Tuesday 1 June 2004

Drowning in words

A near permanent feature of the lounge of my parent's house was the pile of yellowing newspapers that eclipsed the radiator by the patio doors. My father, never one to miss a bargain or price saving even if that meant spending more money buying an unrequired item in a sale, had a subscription to The Times paid for almost entirely through vouchers. Every day another couple of sections would splash onto the door mat and be placed on the pile for reading at a convenient moment. Convenient moments were unfortunately rare, and over time the absence of reading eyes to convert the newspapers into tinder suitable for firestarting let the unread pile tower ever higher, and even though the low-lying strata in the stack of press were old enough to be reporting Queen Victoria's funeral, he refused to throw any of them out without first reading them.

I laughed at his inability to let print go unwitnessed, and threatened to surreptitiously remove papers over the course of weeks until the the stack evaporated. I exhorted him to free himself from the self-imposed reading obligation and spend time doing other things, typically things I wanted him to do like drive me to the cinema, but he always calmly refused. When he retired and freed up his time from the clutches of the Civil Service, he unhurriedly worked through the stack, cancelled the subscription and for a final trick somehow passed on the same habit to me.

I'm a magazine obsessive; I have subscriptions to Edge, New Scientist and Empire, I pick up Trail more often than not, always read Private Eye and Viz when Barry brings them home, and have a sneaking suspicion that given more leisure time I would incorporate The New Yorker, Cycling Weekly, MBUK and Surfing into my habits. Until Christmas, this was a punishing but sustainable load, but then, with not a small hint of revenge in his eyes, my father gave me a subscription to The Economist and I cracked.

The increased tide of reading was achievable to start with. I seized on the opportunity afforded by train journeys to plough through leaders, letters pages were consumed in bed before settling down for the night. I gave up on novels to keep abreast of Vicente Fox's presidency and the latest delays to Halo 2, it seemed a price worth paying. Gradually though, I have been overwhelmed; copies of The Economist spill from my laptop bag, four week old New Scientist's lie unopened on my bedside table. I have no idea what's top of the UK film charts as I can't bring myself to pick up Empire until I've finished this month's Edge. And every week three more magazines arrive to ramp up the Linhope word count.

I could simply throw away the older issues as current affairs and hot scientific topics become history and fad, but binning unopened magazines lies outside the traits I gained from my father. If things continue in this way I'll have to retire or move to escape my subscription oppression.

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