Posts Tagged ‘Philip Larkin’

Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home and the National Gallery of Ireland

October 11, 2018

I have just finished Peter Carey’s remarkable novel A Long Way From Home which features two very distinct voices of the main characters in the book. Peter Carey is one of Australia’s best known novelists and has won the Man Booker Prize twice, once with his truly original novel The True History of the Kelly Gang, which featured the remarkable voice of the semi-literate Kelly. In the current book, there are two distinct voices which dominate the book in alternate chapters. The first voice is of the feisty and diminutive (in height only) Irene Bobs who gets married to her car salesman husband Titch. Irene is determined to succeed and has refined humorous descriptions of events and people down to a fine art, for example in her dealings with her rascally father in law Dan. The second voice is of Willie Bachhuber, a very intelligent and thoughtful teacher, who is accident prone in life and love. He is dismissed for hanging a pupil, the son of a local villain, upside down outside a classroom window. He moves next door to the Bobs family and ends up being a navigator for their car in the famous Australian Redex Trial, a hair-raising race around Australia in the 1950s. You can get a flavour of the race in the video below.

This is the adventure story part of the book but the novel is much more than a rip-roaring tale. The family tensions within the Bobs family deal with love and emotion. The other major part of the novel deals with Australia’s history of ill-treatment (and earlier genocide) of the aboriginal peoples who once owned all the land. The story of Willie Bachhuber and his family background is often moving but never sentimental, and his teaching of aboriginal children – and learning from them – is inspirational. Carey carefully intertwines the stories of his characters, both white people and aboriginal “blackfellahs”, a term used by both races. This compulsive novel is by turns hilarious and heart-wrenching and contains Carey’s often poetic but always immaculately structured sentences. Some examples: “Mrs Bobs piloted with her nose just above the wheel, checking her mirrors left, right and centre. I was reminded of a sparrow eating”. “Clover was about my own age, tall and slender as a flooded gum”. “Doctor Battery [an aboriginal man] sang softly, with sufficient authority, it seemed, to lift the sun up from the sand, suck the shadows out across the plain”. Go out and buy this novel and the voices of the two main characters will remain with you for a long time.

Carey novel

Peter Carey’s enthralling new novel (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The final experience of our trip to Dublin was a visit to the impressive National Gallery of Ireland which has an excellent range of Irish artists, as  well as works of the more famous such as Monet, Vermeer and Turner (click on links for examples of their work). My main aim was to learn more – and see examples of – Irish painting and portraiture, and I was not disappointed. The first painting which really caught my eye is The Sunshade by William Leech. The colours in the painting range from vivid to subtle and the sunlight on the woman’s top contrasts with the shadows created by the umbrella. The woman’s top veers from green at the top to bright yellow at the bottom. There is delicacy everywhere in this most attractive painting – in the fine lines of the umbrella, in the woman’s elegant neck and in her fine hands. What is she thinking as she stares into space and her fingers touch on the umbrella’s handle? I think that the artist would leave that for us as individuals to interpret.


The Sunshade by William Leech

The second work of art is Carting Seaweed on Sutton Sands by Joseph Malachy Kavanagh. The information beside painting – done in 1895 – tells us that collecting seaweed on beaches near Dublin “for food, medicine and fertiliser” was a common practice, as it was elsewhere in Europe. There is so much to admire in this painting – the doleful horses waiting patiently to haul the ever-heightening load of seaweed; the ominous dark clouds, which may be moving away from their lighter and fluffier counterparts – or approaching them; the wet sand with puddles reflecting the wheels and the horses’ feet; the waves which make little impact on the shore; and the man who is busy collecting the seaweed in his rough clothes, with a tear in his waistcoat at the back. Part of the scene echoes Philip Larkin’s lines in To the Sea – “the small, hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse”. As I live by the sea, paintings of beaches always intrigue me and this painting was no exception.


Carting Seaweed on Sutton Sands by Joseph M Kavanagh

The final painting is by Sir John Lavery (many examples) some of whose works I have seen in the National Gallery of Scotland (example)The one I have chosen from Dublin is Return from Market, painted in France, as was the Leech example above. This impressionist work shows a mother and daughter returning from the market in a small rowing boat, although the girl is using the oar like a punt. This is quite a large painting, so you can stand back and admire the gentle reflections of the woods and the boat on the water. The leaves at the top and the beautiful water lilies at the bottom of the painting give the work a calming and perhaps dream-like quality. It is a rustic and timeless scene. I like the way the artist captures the serenity of the water lilies, just as they are about to be swept aside by the boat.


Return from Market by John Lavery

The National Gallery of Ireland is in an impressive, modern building. The lay-out can be confusing but the staff were friendly, helpful and informative. It was a pleasure to visit.


Barns Ness and The Last of the Light

December 23, 2015

A walk on Sunday along the beach at the White Sands, which is about 2 miles (3.2k) from Dunbar. The wind was in the south-west, so the sea was calm although rippled by the wind. If the wind is in the north, there can be breakers on this beach, but on Sunday, there was only Philip Larkin’s onomatopoeic “the small hushed wave’s repeated fresh collapse” from his poem To the Sea. At the east end of the beach, you find a series of limestone pavements, which were formed “with the scouring of the limestone by kilometre thick glaciers during the last ice age”. It’s hard to imagine a glacier being one kilometre thick. One of the most interesting features of limestone pavements are the visible fossils, of plants and animals, on the pitted surface of the hard rock.



Limestone pavement at the White Sands

Once you reach the end of the beach, Barns Ness Lighthouse comes into view and there are alternative paths which take you to the lighthouse. We walked through the gorse bushes (some of them had unseasonable flowers), and then along the edge of the beach where the oystercatchers (includes video) were in a constant search for food at the waves’ edge.


Oystercatcher. Photo by Mike Pennington and reproduced under the Creative Commons licence

Barns Ness Lighthouse first shone its beams across the sea in 1901 and the light continued to shine until 2005. It was originally manned by lighthouse keepers and then automated in 1986. One of our sons’ favourite picture books when they were young, was The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch and you can watch it on a YouTube video (not sure about the copyright on this). It’s a great story for children, amusing and educational at the same time.


The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage

The lighthouse has been recently repainted and repaired and it is one of our local icons as it stands proudly at the sea-shore. There may not be a light shining any more but it is still a very impressive and fascinating building.

Barns Ness Lighthouse

Barns Ness Lighthouse


Barns Ness Lighthouse

In last week’s Guardian Review, there was a review of a book on twilight The Last of the Light by Peter Davidson. I very rarely read non-fiction books these days but I’m going to buy this one. Davidson refers to the fact that in 2016, there is so much unnatural light that we forget what twilight – ” the last glimmering of a way of seeing” is really like. The author looks at prose, poetry and art in discussing the time between light and dark at the end of the day and also considers twilight in a range of countries. For example, the French refer to twilight as the time between chien et loup – the dog and the wolf. The French for twilight is le crepuscule which comes from the Latin crepusculum. I’ve noted here before that one of my favourite words is crepuscular referring to the twilight. Crepuscular is a muscular word.


The Last of the Light by Peter Davidson

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