Posts Tagged ‘miners’

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

 

 

Munich visit: BMW Museum and Deutsches Museum

November 14, 2015

My pal Roger and I went to Munich last week. We were hoping to get tickets to see Bayern Munich play at the Allianz stadium, but tickets were like hens’ teeth so we watched the game with other local (but likewise ticketless) supporters in a pub. The stadium (photo below) is an interesting structure as it’s made out of “2,874 rhomboidal inflated ETFE foil panels” and is the largest “membrane shell” in the world.

Allianz Stadium in Munich

Allianz Stadium in Munich

Munich has a wide range of museums and, as we were there for 4 days, we had to be choosy. My pal is a retired engineer, so we went for 2 technology related museums, with the hope of squeezing more in. The first visit was to the BMW Museum where we saw a wide range of cars and motor bikes made by the company since the 1920s. You don’t have to be interested in cars or motorbikes to enjoy this museum as much of the information relates to social history as much as technical developments. Another reason for visiting the BMW museum is aesthetic and I was fascinated by the smooth curves on the BMW building as well as on the cars. There are two buildings, one containing recent cars and bikes and another which houses the museum. The 1st photo is of the initial building you visit and the 2nd is the museum.

BMW building in Munich

BMW building in Munich

BMW Museum building

BMW Museum building

The cars which appealed to me in terms of design included the 1939 BMW 328 and the 1930 BMW 3/15 which was based on the British designed Austin 7.

BMW 328 in BMW Museum in Munich

BMW 328 in BMW Museum in Munich

1930 BMW 3/15 in BMW Museum in Munich

1930 BMW 3/15 in BMW Museum in Munich

The museum is very well designed and leads the visitor through the history of motorbikes and cars, including a new section on the Mini (includes video tour) which BMW now produce.

The second museum we visited was the extensive Deutsches Museum which is described as “a museum of masterpieces in science and technology”. The museum is on 7 floors, so it would be impossible to visit the whole museum in one day. We spent some time in the shipping section which contained some superb examples of sailing ships as well as impressive models of modern ships. The sailing ship below was a fully rigged fishing boat from the days before steam power. It was aesthetically pleasing to look at but you were also aware that being in this boat in bad weather would have been a hazardous experience.

Sailing ship in Deutsches Museum in Munich

Sailing ship in Deutsches Museum in Munich

The next section on the initial generation of electricity was also very interesting, in particular the 2 steam driven machines below, one of which drove a threshing machine in the fields of Germany. The first machine was based on Stephenson’s steam engine – another British invention. It was interesting to look at what would now be regarded as fairly clumsy and crude technology, but when it was invented machines such as these were revolutionary.

Early electricity generation using a steam engine in Deutsches Museum in Munich

Early electricity generation using a steam engine in Deutsches Museum in Munich

Early electricity generation using a steam engine in Deutsches Museum in Munich

Early electricity generation using a steam engine in Deutsches Museum in Munich

The most fascinating part of our visit was the section on mining. When you enter this part of the museum, you see photos of mining technology over the centuries but then you descend into the lower depths of the museum. Here you are confronted with a recreation of actual mines, with low ceilings and examples of miners working with pickaxes in incredibly narrow spaces. In parts it can feel very claustrophobic, with the walls getting ever narrower. It certainly showed how hazardous an occupation mining was and, to a lesser extent with huge cutting machines, still is. This was very much a physical experience as well as a visual one and it is a magnificent achievement on the part of the museum curators. You can see a range of photos from this section here. You could easily spend a week in the Deutsches Museum and not see it all and with more time in Munich, we would certainly have gone back. The museum is located on the banks of the River Isar and we walked along the river in 17 degrees of sunshine on a November day in Munich. There are paths on either side of the river and these attract many walkers and cyclists. Here is a view looking down the river.

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