Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Poetry Tuesday: Pádraig Ó Conaire by F.R. Martin

For Poetry Tuesday, here is a poem which would be somewhat well-known in Ireland, but (I imagine) completely unknown elsewhere.

Padraig O'Conaire was an Irish language writer, who died in 1928. F.R. Higgins was a minor poet.

I think this is a wonderfully accomplished poem, with many haunting lines. I like the wistful, evocative half-lines at the end of each verse. The unabashedly romantic view of Ireland and Irish culture, devoid of all irony, is also admirable.

Padraic O'Conaire

Pádraig O'Conaire

They've paid the last respects in sad tobacco
And silent is this wakehouse in its haze;
They've paid the last respects; and now their whiskey
Flings laughing words on mouths of prayer and praise;
And so young couples huddle by the gables.
O let them grope home through the hedgy night -
Alone I'll mourn my old friend, while the cold dawn
Thins out the holy candlelight.

Respects are paid to one loved by the people;
Ah, was he not - among our mighty poor -
The sudden wealth cast on those pools of darkness,
Those bearing, just, a star's faint signature;
And so he was to me, close friend, near brother,
Dear Padraic of the wide and sea-cold eyes -
So, lovable, so courteous and noble,
The very West was in his soft replies.

They'll miss his heavy stick and stride in Wicklow -
His story-talking down Winetavern Street,
Where old men sitting in the wizened daylight
Have kept an edge upon his gentle wit;
While women on the grassy streets of Galway,
Who hearken for his passing - but in vain,
Shall hardly tell his step as shadows vanish
Through archways of forgotten Spain.

Ah, they'll say, Padraic's gone again exploring;
But now down glens of brightness, O he'll find
An alehouse overflowing with wise Gaelic
That's braced in vigour by the bardic mind,
And there his thoughts shall find their own forefathers -
In minds to whom our heights of race belong,
in crafty men, who ribbed a ship or turned
The secret joinery of song.

Alas, death mars the parchment of his forehead;
And yet for him, I know, the earth is mild -
The windy fidgets of September grasses
Can never tease a mind that loved the wild;
So drink his peace - this grey juice of the barley
Runs with a light that ever pleased his eye -
While old flames nod and gossip on the hearthstone
And only the young winds cry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Dirk Benedict

Occasional visitors to this blog may be baffled when they encounter some random picture of Dirk Benedict. Regular readers will be used to it.

Dirk Benedict is an American actor who is best known for playing loveable rogues, especially in the science-fiction series Battlestar Galactica (1978-79) and the adventure series The A-Team (1983-87).

Why does this chap's picture appear without explanation in many of my blog posts? Here is a numbered list of reasons:

1) Because I have a rather silly sense of humour, and I enjoy the irrelevance, as well as the idea of people being baffled by it.

2) Because I love traditions, and posting irrelevant pictures of Dirk Benedict on this blog is now a tradition.

3) Because "Dirk Benedict" is the coolest name ever.

4) Because there is something very likeable about the chap.

5) Because I think it's a good idea to include pictures in longer blog posts, to give the eye some relief from a monotonous block of text, and sometimes I can't think of any other picture to use.

I'm hardly a dedicated Dirk Benedict fan, or anything like that. I watched a lot of episodes of The A-Team when I was a boy, but only because my brothers were watching them. I found it hard to follow and a bit tedious. (I watched some episodes again quite recently, and enjoyed them more as an adult.)

I preferred Battlestar Galactica. I have happy memories of watching this on Saturday mornings. The otherwordly visuals stirred my sense of wonder. Sadly, my experience in this regard has been the exact opposite of my experience with The A-Team. I tried to watch it again in recent years and found it almost unwatchable. I'm not a big fan of the remake, which ran from 2004 to 2009. But it had its moments, and it was undeniably better than the original.

Dirk Benedict himself wrote an essay which mauled the remake, and which I found very entertaining. You can read it on his personal website here. A brief passage will show that he has his heart in the right place, whatever he might be wrong or right about when it comes to specifics: 

Witness the "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica. It's bleak, miserable, despairing, angry and confused. Which is to say, it reflects, in microcosm, the complete change in the politics and mores of today's world as opposed to the world of yesterday. The world of Lorne Greene (Adama) and Fred Astaire (Starbuck's Poppa), and Dirk Benedict (Starbuck). I would guess Lorne is glad he's in that Big Bonanza in the sky and well out of it. Starbuck, alas, has not been so lucky. He's not been left to pass quietly into that trivial world of cancelled TV characters. [Benedict was particularly annoyed that the character he played, the roguish fighter pilot Starbuck, had been "re-imagined" as a woman.]

"Re-imagining", they call it. "un-imagining" is more accurate. To take what once was and twist it into what never was intended. So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction. To better reflect the times of ambiguous morality in which we live, one would assume. A show in which the aliens (Cylons) are justified in their desire to destroy our civilisation. One would assume. Indeed, let us not say who are the good guys and who are the bad. That is being "judgemental". And that kind of (simplistic) thinking went out with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne and, well the original Battlestar Galactica.

Despite his views on the remake, he did have a picture taken with the actress who plays the new Starbuck. In Starbucks. A somewhat famous picture which, perversely, I've never actually used on this blog.

A lesser-known Dirk Benedict appearance, but one which made a big impression on me in my childhood, was "Mark of the Devil", an episode of the Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense TV series. In this episode, a man murders a tatooist and finds an uncanny tattoo spreading on his body. Although this programme stuck in my head, I forgot that it was Dirk Benedict who played the murderer, until I watched it again in my twenties.

Dirk Benedict made a personal appearance in University College Dublin, where I work, some years ago. I think he was receiving honorary membership of one or other of the university societies. One of my library colleagues attended (he was a student at the time). He said that the excitement was at fever pitch before Mr. Benedict appeared, with audience members (who had mostly grown up in the eighties) drumming on the tables and humming the A-Team music. He also said that DB was very charming and funny. When one student asked him if he would sign his metal plate, he simply replied: "I'll kick your ass." The lecture theatre was packed out, and DB also spent some time talking to those students who didn't get into the main event.

Anyway, that's the story of Dirk Benedict and me. 

I have no plans to discontinue the tradition of him popping up without warning in unrelated blog posts. (I can't actually remember when I started doing this, which gives it the misty provenance of a sure-nuff tradition.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Perils of Dialogue

I am going to try to make a bigger effort to put out regular YouTube videos. Here is my latest.

Poem to my Father

For Poetry Tuesday (a tradition I am determined to keep going), here is the poem I read on the day of my father's funeral. (The picture shows him at my wedding.)

For My Father

You taught me to appreciate
The old and true and lasting things.
You taught me hunger for debate

And that words could be given wings.

You tutored me in chivalry,
To rally to the nobler cause
Not heeding popularity

Or comfort, or the world’s applause.

You taught me triumph counted less
(Far less) than honour in the fight,

That manliness and gentleness
Are two in one, like fire and light.

You taught me to love poetry
And books, and took me by the hand
To show me wonder’s treasury,

Imagination’s fairyland.

You taught me (though I learned it late)
The love of Ireland; to uphold
And guard and praise and celebrate
This birthright dearer far than gold.

You taught me to love everything
Original, and quaint, and odd;
To prize grace like a diamond ring,
And reverence the name of God.

If I have any cause for pride

It would be this: to have been true
To all you taught me, and have tried
To be as good a man as you.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Sad News

Yesterday my father died, peacefully, surrounded by family and friends, at the age of seventy-nine.

I wrote this post about him several years ago.

Please pray for his soul, and for me.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

My Perfect Day

I enjoyed writing this post on the Irish Conservatives Forum, and thought it possible some of my readers might enjoy reading it.

In another attempt to relieve the gloom and doom we conservatives habitually dwell in, and out of interest, I thought I would ask: what would your perfect day be?

The only rule is that you can't go overboard on fantasy. So a Catholic, socially conservative party sweeping to power in an Irish general election would certainly make a wonderful day, but it's impossible to envisage any time soon. Cardinal Sarah walking out onto the balcony of St. Peter's would also be nice, but seems an outside chance. Similarly, having your favourite entertainer perform in your living room is taking the fantasy too far. It should be something reasonably plausible.

My perfect day would have to involve snow. It would be a day of thick, crunchy snow. I'd get up while it was still dark, have a hot bubble bath and an early breakfast-- a peanut butter sandwich and coffee, maybe. Then I would go to early morning Mass, which would be no more than twenty minutes long, and celebrated with simplicity and dignity, without the sign of peace.

Home, to a full Irish breakfast (yes, a second breakfast)-- lots of coffee and buttered bread, and conversation with my nearest and dearest. Then we would got out and make a snowman. Local kids would join in.

Then we would go to the cinema for a matinee screening. It would be a good film, visually impressive but with a strong story. Very few people in the audience, mostly empty seats. Basking in the cinema atmosphere, then back out in the snow. A medium sized cup of Coke to sip-- Coke tastes better in the cinema than anywhere else.

A visit to a second hand book shop, one with lots of surprising and idiosyncratic stuff on the shelves-- not more than half an hour. I find some obscure volume that pleases me enough to buy.

Then off to a pub to meet friends-- a clean, spacious, bright pub, which again would be mostly deserted. The lobby of a hotel would be even better. We would sit at a window and look out at the snowy scene outside. The company would not exceed three or four. The conversation would not be banter, or small talk, or overly dull and heavy, but heartfelt and wide-ranging and adventurous, the kind of conversation that leaves you exhilarated. It should involve some discussion of uncanny experiences, some sharing of memories, some discussion of films and books. I would drink coffee and Irish cream (separately), or perhaps a brandy and Coke.

We would stay in the pub/hotel until it was time for dinner. Dinner would be pub grub, hearty and unpretentious. I would order a steak and chips, with pepper sauce and mushroom and onions and peas. Dessert would be peanut butter and chocolate cake, with coffee.

Then we would visit a friend's house, for several games of Trivial Pursuit. I acquit myself honourably, but mostly enjoy the mental trek through human life and history, and the blasts from the past. (I think the Trivial Pursuit board is a work of art.) Coffee and chocolate biscuits.

A walk home through the still-falling snow. At home, we would have to engage in some kind of low-intensity activity, such as looking through old photographs or magazines, while there was something interesting on television, or YouTube, or while playing music.

For the day to be a perfect day, I would like to have SOME kind of good news story to cheer me up-- a populist party winning an election somewhere, for instance. I'm egotistical enough to wish my perfect day to involve something that makes me feel good in myself, too-- somebody paying me a nice a compliment, or some achievement like having an article or letter published somewhere.

Then a cup of hot chocolate while reading my book, and then bed, some time considerably past midnight, after more deep conversation. As for sleep, I always sleep soundly.

Monday, May 6, 2019


In post after post on this blog, I find myself seeking to convey some enthusiasm or other, usually some private and idiosyncratic enthusiasm. Readers, I worry, might become quite fatigued by this. "You may find this fascinating", I imagine them thinking, "but why should we?".

Perhaps this desire to articulate strange enthusiasms derives from the attitude I had towards poetry (both writing it and reading it), back in my teens and early twenties. I thought of myself primarily as a poet back then.

It seemed to me obvious that poetry should seek to convey some unusual or novel emotion or impression. Writing on well-worn themes seemed to be cheating. It's strange I thought like this, since so much of the poetry I loved related to the great constants of human life. But so it was. I spent a great deal of time trying to think of subjects no poet had tackled. It never occurred to me that a great poet like Wordsworth was capable of writing both an extremely original poem like his sonnet on Westminster Bridge, and also the millionth poem about flowers, when he wrote "The Daffodils". (For the pedants out there, I realise he never actually gave it that title.)

In any case, where I once strained after idiosyncracy, I now feel rather embarrassed by it.

On the other hand, perhaps striving to convey enthusiasm is a good thing. It seems to have been a lot of what my hero, G.K. Chesterton, was all about. It also describes some of my own favourite pieces of writing-- such as Keith Waterhouse's article on the Button Fairs of his childhood, or his rhapsody on a box of cheese he bought (and ate) while on holiday.

So here goes. In this post, I am going to tackle my "chronomania", a passion for chronicles and chronicling which I have always harboured, but which has been particularly strong lately.

I have written a great deal about my diary on this blog, so I am not going to return to that subject here... much to your relief, no doubt.

Here are some things which arouse my chronomania. 

The very words "chronicles" and "annals". (How often these are used to evoke grandiosity!)

Whenever a sports commentator or political reporter says: "History is made tonight", or "So-and-so writes himself into the history books", or "I think you'd have to scour the history books to find etc. etc."

Any reference to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a chronicle of events in British history which was kept independently by various monasteries. (We have our own version in Ireland with the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as other works.)

Any reference (for instance in biographies) to the chronicles kept by individual monasteries.

Any reference to visitor's books in hotels and other establishments.

Any event which is annual, or otherwise regular, such as the Oscars, the Olympics, the World Cup, the Eurovision, the music charts, elections, etc.

Diaries and journals, (as long as they are not something boring and utilitarian such as a food diary).

The archives of newspapers.

Photograph albums.

"This day in history" columns.

The phrase "the annals are silent" or "the sources are unclear" as used when writing about history of some kind. This emphasises the preciousness of the record, and creates mystery.

In general, I don't get excited by chronicles that are too dry or utilitarian. Parish and school registers can be fairly interesting, but only as a source.  One imagines that ten minutes browsing one would satisfy most people, unless you were looking for something in particular. Similarly, I am baffled by the fascination that our distant ancestors seemed to have for genealogies and king lists, which seem so important in most pre-literate cultures.

The appeal of any archive, to me, is that it is not too narrow nor yet too overwhelming. It has to be, even in principle, capable of comprehension (if only in outline) by one person. The monarchs of England are a good example. An average person could hope to remember all (or most) of the monarchs of England, even if we go back to Anglo-Saxon times. Nor would this simply be a list of names, but it would inevitably include some biographical knowledge. Of course, this knowledge could be extended indefinitely, since whole libraries have been written on this subject. That is part of the joy of the thing. It's a paddle pool that can extend to the size of an ocean.

(As should be obvious from this example, I'm using "chronicle" to mean either a literal source, or a chronicle in a more abstract sense-- the chronicles of English monarchs, for instance, which are not to be found in any one volume.)

Against this there are archives so massive that only a computer could hope to comprehend them-- for instance, census returns. These are very interesting, but not in the way I'm writing about here. Mass Observation is another example.

Archives don't have to be deliberately created to give me this pleasure. For instance, the archives of newspapers are not deliberately created as archives. The archival aspect is incidental. Another example are the archives of websites. I rarely mention the Irish Conservatives Forum which I set up a few years ago, but I'm happy to report it's still going strong. I was delighted when I realised its archives formed a kind of tour of recent Irish and international history, seen from a conservative perspective.

This blog wouldn't work as an archive so well, since I tend not to write on many topical issues.

Why the fascination with chronicles? I've thought about this a lot and I'm pretty sure of the answer. Life is very messy, chaotic and enigmatic. The structure that a chronicle puts upon the flux of life is intensely pleasing.

To put it like that suggests that such a structure is simply a comfort blanket, an insulation from reality. However, I think the psychology of the thing is more subtle than that, and less pathetic.

I think its the fusion of flux and structure which is so appealing to me. The same appeal, I would suggest, lies at the heart of most art-forms. Take stories, for instance. Stories are pleasing because they are a fusion of life's messiness with the pattern of the narrative. If the story is too rigidly patterned, it takes away from the pleasure. A good story gives the impression of real life going on around the characters, of a solid world with its own preoccupations and business quite aside from the events of the narrative.

The same thing applies to poetry. Poetry (especially poetry that is rhymed and metrical) combines the spontaneity of speech with the structure of verse. A great part of the skill involved is making the verse rhyme and scan without losing the impression of natural speech, of how a person actually talks. Poetry that is too obviously contrived to fit into the verse is generally poor poetry. As Yeats put it, in lines I have quoted before:

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,   
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,   
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
The harmonious reconciliation of contraries seems to be something that gives human beings intense pleasure, in this and many other instances.

The pleasure of chronicles, I would suggest, also lies in another meeting of opposites; the interaction of memory and oblivion.

Memory cannot be understood aside from oblivion, from forgetting. Imagine if you could perfectly recall everything that happened in your life, down to the minutest details. Or if we somehow all had immediate knowledge of everything that had happened in human history from the beginning of the species. I don't know about you, dear reader, but that to me is a horrible thought. Would you really forego moments such as the discovery of the prehistoric cave paintings in Lascaux? Or the finding of the tomb of Tutankhamen? Or the moment in your own life when you come across an old photograph, or hear a song that you had forgotten about and that brings a host of memories flooding back to you?

Annals and sources and chronicles, to me, are partly appealing because what is saved is only a fraction of what is lost. Scenes and figures stand out against a black background. This is especially noticeable in historical moments for which there are a limited number of eyewitnesses, and where we rely more than usual upon eyewitnesses. Examples of this are the final hours within the General Post Office during the 1916 Rising, the sinking of the Titanic, and the life and death of Jonestown, the cult which ended in mass suicide in 1978.

But chronicles in general have this characteristic of fragments rescued from oblivion, of shafts of light penetrating darkness. Obviously, this is more or less true depending on the nature of the chronicle, but it's true to some extent of them all. For instance, we know almost nothing about many of the early Popes other than their names.

Dear reader, has your imagination caught fire from mine, at this point? I hope so. If it hasn't, I don't think further words will do it.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Thoughts on "The Go-Between" by L.P. Hartley

Recently, after coming across an admiring reference to it on Peter Hitchens's blog, I read The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I had often pondered its famous opening line: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." As well as this, I was drawn by the particular passage in which Peter Hitchens mentioned it: "When I was ten years old I was deeply engaged by the fortunes of Hampshire in the County Cricket Championship...Now, this cricket enthusiasm is a mystery to me, a mystery whose code I can no longer break, like Leo Colston's inability to understand large parts of his schoolboy diary, found years later in a chilly attic, in that fine and haunting novel by L.P.Hartley, 'The Go-Between'. "

Being fascinated by diaries, memory, the past, and curtainless attics, I immediately borrowed the novel, which was published in 1953.

I'm not a big novel reader, and I probably start reading more than novels than I ever finish reading. But The Go-Between held my interest from beginning to end.

The idea of the past as a foreign country is appealing and enticing, for a start. Anyone inclined to nostalgia is going to be drawn by that (although the novel itself is not very nostalgic).

There's something rather curious about the book; everybody seems to have a very different idea of what it's about. For instance, compare Peter Hitchens's blog post to this Guardian article by Ali Hirst. The Introduction to the Penguin edition that I read was very different again.

What is it about, on the most basic level? It's about a boy who visits the country home of a school friend, and finds himself carrying messages between the daughter of his host, and a farmer who lives close by. The situation is complicated by the fact that the daughter is being wooed by an aristocrat who was injured in the Boer War.

The protagonist, thirteen-year old Leo, is a typical schoolboy who is excited by the arrival of the year 1900, the year in which the story is set. Although he had previously disliked hot days, he finds himself hoping that the temperature will continue to soar in the hot summer of 1900-- in fact, he keeps checking the thermometer, hoping for record temperatures. The heat is a symbol of the euphoria and excitement of the new century, and of the various new realms Leo is discovering-- the adult world, the higher social echelons, and sexuality (which both fascinates and repels him).

Leo forms a powerful crush upon Marian, the young woman for whom he is acting as a go-between. The high-mindedness of his attraction is very realistic, as far as my own experience of being a boy with a crush on a woman goes. He craves Marian's approval, while feeling nothing but disgust for "spooning" (his term for displays of romantic affection). Of sex itself he is completely ignorant, which is a significant plot point.

L.P. Hartley. (Not the writer of "Fly Fishing". That was J.R.)
I wasn't terribly interested in the book's themes of sexuality, class and innocence. But various other things in the book pleased me.

The plot device of the diary might be the main one. The story uses a frame narrative, in which the now-elderly Leo comes across his boyhood diary, recounting the events of the book. I love frame narratives. I'm also fascinated by diaries and other records.

The old Leo has suppressed the memory of most of the events chronicled in the diary, and they come back to him as he reads. This sort of thing often seems to happen in stories, but I find it almost impossible to believe. The story is a very dramatic one, and it beggars belief that Leo could have blocked so much of it from his memory. The idea of a man coming across his own fifty-year-old diary is also incredible. People don't keep things that long without revisiting them.

Another motif in the book which greatly appeals to me is the zodiac. The young Leo draws the signs of the zodiac on his diary, seeing them as a symbol of the new century and also as representing various people he encounters. Marian, of course, is the Virgin.

The use of astrological symbols conveys how awe-struck Leo is by the adult and upper-class world in which he finds himself. But it appealed to me for a more personal reason. I was enthralled by two books of astrology when I was a child. Both belonged to my older sisters. One was called Love Stars, and was all about romance between various star-signs. The other was about signs of the zodiac in general, explaining the personality traits that supposedly go along with each.I forget the title. It was rather like a coffee table book in format.

I don't think I ever looked inside Love Stars, but I was impressed by the cover-- a red love-heart against a blue background, both printed in very rich shades. I was also excited by the idea of romantic love (I was a very moony boy), and the idea of astrology.

The other book had a much more powerful effect on me, though I don't remember the title. I think there was a section devoted to each astrological sign and the first was rather like an illuminated frontispiece; it showed the symbol of the star-sign (a ram for Aries, for instance) at the centre, and images depicting other properties of the particular star-sign around the margins. One of these properties was whether it was an air, water, earth or fire sign-- and the imagery by which each was conjured excited me. The illustrations were rendered in pale colours, which made them seem all the more ethereal.

The memory of this book has found a place in my purple notebook, and in the inner recesses of my imagination. I never took astrology seriously, but I was profoundly excited by its mystical atmosphere, and by the splendour of its symbolism. The human spirit seems to hanker for a realm which is above, beyond and outside the realm of ordinary time and space, but which (crucially) stands in a vital relationship to it. It might be Egyptian or Greek mythology, or it might be astrology, or it might be superhero comics, or it might be Jungian archetypes, or it might even be the Wild West. The important thing is that the imagery and atmosphere is not drawn directly from ordinary life, that it is more vivid and heightened and splendid. We seem to have some ineradicable urge to see our reflections in a transfiguring mirror.

So the use of astrological symbols in The Go-Between pleased me, and I was able to relate it to my own childhood.

I was less able to relate to Leo's philosophy of life, as a little boy. He is a product of boarding school and develops an ethic familiar from other accounts of English school life, around this time (including G.K. Chesterton's biography). Stoicism and daring are important features of it. Leo is bullied at the start of the book, but feels no resentment against those bullying him-- it's simply par for the course. Indeed, little Leo has a dread of morality, preferring a rigid and rather amoral set of principles instead. For instance, he is a strong believer in hierarchy, and completely accepts the superiority of the aristocracy over commoners. His relationship with his school-friend is marked by the kind mutual mockery and insult which is familiar to me from literature, and which I regularly hear in everyday life, but which leaves me baffled. I never had that kind of friendship with anyone, and I'm very glad of it.

Leo also engages in feats of physical bravery for the sake of it, something foreign to me both as a boy and today. I grew up on the seventh floor of the Ballymun flats, and I remember little boys hanging from the balcony walls, nothing but a sheer drop between them and the ground. The pointlessness of this baffled me then, and it baffles me now.

Peter Hitchens speaks for me when he touches on another aspect of the novel, Leo's attraction to the houses's rubbish dump. Hitches writes of "the fascination felt by melancholics such as I am for the slightly scruffy back parts of noble buildings, where their true nature is revealed and where you can usually be left in peace by grown-ups or people anxious to make conversation when you prefer none - the servants’ stairs , the kitchen gardens and the half-abandoned outhouses." Though, for me, this doesn't apply to noble buildings but to all buildings. I've always been drawn to the parts of buildings which are not for public view, which seem to be outside the general scheme of things, as I try to describe in this blog post.

Another part of the book that appeals to me greatly is the "House vs. Village" annual cricket match which plays an important role in the story. I imagine one is supposed to appreciate this passage as a dramatization of class and sex tensions in Edwardian England. But I enjoy it simply as an account of a local cricket match, not professional or excessively competitive, but taken quite seriously and conducted with a great sense of event. Is there any equivalent today? Do the staff of local cinemas line up against the staff of local supermarkets once a year? I doubt it, and that makes me rather sad.

Indeed, the daily life of the household portrayed in the book makes me hanker for life before television. For instance, we see that the owner of the house (who is hardly portrayed as a pious person) leads the family, the guests and the staff in prayers every morning. And everybody goes to church on Sunday. Perhaps we are meant to see this as hypocritical, or an empty outward show, and certainly the characters in the book seem to go through with these observances purely as a matter of course, of good form. But I still read about them with envy and nostalgia. Is ordinary life today any richer for having discarded such ceremonial?

Similarly, the sing-song that follows the cricket match (in which Irish songs are fairly prominent), and the parlour entertainments described elsewhere in the book, make me feel rather bad about our box set bingeing and other passive recreations today.

There are little touches in the book which I find particularly pleasing. For instance, the aristocrat who forms one point of the story's love triangle, and who was injured in the Boer War, is portrayed as a jingoistic supporter of British imperialism. But when he sees a cartoon in Punch which mocks the British war effort, and which Leo expects will infuriate him, he actually finds it extremely amusing. Not only does this avoid caricature, but it seems quite realistic-- I can imagine such a reaction in such a person. It feels right.

The book is very reminiscent of Brideshead Revisited, especially since both contain a frame narrative in which the protagonist returns to a country house, one which was played a crucial role in his life, after an absence of many years. Both also feature a commoner who finds himself afloat in the strange world of the aristocracy. This is an experience few of us are likely to have in a literal sense, but almost all of us find ourselves feeling out of place in a strange social environment, at one time or another. Both books also have themes of nostalgia, and of the ways in which we grapple with out past-- the last especially is a topic which preoccupies me more and more. I would definitely recommend The Go-Between. (I haven't seen any movie or TV version of the book-- one is mentioned in the first words of the Introduction to the edition I read, so I take it to be quite celebrated.)

Some Reasons I am a Catholic