Selecting a poem for National Poetry Day was difficult. This is the one that might have been chosen!
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labour in the weekday weather made
bamked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
It is National Poetry Day in Britain, so a poem is needed.
Night Song at Amalfi
I asked the heaven of stars
What should I give my love-
It answered with silence
I asked the darkened sea
Down where the fishes go-
It answered me with silence,
Oh, I could give him weeping,
Or I could give him song-
But how can I give silence
My whole life long?
Some films rise above cliché, or rather they take the clichés and make the most of them! This film, like ‘Dead Poets Society’, has some moments that steer close to sentimentality without overdoing it. The effect is uplifting and within the realms of realism.
This is another film set in the confining spaces of a private school. This one, in Ireland, is ruled by rugby. The boys who are good at sport are the top dogs and the misfits, like Ned, have to live with the taunts and insults; the biggest insult of all is to be called ‘gay’. Into this world comes Conor, a star rugby player from another school. His reputation precedes him as a great sportsman and a boy who fights all who annoy him. He aims to keep his head down but this is a school that desperately wants to win the title and they see Conor as the answer to their prayers.
Ned and Conor are made to share a room. The others sympathise that Conor must share with Ned but are then wrong footed when the two become friends. Ned is abused for being gay and Conor is actually gay. As the film progresses we see Conor deal with this identity conflict.
Add to the mix another ‘Dead Poets Society’ touch with an English teacher who inspires (some of) the pupils. Connor sees in him something of himself and tries to seek his help.
Andrew Scott plays the teacher and Nicholas Galitzine plays Conor. Fionn O’Shea plays Ned in this John Butler directed film. It is the type of movie that is feelgood without playing for easy laughs or simplistic endings. Ultimately, the film is about identity and acceptance and we can never have too many films that tackle homophobia.
This film from director Peter Weir dates back to 1989 and remains in my hinterland as it was the perfect reflection of creativity as a means of forging an identity. In a superior and self- regarding school in Vermont, USA in the 50s, a new English teacher is appointed. He, too, is a former pupil of the school so knows the expectations and the code of such an institution. Yet, he sees English Literature as the perfect model for teenage boys to learn about life. His teaching methods are unusual but they inspire one group of boys in particular.
Enamoured of their teacher, the boys research his time at the school to discover that he was part of a club- the ‘Dead Poets Society’ of the title. Without telling him, they re-form the club and use it to celebrate poetry and the idea of living life to the full.
I saw this film on the day of its release in UK and loved it. Over the many years since then, I have seen it from time to time and. while understanding that the conventions (and clichés) of Hollywood can be clearly seen, it is still a heartwarming film.
The idea that teachers can change lives is a key theme and so is the idea that enthusiasts can ignite interest in people who thought they might not be interested. So, too, is the idea that breaking out from conformity brings risks to all involved. The film caught Robin Williams, so good as the inspirational teacher, at the cusp of his career from comedian to more sentimental roles. His performance here is more restrained than some of the later crowd pleasing turns. The performances of the younger actors, Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke in particular, were also strong.
‘Dead Poets Society’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I love this poem by Jackie Kay. What other reason is needed for posting?
The Living Photograph
My small grandmother is tall there,
straight-back, white broderie anglaise shirt,
pleated skirt, flat shoes, grey bun,
a kind, old smile round her eyes.
Her big hand holds mine,
white hand in black hand.
Her sharp blue eyes look her own death in the eye.
It was true after all; that look.
My tall grandmother became small.
Her back round and hunched.
Her soup forgot to boil.
She went to the awful place grandmothers go.
Somewhere unknown, unthinkable.
But there she is still,
in the photo with me at three,
the crinkled smile is still living, breathing.
This gentle film from director Marco Berger covers an unusual angle in a relationship. Bruno’s girlfriend ends their affair because she has met Pablo. His plan to split the couple and get revenge on Pablo does not go well for Bruno. First, when he sleeps with Laura again this does not bring about the desired result. Instead, he decides to pretend to have feelings for Pablo himself and lure him into a position where he can expose him as gay.
Bruno befriends Pablo as part of this plan B only to find that he actually does like him. The more time they spend together, the more they discover they like each other and then, of course, they reach a point of questioning their own sexuality.
The film meanders to the point where their feelings are revealed but it is the better for this slow pace. It handles well the point of disbelief when two men have to admit to themselves that what they are experiencing is love.
‘Plan B’ by Marco Berger is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I first read this book in 1988 when it read more as reportage than history. Now, reading it again I am struck by how some things have changed but also by how much the issues remain relevant thirty years later.
I read Dervla Murphy’s book about Northern Ireland before I moved on to this, her account of living in Bradford and then Birmingham in 1985. These were significant years in race relations in Britain. In Bradford, the Ray Honeyford affair was causing rifts in the city between older white people and the growing population of Asians. Honeyford was a headteacher with strong views about Bradford Council’s anti- racist policies. His use of a right wing journal to express these views was unwise in the least and campaigns that I remember were set up to oust him from his post. This made him something of a martyr figure for the right wing; Margaret Thatcher invited him to Downing Street to participate in an Educational forum! Dervla Murphy found herself living in the very area where Honeyford was headmaster when it all blew up. Her account of life there is reasoned and does not take sides; she is at pains to say she knows and likes both Honeyford and the leader of the campaign to oust him. Here she records what she sees, knowing that as an observer she is also a participant.
This dual role has more impact when she moves on to Birmingham arriving in Handsworth just before the riots there. Her time here is more dramatic. She is both threatened and intimidated by groups who decide she can be nothing other than a police informer. Her frequent use of her notebook to record what is happening around her leads only to further suspicion.
Dervla Murphy is a thoughtful observer. She meets as many people as she can to gather their life stories as well as their insights into life in (what was then) modern Britain. What emerges seems obvious now: there is no black point of view but many views. The prejudices held by both sides are formed because of the lack of understanding and unwillingness to cross a divide.
Re-reading the book is fascinating: the mid- 80s came back to me. I was clearer when I was younger about where I stood on all these issues. Having re-read it, I can see that I have changed and, although my general political philosophy has not changed, I can see that life is more complicated than it can be painted by politicians.
Murphy uses the terms ‘Black’ and ‘Brown’ to make distinctions between the Afro- Caribbean and the Asians. Mixed race children are discussed only in terms of problems; how will they cope in a world where they don’t fit in. I suppose it is a victory that we have better umbrella terms for races and that children of mixed race are celebrated rather than seen as problems.
‘Tales from Two Cities’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?