St. Shonagon

I mentioned Sei Shonagon in my last post. The more I think on it, she has a greater claim than anyone to be the pioneer of the blog, and so she should be canonised, elevated to sainthood. Who’s in charge here? Get a move on! Saint Shonagon. Where would we build her shrine? Online of course. All blog writers could then ritually ‘poke’ her in Facebook speak (though it seems intolerably vulgar and rude).

Sei Shonagon lived a thousand years ago and was one of the Ladies who attended on the Empress of that time. She wrote little descriptions – moments in time, memos, instructions, criticisms and so on. These were much admired for the sharpness of her pen and sometime after her death they were collected together in a volume called The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. I haven’t read it in twenty or more years. I went on Amazon (as one does) and saw that I good get a copy of the Penguin classics edition (the one I was familiar with) in used condition for £0.01p – now in terms of pure value that is fantastic. Of course, in order to get it in my grubby hands I need to pay £2.80 – which puts this book at the top end of what I like to pay for a book (I know! The paradoxical conundrum of a writer who expects people to fork out good money to buy a brand new copy of his latest work but begrudges to do the same for other writers. Well, the truth is, I do buy new books too – it’s just I love the treasure troves of books of yore that one finds in the discount racks. The Surrealists, I think it was, prized what they called objets trouve – things found accidentally. The accidental (or would it be incidental) conjunction of significance between a mind and an object. The ‘Yes!’ moment, that in other circumstances is love-at-first-sight. What I prize are the livres trouve – the found books.)

Part of the pleasure of these racks is that there is no categorising. You cannot plan to go and buy any particular book. There can be no intention at all – whatever you find is a surprise. And that goes a long way to explaining the pleasure of this kind of foraging. Anyway, I have purchased Sei Shonagon and I do hope that wherever she is, she does not miss the royalties she is not getting by the act of my buying second hand.

When I started writing this I was assailed by horrendous cravings for what we in Britain call a fag – a smoke. I only recently took up smoking after a 25 year absence – well nearly two years ago. And why did I take it up again? It was a point of honour. When I gave up (having been a smoker for some 15 years and was at the end  puffing away on two packs a day) I did so in the belief that if I didn’t give up  I probably wouldn’t reach the age of 60. Obviously if I did reach the age of 60 that excuse would no longer be true. So the promise I made to myself was that I would give up until the age of 60. Well, of course I had to have a fag – and I did indeed have a celebratory smoke. No problem. Another year went by and I felt that I needed to celebrate this occasion with another cigarette. This time I bought a pack. Over a few days I smoked this and thought ‘how very pleasant this smoking thing is’ and bought another – from then on I was hooked. But smoking is a pleasant thing. I have some very creative and interesting thoughts while taking time out to smoke (and since I don’t allow myself to smoke indoors it requires me to ritualise the act of having a cigarette by going out solely with the intention of having a cigarette). But there were three things that were making smoking unpleasant – no, it wasn’t the fact that it was going to kill me. By the time it killed me I would probably want to be dead anyway – I am completely phlegmatic on that front. I do hope to get to 75 and 80 would be good too – but 85? 86? To be slow and doddery, mind-addled and dependent at 90 (as I am bound to be)? Please God no. But the three unpleasant aspects of smoking were the weather (having to smoke outside in the cold and rain!), the cost and the fact that I was hacking away in the most disgusting way with the most ridiculous cough. So the plan is to give up and then to have only the occasional smokes which I will bum off friends (to their great annoyance). The sin is not smoking, it is having to buy cigarettes and then panicking when you run out. And what was I going to do on long-haul flights? No, it has to be done. I have to give up. And why was I having such cravings? Well it seems I had inadvertently – quite unconsciously removed my nicotine patch. I was tempted to see if I could fight my way through it. Then thought, bugger that. So now re-patched I am feeling almost comfortable again. I must say though, I am really looking forward to finally stopping this silly addiction – then I can have another cigarette!


Jonathan Chamberlain

Author of Dreams of Gold – the comic novel of the London 2012 Olympics

P.S. I sent the following tweet to publicise this post:

St. Shonagon #patronsaint of #blogs? I am finally getting the hang of this #hashtag #business via @wordpressdotcom

About Jonathan Chamberlain

I am a novelist and creative writer attacking all genres indiscriminately - Dreams of Gold (humour) - Alphabet of Vietnam (literary suspense) - Whitebait & Tofu (noir suspense) - Wordjazz for Stevie (memoir) - King Hui (biography) - Chinese Gods (cultural analysis) - The Cancer Survivor's Bible (self-help) My literary blog is In Praise of Older Books see My Fighting Cancer website is My cancer information archive is at
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