Archive for June, 2010

Examining This

Well the State exams are always a good laugh, aren’t they? Last year letting the second English paper out of the bag, this year giving out accountancy papers with missing pages. I was passing through a secondary school at the weekend and picked up someone’s discarded English Higher Level Paper 2. A nasty, shiny, slippy pink paper it is too, with some of the dullest questions imaginable. 

“Emily Brontë explores extremes of passion and reason in interesting ways in the novel Wuthering Heights.”
Respond to this statement supporting your answer with suitable reference to the text.

I “did” Wuthering Heights for my own Leaving Certificate twenty-one years ago and was swept away by its power. But how I would hate to be answering that question. I can’t remember what it was in my day – something similar, no doubt, perhaps something on light and dark, civilisation and nature, storm and calm. 

I’ve reread it every two or three years since, I’ve approved of or tutted at film and television adaptations. I don’t think I am still in love with Heathcliff, these days, but it’s their love – his and Cathy’s –  that knocks the breath from your lungs, anyway. I’m sorry to admit I’m sucker for literary tourism of a kind the Brontës would have loathed (I photographed the beer-sticky spot in Jamaica Inn where Joss Merlyn could have died – yes I am aware he is a fictional character), so I’ve supported the Brontë industry at Haworth, and walked a tame bit of the moors. I’ve slipped between the mossy headstones and oohed at Charlotte’s tiny clothes behind glass at the Parsonage, muttered “Come, Anne, pillapotato” in the kitchen, scrutinised miniature manuscripts, delighted in their Irish blood, gobbled biographies, pondered authorship mysteries, but I delight in the knowledge that I will never again answer an exam question on the text. Did anyone sitting the Leaving Certificate answer that Emily Brontë explored extremes of passion and reason in rather humdrum ways? I suppose if anyone’s going to hack at the shins of (yes, arguably) the world’s greatest novelist it will be a pouty teenager. 

Imagining the setters of questions inevitably made me think of Yeats:

Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

Emily’s father used to fire a pistol into the air for effect, and she herself is supposed to have been a crack shot. I know. She might have felt just as much like aiming at me, shamefacedly touching Branwell’s chair at the Black Bull, as at exam setters innocently writing questions.

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Louise Bourgeois has died. Famously the product of a tapestried and betrayed childhood, famously the creator of versions of a spider Maman (or as Bloomberg put it “freaky giant spiders”), famously stitching for dear life, her work often makes me think of fairy tales, their special brew of magic and brutality.

Here’s an article about her by Germaine Greer and a lovely piece by Eimear McKeith from a number of years ago, on an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’s work at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Bourgeois is quoted in that piece:  ‘When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I have always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness.” I love this idea of stitching scraps together to recreate. I’d love to know if it’s something that occurs to other sewers and stitchers. I’ve always been attracted to patchwork, scraps coming together to make a whole, particularly when the scraps are part of a past life, or someone else’s past life, which is then mapped across a bedspread or hanging. 

The Double Sexus exhibition in Berlin (Bourgeois with Hans Bellmer) is now going to run until mid-August. 

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Reconstruct a Horse

No, I didn’t buy it. I didn’t even ask what the reserve was, but it has to be cheaper than stabling and feed. The ears channel more Shrek than Arkle, wouldn’t you say?

By PegSculpture out of Buckleys.

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Chickens in Bloom

I’ve been umming and aahing about having chickens since the turn of the century, I have four books and about thirty bookmarks but no actual birds.

I’d been considering the Eglu, partly because of the way it’s marketed to the sub- and urban chicken fancier and partly because of the fact that you can hose the lot down and even put some bits of it into the dishwasher. I’ve never been quite sure about the design, though, a brightly-coloured cross between the original iMac and some clever storage idea from Ikea, it would stand out like a flower in my dog-and-football-ravaged plot.
But amid lashing rain and garden envy at the Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park, I found the marvellous Chic-Hens, who will supply an Irish-made wooden chicken ark or house which could solve my aesthetic and practical problems in what Newstalk newsreaders regularly call one fowl swoop. I worry that I am succumbing to an idiotic notion of a calmer, more gardeny me in a flowered apron and wellies, scooping eggs from the henhouse while the birds stalk jerkily around the (imagined) orchard. I worry that the dogs will give the chickens heart attacks, that they will keel over from unknown illnesses, that my vet will think I am playing farms, that I’ll never be able to go away for a weekend again, that bird flu will return bringing heartbreak through Herod-style enforced slaughter. Overthinking, moi?

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My sister and I used to roller skate to our local library in Anglesea Road, intoxicated with the freedom of the pavements. The advantage of our clunky buckle-on skates over the cooler boot skates was that when you unbuckled them and slipped them off you were shod and library-ready, so you could just sling them over your shoulder and run upstairs to where the children’s section occupied one whole and glorious floor.  I think you were allowed to take two books out, for three weeks at a time, and it was the old system of a slip in the front of the book which was taken out and tucked into a special pocket on your ticket (green for children, blue for adults) which was then filed upright in a wooden tray behind the counter. You had to have a guarantor as a child borrower, and my father was guarantor for all of us. For someone who didn’t like lending his own books, he was a shocking late-returner of library books himself and stacked up some fat fines until he actually lost one of the borrowed books, which presumably was the last straw for the library because they blacklisted him and we had to get our tickets reissued with my mother as guarantor instead. That’s all nothing compared to George Washington, whose late fines on one book (221 years late) have been calculated at over 300,000 dollars; the book has finally been returned

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With This Hand

Letters of Note is a cracking blog publishing interesting letters from (usually) famous people. I’m talking about proper letters from your actual real-life-legends, not embarrassing texts from Ashley Cole, or overly intimate tweets by Katy Perry. Rummaging will be repaid: here are typed faxes with pen corrections from Hunter S T; stiff, rude notes from Hemingway; charming reproofs from Fred Astaire. The blog is updated every weekday – don’t know how he does it. Love it.

I’m not really that sniffy about email communication, or even text messaging, but everyone knows how direct the communication of an actual letter is – a couple of months ago I had a lovely long chatty letter from a friend travelling in New Zealand, and (apart from cards), to date it’s still the only handwritten letter I’ve received this year. While I was thinking about this, and the mark of a person’s hand, by coincidence I stumbled on the Urban Sketchers blog. Now that is some way to record the world.

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