The Little Prince and Others

I watched The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry  late last night on Netflix. I had read it as a child, and forgotten its tale, which is ironic given that it reflects on the loss of childhood innocence to the grim experience of the adult.

The first image in the film is a drawing of a boa-constrictor eating its prey whole. I sat up, suddenly alert. I remembered that drawing. I had copied it. And I had traced the illustrations of The Little Prince over and over again sitting in my little box bedroom with its pine cupboard, and dressing table, its fold up bed and the pine chest in which the bedclothes were kept, and on top of which I laid the green Clarke shoe box beds of all my teddies when they were sick. I could suddenly smell the wood, see the pattern of dark brown knots in the grain, and the Christmas tree lights flashing in the window of the house opposite on Christmas Eve.

I watched the film entranced, tears rolling down my face, as I saw The Little Prince watering his rose on a planet, talking to the aviator sitting deserted in the desert. Befriending the fox. Flying the red plane.  It was one of those moments where you suddenly realise that you are more than you seem: you embody a life time of boa constrictors, teddies, roses, little princes, magic, planes, travellers, all of whom you have forgotten, but these things are starlight buried inside you.

It was a similar experience when I saw excerpts of Kes while watching the excellent Ken Loach documentary this week. I had that same familiar stirrings of a different Kate to the one sitting here. It was an older, more nuanced Kate than the Kate reading The Little Prince. But the theme of Kes was the same. It showed the wilderness of childhood innocence and love juxtaposed against the constraints of the mean and bitter social systems adults impose.

It struck me that it was a far cry from the existentialists with whom an ancient Kate has been absorbed this summer as a result of reading Sarah Bakewell’s ‘The Existentialist Café’. Existentialism and phenomenology remind me of the thick black graffiti scrawl I saw scribbled everywhere in Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece in June. The philosophies of existence, intentionality, responsibility expounded by Sartre, Nietzshe, Heidegger, Husserl, are certainly the stuff of adults rather than children but maybe their philosophy evolves from that child hood perspective which is rooted in how the ‘I’ relates to the world, or conversely how the world relates to the ‘I’.

More recently, I read Solar Bones by Mike McCormack, which is a tour de force, and also examines the ‘essence’ of man. Mike was my fiction tutor at Galway. He arrived in class with hat and handouts.  I could listen to him for hours. He meandered easily through a world of fiction quoting, referring, with poetic grace and humour. When I left class, it was as if I had travelled in another realm. I have read Mike’s other novel and volumes of short stories. I found them quite different: quirky, with an awkward grace. I liked them but Solar Bones is wonderful. There is not one full stop as the protagonist meanders across the pages reflecting on his life as a middle aged son, husband, father and engineer who lives on the edge of the western world filled with rampaging growth and hedonism. There are wonderful descriptions of self, fatherhood, love and politics. They are poignant and humorous. It has a pertinent perspicacity fleshed out in convoluted wonder. It was like listening to Mike in class.

So, now, as I try and draw my summer learning together,  I find myself thinking…It is my personal responsibility to filter my individual experience and existence through the innocence of my childhood and revel in the present before I die.

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Hope Springs Eternal. Good luck, Jeremy.

When I rushed in from the garden last night to listen to the 7 oclock news,  relief is what I automatically felt most when I heard Jeremy Corbyn had been ‘automatically’ put on the ballot for the election of leader (though what is automatic about a seven hour meeting, I don’t know).

Having spent a life time in Labour Party politics back in the day (Thatcher/ratecapping/abolition of the GLC), I also wondered about the words of bitterness, irritation and anger that had been expressed in the room that afternoon. Finally, as I watched Jeremy emerge from the building, shaking hands and hugging his supporters, I also felt sad about the energy  Jeremy is going to have to find to plough and furrow the country over the coming weeks. I find myself wanting to shy away from the inevitable bitter clashes that are to come between him and Angela Eagle, the inevitable martyred tones, the heart wrung hands, the compressed anger, the rising passion, the embittered arguments between their supporters – theatre which will no doubt be performed in the sneering lights of the media. All this (and more) in the grim name of democracy.

I have just finished reading two of the Robert Harris trilogy about Cicero and the political intrigue in Rome in his battle for power with Crassus, Pompey and Julius Caesar (as well as many more. I just name the famous ones). It is clear that erudite speech, wealth, self-interest, and corruption are all key ingredients when it comes to politics – even 2000 years ago.

Interestingly, I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn has any of these political attributes. He is not a great speaker. He is certainly not in politics for self interest. He is not wealthy and definitely not corrupt (I don’t think anyone would demur from this). So, why does this principled man does not have the support of the other Labour MPs. I don’t know. Why do they not take his lead and help him build a party that is strong, unless they disagree with his policies. It has to be that. And why is this the case? I assume because it it is not in their personal interests. And that is the rub of politics. Politicians appear to generally perform out of self-interest, not intentionally so. The political intrigue becomes a game to which they are all yolked.

Personally, I believe in Jeremy’s anti austerity approach. I think we need to invest in communities and enable people to organise and manage their own lives within a structured equitable and legal framework. If we  live under capitalism, we need trade unions and strong government to represent the interests of people and off set the corporations, trusts and monopolies. I know Jeremy is a rare politician. He is honest, committed and hard working. I want him to win. I want him to be the finger in the political dyke. I want MPs like Hilary Benn, Angela Eagle, Margaret Hodge, Owen Smith  to work with him, not against him. But, the augers (much depended on by the Romans) are not good.

I don’t know why, when I read Imperium and Lustrum,  I was astonished that politics hasn’t changed in 2000 years. Why did I really believe that modern society had evolved into a better, more civilised and compassionate society? I simply thought that along with electricity, the NHS, penicillin, new technologies that we would have learned a more progressive and civilised form of political engagement, at least within the Labour Party.

Now back to the garden. I’m very sad that after my careful nurturing, my broad bean plants seem to have some disease that turns the blossom to dust. My runner bean plants are so thin and wiry that is hard to imagine them blossoming at all. Maybe, after turning my hands to politics in the last forty years, my fingers aren’t as green as they need to be. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Ah well, hope springs eternal!kate 001

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Musings From the Land of Democracy

Brexit, Birmingham and beaches were the key features of my summer holiday in Greece. Cousin Ruth guided us round Athens, its peninsulas, and the Peloponnese villages and coast, drinking, eating and arguing about the perils of politics, austerity, Brexit and recalling childhood memories of the Ennals clan back in Birmingham, Walsall to be more accurate. I hadn’t seen Ruth for nearly fifty years (it seems she had a madcap but interesting life waltzing between England and Greece) so I had forgotten she had a strong west midlands accent which was really odd to hear as we found each other in arrivals.

Ruth?

Are you, Kate?

You have a Birmingham accent!

You are so tall!

I was eight when she last saw me, and had grown somewhat since! So, having established who we were, off we went into the city and drank lots of Greek wine. It’s a family thing.

I like Athens. It is a big, lived in, somewhat down at heel, city. Big, black Greek graffiti adorns every possible wall. Police on big motorbikes, guns prominent, perch on corners, while the Greeks sit in cafes, drinking cold, iced coffee. In the middle of the city sits the Acropolis (not yet adorned with graffiti, thank God) sweltering on the hill. It was good but not half as good as some of the other ancient antiquities that we saw in our explorations of the country (Ancient Messines is a wonderful site, see photo below). I really enjoyed sitting, in the balmy night (40 degrees centigrade), on the balcony of my aunt’s flat, observing the neighbours across the road: the canary in its cage, the bent palm plants, bougainvillea blooms, the man in his vest eating, the bearded fella and his girlfriend watching TV, the woman in the flowery house dress, sweeping the floor.

What I liked best: Diavolitis, the Peloponnese mountain village where Ruth’s family come from. A lovely villa, with wooden floors, twelve foot high ceilings, and scarlet window shutters which you fling open in the morning to a cock crow, blue and green mountains, red terracotta roofs and the scent of lemon trees to welcome the world into your heart. A few miles away, the coast line of tavernas, anchovies, olives, salads, wine, and a thick, placid sea brimming with salt.

I also liked Thessaloniki to which we travelled on a graffiti blue train with no air-conditioning which overheated in the forty degrees. Saloniki, as it is known, is a city of marble pedestrianised boulevards, beautifully ornate buildings and mosaic squares, full of sunken antiquities. There were Greek Orthodox churches everywhere.  We went into St Demetrius, a pretty red and white bricked building with a rotunda and mosaics. A christening (baptism?) was taking place and the church was crowded with tourists. People crisscrossed each other, kissing the portraits or statues of Christ on the lips, breathing love and religion, crossing themselves, lighting candles, breathing in the fumes of sanctity. There was talking and praying, bowing and buying from the shop, chiming and chanting. A busy place! Inside the Ayia Sophia, next door, a dark, gloomy basilica was filled with streams of criss crossing light, as though cast by the hand of God. The furniture was carved, heavy, dark, ornate, and religious paraphernalia was stuffed, as if in an attic, everywhere: golden and garish portraits, confessional boxes, staircases leading to heaven, nooks and crannies all around; bronze stained candelabras hung from ornate, mosaic ceilings. I like kitsch, so it worked for me.

In Thessaloniki I fell in love with Ataturk and wished that I’d known him when I visited the house where he was born. It was a plain white villa with a neatly curated exhibition of his life with an extremely life like model woman in the corner to whom I apologised for blocking her view. When I realised she was not real, I found myself impelled to continue to address her for she looked so life like. Ataturk seemed to know what was right and what was wrong… for him, as a child, and for the world as a man. He was intelligent, gracious, gentle, clever, a natural leader. He will join Shakespeare, my father, and Gore Vidal at my proverbial dinner table. I do need to think about the women guests. I am really not sure how to partner those three. I think Jo Cox would be pretty ideal, may she rest in peace, and may her children forgive.

Which leads me back to the British referendum. On the 23rd, two hours ahead, I stayed up to listen to the results coming in. On referendum night, over our dinner of sardines and tomato salad, I remarked to Jerry that post referendum, the newspaper columnists would be bereft of news. How wrong I was! The next day, as soon as any Greek heard us speak, we were pounced upon and it was demanded of us to explain. We are from Ireland, we said, with some relief.

Everything that could be said about the Brexit and its fall out has been said. There is nothing new that I can add. Before the referendum, we had an extended family internet colloquy where aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces put forward their very different point of views. Afterwards, my daughter asked some-one to tell just why this vote was a good thing

I’m struggling to see any positive outcome from the Vote Leave. In fact it gets more miserable as I’m just meeting more and more secret racists pleased to say no to immigrants (despite having Irish/Indian parents…) and watching political egos tear any political ideals apart. So the Leave Voters – any future positives? Because I’m definitely not seeing the social unity or the democratic power of the people coming together to work to make a better England…Although I am now enjoying the pleasure of passport control flying back into London from home.”

It is sad that people have taken the Brexit vote as an opportunity to vent their racism. I hope that it is stamped out quickly by both the opinion-formers, the police and that people don’t just wring their hands as by-standers when they see or hear that happen, but intervene and have the courage to say something. Britain has had an amazing multi-cultural history and different peoples from different cultures and countries have lived side by side, if with some tension, for many years. It would be a tragedy if the people followed the lead of their politicians and began behaving in the same way.

I think Brexit was a vote of anger for many in Britain. People are disillusioned. There are no jobs, opportunities, crap education, and little hope in the future for the swathe of people in the Midlands and North that voted to leave. I don’t know if more people in the UK will lose jobs now: it seems likely.  Corporations will move (Easy Jet has indicated this already) and the financial sector will leave and the educated, middle class will follow. It seems sterling will be damaged (it already has been). Personally, I believe people need the summer to reflect on the implications of this vote and manage it carefully. But I am now applying for an Irish passport and we will transfer any pensions we have in the UK rather more speedily than we might have done.

My daughter asked, what is the positive side? It could lead to positive action to defend democracy and political beliefs. What can we do?  Join the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn certainly needs to overcome the corporate leaning, middle-class, self-interested MPs that have the majority in Parliament. We need people to get involved, fight the political egos, and participate in democratic politics.   We need people to commit to politics, and engage. A big ask, I guess, for young people who seem to be forced to  work 12 hour days in order to be able to enjoy a comfortable life style. I sometimes wonder if that is the ultimate aim of the big corporations: make people work so hard, stress them out so much but pay them well, so that they become dependent with no time to participate in society, other than child rearing.

Another thought has occurred to me. Having lived in Ireland for nearly 25 years, as an English woman, I have never really engaged with the culture of Irish politics or felt the right or ability to get involved. Fortunately, I worked in community development and was able to engage with my political beliefs there. But when people live abroad, do they engage less with a political system in which they were not reared? Do they feel less responsibility for the society they live in?

Well, I have to un-pack and take solace in the Greek ouzo and olives I brought home, and get out my Ouija board. I want to talk to Ataturk.

 

 

 

 

 

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Brexit

I have finally come to a decision about Brexit. I have read many articles, opinion pieces, listened to different views, tested my own tentative feelings out in discussion and generally felt anxious, upset and discombobulated by my instinctive reaction that the EU is not what it should be and needs desperate reform. I really don’t like the way it has treated Ireland and Greece. I don’t like the emphasis on corporate business and financial interests. I don’t like the support it gives banks as opposed to citizens. I do think people feel removed from the powers that be in the EU and reform is needed. I am not sure the Euro is ever going to work unless there is a common fiscal policy. I do believe in the power of local government in terms of empowering the individual and our ability to change our own lives so am not sure about supra-national powers (unless we become the United States of Europe and even then I would not be sure).

But I do believe in networking, co-operation, working together for change. I do think that change is more likely if we come together. If we are alone, outside of Europe, we cannot make change, and I do believe the likes of UKIP, Boris Johnson, and Gove in their personal bids for power will lead us into disarray, and further fragment our society and our values around human rights. I think the Schengen agreement is good, I believe in the social charter provisions, I am not sure about the Euro. But I do not think the Commission strips any of its members of our identity. Whether I like it or not, there is an English streak within me. That is why I would vote to remain on Thursday.

kate garden

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Listowel, Boys and Men

I have just returned to Cavan from three days and three nights at the Listowel writers week. It is a festival of wannabe, successful and dead (John B Keane features greatly), mostly middle aged, writers and celebrities. There is theatre, talks, interviews, trails, readings, classic conversation between hotel armchairs, glad handing and gossip in bars, music and workshops. Sun hats off to the Listowel Committee.

I enjoyed my three morning advanced poetry workshops with Tom McCarthy, a wonderful, erudite, and well read poet. I definitely benefited from his advice. He gave me a four year publication strategy which certainly will help guide me through the morass of the submitting process.

I stayed in McMahons in the centre of town. It was a tiny room but it became my nest, safe from all the strangers thronging the sunny streets outside. They weren’t all strangers, I saw a few familiar faces, and everyone was friendly and full of smiles before moving on, wishing me well. At a festival, everyone has somewhere to go, someone to see.

I enjoyed the poems, the readings, the river, the town park, watching the people on Ballyheigue beach. There were seven boys, half grown, giggling like girls, full of curses, treading gingerly in the break of the wave, beneath cobalt skies and mountains. They were beautiful. I watched them teeter out, waist high, arms out stretched, laughing and shouting instructions to each other. They formed a circle, holding hands and took the plunge, together as a man. And they raised their faces into a spray of silver salty sparkles, bubbles, waves, like mermaids, though they wouldn’t thank me for that description.

I didn’t write though. In fact most of the time, I felt awkward, like the smallest fish in the shoal. I tried to live in the moment, relish the minutes, but each one felt like a rather long a time. It is an exhausting business, mingling, talking to strangers, going into pubs alone, sitting next to town statues, eating, being convivial, alone. Next time I’ll bring a friend to share .

I did wonder if my age had anything to do with my feeling of loneliness. Yes, I thought, when I was young I wouldn’t have had the confidence or courage to go to a festival alone. It wouldn’t have happened. It’s not that I don’t like being alone. I do enjoy solitude. It’s being alone in a crowd that is a challenge.

By the way, Tom advised me on how to attract men to my next poetry workshop. Colm Keegan, are you reading this? You may be interested. Tom told me a tale about a chef friend of his who ran cookery classes in the evening. They were full of women. He decided to call his next workshop a Master Class and all the participants turned into men. There and then, I decided to call my next workshop a ‘Master Class’ but I thought better of it. I can’t imagine a workshop of men. Men! Think about it! Honestly, it would be really bizarre. An all men workshop.  I might write a story about it.

There…Listowel gave me inspiration after all!

music in the square listowel

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Art, Expression and Brexit

At one of the International Literature Festival events in Dublin last Friday, Margaret and I, along with similar looking and attired folk, filed into the upstairs bar of the Lord Edward pub next to Christchurch and scattered to the tables and stools. There, we were treated to a reading of Flan O’Brien’s drama, Thirst.

In Thirst, following the local sergeant’s arrival ‘after hours’ with his note pad, the audience is transported to a hot desert by Mr C who over a period of forty minutes described his war years as a duty bound soldier where the feet were caked in scalding hot sand so that the very skin peeled off, the throat was parched with arid dried sun and the water bottles had to be cast away because they were made of aluminium, the packs, guns, knives were the weight of elephants, the eyes were brimming with sand and dust, the sun was a furnace into which they travelled, indeed chased the enemy over dunes, and more (forty minutes more), all to convince the sergeant he needed a pint after hours, and indeed, we were all reaching for our glasses to quench our thirst. It was very funny, very Irish and a brilliant performance.

the thirst

I was less enthralled by Yianis Vouroufakis, though he is rather delightful on the eye and I am sure that if we were in one to one situation with a bottle of retsina (Ruth Ennals, are you reading), I would be totally charmed.

yianis varoufakis

He gave an absolutely devastating description of an EU which was undemocratic, unwieldy, in the hands of megalomaniac bureaucrats and indeed was set up as such a body from the very beginning. Yet after lambasting the mechanisms, behaviours, the corruption (he said that irrespective of the Greek decision to default, the EU paid the bankers and sent him the invoice), he believed that Britain should stay in. I couldn’t believe it. Yianis justified his view by saying you needed common standards, that the political loss would be huge and that the EU was already deteriorating because of its hubris. Speeding it up would create havoc. I wonder what propelled him to say this.

I have been alternating in my views about Brexit (although I don’t have a vote as I have lived more than 15 years in Ireland). My instinct and feeling is that the EU is a conglomerate of bankers and power elites which do not respect democracy and certainly put the interests of the rich and powerful first. However, I certainly do not want to be associated with UKIP, Gove and Boris Johnston who would appear to want to return to Little England, and have unpleasant and racist views about immigration and refugees. I believe firmly in human rights, international conventions, and the need to draw up fairer, equal policies in conjunction with the experience of other nations and countries. I believe we need to rethink what we want the EU to be. I am sure Mr Farage and others will not have in mind the kind of EU wide supports and network that I believe should be put in place.

Yianis described an unwieldy monster when he described the operation of the EU. And he was sceptical of its reform. He thought the Brits were damned if we did leave and damned if we didn’t. I think it is better to attempt change, and not fear it. Maybe the way to do this is to leave because at least it will change the status quo which at the moment is only providing people with unemployment, hysteria, right wing politicians and promulgating fear throughout society. Surely it is better to do something rather than nothing. Maybe this is the revolution, we just don’t know what revolution looks like any more.

Anyway, Yianis helped me think as did Lesley Courcof (an English friend of mine whom I met for lunch the next day before she left Dublin after seeing The Boss) and Margaret Barry with whom I went to the International Literature Festival events and who had to listen to my passionate ranting and ravings with a patience and a humour that only Margaret has. I thank them all.

My few days ended with a return to Cavan to see ‘Underneath’, a performance by Pat Kinevane at the Town Hall (to which, if you look back through my blogs, you will see previous references). ‘Underneath’ is about bullying, the power of the strong over the weak. He makes his point with sensitivity, humour, and his set is of the most beautiful, stark style. He is sinuous, sensual. His movements are graceful, his voice is huge. Performances like this is what we live for. Sadly, whether the EU exists or not, or Brexit happens or not, there will always be the weak and powerful. I just hope we will always have art and literature,  to help us reflect on our vulnerabilities and enable us to think, and listen. (Are you listening, Irish Government?)

Cheers

 

 

 

 

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The Existentialist Me

How glorious to wake in a pink dusty glow. The sun is forging its way in through the chink in my drawn curtains to transform my pink and yellow bedroom into a nest of feather and down while outside the open window the birds chirrup and chirp. My early morning dream was full of disturbance and incoherence so waking to this blush of day and the distinctive early morning fresh scent was pure pleasure.

Unlike the dark woods of Heidegger’s Black Forest, clearing or no clearing, or the stormy streets of Paris where the pundits of Sarah Bakewell’s Existentialist Café hang out. I have been enjoying the company of Heidegger, Sartré, Hurssel, Morceau Ponty, De-Beauvoir in Bakewell’s latest book, The Existentialist Café . It’s been like being at the end of in a kaleidoscope, with my eye watching the changing patterns of philosophic thinking as time and ideas evolve as war and politics play their part. Sarah Bakewell projects a colourful pattern reflecting the different strands of existentialism and phenomenology, and she deftly weaves the lives, and influences on the individual thinkers in an ‘epoch’ where intellectual thought about life, liberty, freedom and being was a popular past time.

How extraordinary, I thought, to have the ego, the self-regard, belief and determination to spend your life discovering its meaning. It was a little like watching a movie with the dreamy film stars of the forties, fifties and sixties. The world appeared to be an interesting place, engaged full of love, protest, endeavour, failure, bravery and scandal, writers and music. I felt jealous. I want to be an existentialist, I thought. Life appeared to be lived. Things happened. Moments were momentous. Men and women struggled. Every article and action had its own origin and meaning, even the teapot. Each man and woman was the product of his or her own thought or action. In existentialist parlance, every step we take, we turn the world a little more. It is our footsteps that revolve the earth, not the heavens, the stars, the universe. Yes, I thought. I like it here in the existentialist café. There is everything: discovery, excitement, mania, self-indulgence, drink, drugs, madness, hedonism, courage, humanity, love, hubris, isolation, fear, power. But, then again, I thought, as I closed the book, the existentialist takes on a huge, lonely duty to accept responsibility for his or her actions in a world that is not of his or her making.

From my bed, I looked around my golden nest. I would find the weight of responsibility too much, I thought. I agree with the existentialist concept but in the current heady torrent of world life, I find myself reluctant to accept responsibility for it all. But I can do my bit, I thought, through my poetry. In each of my poems or short stories, I try to express my understanding of life, or capture the essence of a moment which, surely, in itself is an existentialist act. And, with that,  my thoughts meandered into my day, looking after my mother, the food I would cook, the garden I would weed, the blog and the poem I wanted to write. Yes, I decided each of these small actions would guide me in my new path as an existentialist. I was happy to accept responsibility for them.

Talking of the universe and phenomenology, my son and I were browsing a star app last night and discovered the names and characteristics of three bright shining stars that he, my daughter and I call ‘our stars’. They are in the centre of the Orion constellation below Beetlegeuse, and above Saimh. They are called Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak (all possible names for my grandchildren, me thinks). They are thousands of light years away and burning hot. How magical that they will burn bright long after I have left this earth and create a space for my eternal being when my children look at the night sky between October and February in the northern hemisphere. A different definition of existentialism, maybe.

Three Stars and EArth

 

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