Books my mother gave me

It was a chance remark overheard on a train, someone recalling a book given to them by their mother, not one I recognised.

Mine were The Hound of Heaven and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The first has a blue cover and the other a soft leather cover, smooth to the touch. I can feel it now. But wait – they have long since disappeared, shoved into battered cases and pushed under the bed. Or stowed in black plastic sacks and carried from one Earls Court bedsit to another and then lost on the momentous journey that led to married life.

Lost but not gone for they were treasured gifts from my mother to my teenage self in the days before teenagers were invented, categorised as YA, isolated in bookshops  a month and cut off from the chequerboard of poetry.

And so, some years,  I give myself a treat by swearing faithfully to read  a book of poetry a month.

Last time I did this, about ten years ago, I kept my New Year’s Resolution for three or four months and then forgot….

I may do better this year though then again I may not.

I can’t recall how I heard about Portadown poet Sam  Gardiner. Perhaps it was his marvellous witty poem  Protestant Windows for it was this one that made me buy the book – published by Lagan Press in 2000.

Here’s the poem:

Protestant Windows

They come at sunset peddling daylight, two

Salesmen wearing glasses through which they view

His shabby sliding sashes with disdain.

“Wood?” they suppose and feign

Dismay. “Yes, comes from trees.”

And he raises the drawbridge ten degrees,

a hurdle to reservists

but child’s play to frontline evangelists

with news of paradise

in earth ( at this address to be precise)

in whitest white PVC.

“Think of all

the blessings. And if economical

heavenly comfort isn’t what you need,

think of our Earth,” they plead

and their plastic-rimmed, double-glazed eyes glow

with love for generations of window

salesmen as yet unborn.“If I were you,

I’d save  my CO2

For atheists and papists. I doubt

They even know about King Billy.” “Who?” “William lll to you,

Brought sliding sashes to

Britain. Fetched in pure air and sanity.

Without him we’d still be in the dark.

“Sorry, we must go. It’s late,” they say

And beat a retreat to the gate,

And pause. Quick as a flash

He raises an effortlessly sliding sash

For a parting shot. “Plastic heretics!”

He shouts. The window sticks.

He lugs, a sash cord snaps. The window  drops

On his head, where it stops.

Latimer and Ridley know how he feels

As bloodied, martyred for his faith, he reels

Towards eternity,

Where planets, the  latest novelty,

Are looking less and less

Like being a success

If you liked this blog, maybe have a look at my website: http://www.maryrussell.info  – and keep in touch.

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Trump would bewise to choose his words carefully

    Groper Trump would be wise to choose his words carefully and take heed of those who have gone before him.

In 1995, Jonathon Aitken, Conservative Chief Secretary to the  (British) Treasury, sued the Guardian for  saying bad things about him. All untrue, Aitken said and added: “ If it falls to me  to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British  fair play, so be it.”

  Stirring words except that his case against the Guardian collapsed and thus, having lied and perjured himself up to the hilt, he was unable to meet the costs of the case and was declared bankrupt.

Convicted of perjury, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison – where he found God.

Message to Groper Trump:  a loud voice and a blustering manner may work in the playground but don’t mess with the Guardian and Granada TV whose dedication to journalism and to exposing  a corrupt politician carried the day. Bravo!

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Always the bridesmaid?

Went last week  to see Pinter’s No Man’s Land at London’s Aldwych Theatre, starring Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.

Patrick Stewart had lost his voice and so his understudy took over.

At the end of the play. Ian McKellan came forward and praised the performance of the understudy. And quite rightly as it was excellent.

Two points: as the cast were taking their curtain calls ( there were three) McKellan kept the understudy’s hand  in his – a brotherly gesture or an attempt to prevent the understudy from stepping forward to take a well-earned applause of his own? Still, that’s the theatre for you.

And the second point? McKellan got the understudy’s name wrong so here it is:  Andrew Jarvis.

If you’re interested in the plight of the understudy – always the bridesmaid never the bride – have a look at David Weston’s excellent book Covering McKellan. He spent a year as understudy to Ian McKellan when the latter was touring Lear.

Poignant but a story that has to be told. All part of the theatre canon.

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Bob Crowley’s sexy set.

I was lucky to see the production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Stratford, directed by Howard Davies who, sadly,has just died.

I returned Stratford  a week later having persuaded the Irish paper for which I was then freelancing that it should be reviewed, pitching  it to the paper as something that should be covered since the set designer was Irish, from Cork.

Bob Crowley was his name. Still is. And it was his set that mesmerised me:  a larger than life chest of drawers  out of which was spilling an array of white, gauzy female underwear.

Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson were in the lead but I couldn’t take my eyes off that chest of drawers. Brilliant.

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Hisham Matar and the lost father.

His latest boook, The Return, has just been broadcast on BBC R 4.

It is heartbreaking and for that reason I don’t think I can now read the book. On the other  hand, it is so heartbreaking that I know I must read it.

The Return is  a memoir about his search for the father he fears he will never find.

In the Country of Men, a novel, is about a child’s search for his father. It ranks high in my chosen books and I have always been glad I read it. I am now reading it again.

It is about a marvellous man – the father in the story – who disappears from his home in Libya, is sought in Cairo and disappears again.

Since writing the novel, Matar has gone in search of his father again and so found out more about him.  The memoir is about loss and also about the man who has  been lost.  Lost forever? Only the writer knows.

The final sentences in the radio broadcast were so powerful that I was left alone, in the silent kitchen, the only other person there with me Hisham Matar.

 

 

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The joys of pitching

I’ve pitched a few ideas this week – a short story, two ideas for newspaper features and another short story.

Busy.Also done some walking connected to my current project and as a result wrote a piece about the walking sticks in my life. One from South Africa, one from Spain, one from Croagh Patrick and the rest salvaged from ditches and from the side of the road. I bond with my sticks.

 

Next up, something about that  most charismatic of men – Dan O Connell.

Also had a look at Lissadell and the disputed right of way. Those rights – of the poor and the dispossessed ( too many s’s?) –  are jealously guarded in England.

 

And did I mention the film The Siege of Jabotville – about the Irish UN  force in the Congo in the 60’s who were criticised by some  of the folks back home because they surrendered in the face of a force far larger than their own. Thank heavens we’ve moved on from the creed of sacrifice rather than survival. Plenty of the Irish UN force are still alive today due to the wisdom of their colonel…. Well done, that man.

 

 

 

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Young Syrian has refreshing viewpoint

Seventeen year old Nujeen  Mustafa, a Kurdish Syrian asylum seeker. is a tough nut. With the help of her sisters, she fled Syria last yeat, negotiating the  3.500 mile sea and overland journey in her wheelchair.

Interviewed in the Guardian recently she offered a refreshing view on the Harry Potter book: “Harry Potter is such a lifeless book, there’s too little emotion and too much display of power… it makes every boy in the world think they are the chosen  one.”

Clearly,  the hype failed to reach  Manjib, a town in northern Syria.

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