Great facts-of-life scenes: Elizabeth Taylor, “At Mrs Lippincote’s”

I read somewhere that someone (bear with me) explained the facts of life to their son by reading them a chapter of Richard Llewellyn’s “How Green Was MY Valley” wherein a father explains the facts of life to his son. I don’t think I, or anyone else, will be using this from Chapter 8 Elizabeth Taylor’s “At Mrs Lippincote’s” (by the way, Oliver is seven … and this Hardy, Brontë and Stevenson reading child is regularly referred to as ‘backward’ without apparent irony by other characters):

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“I still don’t make out where babies come from,” said Oliver, when he closed his book, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. “Oh, where from. I know that. But not how that began.”

“Oh,” said Julia. “I see. Well, now,” she assumed an expression, controlled her mouth. A flat and unemotional tone, she had read once in a pamphlet on sex-instruction. He wondered what was wrong with her voice. “This bores her,” he decided. She sounded unutterably fatigued. “It bores her more than anything else in the world.” Julia, busy drawing on the back of an envelope, seemed to be conveying a wrong impression and leaving out the most important part. She had never been good at drawing and had in any case only a hazy idea as to how such things are arranged. Bladder, then some loopy tubes, glands. ‘It looks like a picture of a Sheraton chair ‘, she fought, discouraged Half-way through , curiosity made her give a glance at him. His gaze slanted down away from her, at the table. When she stopped speaking, his eyes swept down under the lids and took a narrow peep at her. He rolled up his handkerchief and stuffed it into his mouth.

The door opened. “What is it?” asked Roddy.
“As, there you are!” She rocked and sobbed, than stopped and dabbing her eyes, rose briskly. “The facts of life,” she explained.

Roddy, who had also read a pamphlet on how babies are born, was appalled.

“Don’t look so hurt! She cried. “You are not responsible. You are only a victim.”

She stacked up the tray. “You are home very early, Roddy.”

“Yes. The Old Man’s gone to a conference, so Is skipped off. I thought I might be able to give you some help for the party.”

“Ah, how kind of you. We’ll twist the furniture round in the drawing-room and see what we can make of it.” She went out with the tray.

Roddy, who as a leader of men disregarded the intricacies of his own body, looked at Julia’s drawing without recognition; then, conscious that his son now regarded his parents in a new light (and hilariously at that) he murmured “Well, then,” rocked on his heels uncertainly for a moment and followed Julia.

Oliver, when his amusement had died down, began to feel he owed his parents some kindness. He was touched that his father had gone to such lengths to bring about his existence and that Julia should have been so bored. ‘I must try to be a better son,’ he thought. ‘I will run wild more and please them.’

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October in the Cairngorms – from Nan Shepherd, “The Heart of the Mountain”

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Among drifts of these purple glowing birches, an occasional rowan looks dead; its naked boughs are a smooth white-grey, almost ghastly as the winter light runs over them. The rowan’s moment is in October, when even the warmth of its clustering berries is surpassed by the blood-red brilliance of its leaves. This is the ‘blessed quicken wood’, that has power against the spirits of evil. It grows here and there among birches and firs, as a rule singly, and sometimes higher than either, a solitary bush by the rivulet in a ravine.

October is the coloured month here, far more brilliant than June, blazing more sharply than August. From the gold of the birches and bracken on the low slopes, the colour spurts upwards through all the creeping and inconspicuous growths that live among the heather roots—mosses that are lush green, or oak-brown, or scarlet, and the berried plants, blaeberry, cranberry, crowberry and the rest. Blaeberry leaves are a flaming crimson, and they are loveliest of all in the Rothiemurchus Forest, where the fir trees were felled in the 1914 War, and round and out of each stump blaeberry grows in upright sprigs: so that in October a multitude of pointed flames seem to burn upwards all over the moor.

For some spectacular Highland photos, including the Cairngorms in October, see Mark Hamblin’s website

All The Time In The World: Disconnecting to Reconnect

Trailer – All the Time in the World from Suzanne Crocker on Vimeo.

All The Time In The World is a charming documentary which follows a Canadian family of five over 9 months in the Yukon wilderness.

Directed by the family’s mother, Suzanne Crocker, and featuring three children aged 10, 8 and 4 (at the time), the film is an engaging story of the challenges and joys and a life without media, or much in the way of contemporary technology. The life is not sentimentalised, nor is there any fake drama for the sake of “narrative” as seen in so many documentaries.

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Apart from its unusual setting, the film is also an unaffected portrait of ordinary family life – again without sentimentality or fake drama. There is much to reflect on about time, busy-ness and our connection with nature – but more importantly, this story engaged my own troupe of similarly aged children.

Often I find documentaries off-putting when they have all too transparent slants towards a specific narrative or message. Obviously All the Time In the World has a narrative, and the film has a message – but both emerge from a simple story told affectingly and well.

“it is very difficult not to anthropomorphise puffins” – Peter Reason on Puffins

I have been posting some thoughts inspired by Peter Reason’s book In Search of Grace. I am trying not to let this blog turn into nothing but a series of extracts from the book! However I do feel that this nice little passage on puffins near the Shiant Islands Shiant Isles (owned by the family of another author I have featured here, Adam Nicolson) worth quoting – and a near illustration of the near impossibility of avoiding anthropomorphism:

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Soon Coral was surrounded by puffins, with the distinctive markings around their eyes and their wonderful colored beaks. The air was full of puffins too, so full it reminded me more of a cloud of mosquitos than a flock of birds. Those afloat seemed to be juveniles, pufflets (puffins live up to forty years but do not mate for the first five years), while those airborne were clearly adults, tirelessly flying out to the fishing grounds and returning with sand eels hanging from their beaks to feed their chicks. These adults were so intent on their business that they often seemed not to see Coral, passing within fet of the mast and only diverting at the last moment.

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It is very difficult not to anthropomorphise puffins. They do remind one of neatly turned out, rather insecure, self-important people. As I took Coral slowly across the pool towards the anchorage, steering through the floating flocks, the pufflets swam energetically ahead, looking anxiously from side to side as if to say. “I am not really bothered by this great white creature.” But when Coral drew too close for comfort, their heads bobbed this way then that even more urgently, while they made up their minds whether to dive or take off. Diving is the more elegant choice: a neat flip takes them the beneath the surface, leaving concentric rings of ripples. In contrast, taking off is usually a bit of a mess: their wings don’t seem to get much initial lift, so they splash frantically along the surface, wings and feet flapping away, often to crash inelegantly back into the water.

Here is the yacht Coral moored on the Shiants:

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Peter Reason on being a pilgrim and being a tourist

I recently re-blogged a section from Peter Reason’s new book, In Search of Grace. I’ve been reading it over the weekend and am sorely tempted to simply copy out sections. I hope to write a fuller, more considered review in due course but also hope to blog responses to particular themes. Reason’s “ecological pilgrimage” touches on a huge range of topics related to nature connection, silence, conservation, pilgrimage, and time and whole range of topics close to my heart.

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It is an engaging read which is helpfully upfront about the messy human reality of pilgrimage – very far from a continuous series of flow experiences, epiphanies of so on. His pilgrimage is ecological rather than explicitly religious and draws on a wide range of traditions, including secular/scientific ones – but with a great deal of respect for the religious underpinnings of pilgrimage.

He is also unsentimental – observing for instance that as the “Sixth Great Extinction” began pretty much once homo sapiens showed up, blaming the depradations humans have wrought on the planet on “Western” or “modern” man is a mistake.

Anyway, there is a huge amount to get to grips with and I hope to feature some highlights and thoughts here over the next while. For the moment, one theme which is relatively minor but highly significant is the distinction between the pilgrim and the tourist. I have blogged on this before – or rather on the distinction often made between being a “tourist” and a “traveller” – my own preference being for honest tourist rather than pretentious traveller.

For Reason, these reflections are most acute on Inishmore, largest of the Aran Islands. Aware of the tension inherent in bringing economic benefit to an isolated community (although as he writes, given the preponderence of day trippers the main beneficiaries are the ferry companies), he also notes his own preference for solitude in sites like Dun Aengus. Yet, is he so different from the mass of tourists? As he reflects afterwards:

I sailed north with a heavy heart, disappointed with my visit. Inishmore is a remarkable place. First for its lessons in geology: it is one thing to read about how erosion creates limestone pavements, quite another to actually walk over them. Second, for its lessons in history: while this is not my part of the world, I know is has been deeply influenced and impoverished both by its own conflicts and those imported from England. For me, however, these qualities were overwhelmed by the visitor culture, not so much by the curiosity of the people who visit, but by the infrastructure that is required to cater from them and to profit from them. The tourist business requires that large numbers of visitors move through the sites fairly quickly and are returned to the tourist hub where they can spend their money.

It is all too easy to make a crude distinction between tourist and pilgrim. We are all both. The line is a subtle one that I found myself continually crossing and recrossing, never entirely sure which side I was on. Indeed, nature writer Paul Evans refers to people like me who go in search of wild places as ‘wilderness tourist.’ Religious pilgrims who go to sacred places in search of a holy realm will often take time out for sightseeing; and tourists visiting the same place may find themselves affected more profoundly than they had bargained for. The tourist may see a haughty arrogance in the pilgrim’s claim to a higher purpose, and the pilgrims may look down on the superficiality they see in the tourists.

Reason goes on to write as to why he finds the distinction still worth making; I don’t want this to turn into simply posting extracts from his writing so I would urge those who wish to know more to seek out the book For me, sites like the Louvre and the British Museum do acquire the status of pilgrim sites, and when somewhere is described as “touristy” it is usually because there is something worthwhile there. Of course, the experience of visiting it may be wrapped up in a lot of tiresome tat and overcrowding, but it was ever thus …

The Derrynaflan Monastery and Easter Pilgrimage

The Derrynaflan Monastery and Easter Pilgrimage

Recently I visited Derrynaflan with my son (5) and found it a wonderful site. The approach was challenging – we came from the Southern Route following a trip along roads with less and less room to turn and more and more grass in the middle. Then we had to climb various gates and pass through the eerie, desert-like (albeit very wet) bog landscape to Derrynaflan itself. We had a mighty time scrambling around and copying the designs on the Goban Saor’s purported grave. My son had absorbed that there was some kind of treasure story linked to the place, albeit the subtleties of the legal arguments passed him by. He did wonder if we found a euro coin would we have to give it to the government. Curious to know what came of the Derrynaflan trail proposed here?

Also curious to find out more about the Penal Law-era Franciscan friary which is mentioned briefly in various online resources.

These are the graveslabs in situ – the last picture gives a sense of surrounding terrain (didn’t take many photos):

Pilgrimage In Medieval Ireland

Derrynaflan is best known for its medieval metal work, including a two-handled chalice known as the Derrynaflan chalice, on display in the  National Museum of Ireland.

derrynaflan-hoard The Derrynaflan hoard (the chalice and associated ecclesiastical objects)

The  chalice along with a paten, a liturgical strainer and basin were part of a hoard of treasure found by metal detectorist on land close to the  monastery of Derrynaflan Co Tipperary.  The complications, surrounding their discovery, helped to instigate Ireland’s current metal detecting laws which make it illegal for anyone to engage in metal detecting without a licence.

As a child I remember going on a school trip to the National Museum at Kildare St. After all these years I still remember  this visit clearly, along with  our teacher pointing out this treasure (Derrynaflan Chalice) found in my home county. I also purchased a small booklet in the museum shop on the chalice which…

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200 Years of Tipperary’s Lost and Found Wellington Monument 

200 Years of Tipperary’s Lost and Found Wellington Monument 

Along the Grange Crag Loop walk,near the village of Grange in the Slieveardagh Hills, one comes across an arresting monument built two hundred years ago. Almost unbelievably (when you contemplate the scale of the structure today) it was overgrown and only rediscovered in the 1990s. Here it is:

And here with a view of the more recently added spiral stairs that take one to a viewing platform:

From the Slieveardagh Website
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The Wellington Monument
In 1817, Sir William Barker, the then landlord of Kilcooley Abbey estate caused a large structure to be erected in commemoration of the Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo two years previously. The Wellington Monument has a finely carved dedication stone on its 15 foot high west or ´front end´. The south side is also impressive but the remaining side of the monument is half the ‘Light’ and clearly shows that the structure was designed to be viewed from the west and from Sir William’s manor house at Kilcooley a mile away. The monument – technically called a folly, became completely hidden by forestry in latter years and its reappearance in the early 1990’s, following Coillte’s clear felling was a pleasant surprise to all.

The site features some of the most impressive explicatory plaques I have seen anywhere (there is even more on the other side):

I didn’t know that Napoleon was of an average height for his time, and that British propaganda portrayed him as the short prototype of Small Man Syndrome. And while I had known that Wellington did not say “just because you are born in stable doesn’t make you a horse”, I didn’t know that in fact Daniel O’Connell said it, in modified form, of him.

There are magnificent views from the top:

The top was a little vertiginous. While the structure is reassuringly solid and I knew I was safe, I felt like I did on the Glasgow Tower. This distracted me a little from the excellent display explaining what one could see (and meant I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked. And I did find the typo at the end of this description of Gortnahoe appropriate, for me at least:

I would like to re-iterate that this is a wonderful site to visit and that the structure is very solid and secure…my own reaction to heights is the issue. The local community deserves immense credit for its work and I highly recommend a visit here.