - with breaks between bits – for just under three hours.
Armed with this information, which was vigorously repeated to me by every doctor I spoke to (four), I decided to forego the freebies I’d kindly been offered and pay my own money to go to Moorfields.
I saw Mr (actually, Professor) David Gartry FRCS, the leading light in refractive laser surgery. He had the surgery himself ten years ago and was recommended to me by my GP (“I really don’t want you to go to anyone else, apart from his colleague Julian Stevens”). Mr Gartry did my GP’s eyes four years ago and has performed the procedure roughly 16,000 times to date.
What actually happens:
You go for the consultation. It costs £175. It is long and comprehensive. The consultation establishes whether you are a suitable candidate.
You then go for a chat with Mr Gartry, who answers all your questions, explains the risks and so on and so forth. He is very, very nice.
NB most people (everyone, I mean, not just people with bad sight), will, from roughly their 40s onwards, at some point need the kind of magnifying reading glasses you buy from the chemist. This is also the case after laser surgery. It is not currently the case for me, hooray, but I expect it will be at some point. It’s just age – nothing you can do about it apart from being grateful for the fact you’re not wearing contacts AND specs.
You get anaesthetic drops at the consultation and you’re very blurry for a couple of hours afterwards, so get someone to come and get you if that worries you (I walked home).
Nothing they do hurts or freaks you out.
I booked myself in there and then.
You allow an hour for the procedure, although the actual time in the surgery room takes 15-20 minutes. The actual lasering is 30 seconds per eye.
Everybody is incredibly nice and reassuring, even if you ask idiot questions.
I’d taken half a Xanax, but you’re offered magic pills if you need them (you don’t. I wouldn’t have bothered with the Xanax if I’d read this).
The girl in before me came out just BEAMING and laughing with happiness, going “Oh my God, oh my God, I can’t believe it!”, which was so cheering.
It’s a normal room with a chair that reclines.
Nobody clamps your head! Though they used to. I’m intensely claustrophobic – not a figure of speech but properly, medically claustrophobic; I have to sedate myself to do certain things that involve enclosed spaces; I don’t do lifts and so on. Fellow claustrophobes will understand that the idea of my head being clamped while my eyes were forcibly held open put me off – to the point of nightmares - for years.
It is SO not like that.
You just lie down. You’re not clamped or held in any way. It’s comfy.
There are two separate machines – one to cut the flap, one to fix the sight.
They put in anaesthetic eyedrops, meaning that you feel nothing and that you’re less likely to blink.
One eye is covered and the other has this rubbery ring thing pinged in around your eye, making blinking even more unlikely. I didn’t feel Mr Gartry put this in.
The first machine flattens your eyeballs slightly to ready them, one at a time. Press your thumbs into your eye sockets – not very hard - and that’s exactly the feeling. This lasts moments.
Mr Gartry talked to me throughout, explaining what he was doing and counting me down – “six seconds left,” etc.
The laser is then positioned. You stare at a red light for 30 second per eye. That’s it.
It can’t fuck up. The laser cuts out if you blink or move your head.
It’s really, really interesting, from the consultation onwards. I was fascinated by the whole thing, especially laser number 2 today – looking at the lights is like looking at stars in space; it’s beautiful.
Yes, there is a smell. This also put me off for years. The smell is like hair burning – I’ve had worse with mishaps with straighteners, to be honest. I am extremely princessy and fastidious and I could barely summon up the interest to smell it.
That’s literally it.
Maybe 15 minutes have elapsed since you entered the room.
What happens next:
This depends on you and on your prescription. In my case, Mr Gartry had asked me to look at the clock before we started. I could barely locate it.
When I hopped off the table and looked at it afterwards, I could tell the time – but as from behind a cloud of fog, or behind opaque glass. It was clear, but there was a mist.
I was with a friend; we went for coffee and bacon butties. I wore sunglasses.
We went home.
You get given fake tear drops, antibiotic drops and anti-inflammatory drops. You put these in every hour, though not if you’re sleeping (i.e., you don’t wake yourself up to do it).
I could already see better – the fog was lifting.
I was seen at 10.30am. By 2pm, I was back online and checking my emails.
By 3pm I was reading my book.
It’s now 9.40pm and I can see better than I did with my lenses (this is quite trippy – be warned. I stared at a leaf for hours earlier).
Mr Gartry says that this is nothing compared to how I will see in the morning.
I have a follow-up appointment tomorrow.
That’s it. I’d blocked out two days, thinking I’d lie in darkened rooms listening to the radio, but no. I’m bashing this out so I can get to the pub. You have to avoid smoky environments (myself, in my case) and you can’t do massively physical stuff – martial arts, playing rugby – for a week or two. No eye makeup for the first week. You sleep in goggles – sexy – for the first week, so you don’t accidentally rub your eyes and bugger up the corneal flap (sexy also). You wear sunglasses if you need to.
I’ve had shit eyesight all my life. No more. I am seriously considering asking for flying lessons for Christmas to celebrate – I’ve always wanted to fly planes. Imagine wearing two hearing aids all your life and suddenly, after ZERO PAIN and 10-15 minutes, having perfect hearing. It’s like that. It’s a miracle. I would say I wished I’d had it done years ago – and I do – but the machinery was more imprecise. The stories you hear about haloes, driving at night and so on tend to be (though aren’t exclusively) from people who had the procedure done over three years ago. The existing risks are all explained in the massive bumf you get sent when you book yourself in.
This is my own, subjective experience with my particular prescription and this particular surgeon. Your mileage may vary. But in short: a miracle. Life is short and the world is beautiful – so much more beautiful than I ever knew: I do think the only drawback is the amount of time I’m about to spend staring at things and marvelling. If you’ve ever wondered about it: do it.
[My surgery cost £4150 for both eyes; you can pay in instalments.]
Edited to add: It’s now just under 24 hours later and I’ve just had my check-up. 20/20 vision!
“I don’t like everything about Twitter. There are times when a clash of “tone” makes it feel prettty uncomfortable - like going out for dinner and having the person next to you strip naked and sit on their lasagne, crying, while other diners are playing Scrabble or trying to put a hat on a guinea pig.”—In praise of Twitter (apart from the above, obvs), from Shelagh McKinlay’s excellent blog.