Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘English’

onchesilbeachThe story opens in 1962 with a young couple, Florence and Edward, honeymooning in a hotel, near Chesil Beach, in Dorset. It’s their wedding night, and we first meet them at dinner, each privately contemplating the imminent consummation of their vows.

It’s clear they’re deeply in love, also clear there’s a conflict that bodes ill for their future. Edward is more sexually experienced and is almost swooning with desire at the prospect of completing himself with the woman he loves. However their courtship thus far has been rather chaste, but his love and his anticipation of their future lives together has made the waiting bearable, while at the same time stoking his expectations. Florence on the other hand is sexually repressed and secretly appalled by the idea of what’s to come, but through her love for Edward, she hopes she can manage sufficiently to at least get by.

The consummation is a disaster. Florence is left feeling disgusted, and Edward humiliated by her disgust. She rushes out of the hotel, runs along Chesil Beach, eventually huddling down in the fold of a smooth worn tree trunk that’s been washed up and here she considers her future. Meanwhile, Edward sets out to find her. This is the culmination of their story, the details of which are told in retrospect as we go along, finally to arrive at this critical moment when Edward catches up with her and they begin to talk.

Florence might easily be branded the guilty one here, but what crime is it, to be frigid? Yet it might also be said she deceived Edward over her distaste for intimacy throughout their courtship, that if she’d come clean with him he might reasonably have thought twice and married someone else. But at the opening of their foreplay we see she is not entirely disconnected from her carnal nature, that if Edward had only been more patient and, dare we say, a better lover, the night need not have ended so badly as it did.

His attempted rapprochement with Florence does not go well either, neither seeming able to say what they actually mean. The hurt gets in the way of their love, and the wrong words keep coming out. Finally, Florence, filled with self loathing and guilt, rejects her sexual nature, telling Edward they might still be together but he would have to find “that kind” of pleasure elsewhere, with other women, a suggestion Edward finds appalling. The marriage is over.

The story concludes with a brief flash forward to their futures, lives maturing along entirely separate lines. They do not see each other again after that fateful night, yet Florence still thinks of him, and he of her, both looking back over their lives from that moment in their youth, their love still invisibly binding them. The power of the story, for me at least, is the feeling that if only he had said this or she had said that, or both been more open, patient, understanding, their love would surely have led the way to a fulfilling life together. It was a prize worth the fighting for, but they allowed it to slip through their fingers.

The regret I felt on closing the book was palpable, and I am still thinking of it, wondering how I would have dealt with the situation, had I been in Edward’s place. How would I have viewed Florence’s frigidity and her eventual disgust? It’s seems churlish I would have rejected her out of disappointment at her lack of skill or even any vestige of apparent aptitude in that department. Surely, I would I have tried to find other ways of loving her, perhaps seeking to melt her over time into an appreciation of the desires she was clearly capable of, had I only been sensitive enough to realise it. Or maybe, like Edward, the humiliation I would have felt in that moment would have been too great a hurdle for my younger, Ego weighted self to overcome. But of course, neither of these characters actually existed and it’s a testament to McEwan’s prowess that he can so easily convince us that they did. I don’t know if that tree ever washed up on Chesil Beach, but I imagine it did, and I imagine Florence still sitting there, and I’m walking towards her, wondering what to say. And this time I’d better get it right.

Altogether, an emotionally powerful story of two very human characters, all the more poignant for not ending well, as is always the way I suppose.

But don’t let that put you off.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Mazda3It is with regret I leave Scarborough and the North Sea coast, but not before a surprise awakening in the night! On the first occasion, it is the amorous couple across the landing, again. It’s going up for midnight and it’s taking a while for their indiscreet coitus to get going. I regret to say I attempt to quench their ardour by rolling groggily from bed and flushing my toilet, since I presume this will be as audible in their room as theirs is in mine. My intervention is purely on account of the lady’s predilection for talking dirty, which has never been my thing really – perhaps there is too much of the grey tweed Englishman in me. I am not a prude, but I find it vulgar and embarrassing. Also there are young children on the same landing and I would not like them to be disturbed by it. I underestimate the couple’s determination however and the voluble, aggressive, foul mouthed coupling continues.

It is the fire alarm that comes to our rescue eventually. Unfortunately this also necessitates evacuation into the cold and rain of the small hours to await the Fire Brigade. Fortunately the alarm is false.

You never know someone properly until you have seen them in their pyjamas and I venture to suggest guests found the event, chatting casually in the small hours and rather less formally clothed than at dinner, a good ice breaker. I regret to say I did not follow evacuation instructions to the letter, being guilty of pausing to pull on jeans and jacket over my PJs, but I was still out in under a minute. I note I had also unconsciously rescued wallet, carkeys and spectacles. Luggage and, interestingly, the journal (on the Voyo) were left to burn.

Anyway, the morning of my departure is wet, and it’s a long, steamy drive west, pausing for coffee in the beautiful market town of Helmsley. I suspect the weather is broken now, and we will not be cruising home at any point in style with the top down. The rain comes on more in earnest now and I browse Helmsley with the aid of an umbrella. In the bookshop I discover to my delight Niall Williams’ latest novel, History of the Rain.  I read the opening paragraph, my heart fills and I take it at once to the till. I shall lock myself away next week and savour it. Williams I’m sure is part born of the Faery folk, for none other could cast such a spell with mere words.

I make another stop at Ripon for more coffee and to purchase picnic tea from Sainsbury’s, also a brief visit to the deer park at Studley to relive memories of past summers there with my children – now too old to want to holiday with eccentric parents. I find it is too expensive to leave the car for even an hour by the lake, so I press on to my final lodgings, the Half Moon Inn.

In “By Fall of Night”, the Half Moon Inn does not exist, at least not in the physical world, but rather in the shared dreamspace of the main protagonists, Tim and Rebecca. In other parlance it is an Ibbetson space, a term so far as I can discern first coined by Robert Moss, teacher of dreaming, author and latter day shaman. It is so called after the Georges du Maurier novel Peter Ibbetson, an highly accomplished story which explores the idea of shared lucid dreaming. I am half expecting to have similarly imagined the physical existence of the Half Moon, but come upon it suddenly as I usually do, while pasting it along the road to Pateley Bridge. It is by now mid afternoon and still raining.

I seal myself up in a cosy annexe for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening, with picnic tea, books, and recalcitrant Voyo, then venture briefly to the bar for a modest nightcap where I make the acquaintance of the sweet natured Billy the dog. The bar is quiet, some locals passing through, some tourists, both native and foreign. All are friendly.

Moss is dismissive of Ibbetson spaces, not because he questions their existence, but more because of their limited potential for personal development. Like my creation of the Half Moon Inn, an Ibbetson space exists only in the shared imagination of two people. Others cannot discover it, they cannot trespass. The broader spaces and collective constructs of the Dreaming are different in being discoverable by anyone, and not relying upon the continuing existence of a particular individual for their persistence. This is said to be true ground of being, of the psyche. Intellectually there is much to explore here. I do not believe or disbelieve in the existence of such things. They are for now beyond proof,  but I enjoy the thought experiments they permit.

Of course I have explored these ideas in many of my past novels, but now, in The Queen of Carrickbar, or whatever I end up calling it, I seek once more the firmer ground of a purely material existence. Materiality is a very testing environment for a human being. A number of tragedies have befallen friends this year, and they have left me shaken, they have left me taking nothing in life for granted for I see how easily all might be lost. I see how easily a man might suddenly find himself in late middle years with everything he has built – family, friends, even wealth – swept away, and there he is once more, naked as a babe, facing the blank wall of an apparently pointless universe. How can anything that comes next not be seen as futile? How does one carry on?

If there is anything more to life, or behind life, then its traces can be discerned in the more peculiar faculties of the mind, that the mind, can sometimes see around corners, that we are in part at least capable of some kind of psychical existence beyond the limitations of space and time (Jung). But the search for anything definitive along such lines can never be anything more than a thought experiment, at best tantalisingly suggestive of something remarkable hidden beneath the fabric of existence, but impossible to state with any more certainty than in fictional works like Du Maurier’s Ibbetson, or my own stories.

But find it we must if tragedy is not to break us. The spiritual function must be allowed its freedom to transform the psyche, or we become more vulnerable to the trials of material existence. And the worst we can do is lose ourselves completely in materiality, believing it is all there is to life.

So,… as I bid goodnight to Billy the dog, the last leg of my journey unfolds in my imagination. Tomorrow we rejoin the valley of the Wharfe, travel south to Burnsall Bridge and Bolton Abbey. Then it’s the endless roaring ribbon of the A59, back across the border to Lancashire, and home.

This has been an immensely satisfying tour of Yorkshire. For its success, and its welcome I would like to thank:

The Buck Inn, Malham,
The Grove House Guest House, Leyburn,
The Park Manor, Scarborough,
The Half Moon Inn, (nr) Pateley Bridge

Also, the people of Yorkshire encountered enroute, friendly to a man, and woman, and reassuring of the nature of all human beings. And if not then let all human beings take note of the nature of Yorkshiremen.

And finally I would like to thank the designers and engineers of the Mazda Motor Company, of Hiroshima, Japan. I know I’ve droned on about the beauty of the MX5 elsewhere, but this trip quite simply would not have been the same without this old girl.

Read Full Post »

henry cordierReticent and uncertain; are my ideas any good? I’m sure it’s a question many speculative writers ask themselves. The writing starts in uncertain circumstances, notebooks under the pillows of childhood, then creative writing homeworks for school, which must pass the red pen test of one’s English Teacher.

Mine wrote poetry – good poetry, at least the snippets he read to us in class on the brighter of his days, the days when he was not so scowly-stern. I wanted him to like my writing too, my poetry. That I respected him, feared him a little even, it meant a lot to have him pen good things in the margins of my homeworks. And of course  it hurt when the marks slipped below C for things I’d laboured long upon, while managing to miss the point entirely.

Mr. Jones. It was approval I sought back then from him. In my eyes he was a literary genius, benign sage, and caustic nemesis rolled into one. He was a man I could both hate and love, this man who whipped me through my English O Level. He was a God, or rather the channel through which I sought the approval of the Gods for my words – his red pen the arbiter of permission to think the way I thought.

But after the brightly coursing stream of education, one is discharged into the stagnant, murky mill-pond of life, and with no Mr Jones, the image of Godhead moves to the faceless publisher. For the next twenty years I sought approval there instead, but to no avail, for the God of publishing does not exist; it is therefore healthier to be an atheist in all our dealings with them.

In retrospect, I am glad now for the red pen of Mr. Jones, bright-curling round my spelling mistakes, even the pointed “see me” and the ensuing stern lectures on my use of grammar and punctuation, with ears burning, and the girls in class I adored all listening in. Oh, the humiliation! Could he not see how much I wished to be like him? that words for me were thoughts out loud, and my thoughts did not seem like the thoughts of other boys. Are my thoughts all right, Mr. Jones? Is it all right to think and feel this way? Why can I see the story of a man’s life in a worn out shoe, when others see nothing? Why is there pathos in a girl’s discarded bow? Tragedy in a rusted spring? What see you there, Mr Jones? And is that all right? Is that normal?

Revise use of comma, apostrophe and semi-colon, Michael. Watch your spellings!

But once you have the mechanics, what you think is what you think, what you see is what you see, and you need no approval to think or see, or write an account of it. Then writing becomes a matter of style and long practice, years of practice,… decades and decades in the dusty notebooks of adulthood. But the thoughts are yours and the fact of your existence alone is sufficient for them to be written. If anyone agrees or not, is moved or not, is a matter for the Gods.

You have no power there.

Mr. Jones never told me this. It’s something we have to work out for ourselves. Perhaps he did not know; perhaps it was approval he sought for himself, through us, by reading us his poems. With the benefit of long hindsight, I think this might be true, for I am much older now than he was then, and age, if nothing else, brings insight.

No.

Do not write for approval. Ask yourself only this: in seeking publication am I chasing validation of my ideas? If the answer’s yes, you’re labouring under a delusion. Nobody cares that much. If a publisher likes your work you are one lucky scribe my friend, but if he does not, it does not mean you cannot write, that your mind is dim, that your thoughts are third rate – only that the publisher cannot sell them.

So where does approval come from? One’s online readers? It helps if readers say nice things, but it’s as well to bear in mind they might not mean it – same if they assault you with brickbats. Of course the only approval that means a damn comes from you. Only you can give yourself permission to think out loud, to have the courage your thoughts are worth the writing down. It sounds complicated and crinkly-weird, but it’s really very simple. Just be yourself, sincere, then the Gods might come and speak to you, and ultimately through you.

Isn’t that right, Mr Jones?

Good poems they were, your poems.

Keep well.

Read Full Post »

hartsop doddIt’s summer, 2000. I’m walking in the English Lake District. It’s been a good day, and I’m feeling a delicious body-weary tingle as I come down the last mile to the car. And then,…. I’m no longer fully there. I’m experiencing something I will later come to understand was a mystical experience. It seems you can fall into them by accident, like I did, or you can train yourself in one of the contemplative traditions, and bring them on whenever you feel the need.

I’ve tried to put this into words before but I always fail, so I’m not going to try very hard here. For now there’s a sense of expanding into whatever I’m looking at  – the hills, the trees, the road. Wherever my vision falls, I’m  both “in” it and “around” it, no longer separate. Strange? No. It feels familiar, like I’ve woken up from the dream of life and realised who I really am. I also feel unconditionally loved, wrapped in a presence, familiar as my own blood, and which both exudes and engenders an infinite compassion for all things.

Remarkable, yes, and I feel fortunate in in having had the experience, but actually, they’re not terribly rare. Countless others have reported them, and it doesn’t automatically mean we’re all going to end up as future novices in a monk’s cell either. I have no difficulty accepting tales of mystical states are exactly what they appear to be, nor that the universe we experience is only a fraction of the universe that actually exists beyond our normal powers of perception; but if one is not to become a monk or a shaman, or a guru, then what? How does one apply that counter-intuitive knowledge in the day to dayness of our ordinary lives?

Well, move forward with me now to the present. It’s a Saturday afternoon, in town. I’m a week into treatment for Anosmia (no sense of smell). I’ve not had a sense of smell for many years now, but the treatment is working and suddenly I’m overwhelmed by the scent of a world I’d largely forgotten. Right now I’m sitting in a cafe, a cafetière of ground Sumatran beans on the table. I’ve poured a cup and my eyes are closed as the aroma rises from the bowl, filling my mind with a symphony of soundless sounds.

Then lunch arrives: Black Pudding and Bacon Panini, with a salad garnish. There’s the heavy, slightly oily scent of the fried Black Pudding and the bacon, then the subtleness of the salad with its vinaigrette dressing – something sweet, and sharp. And I can smell a tomato, fresh cut, like a revelation, singing clear on the side of my plate. You cannot taste when you cannot smell, and right now I am lost in the appreciation of these unfamiliar and infinitely delightful olfactory forms. Beautiful, yes, beyond words really, but I’m also afraid – afraid of losing this dimension to life, of going back into the darkness of a world that does not smell, or taste of anything. Life delights us, but each delight casts also the shadow of its own destruction, and we fear its loss – for then how shall we ever be as happy again without it as we are at this moment?

Well, like the adepts, we can let these forms go, shun enjoyment of the sensual world, retreat into mindful contemplation of the formless, or we can remain in the sensual life but in so doing we must also be accepting of its ephemeral nature, appreciating beauty as it arises, while knowing it for what it is – a reflection of the formless realm, and not exactly the real thing. Still, to be reminded of its presence  is important, not least for the love and compassion it can also engender in the breasts of those who are sensitive to it.

Heaven in a Black Pudding? Well, maybe not,… but it was close, and for a time afterwards I was in love with the whole world, and everyone in it.

Read Full Post »