Farewell for a while . . .

I have to take a break from computer work. I have lymphoedema in my right arm which is uncomfortable from time to time. I have been doing a lot of writing so this is one of those times when I have to rest it. I will still be on Twitter as it involves much less typing. I hope I will be back soon; I will miss my daily visit.

“A Friendship” by William Trevor, from the “After Rain” collection. | A Review

William Trevor often makes me laugh. There are situations in his novel, “The Old Boys” that I remember at odd times and that make me laugh out loud no matter where I am. And this story does the same, but only at the beginning. It’s a thing that William Trevor does – you think the story is about one thing but it turns into something else entirely. The friendship in question is between Francesca, married to pompous Philip and with two sons, and Margy who livens up Francesca’s life with tales of her various love affairs. The two have been friends since childhood but have very little in common. As Trevor says:

“Their common ground was the friendship itself.”

Francesca seems an ethereal creature, tall and blonde, hardly aware of her surroundings, or of what her boys are up to. Margy, however, sees everything, She is small, dark, quick, with a touch of spite, especially where Francesca’s husband is concerned. And this spite is what eventually wrecks the friendship. Philip doesn’t help  himself however; he is known as “bad news” in their dinner circle:

” . . . he displayed little interest in the small-talk that was, increasingly desperately, levelled at him . . . he was not ill at ease; others laboured, never he.”

Margy, on the pretense that it was time she thought about settling down, proposes that they contact their old college friend, Sebastian. But Sebastian had always fancied Francesca, and shortly after they all meet up for lunch, he and Francesca begin an affair. Margy facilitates this by lending them her apartment from time to time.  Philip finds out by accident, a slip in conversation:

“Oh heavens, I’ve said the wrong thing!”

Philip pretends that he and Francesca often meet up with Sebastian. He confronts Francesca, who is contrite and says it wasn’t much. They have a row, clear the air, and decide to continue as before, with one difference:

“‘Drop me?’, Margy said, and Francesca nodded . . . ‘It’s how Philip feels.'”

“On the pavement . . . they stood for a moment in a chill November wind, then moved away in their two different directions.”

This is the body of the story, but it begins with Francesca’s two sons, aged six and eight, pouring wet cement into their father’s new golf bag, complete with new clubs. Even thinking about this makes me laugh. Trevor writes it down in such a matter of fact way, without as much as an exclamation mark.

“Sharing the handle of the bucket, they found they could manage to convey their load . . . they had practised; they knew what they were doing.”

“‘We know nothing about it,’ Jason instructed his brother. ‘Nothing about it,’ Ben obediently repeated.”

Francesca is oblivious; Margy sees it straight away but says nothing and the four sit down to lunch. Ben decides to break the monotonous silence and mentions his teacher:

“‘Miss Martindale’s mother died . . . a man interfered with her.'”

His mother is shocked but Margy is amused.

“Ben said all the girls had cried, that Miss Martindale herself had cried, that her face was creased and funny because actually she’d been crying all night. Margy watched Jason worrying in case his brother went too far.”

And that’s all there is about the boys, except for a sentence to say that when tackled by their angry father they said it was just a joke. But for me, they make the story memorable. I loved the pair of them. Very often children are interesting and exciting and you wonder what will become of them. But generally very little does; they grow up and stop pouring cement into new golf bags.

Has anyone else read William Trevor? I love his short stories, much better than his novels, I think. And I would say the same for D H Lawrence and W Somerset Maugham.

From The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir . . .

Every now and again I take down this book and browse through it. I don’t know why I do that because it only makes me cross. As misery loves company I thought I’d share it with you ladies! Fellas are welcome to join in . . .

If widowed, woman was expected to accept at once a new master. In the “chansons de geste” we see Charlemagne marrying in a group, all the widows of his barons killed in Spain; and many epic poems tell of king or baron disposing tyrannically of girls and widows. Wives were beaten, chastised, dragged by the hair. The knight was not interested in women; his horse seemed much more valuable to him. In the “chansons de geste” young women always made the advances, but once they were married, a one-sided fidelity was demanded of them. Girls were brought up rudely, with rough physical exercises and without modesty or much education. When grown up, they hunted wild beasts, made difficult pilgrimages, defended the fief when the master was abroad. Some of these chatelaines were avaricious, perfidious, cruel, tyrannical , like the men; grim tales of their violence have come down to us. But all such were exceptions; ordinarily the chatelaine passed her days in spinning, saying her prayers, waiting on her husband, and dying of boredom.

This was written about the middle ages of course, and so much has changed for women. Recently I watched a thriller about a detective who happened to be a woman. She was taken captive by the villain and tied to a chair, and it occurred to me, as it had done many times before, women are powerless in the presence of aggressive men. They will always be stronger than us, and we will always get pregnant.

I don’t want to be giving out about men; I have lovely men in my life, but facts are facts. Anyone want to discuss this subject, or to disagree with me?

Beyond the Horizon by Eoin Lane | A Review

I first posted this review in February but as the paperback edition of the book is being launched this week, I thought I would post it again. Eoin Lane is a writer, but also an artist. He travels round Ireland’s coast painting land and seascapes.

This book is the story of an artist’s life, mind, body, and spirit: I found it fascinating, hypnotic, rhythmic, exquisite.

“The rain was in her eyes and she couldn’t see through the rain. She couldn’t see through the fog and the rain in her eyes.”

“A storm of sea voices. Coming through the crack in the wall. On the wind. Voices in the deep. Underwater. Deep. Down. Deep. Strands and fronds of seaweed strangling.”

The artist is Colin Larkin, whose father drowns when he is six years old. Colin nearly drowns too, and this episode is the well-spring of his life. For a long while he is withdrawn and doesn’t speak but eventually, he returns to school, and he begins to draw. For the rest of his life the sea fills his being and his canvases. He has a particular affinity for the works of Paul Henry and longs for islands, for solitude, for the sea and sky.

I enjoyed his early family life with his sister and his two brothers, and his wonderful mother. It wouldn’t be enough to say she was wise and loving – she embodied wisdom and love. For fear of spoilers, I will say no more about the story which explores different types of love and devotion. But I will say that Aisling is the loving heart of his life from the very day meets her:

“Her words swinging in like the first peals of a bell that would ring all around him for years . . . “

When Colin finds an island he loves, and begins to work, we get a wonderful insight into the mind of a painter. We are there with him looking at the immense sky and sea. We experience his complete absorption in putting down what he sees. The prose and the sensitivities of Colin make me feel like I’m half alive and missing out, and I am resolved to look at everything I see, to listen to what I hear, to absorb the reality around me.

There are some snatches of poetry (Yeats) here and there which make me both sad and glad to think of all the beauty in this world, all the words and pictures and music, and the earth itself, particularly Ireland.

Colin describes some of his paintings as ethereal; for me, the whole book is ethereal. To say I give it five stars seems irrelevant, and a bit daft.

Two things, and an excerpt . . .

First thing: I’m going to be away for a few days – wedding duties! Second thing: I have serious writer’s block – I can’t even manage a line for a haiku. So I’m going to post some pages from “Thelma”, one of the stories in We All Die in the End. Back next week – I hope!

“I wonder if I should wash . . . Thelma, do you think I should have a wash?”

            Thelma dithered beside the bed, moving from one wee foot to the other, waiting to heave Thomas to his feet. The top of his pyjamas hung open and his belly bulged over the bottoms. There was a line of sweat where the bulge began and another across the back of his neck when he bent to look at his feet.

            “Whatever you like, dear. The water’s hot.”

            “Well, I will then. I’ll have a nice wash and you can change the bed. I’m a bit sticky. One of the boys spilled beer . . .   “

            Thomas waved a hand near his pillow and then clutched Thelma’s arm. She braced herself and waited while he moved his heavy legs to the floor.

            “Up we go,” she said. “Upsy daisy.”

            Slowly, Thomas pushed his feet into his summer gutties and hauled himself up along Thelma’s, thin shoulder. She glanced at his jacket hung over the chair, pockets sagging a bit with change, good! Thomas’ hand was tight on her wrist and she fixed her eyes on the plump, pink fingers. She would prick him like a sausage . . . prick, prick, prick, all over, and his pink skin would burst open with wee pops and the yellow fat would ooze out, relieved and grateful.

            “I’ll have a piss first,” Thomas said.

            “Yes, and have a shower,” Thelma said. “You’ll feel the better of it.”

            Thomas nodded and shut the bathroom door. Thelma could hear him coughing, and then he was pissing and spitting and farting and coughing all at once – the whole bloody orchestra, as he said himself. When the toilet flushed she footered about with the socks in his drawer in case he changed his mind and came back but after a minute she heard the shower starting up.

            She shook his jacket and pushed her fingers quickly into the pockets. Heavy change – she left a couple of coins so he wouldn’t miss the jingle. In his trousers two fivers were stuck together. Thelma took one. She slid the money into one of her green boots with the fur and counted with a quick look. Fifty pounds all told – not bad. She ran her fingers and her eyes over it and then she carefully pulled up the zip. Now, she said to herself, Irene can’t say I’m not trying.

            A whole weekend away! Up the coast, that lovely, old hotel, and the lovely, soft, sandy beach, not covered in stones like ours! Oh, it’ll be great, it’ll be magic, magic! She leaned against the chest of drawers with her eyes shut tight and her arms folded, one wee ankle twisted around the other. She’d eat steak and chips and drink Prosecco . . .

            She opened her eyes. The bed! She tore the sheet off and pulled at the duvet cover. Crumbs, beer stains, the pillow-case grey from his head. She ran round and round the bed, smoothing and tugging and then she leapt when Thomas roared from the bathroom:

            “How long am I supposed to wait here?”

            He’d be dripping all over the place! Thelma left the pillow and skipped into the bathroom. Thomas was shivering; he dabbed at himself with a towel.

            “What are you like?” Thelma was gay with the money safe and the holiday in her head.

   “Come here to me and don’t be getting narky.”

            She grabbed the towel and dried him. He lifted his arms and his fat feet and turned when she told him to.

            “Now, don’t you feel better?” she said.

            “Don’t you feel nice and clean?”

            “I do,” he said, wriggling his shoulders, the skin still a bit damp.

            “You’d better get the sambos made. And put the telly on, the boys’ll be here soon.”

*

            “Another twelve? That’s it, Thelma? Fifty altogether? It’s not nearly enough – it doesn’t even approach nearly enough. What have you been doing? It’s the middle of July already. When were you thinking of going? Christmas week? Nobody around, nothing going on, wind and rain and cold? It won’t do, Thelma. There’s others would jump at a weekend in the Glens, plenty of money too, they have, not putting away a few pounds at a time like you.”

            Thelma shook her head, her wispy, silky hair sliding over her wee face.    

            “I’m doing my best. You won’t let me down now, will you?”

            “Ha! Me let you down?”

            Irene opened her notebook and tapped the table with her pen. “That’s a good one. You’ve got a nerve, you have. Fifty pounds you’ve got – do you want to go for one night? One night – take us half a day to get there – “

            “But I can get more, Irene. I will, I will get more – you know I will.”

            She glanced out the window. The boys would arrive soon: plenty of beer – plenty of loose change.

“Well, I don’t know,” Irene said. “You could try harder, I suppose. He doesn’t check every penny you spend, does he? Can’t you cut a few corners? Eat a bit less? Give him more bread and less meat.”

Thelma shook her head.

            “It’s all right for you, Irene. You can do what you like – live on bread and jam if you want, sit in the dark and wear a jumper to keep warm if you like. Thomas likes his meat.”

            “Get a job then. Get yourself up to the supermarket, sit at the till. They pay you to do it. Money, Thelma! Really, you know, you really should come to the classes our Henry’s May and I go to. You’d learn a thing or two! If ever a body needed it . . . “

            Thelma didn’t speak. She stared at the table and shut her ears and squeezed her wee fists on her knee. What would you know, she thought, you with your big hands and your big feet and your hair all screwed up and you don’t have a sausage in the bedroom shouting orders all the live long day. That’s all she ever got – orders.

            “Ah for God’s sake, there’s no talking to you. You know, Thelma, half the time I don’t think you’re serious about this holiday at all. And I bet you haven’t told him yet, have you? You’d better get that over with, quick! Are you afraid of him or what? I’m going to tell you exactly how much you need and then it’s up to you. Get a job or get it out of your man in the bed, whatever, I don’t care, just get it.”

            Thelma nodded, and then there was a knock at the door.

            “Eh – Irene, the boys are here – I’ll have to – “

            “Boys! Boys! For God’s sake, Thelma. Do you hear yourself? They’re men – big lumps of men, expecting you to run around after them, and do you know why they expect you to do that? Because you do it. You do it and you keep doing it and you don’t even realise you’re doing it. I blame your mother, so I do. She sent you away to that school and all you learned was how to do what you’re told!”

            Irene swept the notebook and pen into her handbag.

            “Up and down them stairs,” she said. “Up and down, up and down like a wee skivvy.”

            She lifted her bag with a swing as the men came in, clattering up the stairs. Alistair said hello, the word slipping out from under his thick moustache.

            “Your own brother,” Irene said, looking at Alistair’s legs in the tight, purple tracksuit. He should be looking out for you. You need to get away – you need to relax. You said you wanted to go, so you did. We’ll drink Prosecco you said and eat steak and hire a bicycle maybe and – “

            “I know, I know,” Thelma said. “Of course I want to go. You know I do. I do”

So, what do you think? Did Thelma tell Thomas, and get away to eat steak and drink Prosecco?