Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Bookseller of Kabul

And I thought the culture I grew up in was awful... Rural Ulster in the Seventies was a male dominated society - it overflowed with misogynist bullies - swanking around in dark suits, holier than thou - one of our warlords was once quoted as saying, with a pious expression on his fat, well fed face: "the problem with women is that they don't know to stop talking when a man starts."
Thanks God then for my own lovely father - the most gentle of men - who has never once raised his voice to me, or told me how to behave. Or what to wear. Or who to marry.
Even now, he lends me his car when I need it, he babysits when I want to go out, he compliments my cooking and when I make mistakes he always blames everyone else.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog

Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song;
And if you find it wondrous short,
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man,
Of whom the world might say
That still a godly race he ran,
Whene'er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes;
The naked every day he clad,
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found,
As many dogs there be,
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends;
But when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad and bit the man.

Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wondering neighbours ran,
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seemed both sore and sad
To every Christian eye;
And while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.

Oliver Goldsmith (1766)

The Painted Veil

The book should come with a Health Warning attached - BEWARE IT'S NOT LIKE THE FILM -if you thought the film was sad...
Silly vain Kitty marries stiff, formal Walter because he asked her and she was desperate. Walter takes her back to Hong Kong where he works and within three months she's committing adultery with slimy Charles Townsend, the assistant colonial governor. When Walter discovers their affair he gives Kitty two choices - he will divorce her quietly if Charles Townsend agrees to marry her, or she can come upcountry with him, into a cholera epidemic with the very good chance it will kill her.
Of course slimy Charles will not marry her - it would ruin his career and his reputation - so Kitty, with no other choice travels upcountry with Walter. Into the jaws of death.
And here's where the book and the film diverge.
In the film Kitty and Walter are reconciled; Walter even accepts that she's probably pregnant with Charles Townsend's baby. And when he dies with cholera, she's distraught and by his side.
In the book they are not reconciled - Walter dies, face to the wall, quoting the last line of Goldsmith's An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog - 'the dog it was that died.'

Monday, May 23, 2011

Black Swan

I once read an intriguing piece about how to write a bestseller - and the gist of the feature was this - to write a bestseller one must open an artery and let the life blood spill out - the reader will feel the emotion and respond it. And it doesn't matter what genre you choose - John Grisham's first novel A Time To Kill was written after he witnessed the horrowing testimony of a 10 year old girl who'd been raped -
Having watched Black Swan on the edge of my seat I think it's true to say it doesn't matter what creative discipline you choose - novel writing, ballet or the movies - to create a bestseller one must open an artery and let the life blood spill out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Essay on Criticism

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
Alexander Pope
This extract from An Essay on Criticism - pinned to the door of the tack room since Tuesday- has caused anarchy at the stables. Already it's been ripped from its thumb tacks, screwed up in a ball and dumped into the trash. Then salvaged and carefully smoothed and repinned to the door of the tack room. I'm rather amused that a literary work can ignite such a violent reaction - the pen is indeed mightier than the sword!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Slumdog Millionaire

Congratulations to screen writer Simon Beaufoy for transforming an OK Indian novel into an excellent international movie. Mr Beaufoy - if you ever decide to transform an OK Irish novel into an excellent international movie I have seven to chose from...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fake Tan

I'm going to the Rugby Club Ball and I'm wearing a halterneck dress which exposes the most of my back and plunges right down to my navel. But I have a Farmer's Tan - arms, neck and chest are burnt brown, the rest is freckled and pale. In an effort to balance the colour I bought a bottle of fake and asked Nick to to administer light sweeping strokes across the pale curve of my back. I demonstrated on my calves, thighs and tummy. I gently suggested a couple of times as he kneaded and pressed and vigorously rubbed : "Maybe I lighter touch, darling?"
Afterwards I inspected his handiwork - I almost exploded with horror - it was blotchy and streaked and utterly awful. I could make out his fingers in one place. And on my shoulder was a huge gloopy blob. I looked (and still look) like an oompah loompah.
He was defiant. He said: "I think there's something wrong with your back."
There is most certainly something wrong with my back - which is why I will be standing with it pressed to a wall at the Rugby Club Ball.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ode to Pony Club Mothers

They're at it again, the Pony Club mums, telling me how to teach... Last night their kids rode off around the arena - a gentle stretching walk - after a lap I was planning to check the girth and the length of their leathers.
PC Mum pipes up: "Excuse me! Excuse me! Annabel's stirrups are not the same length."
"Yes I can see that," I said. "I'll adjust them when she rides back to me."
"But what if she falls off before that because her stirrups aren't the same length?" (The implication being that the fall will be my fault, the result of my negligence...)
Usually I try to be kind. And to reassure the pony club mums that their children are in safe hands. But last night I couldn't be bothered. I said: "If Annabel's not fit to sit on the pony she shouldn't be in this class. She should be on a lead rein."
Today I've decided to fight fire with fire. The following extract from An Essay on Criticism (1703) is to be pinned on the door to the tack room:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
Alexander Pope

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Diplomatic Baggage

I absolutely loved this book. Not only was it the perfect antidote to the post modern whingeing of The Slap but I utterly identified with plucky Brit Brigid who married a man with itchy feet and spent decades trailing the world in his wake. So there's two of us - that's good to know...
What's particularly good is that Brigid pulls no punches about what is naively perceived by non-ex-pats to be a glamorous lifestyle for apart from the sunshine and staff a trailing spouse's lifestyle is very much the same as it would be back home - except she's a foreigner in an often hostile land, with absolutely no backup - no family members to help her out, no Welfare State to support her, and Hubby's at work at least six days a week.
It's the trailing spouse who finds a house she can bear to live in. And places in schools for the children. And a bottled water supplier. And a car. And staff she trusts and likes. And a few like minded friends.
And by the time she's managed all that it's time to move on to the next place.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Slap

Please don't tell me this is an accurate representation of contemporary Australian society - really - are all Australian men aggressive, boorish and unfaithful with a Madonna / Whore complex? Are all Australian women submissively tolerant of their aggressive, boorish, unfaithful husbands? Are all Australian teenagers taking drugs and sleeping around? Does everyone swear all the time? I have faithfully read through the 500 pages and been unable to find one person I could identify with - not even one I could sympathise with -
So, what's it all about?
Obnoxious aggressive small boy gets a slap at a party from an aggressive wife- beating man. Passive aggressive earth mother of the small boy refuses to accept his apology - she reports him to the police and those at the party who witnessed the slap are forced to take sides on the issue - which they cheerfully do because everyone at this particular party is tediously opinionated with one- dimensional opinions...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mid Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble,"
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year

Seamus Heaney

Monday, May 2, 2011

Unscheduled Landing

Things rarely go to plan when we fly and this trip was not an exception. Cross winds in Abu Dhabi (AUH) prevented the aircraft from landing, we were diverted to Sharjah where we sat on the runway for a couple of hours till the AUH airport opened again. (And even then I noticed we landed on a runway with sandbanks up each side). A safe landing is not to be sniffed at but we'd missed our connection to Bahrain.
Etihad ground staff couldn't have been nicer - they arranged for the children and me to spend the day in a hotel until a later flight. I must say my heart sank for I spent allot of time in Gulf State hotels when I was an airstewardess and most were spectacularly uncomfortable with scratchy hard sheets and cardboard box pillows, limp salads and fatty meat in the restaurants. So with low expectations I allowed them to take us to Park Inn Hotel on Yas Island...
And oh my goodness - I was so impressed! The sheets were 300 thread count cotton, the pillows were soft and the buffet at lunch was delicious... The children were hugely impressed.
"Let's stay a bit longer!" they pleaded. "We never get a holiday..."