Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Sebastian Barry’s “Days Without End” and Spring flowers (1)

March 17, 2017

It’s not often that you come across a novel that is absolutely riveting and makes you want to write down a quote from every page of the book, but the new novel by Sebastian Barry –  Days Without End comes into this category. You can listen to an excellent Guardian podcast featuring an interview with Barry about his novel and this adds further insight into the book. The novel tells the story of Thomas McNulty, who was among thousands who fled from Ireland when the potato famine struck. McNulty briefly tells us of his arrival in Canada on a ship where “I was among the destitute, the ruined and the starving for six weeks”. The Irish who reached Canada “were nothing. No one wanted us… We were a plague. We were only rats of people”. When McNulty subsequently meets a fellow teenager “handsome John Cole” who becomes his life-long friend and lover, he tells us “I was a human louse, even evil people shunned me”. This feeling of McNulty’s – that he and his kind are worthless – continues throughout the book, and McNulty explains that his and John Cole’s ability to withstand the horrors they see, comes partly from this. The book tells of the boys’ and subsequently men’s lives as dancers dressed up as women to entertain miners, then as soldiers engaged in “cleansing” the frontier of Indians and then as regular soldiers in the American Civil.

Barry’s writing is described by reviewers of the book as “vibrant”, “beautiful and affecting”, “exhilarating” and “vivid”. He is one of these writers with an enviable ability to produce descriptions that make your read them again. Open the book anywhere and you’ll find them. The soldiers eat with “the strange fabric of frost and frozen wind falling on our shoulders”. Other soldiers, sent out to meet an Indian chief and his followers “rode like chaps expecting Death rather than Christmas”. There are detailed battle scenes in the book, but also moments of tenderness and humour. Barry does not shrink from describing mass killing – of Indian men, women and children and of rebel soldiers – but he manages to focus on the personal. In the heat of the battle with the rebels, McNulty reflects “Other things I see is how thin these boys [rebels] are, how strange like ghosts and ghouls. Their eyes like twenty thousand dirty stones”. I am two-thirds through this astonishing novel already and I know that when I get near the end, I’ll want it to continue for another 300 pages. Go and buy it.

 

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Sebastian Barry’s stunning novel

Spring really has sprung around here and there is now an abundance of colour in my garden, with much more to come. The first photo is of a tulip from a vase in the house – my own tulips are biding their time, letting the daffodils have their spot in the sunlight, before they upstage them with a glorious display of colour. As readers of this blog will know, what fascinates me in particular is the insides of flowers and their often surreal appearance. I love the symmetry in this tulip as well as the vibrant colours and the central feature, which could be a creature from a sci-fi film or something inexplicable found by archaeologists in a 3000 year old grave. What do you see here?

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Close up of a tulip flower head (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo is of violas on the side of our hanging basket at the front door. The cyclamen in the body of the hanging basket has passed its best. The violas, planted last autumn wore plain green coats all winter and shrivelled in the frost at times. In the past 2 weeks however, they are transformed and show us purple and yellow dresses in a display of sartorial elegance. They are delicate little flowers but have eye-catching, mascara like centre patterns. As the title of this blog post indicates, there will be more Spring flowers to follow.

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Violas in a hanging basket

 

 

Seaside walk and Alice Munro stories

January 9, 2015

On Sunday, my wife and I set off on a walk which takes in forest tracks, farm tracks and a wide sweep of beach. We parked the car at Tyninghame car park which was packed . You have 2 options on this walk – either straight to the beach and walk west or through the woods and farm track to the beach and walk east. The wind direction usually determines which way you go. The initial track through the woods (1st photo) gives you a pleasant, if occasionally muddy, walk, with large fields on either side. One of the fields still had its full complement of sprouts, with the thick green balls clinging to the yellowing stalks. The winding track then goes through some woods and out on to open farmland. My pals and I go on this route on our mountain bikes and there’s a downward section with a tricky corner.

Start of Tyninghame walk

Start of Tyninghame walk

The farmland near the beach, which is out of sight over the hill to your right, is used mainly for grazing horses, with the arable land further inland. To your left, in the trees, you can see some of the Harvest Moon treehouses which invites both campers and – a new word to me – glampers, who are people who  go camping, but want more upmarket accommodation e.g. a wooden cabin or treehouse i.e. no pitching of tents in the pouring rain and no external ablutions in the middle of the night for these glamour campers. There are several horses in the fields near this track and one was close enough to get two attractive photos (see below). This horse looked as if s/he took a stoical view of life, not quite posing for photographs but showing little apparent interest. Would we be as calm as this horse, if a horse was taking a photo of us? The shadow cast by the horse and fence post give the 2nd photo an added value. We get the horse as well as what looks like a black flattened metal sculpture on the ground.

Horse near Tyninghame Beach

Horse near Tyninghame Beach

Horse and shadow  near Tyninghame Beach

Horse and shadow near Tyninghame Beach

You climb over grassy dunes to the beach itself which forms an arc in front of the sea. The tide was coming in and the little waves sparkled in the winter sunshine. Philip Larkin refers to “the small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse” and Larkin’s repeated shhhh could be heard along the shoreline. To the west, the Bass Rock (photo below), now gannet-free and therefore  having lost its white top, dominated the view. On this part of the beach, there are few shells but I did come across two delicately coloured razor clam shells (photo below).

Razor clam shells

Razor clam shells

At the end of the beach, you can follow the forest track back to the car or you can keep going over the ridge which takes you on to a stretch of small beach and rock pools. From here, you get superb views across the sea to Dunbar on your right  and up the hills on your right. In the sunshine, the subtle green of the seaweed on the rocks contrasts well with the light blue of the rock pools and the deeper blue of the sea – as seen in the photos below. This is an intriguing walk at all times of the year.

Rock pools at Tyninghame Beach

Rock pools at Tyninghame Beach

Rock pools at Tyninghame Beach

Rock pools at Tyninghame Beach

I’ve just finished reading Alice Munro’s book of short stories Dear Life. I’ve had this book for over a year now and picked it up from my shelves again, having read some of the stories months ago. Munro is an intriguing writer. Her lead  characters  in this book are female and of various ages. Munro has that expert short story writer’s ability to sum up a middle aged person’s life in a few telling sentences. Families figure strongly in the stories  – mothers, fathers and sisters are often remembered from the viewpoint of an older woman reflecting on an incident in here childhood in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s. These are a set of compact vignettes, to be read singly and no more than one per day, by an enviably talented writer.

Alice Munro Dear Life

Alice Munro Dear Life