In Kerry one day in August I sat in the sand dunes between Sandy Bay and the Dumps, a breathtaking stretch of beach frequented by surfers, reading Ulysses in the sun and wind. I read this, about a boy called Sargent:
“Ugly and futile: lean neck and tangled hair and a stain of ink, a snail’s bed. Yet someone had loved him, borne him in her arms and her heart. But for her the race of the world would have trampled him under foot, a squashed boneless snail. She had loved his weak watery blood drained from her own. Was that then real? The only thing in life? His mother’s prostrate body the fiery Columbanus in holy zeal bestrode. She was no more: the trembling skeleton of a twig burnt in the fire, an odour of rosewood and wetted ashes. She had saved him from being trampled under foot and had gone, scarcely having been.”
Long-intimidated by this book, I found it to be an unexpected pleasure – lush, poetic, technically thrilling, moving. Like poetry, it doesn’t always reveal its full meaning at first reading, and perhaps not ever, entirely, It’s enough to let the words and image wash over the thinking brain.
Parent-love is something I think of often, and surely most of us do, as parents or children or both? It struck me when I saw King Lear at the Globe last month, how un-dated it seemed, relating to life today as it did to audiences 400 years ago. Having given everything to his two daughters who professed to love him most, Lear, played by Joseph Marcell, discovers their duplicity and pleads with Regan:
“Dear daughter, I confess that I am old;
Age is unnecessary; on my knees I beg
That you’ll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food…”
She doesn’t of course – she dismisses him cruelly, judging him past usefulness. It made me think of all the people in homes for the elderly, judged to be past usefulness or too much work.
Back to Ulysses: what put me off for so long, more than its difficulty – though I confess I am lazy when tired or overwhelmed, and resort to easy-to-read crime or feel-good novels which often leave me unsatisfied by their predictability or cliched writing… another dead girl in an attic? … where was I? Oh yes – the length of Ulysses! 933 pages in Bill’s Penguin edition. It’s a big commitment when there is so little time to read.
It will be far more rewarding than a desperate encounter, I know… but it languishes under my bedside table, along with Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book (which is wonderful but I keep putting down and then can’t remember who is who so have to go back), Taboo by Fouzia Saeed about the red-light area of Lahore (humane and illuminating), Toast by Nigel Slater and Love Over Holland by Alexander McCall Smith – the latter two bought from Oxfam in a desire for comfort. The Iliad is also there gathering dust (shame on me) and the Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt which I’ve been meaning to investigate since I picked it up on Spencer Road where someone had piled up dozens of books on the pavement. It was the first decent book I had got from this pop-up ‘help-yourself’ experience my daughter calls ‘Crazy for Joy’, though I did once get an elegant wrought-iron chair and a heavy wood sun-lounger on wheels (the sort you get poolside in fancy hotels) which I lugged home and wrestled through the front door and out the back door only to find that it took up the whole back yard and you had climb over it to get past. I eventually put the lounger back outside my front door, back to Crazy for Joy where it found a new home.
My thoughts and this blog are all over the place, I know. That’s the state of my mind after the school holidays whose lack of structure, though glorious in some ways, does my head in. I can’t think straight over the holidays and when thinking is 95% domestic, it’s extremely frustrating as well. Oh, the relief when the kids get back to school and we get some structure back into the days, so I can build scaffolding for time to write and time to think, as well as for the work that pays, and for drumming up more paid work…
Bear with me, please. I am going to resist the urge to go back and edit this post into coherence, because this is how it is.
What is this all about? Structure. I’m consumed by the need for it – in my life but more importantly, in my play. I haven’t got the hang of structure – of a skeleton for the play that will allow it to stand up and move without falling over. More than that, to run, to dance, and sometimes just stay still. I find I am looking for structure in everything I read and see – yesterday I saw Two Days, One Night with Marion Cotillard, and found it profound and so elegantly put-together, with such beautiful bones that I will need to see it again and take notes.
p.s. if you have the key to structure, or can tell me where to find it, please write.