Monday 21 September 2020

Coney Island, family history,

Sitting upstairs looking over to Rosses Point and Ben Bulben, one afternoon on tiny Coney Island in Sligo Bay, I read The Keeper by Miranda Doyle, descendant of the family who once lived in a two and a half room cottage a few yards up the road. There's a photograph of eleven of them in their Sunday best outside the cottage in the 1920s. The book is hard to read if you don't have a focus. So many people, so many names and those relationships that fall naturally as winged seeds from a tree if you are an insider.

Eventually I fitted into the picture the owner of the house where we're staying, and the author of the book, who is her niece. More obscure is the (older) woman who vowed to publish this family history, and most compelling her note, in bold typeface, about having changed the emphasis of parts of the tale, to spare living relatives. 

There is spoken testimony from family members, some of it glorious.

One house we came to. The man. He was in bed. You could see he was riven with Tuberculosis, or what we called in those days Consumption. Because of the dampness and the sheer everythingness of it.

Menfolk knew their Milton and their Shakespeare and their Shelley, even if some of the books got burned to keep the fire going. A copy of Virgil survived and now lives on a shelf in New Zealand. One at least wrote poetry, in the high literate tone that obliterates content. When literature meant something just by being as remote as possible from the dirt floor and the over and over slippery babies hitting the straw.

Babies were born onto the straw. Sometimes in houses that only had three walls, making for a lack of boundary between the inside and the out.

Just a small thing, which over time became the bricks and mortar built between people who have nothing more to say to each other.

I was not surprised to find, when I got home and googled Miranda Doyle, that she had later written a memoir called A Book of Untruths. Nothing in bold typeface here, and emphasis exactly as it should be. The sheer everythingness of it brought up to date.

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Embers, Sándor Márai, Roger Deakin's Notes from Walnut Tree Farm.

A book you know takes your temperature.

I re-read Embers by Sándor Márai and discover that I am not in the way of preferring solitude in the middle of a deep forest. Not at all. It's like looking down a long corridor, and there are two old men meeting after forty-one years. Cherchez la femme. When I first read it I relished the isolation, the bottomless quiet of it.  This time I'm restless with the rules, the codes, the duty and the proprieties.

I dip back into Roger Deakin's Notes from Walnut Tree Farm with relief.  Here he is watching his cat Millie.
You're a passionate little person — you sit on my table, and when I speak kind words to you, you purr. When I stroke you with kind words, you purr even louder than when I stroke you with my fingertips. And when a train goes by at the end of the fields, or a magpie calls, your ears swivel and focus all on their own, each ear moving independently. So one ear listens to a wood pigeon and another to the slight whirring of the fridge. 
That's better.